This week has been an interesting confluence of work and play. As I write this blog post I am in Milwaukee, WI at the Strive Network Cradle to Career Convening. This puts me smack in the middle of Packers country. There are cheese heads everywhere. To come clean, I am a Green Bay Packers fan and have been one since I was 6 years old. As many of you know, this has been a tough week for the Packers after an officiating debacle in Seattle on Monday night turned a Packers victory into a Packers loss. This was front page news (not front of the sports page, mind you) but front page of all of the major newspapers in the nation. The story was directly tied to a labor dispute between the National Football League and the referees union. This high profile labor/management showdown has, as of Thursday, September 27, 2012, been resolved however the scars, impact, and the lessons from Monday’s Packers-Seahawks game remain.
What does a football game have to do with education? Well, hang with me for a minute. As I mentioned, I am at the Strive Network national convening. The focus of the event is on “Moving from Proving to Improving: Data as a foundation for community impact.” Strive communities across the country put data at the center of community level discussions of impact and how to use that data to improve the successful educational outcomes for all children. Strive is fundamentally about moving away from a punitive data analysis model (think NCLB and AYP) to one oriented towards continuous improvement. It is not enough to just pull data, or report data, but it’s essential to learn from it and to respond and improve based on these data driven lessons. Strive is working with over 70 communities across the country that are committed to this methodology and driving collective impact at the community level data.
So back to the Monday Night Football game, to simplify the story, the Seahawks were down 12-7 with 8 seconds left on the clock. They throw a “Hail Mary” into the end zone. There is a fight for the ball with two players viewed as having control of the ball (though as a Packers fan and someone with two good eyes it was clearly an interception by the Packers). The players land on the ground still fighting for the ball. Two officials see the situation, assess the data before them, and then react in a completely opposite fashion. See the picture below taken at the decisive moment.
One official signals touchdown and one signals an interception and subsequently a touchback. These two officials looked at the data and extrapolated very different conclusions. There was an opportunity for them to use that data to improve their respective calls on the field. They could have conferred and discussed the pertinent data points; they did not. They could have consulted another official to help further assess the data to improve the decision being made; they did not. They consulted video replay but because they had not first discussed the data points, put them into context, or examined alternative data points or interpretations they came up with the same faulty conclusion. The officials through the review process set out to prove the outcome of the game based on limited data analysis instead of examining the data towards an end of improving the outcome of the game.
There is a power to using data. There is also a responsibility to use data in a way that moves from merely proving a stated outcome to a process of continuous improving. This takes a different skill set and commitment and this is fundamentally what Strive is doing with their national network. They are moving from proving to improving and this is having a lasting impact on the student success outcomes across this country.
Matt Williams is Vice President of National Advocacy and Partnerships for KnowledgeWorks Foundation. In this role, he is responsible for directing both federal and state relations on behalf of the Foundation. Matt assists the various divisions, subsidiaries, and major investments of KnowledgeWorks in building and maintaining relationships to advance their initiatives and also assists in advancing policy priorities for the Foundation.