In the world of early childhood education, data is often thought of in terms of compliance. In most ECE organizations a significant part of the organization’s time is committed just to compliance with federal and state rules. In the compliance world, data is often seen as an annoyance. In some cases it can even be seen as the enemy.
Teachers and staff report data into a black box that is forwarded to program managers. Program managers make sure that all required checklists are checked, i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed. They then put the resulting information into another black box that spits out reports at the other end. On some occasions these reports may even be relevant to the teachers, staff, and managers. More often they sit in binders collecting dust. The biggest technical innovation in the past decade has been the conversion of the dust-gathering binder into a pdf file that gathers virtual dust on your hard drive.
The data science revolution that has driven big data at companies like Amazon and Netflix provides an opportunity to change all this. When data is used well, it empowers entire communities.
Data, used well, can be your friend.
Good data can focus attention on what is actually going on. Problems can be fixed. Good practices can be copied and applied in other areas. Data science can help you sort the good data from the bad and use the good data to its full potential. It can also help you find better ways to collect the data: replacing bad data with good data by engaging stakeholders in the process.
The best use of data is transparent: stakeholders can see their part in the collection and sharing of the data. For teachers and line staff transparency means being part of the use of their data, not just collectors and recorders.
For program managers, data meets current and emerging compliance requirements by demonstrating fidelity to performance and reporting standards. Data should also drive operational decisions. Actionable data meets the standard of the checklist, but also gives information that can guide decisions about the future.
Data can tell parents, stakeholders, and funders what you do and how well you do it. An anecdote is powerful, and it ties a personal connection to the success of an organization. An anecdote backed by data that shows how that one story is typical of hundreds can be even more powerful, showing the broad reach of a program’s efforts and how it impacts an entire community. This helps to build strong support networks and sustainable community engagement.
Everyone in a community benefits from the transparent use of high-quality, actionable data. Effective application of data science can turn big data into big improvements in the lives of communities, families, and children.