Demand for Faster Educational Data Analysis Increases

During my recent discussion with Mark Schneider, the departing Director of the Institute of Education Sciences, he emphasized the importance of establishing new and improved research centers at IES. He also stressed the need for producing reports that are not only timely but also easily accessible. As Mark is known to have a lot on his mind, I wanted to follow up and hear more of his thoughts. Here is Part Two of our conversation.

—Rick Hess

Rick Hess: In our previous conversation, you mentioned the commendable work being done by Marguerite Roza, Emily Oster, and Sean Reardon in the education domain, highlighting their ability to produce relevant research in a timely manner. Could you elaborate on what sets them apart and why NCES is unable to fulfill the same need?

Mark Schneider

Mark Schneider: As I mentioned earlier, a prime example is the collection of school-level finance data. These data are not only legally mandated but are crucial for understanding resource distribution and its impact on educational outcomes. Despite continued pressure, NCES has failed to provide timely district financial data or complete school-by-school financials. District financials are released more than two years after the fiscal year, and school-by-school financial data from FY18 remains unreleased. While NCES has promised to release the complete FY22 school-level financials by the end of 2024, this timeline falls short of meeting the real-time demands of stakeholders.

Hess: What are the underlying reasons for this delay?

Schneider: The primary issue lies in NCES’s outdated data collection approach, which involves a uniform survey that does not align with state systems. In contrast, institutions like Georgetown, Brown, and Stanford directly extract data from the source and convert them into standardized formats for quicker release. For instance, Roza’s NERD$ site is providing school-by-school financial files for some states within six to eight months of the fiscal year’s end, enabling effective decision-making based on financial and performance data.

Hess: Could you elaborate on other notable research efforts you mentioned?

Schneider: Emily Oster’s research on school closures during the pandemic and Sean Reardon’s work on student performance have outpaced NCES in terms of both speed and depth. While Reardon’s Educational Opportunity Project offers detailed insights into COVID-related learning loss, Oster’s assessment data compilation from all states up to 2023 has been more extensive. In contrast, NCES’s EdFacts program has faced delays in releasing data, showcasing the inefficiency in comparison to independent research efforts.

Hess: The increasing involvement of political appointees in education data releases has raised concerns about potential partisan influences. Do you foresee such political divides impacting IES’s function?

Schneider: While my experience under both administrations has been positive, the issue of political influence remains a concern, especially as administrations transition. The composition of boards like NBES can become politically contentious, affecting the direction of education research. Maintaining a nonpartisan approach is crucial for IES’s credibility and effectiveness.

Hess: There seems to be a growing ideological bent in education research organizations. How do you view this trend, and what remedies do you propose?

Schneider: The ideological sway in education research has become evident over the years, reflecting broader societal shifts. Addressing this issue would require a recommitment to unbiased, evidence-based research practices to ensure the integrity and reliability of educational studies.

Hess: If you could offer one piece of advice to your successor at IES, what would it be?

Schneider: I would share a parable with them that emphasizes accountability and foresight in leadership transitions. Ensuring continuity amid challenges and adapting to unforeseen circumstances are essential for navigating the complexities of the role.

The post A Need for More Speed in Education Data appeared on Education Next.

Frederick Hess is director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute and an executive editor of Education Next.

This post originally appeared on Rick Hess Straight Up.

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