Trent Kaufman on Data-driven Strategy in Education

Trent Kaufman on Data-driven Strategy in Education

We at Cicero Group, and at Cicero’s divisions Education Direction and Cicero Social Impact, talk a lot about “data-driven strategy.” We realize that the phrase has a wide variety of applications, so we sat down with key partners and company leaders to get their thoughts on what “data-driven strategy” means in their field. We will publish these conversations over the next few weeks. 

Our first conversation is with Dr. Trent Kaufman, President and Chief Operating Officer of Cicero Group and founder of Education Direction. Dr. Kaufman has written two books (Harvard Education Press, Wiley Jossey-Bass) that are used by thousands of organizations worldwide to better leverage data in strategy creation and execution.


What are the 2-3 biggest challenges in education with converting data into actionable strategy?
1) Getting the data into a logical, easy-to-read, and accurate graphical display so educators can spend their time thinking of the implications rather than collecting and aggregating data.
2) Knowing what decisions should be made, and what actions should be taken. Data don’t always shed new light – sometimes the problems are as old as time and educators have been trying to fix those problems for just as long!
3) Closing loops – data driven meetings are often problem-admiration and brainstorming sessions. We need to be more clear about who is going to do what and when, and what is the follow up, or closed-loop reporting?

Most organizations already have large amounts of data. How can education institutions separate the “valuable data” from the “numbers”?
Data that leads to actionable conversations about instructional interventions – those are valuable data. Sometimes the data aren’t numbers. Looking at student work as a data source, for example, can be extremely valuable data analysis because student work is SO CLOSE to the classroom that analyzing it can lead to quick/easy instructional interventions.

It’s often easier to find data than it is to actually do something with it. How do successful organizations make sure that their data is actionable?
All data can be actionable. Making data actionable is a decision, not necessarily a characteristic of the data itself. One thing to focus on is recency – newer data tends to lead to more action than old data.

Can you give an example of data-driven strategy in the realm of K-12 education?
Schools we work with use their state testing data (end of year, high stakes data) to choose a major learning issue to focus on in the coming year (like the fact that kids aren’t able to decipher between author’s opinion and fact in a passage). The school chooses an instructional approach and action plan to address the issue. They collect data every month on progress toward mastery on that major learning issue. Once resolved, the next high leverage problem is uncovered and a new action plan is created. This is a summary of the work of Education Direction.

In what way(s) is Cicero Group uniquely positioned to answer the challenges you’ve discussed above?
No other firm in the country besides Cicero’s Education Division has helped over 1,000 schools implement the process described above. We have more experience doing it. We know what works and what doesn’t. Also, Ed Direction has the secret sauce for durability – district leadership engagement (we literally wrote the book on how districts can lead schools through the improvement process – called Collaborative School Improvement.)

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