Data Dives: A Step in the Right Direction

Loraine Lawson
Slide Show

The Real Life of a Data Scientist

Earlier this week, I wrote about the challenges of data illiteracy. I think it’s particularly a problem in fields where data has been collected, but maybe is not seen as a way to guide strategy or output.

Education is one such field (they hate being called an industry, even though, let’s face it, they are). While education as a whole is data-heavy, its main focus is not on managing data or information, but on student output. And while data has been used to produce change, it’s not often used in a particularly strategic way. When test scores go down, that data triggers policy and sometimes theory change, but seldom is the data used to inform that change.

My favorite example: For years, Finland consistently scored top among nations on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) math scores, and yet in the U.S., we’re constantly re-inventing the wheel on teaching math. For the life of me, I can’t see why we didn’t just steal their approach. (Although, to be fair, in 2012, Finland fell from the top spot, and I have at least heard of schools trying something called “Singapore Math.” Singapore, by the way, ranked second behind China.)


The point is, educators aren’t data scientists, nor do we want them to be.

One idea that might help: data dives.

The Washington Post writes that a growing group of public and charter schools is opening up data to data scientists during “data dives.”

The article focuses on D.C. Prep, which is benefiting from a data-dive effort coordinated by predictive analytics vendor Applied Predictive Technology.

But that’s not the only effort to couple schools with data scientists: Arlington Public Schools, one of the top public school districts in the nation, offered $10,000 cash to any data scientist group who could create algorithms to identify students at risk of dropping out, the Post reports.

It’s great that data scientists are participating in these events, even if it is for a prize or to promote someone’s solution. Hopefully, even proprietary vendors will be willing to share their findings with other, less well-funded schools. It may not be a solution to the problem of data illiteracy, but it’s a smart start.



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