Data Is A Four Letter Word

Drowning in Data


Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably noticed a lot of talk lately around the subject of “Big Data” in education. The promise of Behavior Modeling and Predictive Analytics is alluring to data miners and data scientists. For most educators, however, just trying to get a handle on the data they already have can be a struggle. If you’re like me, you’re a little fatigued with the phrase “Data Driven Decision Making” and aren’t terribly excited about the prospect of piling on more data.

“An SIS is where good data goes to die.”

Even for tech-savvy school administrators, something as basic as a 5-year district attendance report can produce hundreds of thousands of records and typically requires help from an expert using specialized reporting software. The result is captured in a PowerPoint slide for one-time use and rarely available beyond its intended purpose. The process can take days, if not weeks and the result is more like performing an autopsy than diagnosing the current situation.

How We Got Here
Over the past twenty years, modern student information systems like PowerSchool and Infinite Campus have evolved to absorb mass data entry from hundreds or even thousands of simultaneous users across a large district or state, but easy as it is to get data in, it’s much harder to get data out. I like to say that “an SIS is where good data goes to die.”

Beyond transcripts, raw data dumps and compulsory state reports, SISs typically offer few useful tools to show educators what’s happening within their schools. This is compounded in statewide implementations where the inability to report on multiple districts frustrates administrators who need a birds-eye view on live data.

Building A Better Tool
When I sit down to meet with school administrators, three things almost always become immediately apparent:

  • They need access to live data
  • They have no time to learn yet another new system
  • The questions they seek answers to are pretty simple.

The last point is worth noting. With all the hype surrounding Big Data, school leaders have pretty simple questions that don’t require advanced algorithms and supercomputers to answer. As we set out to build LearnSprout, we focused on some of the most common key performance indicators (KPIs) and designed a system that could connect directly to live SIS data and present information in a way that is easy to use and understand. So far, this simplified approach seems to be working. Since we launched our free district dashboard just a few months ago, more than 2,000 schools have joined LearnSprout, but we’re just getting started. Administrators need access to information, not more data, and they don’t want to learn how to use another bloated system… They just want answers to some very basic questions.

FOOTNOTE: Based in San Francisco, LearnSprout offers free data analytics for K-12 educators to help fight chronic absenteeism, identify at-risk students and track college readiness. Learn more at
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