Data Driven Decisions

Before we invest in something new, we need to make sure there is a strong research base that supports this change.   

Whether we are talking about local assessments or national level research, I believe that school board decisions need to be based on a thorough review of existing data and best practices.  At the local level it is important to assess our local needs and listen to feedback from our stakeholders. Then we need to make sure we look to the work of experts in the field of Education for evidence based best practices to help inform decisions at the board table.

I think it is important that school board members ask for and review local data on existing school/district programs or changes to programs or policies to ensure that:

  • Changes are necessary
  • There is evidence that the program or policy is effective
  • Necessary supports are in place for success
  • The program or policy has an impact on students and student learning

As someone with experience in program evaluation, I believe it is critical to use both local and national data to drive our decisions as a policy making body.  

This past year we made some challenging decisions as a board, including the decision to not allow grounds monitors to continue the unauthorized practice of carrying concealed weapons on campus. This was a very difficult and complex decision, and ultimately, I  co-authored an Op-Ed about the challenges school boards face in making these kinds of decisions. An excerpt from the Op-Ed follows:

Districts in several states are currently deciding whether to allow teachers who have firearms training to carry concealed weapons in school, whether to hire more armed security officers, and whether to increase a police presence in schools. But what does science say about the best ways to prevent horrific events like shootings in school? Education researchers, many of whom spend decades developing and evaluating school safety programs and policies, can be a valuable asset to local school boards. Some district leaders make great efforts to consult with researchers on school safety, but, generally, researchers who have a wealth of information based on evidence are absent from these district-level conversations. These decisions can be influenced by state and local law enforcement, which tends to focus on the need to harden schools, when decades of empirical research show the effectiveness of focusing on student mental health, connectedness, teacher relationships, and trust. Board members need to be aware of the potential negative outcomes of hardening schools, and the need for sensible, local school safety and threat assessment programs that allow for a discussion of current strengths and weaknesses. This research and these recommended practices—validated by educational researchers—need to be available and accessible to board members across the country as they debate these difficult and complex issues.

We know that each school, each district, and each community is unique. Even in the same communities, conditions change over time. We ask educational researchers and school board members to use current local data to target appropriate interventions that keep students safe in school. We can continue to harden schools by arming more school personnel, or we can look at evidence about what prevents students from killing others and themselves. School boards have a lot to wrestle with, and educational researchers need to work collaboratively to promote these local partnerships so that consistent, data-driven decision-making surrounding school safety happens at the board table.

Source: Reynolds, H. & Astor, R.A. (2018, December). Life and death school safety choices in search of data and science. Teachers College Record, Retrieved from: http://www.tcrecord.org/Content.asp?ContentID=22600