US education sector tries its hand at data-driven management

By October 10, 2013
Education and Big Data

A young opinion survey firm has set out to bring the data-driven management approach to the education sector.

Most education professionals recognize the importance of Big Data analytics for improving learning methods, especially since the publication of a report from the Washington, D.C.-based think tank the Brookings Institution which lists a number of tools to improve pupils’ reading skills and the tracking of student learning performance.  However, US schools also produce tons of data reflecting the diversity of the people involved in the education sector – students, teachers, school administrators etc. – most of which is often only partially used. In order to use this knowledge to best effect, a startup specializing in carrying out opinion polls is now offering online questionnaires backed up by clear, interactive formats for providing results. New Haven, Connecticut-based Panorama Education, which emerged from the Yale University incubator and this year went through the Y Combinator accelerator, aims to make gathering and analysis of data on a large scale in an educational environment more efficient and more easily accessible to educationalists.

Big Data crunching to improve internal surveys

As a report from the Measures of Effective Teaching project financed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation makes clear, surveys are an essential tool for improving the way schools work. Panorama administers its surveys directly at two levels: gathering feedback at classroom level – from both teachers and students – and conducting surveys on the educational establishment with a view to analyzing the overall environment and administrator behavior. While on average internally administered surveys at primary schools carried out in January do not manage to produce results until May, Panorama employs tailored digitized data management systems to produce detailed results only days after data collection. The Panorama system has been tried out in a number of schools in Connecticut, the company has been hired by non-profit organization Teach for America, and it has a contract with the Los Angeles Unified School District, one of the most densely-populated education districts in the country. As its name suggests, Panorama intends to provide users with a high-level overview of the situation, with online interactive reports allowing customers to interpret more easily the data gathered.

Drawing on data-driven best practice

The services provided by Panorama reflect the surging trend towards data-driven management inspired by modern business practices. Explains founder Aaron Feuer: “Our aim is to help schools to make smart use of the data and the available tools.” By providing a highly detailed but easy-to-grasp view, Panorama is taking a step towards bringing the everyday practices of the private sector – forecasting, annual activity reports, satisfaction surveys, etc – to the public-sector education system. This initiative might well encourage state agencies to make use of Big Data in their own survey campaigns. Colorado has already set in motion a long-term program designed to gather data on an ongoing basis from kindergartens right through to universities in order to gain a better understanding of how best to measure – and so improve – the performance of educational establishments. 

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