Data Driven Leadership

Future Proofing Education with Data

Guest: Curt Merlau, Director, Education Practice

In this episode of Data Driven Leadership, host Jess Carter digs in to the importance of data literacy in education with Curt Merlau, director of public sector education at Resultant. Together, they explore the journey of using and understanding data to shape the future of education.

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Imagine classrooms where lessons evolve in real-time, tailored to each student's unique learning style and pace.

In this episode of Data Driven Leadership, host Jess Carter digs in to the importance of data literacy in education with Curt Merlau, director of public sector education at Resultant. Together, they explore the journey of using and understanding data to shape the future of education.

Curt’s background as a former teacher gives him a unique ability to pull back the curtain and share firsthand insights into the advancements and practical applications that are revolutionizing the way educational institutions harness data. Whether you're an edtech aficionado, an educational leader, or an interested citizen, this episode offers a compelling glimpse into the possibilities in store for education.

Tune in to discover the future of learning with one of the sector's foremost experts.

Listen as we uncover:

  • The importance of data literacy and how the right data mindset can improve education
  • What the future of education holds
  • How we can lead the next generation of students to successful career paths by harnessing data

In this podcast:

  • [00:43-02:20] Who is Curt?
  • [02:20-09:03] What is a data war room?
  • [09:03-16:41] What is Indiana’s GPS program?
  • [16:41-25:40] How schools and businesses can work together to meet each other's needs.
  • [25:40-32:01] What are the next round of initiatives around data in the education sector?
  • [32:01-35:31] What Curt wants the education sector to look like in 20 years.
  • [35:31-38:51] What we should be weary of when designing new AI systems for the education sector.

Our Guest

Curt Merlau

Curt Merlau

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Curt leads a team of outstanding education experts bringing Resultant’s mission and expertise to more places within the education sector, delivering solutions across early care and education, K-12, and post-secondary education. He drives business development in education and oversees the design, development, and execution of education-centric solutions.

His broad expertise helps him to define, prioritize, and align strategic objectives while producing concrete findings, all of which inform client strategies. Curt manages collaboration across various technical teams, helping ensure that business and functional requirements are met for every project. With a background as a youth worker, educator, and key contributor to several education organizations, Curt brings well-rounded expertise and experience to this team.

Curt lives with his wife and four school-aged children in Fishers, Indiana. He enjoys mountain biking, hiking, and traveling.


Jess Carter: The power of data is undeniable and unharnessed, it's nothing but chaos.

Speaker 2:
The amount of data, it was crazy.

Speaker 3:
Can I trust it?

Speaker 4:
You will waste money.

Speaker 5:
Held together with duct tape.

Speaker 6:
Doomed to failure.

Jess Carter [00:00:13]: This season, we're solving problems in real time to reveal the art of the possible. Making data your ally, using it to lead with confidence and clarity, helping communities and people thrive. This is Data Driven Leadership. A show by Resultant.
What's up, data driven leaders? It's Jess. You are about to hear an episode with the one and only Curt Merlau, Director of Public Sector Education at Resultant. I am just thrilled because this episode has something for teachers, data driven leaders, parents, pupils, anyone.

There's so much to learn from what Curt has to say and what his hopes are for the future of education. I think if you pay attention to a segment in here where we talk about data driven leadership and education, he creates this really thoughtful journey, kind of almost like a customer journey, of someone who is seeking to be data literate. And any of us can find ourselves somewhere on that journey around data that is being kind of thrust at us right now, a dashboard that you're being asked to validate or that we're wanting to use to seek funding for something. And so I think it's neat to be able to listen to him, but constantly be thinking about what you can take from this conversation and apply it to your life. Because there are probably three different lanes in my life in which he's connected with today that I can leverage to hopefully have some changed behavior. All right, enjoy. Let's get into it. Curt, welcome.

Curt Merlau [00:01:48]: Hi, Jess. Thanks for having me.

Jess Carter [00:01:50]: Of course. Happy that you're here with us and excited to learn more about the education space. So thanks for being here.

Curt Merlau [00:01:56]: Absolutely. My pleasure.

Jess Carter [00:01:58]: So, for those who haven't known you for the glorious ten years in which I've been privileged to know you, maybe more, can you just elaborate a little bit about your background and how you ended up from education to consulting?

Curt Merlau [00:02:09]: Yeah. You and I first met undergrad years to now has been quite a journey for me, personally and professionally. So I studied education in undergrad, then worked a little bit in higher education before I taught fifth grade. Loved that job. Hardest job I've ever had. I grew up on a farm, and let me tell you, teaching is by far the hardest job I've encountered.

From there, I kind of dabbled in education policy at the state and national levels and then became an administrator for alternative high schools in Indiana and found my way in data and technology. Now, those two things had always followed me throughout my career, but really formalized it when I joined Resultant. So a large share of my background has been in the classroom, in education, and it's excited to be able to still exercise that training and these interest in what I do now at Resultant.

Jess Carter [00:03:18]: That's awesome. Well. And I want to dig already, because one of the things that I have really been impressed with watching the breadth of things that you've done the last decade and then how you've kind of woven them together into this education focused data firm, when you said that data and technology have kind of followed you, what does that mean? What do you mean by that?

Curt Merlau [00:03:40]: Yeah, well, when I taught, data was and continues to be one of the most important aspects of teaching and being a reflective practitioner, they just ingrain that in you in your training. When I was a teacher, we would have these data war rooms. So we literally would take a classroom and post papers and charts around the room for our data. We didn't have data dashboards.

Now, I'm not that old, so the technology existed, but the practice was create a data war room and print these things out and just walk around and notice what the data is telling you. And so those had just been things that I had grown up with as a teacher and as an administrator, continuously looking at data and reflect on it. But that comes with its own challenges and opportunities. And we talk a lot about data literacy, right. And how do you interpret what the data is telling you. And I think for teachers, we are so passionate about what we do and we're in it for all of the good reasons. It can be hard initially to not let the data sting. Right. I remember as that first year teacher, I would obsess over the data and just panic, I'm failing them, I'm not doing something right because they're red and they should be green. So that took a little while to kind of work through that. But I think growing up through that, I've now developed an empathy when working with state education leaders to think about data products that are useful for teachers day in, day out.

Jess Carter [00:05:20]: Yeah, what's an example of a useful data product for teachers?

Curt Merlau [00:05:25]: Yeah, well, with our work through Resultant we think a lot about the type of data that teachers need to access to help them hone in their practice and their techniques and their interventions. Right. They are the experts. They need to be armed with the right information. So we think a lot about how to put data in one centralized place that's quickly and easily digestible. I remember again back to those data war room days, you'd have sheets and piles and piles of data, but how do they all connect? What is it telling me? But we also think about data beyond the typical test. Right. What does that more complete picture of what's going on with a student look like? And we'll never get a complete picture of what's going on in the lives of individuals, but we certainly strive to give a 360 degree view now and going beyond just the teacher. We think a lot about how can students access their own data through data platforms so that they have ownership in their data as well?

Jess Carter [00:06:37]: For the sake of me kind of chasing my own question here, in the same way that I've worked with social determinants of health, I imagine that some of what you're getting at, and there's probably the right language in education, but there's almost social determinants for education, for development and growth. Is that right? Is that where we're starting to look at data that helps you look at a whole person, a whole educated individual?

Curt Merlau [00:07:00]: People? Yeah, absolutely. You and I, we aren't some of a test score. I probably could even tell you why I hope so on the Sat, right?

Jess Carter [00:07:09]: Yeah, right.

Curt Merlau [00:07:10]: There's so much more to us than a test score. Now, those give us important indications on where we're at with regards to standards. But it is a snapshot, right? But yeah, absolutely. We are complex human beings and we are bringing our whole selves into education as we do work. And we have to appreciate that of what's going on in our community, in our home, and in the environment that we live, work and learn in. And so, yeah, that's always the goal is to try to get a full, complete picture of what's happening. And especially after COVID mental health is such an important pervasive topic now. I mean, the numbers are staggering of what our students are facing in terms of mental health. So that absolutely has an impact to learning. So we have to try to understand that.

Jess Carter [00:08:09]: Yeah, well, I remember when you said something about your Sat score. I remember my family was going through some things when I was in the middle of prepping to take those tests, and I recall thinking that it was winning to be done first. I was at a concert the night before. Nobody was like, let's get a good night's sleep. Let's make sure you got the right thing to eat that day. I was like, oh, I beat everyone. My score did not win, though. So I appreciate people like you and others who are thinking about that. That is a snapshot, and maybe we need to take more than one. And maybe there are no prep classes and a whole bunch of other things related to this student than just that score.

Curt Merlau [00:08:49]: Good. Absolutely.

Jess Carter [00:08:51]: Well, you've been doing this really exciting project and I was curious if you could attempt to paint a picture here on the Indiana GPS dashboard. So I do think that if you're listening to this, you have to go, we'll put a link in the episode.

Curt Merlau [00:09:08]: Yeah, definitely.

Jess Carter [00:09:09]: Because looking at it is part of the beauty. Right? It's just neat. But would you unpack kind of what that is and the intention behind?

Curt Merlau [00:09:16]: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. So the Indiana graduates prepare to succeed, or we'll call it GPS for short. Is initiative that came out of the state legislature and the Department of Education in need to we need to rethink how we're preparing students for life after graduation. We need to make sure that they are successful, whether they want to go right into the workforce, college, or enlistment. And so Indiana, like many states, now, have started to think about, what is that portrait of a graduate? What's that ideal graduate look like? Well, there are people who can demonstrate competency both in hard skills, certifications trainings, but also soft skills or employability. Right.

And we're hearing a lot from employers to say, these are the types of things we need our workforce to come to us having experienced or understand or demonstrated. And so there's a lot of conversation nationally about what is that profile of a graduate. It looks different for every state, every region, every community, honestly. And so this is an effort to then look at multiple data points. So with the Indiana GPS program, there are 17 indicators that the state took a lot of time identifying. And those 17 indicators are intended to track progress towards that ideal graduate portrait all the way into from pre K through post secondary. And so the challenge was, how do you create a data dashboard that tells the story of that entire continuum, but in a snapshot, right? In a quick and easy digestible way.

Jess Carter [00:11:12]: Okay. When you say the 17 indicators, do you have any examples? Can you help me understand? I'm kind of curious. I should probably just pull it up and look at it for a second or hey, can you talk me through it's? Been live here for a minute. I know that there's some, I think, enhancements, et cetera, but curious if you have had feedback on the key view or something that's been really valuable when making data driven decisions.

Curt Merlau [00:11:36]: Yeah, absolutely. So these 17 indicators do span that entire continuum. And there's some specific indicators for, say, early Literacy Indicators. Right. We also are continuing to add to those to look at employability and citizenship. But to answer your question about something that I believe we've seen be the most kind of eye opening, are around attendance is one of those things. So we knew that in Indiana, students who had an attendance rate of below, I believe it was 96% start to see academic declines. Okay, right.

So that was really important for us to benchmark then. Okay, if we see these declines, then how are we doing against that threshold? And so when you look at the dashboard, we look at state and school district and by school trends against that. And that's been really helpful for schools to look at because it's a different way of looking at attendance than we have in the past. And so that's been a real eye opener. And then we look at for the first time, we can actually see where are the students in the workforce, what industry how long are they in the workforce? What's their salary? And we tie that back to the district and the school that they attended. That's the first time we've really made that clear connection.

Jess Carter [00:13:11]: That's super cool. There's this ability now to leverage that data, to understand if there are trends that are changing. If there's data that's shifting, there's some attempt or ability to go back and look at it and understand what may be some of those root causes. What are some hypothetical, or I should say, what's a hypothesis around what's really going on here? Is that fair?

Curt Merlau [00:13:33]: Exactly. And I mentioned earlier, we aren't the sum of one or even a couple of data points. Right. But you really hit on something important is that where there's smoke, there's fire, and data gives us smoke to follow, but it's not the whole story. We have to then apply what we know about our students to give us that.

Jess Carter [00:13:52]: Yeah. Okay. And I feel the need to cover this because there's probably a bunch of people that care about this too. Security. I'm assuming that I can't go in and look at my daughter on a public dashboard and see exactly what she's doing at a row level individual student, is that right?

Curt Merlau [00:14:08]: That's right. But your daughter's teacher can.

Jess Carter [00:14:11]: Okay.

Curt Merlau [00:14:12]: So one of the cool things that we did is that we provided this really beautiful public facing dashboard that allows someone to drill down deeper and deeper into the publicly available data. So wherever you are in your data competency, there's something for everyone on that dashboard. But your teacher can log in and can see his or her classroom and the students and their data points all not secure access.

Jess Carter [00:14:37]: That is awesome. And I'll try to tease people that they have to go look at the website because there's also the way we even designed it that I think is really neat, that as you scroll, there's sort of some design features that are really cool as you kind of scroll down. Is that right?

Curt Merlau [00:14:53]: That's right. We call it scrolly. Telling is the first feature you're going to see. Data tells a story. So that's our attempt to tell that story draw people in and just invite them to continue to go or drill down deeper and deeper.

Jess Carter [00:15:07]: Cool. Okay. I will make sure that we get a link in the story notes so people can go look at it as they're listening. Yeah. Then let me ask you this then. Is this something that is Indiana doing this and it's what everyone else has already done or it's never been done? Is this a trend nationally or what are you seeing in that way?

Curt Merlau [00:15:25]: It is a big trend. This idea of this profile of a graduate is really taking on a lot of interest across the states. And this interest in linking workforce data with K Twelve data is becoming increasingly important. We're seeing an increased demand. Employers want to know what's coming through the education pipeline. And educators want to know, what do we need to prepare our students for? Where are the jobs, where are the opportunities to continue to give students these relevant pathways to graduation?

So there is, for a myriad of reasons, been this kind of gap, and we're seeing a real convergence here. And data and technology are going to be huge catalysts in helping achieve these policy initiatives that we're seeing across the country.

Jess Carter [00:16:22]: I think that's awesome. The time I spent at Department of Workforce Development, I mean, that was definitely a pipe dream, and to some extent it existed, but they were working on that continually, right, is to look at, hey, what is our workforce now? What will it be in ten years? Do we still need truck drivers or will those be self driving cars in ten or 20 years and we don't need any truck drivers? And so we looked at some of those classes of workforce skills and then you have these federal programs like Trade Adjustment, TRA or TAA in the workforce side. So it seems like there's really neat programs federally and then at states as well around how do we help people adjust their trade, but how neat, if that wasn't reactive, if we could understand and appreciate what the trades needed to be and how to get people there? I always said I was a very tactile learner. You could probably use better educational language than what I'm going to use. But I would always say if I didn't understand the purpose of what I was learning, I had a hard time retaining it.

And so when I was in math or science, it was fun. I thought it was neat to solve problems. I was really good at proofs, but it was like the proof had a purpose. I was getting to a proof. And so when it comes to some of the science experiments, it was like, I'm just trying to get through my class. I never really understood the purpose. And I think this also meets a need where I'm like, if we can help kids better appreciate at different levels, maybe even earlier, what are some of the jobs that we might need? They might even appreciate more of what they need to learn to get there. Like, hey, this is where some of your 9th grade classes, 10th grade class, really actually can set you up for your career. If you can appreciate that that's what they're doing. And I think that would be super neat.

Curt Merlau [00:18:01]:

I think that's an important point. And so for your listeners who are in the business space, I'd encourage you to get in. What are the pathways at your local school? And can you bring in real world business problems, challenges to bring students alongside to help you solve those? Or if you notice that you have a hard time hiring project managers or data analysts, you build yourself a feeder program through that. Schools are hungry for that. And the world of data and technology is changing so rapidly. I mean, look at AI. There's no way schools can try to keep up with all of that. They need industry leaders in these spaces to be guest speakers, to bring them projects and give them feedback on the types of skills they need from their workers.

Jess Carter [00:18:50]: Yeah, for sure. Awesome. Well, you alluded to this earlier, so I was curious if you'd unpack it more. So if I put you back in the war room and you have all that data around you, and you mentioned data literacy. So I'm curious if you could provide your sense. It sounds like you're saying that that can be a challenging element of, hey, now we're going to have all this data, what do we do with it? I'm curious if you'd have any advice for people both you can explain that situation, but I'd love to hear any thoughts you have on how to take data and make meaning out of it as an educator.

Curt Merlau [00:19:23]: Yeah, well, this could be a very obvious thing, but I'll start by saying data literacy is about our ability to read, write, and communicate about data in a context, right. Where for me, in also context, I study organizational leadership, finishing that program through Vanderbilt and super excited for that. And so I cannot uncouple data from organizational theory in that I start with mindset. If you don't address people's mindsets around data, you can't effectively teach them how to interact with data in the way that you as a business leader probably want them to engage and interact with data. What do I mean by that? When we think about data, different things come up for us, right? For some it's fear, it's anxiety, it's excitement. So many different things come up for us. And if we don't take time as leaders to just check in with our people. Let's just bring up for you when I show you this dashboard, when we talk about data, I think what I found a lot of people, especially, again, educators, because of historical trends and movements that have made this perception a reality. It's a gotcha, it's a punitive, it's a subjective one data point.

Oh, timeout, time out. Let's talk about that. Let's break that down. So how we approach data really matters. And for me, people approach them in different scales of comfortability. And I've almost kind of developed a bit more time to it. I'm sure I could articulate it better, but almost kind of developed this kind of phase that people kind of go through to then be able to really interact with the data in a way that gets insights and drives decision making. But people kind of go through this like there's a part that total disbelief, well, I don't believe this data. Well, where did this data come from?

Jess Carter [00:21:37]: Right?

Curt Merlau [00:21:38]: This isn't accurate because I have proof that it's not right. So you really have to work through that to be able to sit down at a table or as an individual, to think about that critically. So, for me, I think a lot about that. When I think about data literacy, whether it be in the organizational context or in the education context, we have to sense give and sense make. Right? So if I'm a leader, I have to help people make sense of the data that they're seeing. As an individual, I have to recognize that I'm since making all of this data that I'm looking at, and I have to check myself, what past experiences or lenses am I applying here? Is that right or is that wrong? It could be a whole other episode.

Jess Carter [00:22:31]: Maybe sometimes you're not wrong because what you're inviting, which is not always the conversation we get to have, is that data can be emotional.

Curt Merlau [00:22:41]: Yeah.

Jess Carter [00:22:42]: That if you're a human interpreting data, there is a level in which you are engaging in both a pragmatic way and an emotive way. And there is a combo that if you can self understand, where am I on that path? Am I questioning the data quality or its efficacy? Am I defensive of the findings? Am I trying to make meaning? And I'm not sure how to. So everyone's kind of in a different place on that map. And I think that's really helpful to say. Hey, one, if you are ever surrounded by data, a great data driven leader is going to stop and understand, where am I on that map, where am I on the journey? And then two, why am I there, and where do I go from here? I think you just unpacked how to find yourself as a data driven leader.

Curt Merlau [00:23:27]: Wherever you are so well, and hopefully I'm not sharing too much, but Jesse and I have had a lot of conversations about this. We've used the enneagram quite a bit in our personal professional life. And being both enneagram, threes, we are highly tuned to achievement and and what do I need to take to win? And when you see data that doesn't reflect that, that can be hard to take to the ego, and we have to reconcile that. So absolutely, it's a process. And I'll go back to something I've said all along around leadership, is that you really have to know yourself and your identity as a leader to be able to have the types of conversations and discussions and analysis that you need to have to make objective decisions. You have to know who you are, what perspectives you bring, and to be able to kind of step back and be like, okay, where is this coming from? What are the other perspectives? Check myself, right?

Yeah, 100%. When we were developing the GPS dashboard, that came up quite a bit. We do our best to empathize with, okay, I'm a teacher, I'm a parent. What is this chart telling me? But we were very intentional about engaging the actual people who would use the platform to in the research world. We call it a cognitive interview.

Jess Carter [00:24:52]: Okay.

Curt Merlau [00:24:52]: But basically, let's show you the dashboard and we want to hear you talk out loud. And that gives us a lot of really good insights about assumptions that people are making that we didn't even know that they would make, or questions they have about the visualizations that we didn't even think. We just thought, oh, well, no brainer. People are going to know what this means, right? When we hear them talk out loud. When they see a dashboard for the first time, we're like, oh, all right, let's go back to the drawing board and redesign that.

Jess Carter [00:25:22]: That's really neat. And it's a totally different lens to the GPS story. So I appreciate you sharing of, hey, every dashboard is not just what the designer thought it needed to be or the developer thought it needed to be. It absolutely is a relationship with the end user. If it's not, you're risking misinformation at the greatest extent, right? People are going to interpret what they can or make assumptions, or they're going to do what you said on the journey. They're going to criticize it, question it, walk away.

But if you can have that relationship and you can do the best practice like you did with those cognitive interviews, you start this relationship of understanding, what did they want? What do they need? Do they understand the way we're visualizing this? Should we improve it, change it, whatever. But that gets back to sort of my passion about if a tree fell in the forest and no one was there, did it really fall? Did anyone hear it? So I forget the analogy, I'm screwing it up. But the point is, the best dashboard on earth is only the best if people know how to use that data effectively to drive better outcomes, right?

Curt Merlau [00:26:25]: And that gets me on my soapbox. People want to just buy a dashboard, oh, let's create a dashboard. No, time out. The power is not in the data itself. The power is in the conversation that happens around the data. And a dashboard is a tool, but the leader is the catalyst for that. And how you interact with that dashboard and how it's designed really matters. So it's not enough just to create a data war room and have people walk around and stare at a chart or to buy a dashboard and throw it into tableau or power bi and stare at.

Jess Carter [00:27:05]: Absolutely. Well, so let me ask you this know, you do have a lens on the nation that I find interesting. So do you have any sense for what you think the next handful of initiatives or priorities are around data and education?

Curt Merlau [00:27:23]: Yeah, well, one in particular. Over the last decade or more, there's been a significant investment of taxpayer dollars to help states build what we call an education state. Longitudinal data systems or SLDs. What that is, is data sometimes across the pre K, through workforce continuum, sometimes just K twelve. But it's that longitudinal view to answer research questions to see how students progress through our education system. Huge amounts of money have been invested and there's another round of SLDs grants going to be awarded later in the fall and these have gone through lots of trends. Now, what I've noticed is that states have built these really complex infrastructures for housing data and almost like a build it and they will come mentality.

Oh, if we build all this data together, researchers are going to be clamoring for this and the public and policymakers no, turns out they didn't come knocking down the door for all this data. So we're seeing this trend now of like how can we increase the utility of this data and demand for this data. It's a very human thing. So our work through Resultant what we start with is defining what are those use cases that have the most momentum. In Indiana a couple of years ago was infant mortality, one of the worst infant mortality rates in the entire country. People were very interested in that. Did they know that the state had a longitudinal data? No, they knew that they had to solve this problem. So we have to connect those relevant use cases and then we have to create ways for people to access those.

And it turns out that more than just researchers are interested in this data, but we have to provide different access points for parents, teachers, students to look at that longitudinal data to make sense of it. So we're seeing a lot more of that trend to say how can we just really meet people where they're at and serve up this data. Because state departments of education or states, they don't just have a mountain of data, they have an entire mountain range of data and we've only begun to scratch the surface of what we could do with that data.

Jess Carter [00:29:55]: Okay?

Curt Merlau [00:29:56]: And one of the things that I hope comes from positive things that comes from the pandemic is how can we harness this mountain range of data to give us more real time accessible insights. I hope we don't just kind of go back to business as usual with these types of data systems. So there's a long history with SLDs data systems and every state is in varying phases but we are seeing the increased need for more real time or just in time data. So at Resultant we do a lot with transactional data systems and data standards to do that because by the time it loads into a data system or warehouse it's past time. Right. Can't do anything about what happened a year ago. Teacher I could do something that happened last week.

Jess Carter [00:30:50]: Right, great. Just curious here, is there a world where COVID actually helped the education industry, both public and private around hey. We can't see our students every day, we're going to have to trust the data more.

Curt Merlau [00:31:11]: It's a good question. We certainly do see a lot of hybrid options, right. What we actually see in education come from COVID is this increase in choice or variety.

Jess Carter [00:31:26]: Okay.

Curt Merlau [00:31:27]: Where some families said, hey, this virtual works really well for my student. Other families said, absolutely no way know how. And if you're anything like in our household, I worship the ground my kids teachers walk on. Like, anything you need, I'll get it for you. But we are recognizing that not every student, not every worker is created the same for the same environment, and they need different environments. So the interesting thing for the education sector is going to be if choice becomes more of an option, meaning I can send my kiddo to a virtual school or my traditional public or a Carter or home school half the day and the other half day go take a class at the high school. Where does that data go? Because if the student isn't spending their time in one building, where do I put that data to look at how that student is progressing?

Okay, so that'll be something for the education sector to grapple with. And we think about these accountability systems that so many states have where a school gets a letter grade. Well, if 50% of their students are hybrid or taking classes elsewhere, where does that data go? So we are going to have to look more at that individual data, but accommodate the needs in the person, whether it be the worker or the student. Right.

Jess Carter [00:32:56]: Awesome. Very cool. Well, I've got one more question for you. I'm just curious if you were to tell me, I mean, I know you've been passionate about education for a long time. You've got kiddos that are going through it, right. You're a parent. You've been a student. There's like all this empathy you have. You've worked with state legislators or state directors of agencies. Do you have a couple of things you could tell me where if you had it your way in 20 years, this is the way education would work in America. This is what it would feel like.

Curt Merlau [00:33:27]: This is what it would look like, yeah. Wow. That's a big question. Yeah, easy question. Well, I'll start by saying this. What got me into education was something I read in undergrad Savage Inequalities, and there's a real eye opener for how you can have such gaps in experiences and opportunities just down the road from one school district to another. Right. And so what data and technology give us the opportunity to do and even AI is to broaden how we reach students, where they're at and how do we fill those gaps and address these inequities that have been systemic? When I taught, a lot of times, the focus when we looked at our data was, okay, these kids are passing. These kids are failing. These kids are what we call them, bubble kids.

They're just shy of passing. So we're going to focus all of our effort on the bubble kids. Now, I'm not saying that's what happens today. I'm not making excitement. I'm just saying from my experience, that's the conversations I would hear. But now with AI, we can create personalized individual instructional plans based on where those students are at. And so I hope we embrace that as a profession and that we embrace this individual learner plan or path and competency based meaning instead of first, 2nd, 3rd grade. Well, I might be the age of a third grader, but in math I'm showing mastery in 7th grade.

Jess Carter [00:35:17]: Yeah.

Curt Merlau [00:35:17]: So I'm self paced. Right. I'm being challenged continuously. And AI has a tremendous opportunity to do that. But we also have to be cautious not to recreate the systemic inequalities that we as humans have created. When we create our AI models and when we look at our data, we have to really be cognizant of that. So I'm excited about what that could mean and the opportunities that could open up to our students. But if I were to have it my way, it would be every student has an individual learning plan. They're on their own pathway, they're being challenged. The teacher is being supported by knowing where students are at in real time and can then use their professional time working with those students one on one. Right.

Jess Carter [00:36:05]: That's super cool.

Curt Merlau [00:36:06]: Yeah.

Jess Carter [00:36:08]: Even the bubble comment is really interesting because if you think about if I place you back in that war room, which is just such a cool visual as we're talking, it's neat to imagine that it would make so much sense that that's where you guys where people might surround themselves, because it's where you can discern that there could be a difference made with that insight left to be had in the room surrounded by data. It makes a lot of sense that that's where a lot of people would land. And that's where I also get excited about these analytics because you're right, it creates an ability to understand each individual at a unique level and understand how we can challenge everyone. I think it's super cool.

Curt Merlau [00:36:49]: Yeah. And we have to think about the systems we create around the data. Right. Because in that example, there was a big emphasis on standardized test scores and a lot was riding on past scores. Individual teacher evaluations, pay, school ratings. The unintended consequence was the focus went to those bubble kids. Right. So it very much matters the systems we design and the incentives we put out there for performance and think about what are those unintended consequences. Right?

Jess Carter [00:37:20]: Yeah. What's success look like, really? And how do we define that? Carefully. Yeah. This is so neat.

Curt Merlau [00:37:24]: Absolutely.

Jess Carter [00:37:26]: Is there anything else I haven't interrogated you on that you want to share today?

Curt Merlau [00:37:31]: Thanks for the opportunity. It's an exciting time to be thinking about data in education and there's no shortage of opportunities. And so we have been working really hard as a practice to continue to put 1ft out there in the world and see what's happening, what's evolving, and 1ft in with our technical solution, folks, to think about ways that we can meet these new challenges. And so I would say for data leaders out there, embrace change, think about how to lead through change and just that need to rapidly reevaluate what we're doing with our data. But I'm sure there'll be opportunities for us to pick up many conversations we started here today. Sure, we would be happy to, but thanks for the opportunity.

Jess Carter [00:38:25]: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you guys for listening. I'm your host, Jess Carter. Don't forget to follow the data driven leadership wherever you get your podcasts and rate and review, letting us know how these data topics are transforming your business. We can't wait for you to join us on the next episode.

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