E D - I N T E L L I G E N C E

Public Education’s Huge Multi-Million Dollar Problem

It wastes money and time that could be better spent on our children

Imagine if next year public schools and education agencies had several million dollars of extra funds plus hours and hours of extra time. What would you do with that time and money?

What new school programs would you create? What school equipment would you update? How would you use that time to better inspire your students?

This might seem like a far-fetched idea because the contrary usually happens. Each year the budgets are tighter and the schedules stricter. It seems like there’s always some new administrative task to be done that ultimately takes time and resources away from core educational activities.

But if one huge, multi-million dollar problem public education is facing were solved, then it would literally allow schools and education agencies to invest that valuable money and time back into our children’s education.

What is this huge multi-million dollar problem?

It all starts with data.

Schools have to record and track enormous amounts of data – from report cards to attendance records to lesson plans… the list goes on and on. Then they need to compile this data in a way that the school staff can understand it. Finally, it needs to be sent to the proper education agencies that track each school’s performance.

Recording, tracking, compiling, validating, and formatting this vast amount of data takes a lot of time and is extremely expensive.

It currently takes so much time and money because from school attendance tracking right up to the state education agency reports, the entire system has become extremely inefficient. These inefficiencies have crept in slowly over the years and now have snowballed into an enormous burden for our public education system.

Let’s look at an example.

School-Level Data Inefficiencies

Some of the schools most affected by these inefficiencies are public charter schools. Take for instance KIPP DC area Charter Schools.

According to publicly available information on the DC PCSB website, KIPP recently spent the following on data management and school information software.

Tableau Online – Data Visualization Software Licenses – $102,000
Schoolzilla – Data Warehouse Platform Licenses – $51,000
DeansList – Software License: Attendance/Homework Tracking – $264,000
Edulastic – Software License: Assessment Management System – $33,000
PowerSchool SIS – Software License: Student Information System – $45,500
Total: $495,500

KIPP paid five different vendors a total of almost half a million dollars on software licenses in one year! These figures don’t even include the maintenance costs and time it takes school staff to learn and manage this different software.

But why do they need to buy so many different software licenses?

It’s because there still doesn’t exist one single platform that can do everything a school needs. If you noticed on the list, one of the programs tracks attendance and homework. Another is an assessment management system. And yet another is an SIS or student information system.

Each of these compiles and reports student data in different formats which then require a data warehouse, data visualization software, and analysts to compile and format into a single usable format.

It’s kind of like taking the pieces from several different puzzles and then paying someone to make them fit together in one single puzzle.

These expensive inefficiencies become even more pronounced when it comes time to submit performance reports to education agencies.

Let’s see how this once again affects public charter schools.

Education Agency Data Inefficiencies

Public charter schools regularly have to submit performance reports to multiple agencies. In the DC area, these would be the DC Public Charter School Board (PCSB) and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE). These organizations review and monitor the DC area charter schools to ensure they are compliant with the various legislative policies and requirements.

To do this the PCSB uses the Performance Management Framework (PMF) or School Quality Reports (SQR). The OSSE uses the Standardized Test and Result (STAR) among others.

So each of these organizations requests data to be submitted in certain pre-specified formats. This means schools have to hire data analysts again or ask current school staff to compile and format the data according to each agency’s requirements. These reports essentially say the same thing, just in different formats that meet each agency’s requirements.

But the inefficiencies don’t stop there. Once the reports get to each agency, they then need to validate and manage that data. And all that costs more money.

In fact, PCSB spends over $300,000 every year to validate and manage the PMF reports. The OSSE spends over $2,000,000 for the software licenses and management of their different reports.

Imagine if there were a better solution that would allow a good part of this money to be invested back into our children’s education.

Until then this data management system wrought with inefficiencies is costing us dearly.

What Is the True Cost?

The true cost of these inefficiencies isn’t just measured by the number of dollars unnecessarily spent. The true cost is seen when teachers are forced to focus more on data and less on their students. It’s measured when schools mismanage information ultimately leading to funding cuts.

The true cost is measured by the number of students who get less and less of the attention they deserve.

The destiny of future generations depends on our actions today. So if we want our public education system to progress into the future and have the resources to inspire future generations, we need a better solution to this huge problem.

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