The Most Revolutionary Interface of All

Why dashboards are not the answer to school districts’ data needs.

GUEST COLUMN | by Vikram Somasundaram

credit-edusightWorking effectively with data is tricky for any organization, let alone school districts. Before working with data, you need to start with the right questions and know what your objective is very clearly. You then need to gather all the right types of data, whether from legacy infrastructure, Student Information Systems (SISs), and other sources. This is followed by some form of data crunching and analysis. Last but not least, you have to interpret your findings and turn them into actionable steps that you can communicate and rally your team behind.

Public school districts in North America spend over $1.5 billion on data and analytics solutions, and it’s time we put these funds to better use.

Most Fortune 500 companies can afford to hire consultants to deal with the hairy parts of this process (think working with legacy infrastructure to pull all kinds of messy data, cleanse this data, do some rigorous analysis, and make sense of it all), but K-12 school districts don’t have this luxury and often get stuck with dashboards.

While dashboards are a great resource when they’re simple and visualize things in an easy-to-digest way, unfortunately, no software interface can stay simple enough to be effective while meeting each school district’s unique, ever-evolving needs.

What K-12 school districts need is the most revolutionary interface of them all: humans.

Rather than wasting time working with a cluttered dashboard solution, school districts should deploy a personal analytics service to help cut through all the noise and clutter. A personal analytics service offers numerous benefits to school districts, including:

  1. Understanding needs: Every school district has different needs. With a personal analytics system, administrators can sit down with a trusted advisor who will review their existing priorities and define their objectives, and help design a tailor-made approach that will find answers to each district’s most pressing questions.
  2. Gathering real-time data: Advisors can track and communicate learning as it happens. A personal analytics program can collect data in real-time and monitor leading indicators of learning. This way, advisors can intervene at the right time.
  3. Analyzation and interpretation: Finding answers in data that’s out-of-date and scattered across multiple sources is a nightmare. A personal data analyst can dive into a school district’s data and provide analysis in a collaborative approach that helps administrators understand where their students are and where they need to go.
  4. Delivering answers: Trust on a personal advisor to dig deeper into specific questions, and present key results with implications and recommendations that are tailored to the administrators based on previously discussed needs and objectives.

Imagine if, as a Superintendent of a school district, you could have a trusted advisor by your side. Someone who could help you identify what kinds of data already exist within your district’s infrastructure to solve your current problems. Someone who could identify what kinds of real-time data you need to be collecting from classrooms to get a pulse on progress towards your district’s goals. Someone who could help you correlate all the data you already have, identify trends, and distill clear actions to be taken. Imagine that if you had follow-up questions, you could talk to this person and work through these questions, digging through historical data or current data as needed to go deeper.

These are the kinds of things no dashboard can provide, and exactly the kinds of things that would be helpful for K-12 school districts. Just like every other industry, K-12 education is undergoing a huge transition from having very little real-time data to being overwhelmed with it. Every new education resource and technology that gets deployed in a school district produces tons of data around engagement and learning. In this transitionary period, it’s more important than ever to understand what kinds of data you are collecting, and what kinds of data you should care about.

I believe it’s time for a personal touch in analytics for K-12 school districts. This is why my company is launching trusted advisory service to help school districts work with data more effectively. Public school districts in North America spend over $1.5 billion on data and analytics solutions, and it’s time we put these funds to better use.

It’s time for a personal approach to working with data. For K-12 school districts, it’s time for responsive service with a real human connection who knows what each school district’s unique needs are and can make sure they have the right insights at the right time.

Vikram Somasundaram is CEO and co-founder of Edusight, an edtech platform with a vision for improving the existing education system through the use of data. Previously, he was a strategy consultant at Monitor Deloitte working on business transformations and M&A for large public sector and professional services organizations.


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