Swimming in the Deluge of Data

Click here or on the image above to view the interactive EdWise graphic tool.

You now live in the “Age of Data.” Congratulations!

I think.

See, we now live in a time where information is no longer in a file cabinet in our basements, but omnipresent in any number of formats. We have gone from a data desert to a data deluge. This shift created interesting and new questions. Questions like, how do we access this available information quickly? Which data will help us answer our questions and inform our decisions?

These questions about data are broad in nature and can be applied to almost any discipline including philanthropy. For example, we at the Kauffman Foundation are trying our best to use the millions of publicly available records in education to make better decisions about where to place resources. The problem that we ran into is the way that we access public education data. The way education data is shared in Missouri is through a list of files where any given file can have more than 300,000 rows in it. A situation likely to repeat in other states.

We recognize that these state education agencies, such as the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), are doing fantastic work making millions of these records available with limited resources at no cost to the public. In fact, DESE makes 25 years of data on hundreds of variables, such as aggregate school level student performance, finance and discipline data, all available for immediate mass download. It’s an incredible amount of data, but it’s also a bit like drinking from a fire hose.

This is where EdWise hopes to help. We designed EdWise to house all of these publicly available school and district records for 500 topics over 25 years in one dataset with a suite of free data visualization tools on top of it. Our goal was to close this gap between available data and accessible data to spur the translation of data into information that people can use. There are signs that EdWise is working not just for us, but others too. We’ve collected stories from schools and districts that have used EdWise to inform managerial decisions, help strategic planning and connect with potential partners.

For example, the above chart helped Smithville School District have a managerial dialogue with its staff. There was concern over how to best prepare for the growth of students with special needs in Smithville. District leadership pulled up a chart like this, but with the number of special needs students on it. Sure enough, those numbers were increasing. But then district leadership switched to the percent of special needs students and saw the opposite:  a decrease and/or steadiness of growth. EdWise was instrumental to how Smithville planned their next steps.

We hope it will help with your next steps, too, in this “Age of Data.” Please take a tour of EdWise and do not hesitate to let us know if you have questions or ideas.


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christopher laubenthal

Christopher Laubenthal is a program officer in Education for the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, where he works to explore topics around data, education, and human capital through grants and programs.