Data Driven Leadership

Getting the Power of Educational Data Directly to Parents and Students with Data Quality Campaign’s Paige Kowalski

Guest: Paige Kowalski, Executive Vice President, Data Quality Campaign

Data Quality Campaign (DQC) Executive Vice President Paige Kowalski is on a mission to do just that: Get education data to students, families, and educators. As a first-generation college student herself, Paige understands the high stakes of making informed decisions about post-secondary education. She joins us to share her insights on the need for accessible and reliable data to guide students and parents through the complex journey from high school to college and beyond.

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Collecting good data is only half the battle.

The next major hurdle?

Getting that data into the hands of the people who need it.

Data Quality Campaign (DQC) Executive Vice President Paige Kowalski is on a mission to do just that: Get education data to students, families, and educators.

As a first-generation college student herself, Paige understands the high stakes of making informed decisions about post-secondary education. She joins us to share her insights on the need for accessible and reliable data to guide students and parents through the complex journey from high school to college and beyond.

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • How longitudinal data empowers students and educators
  • The importance of easy access to educational data
  • Why data-driven leaders need to embrace risk

Other resources from this episode:

In this podcast:

  • [02:55-07:21] The need for quality data in education
  • [07:21-12:55] The power of a state longitudinal data system (SLDS)
  • [12:55-24:36] Enabling access to student data
  • [24:36-31:09] [24:36] Examples of innovative educational data initiatives
  • [31:09-35:11] Embracing risks as a data-driven leader

Our Guest

Paige Kowalski

Paige Kowalski

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Paige Kowalski is Executive Vice President for the Data Quality Campaign. She leads a team of passionate advocates to advance education data policies at the local, state, and federal levels that meet the needs of individuals and improve student outcomes.

Paige was previously DQC’s director of state policy and advocacy and managed DQC’s efforts to support state policymakers and help them understand their roles and responsibilities in encouraging effective data use at all levels. In addition, she led DQC’s work to inform state and national teacher effectiveness policies and supported state efforts to effectively implement data-related provisions of the 2009 federal stimulus act.

Before joining DQC in 2008, Paige managed several national data initiatives for the Council of Chief State School Officers and participated as a managing partner of DQC in its early years. Paige also has significant state and local experience through her tenures with the University of California, the City and County of San Francisco, and Chicago Public Schools.

Paige received her bachelor’s degree in international relations from the University of California, Davis, and earned a master’s degree in public policy from The George Washington University, where she focused on education policy.


Curt Merlau [00:00:02]:
Why is data so often used as a gotcha, especially in education? As a former teacher, administrator, and now, consultant, it's a question that I ask myself all the time, which is why we're here. I'm Dr. Curt and this is my takeover of Data-Driven Leadership.

In this four-episode miniseries, I'll be joined by several industry experts who have made it their mission to hunt, seek, and destroy the systemic barriers to learning. Through it and data, we'll share how it and data can not only meet unmet needs, but can actually accelerate opportunities when done the right way. In my role, I work with many state education leaders across the country, which in turn exposes me to a wide variety of new and exciting strategies. I look forward to bringing you these amazing leaders to share those strategies with you. Let's bring people, policy, and technology together so that data can be our greatest ally. Dive in.

Curt Merlau [00:01:02]:
It is really hard for me to choose a favorite conversation of this miniseries, but I will say that I have been a longtime fan of the Data Quality Campaign and specifically of its executive vice president, Paige Kowalski, and her thoughts and her leadership around state data systems. This conversation, whether you're from education or outside of education, will give you something to really think about in terms of how states use the large amounts of data that they compile for the betterment of society as a whole. Paige and the Data Quality Campaign have been tireless advocates for advancing the cause of data, of data quality, and data accessibility. I hope you enjoy the conversation.
Paige, thank you so much for joining us today. We really appreciate you having on the show.

Paige Kowalski [00:01:53]:
Thanks, Curt. It's great to be here.

Curt Merlau [00:01:55]:

Paige Kowalski [00:01:55]:
Or should I say, Dr. Curt?

Curt Merlau [00:01:57]:
Yeah. Dr. Curt. Yeah. Like the Dr. Phil or Dr. Drew reference there. Yeah, it's. Doesn't get old saying that. It's a newly minted degree I just finished, but thank you. Yeah.

Curt Merlau [00:02:13]:
So, Paige, I have really been looking forward to this conversation with you. I have always been a big fan of the Data Quality Campaign and in particular the content and the thought leadership that you provide in this space. I know that our listeners, whether they come to us from an education background or not, will lead with some really insightful content and thoughts from you today. So, Paige, before we jump in, I would love for you to just share a little bit with the audience. What is the Data Quality Campaign? And then how did you become involved in where you are today?

Paige Kowalski [00:02:55]:
Yeah, so the Data Quality Campaign is a national nonprofit policy and advocacy organization. And our mission is quite simple and we just seek to change the role that data plays in our decision-making at all levels. And I know that sounds simple, but the fact that we've been around for 18 years says that that's easier said than done. And I've been involved in this for the whole 18 years. I've been at DQC for, I think this is my 16th year. It's getting harder and harder to do the math, but prior to that I worked on some national data initiatives with CCSSO. So I've been around this really since the beginning of the conversation, if you will, around state data systems and the role that data would play in improving student outcomes.

Curt Merlau [00:03:44]:
Amazing. Do you mind sharing a little bit about your backstory on how did you become involved with this data movement? And why is data quality such an important topic and area of passion for you personally?

Paige Kowalski [00:03:59]:
Yeah. So without saying too much about how old I am, I actually remember when Great Schools launched. It was in the nineties. I am from California, I grew up in the Bay area, and I come from, I'm a first-gen kid, so first kid to go to college in my family. And I didn't truly realize until I got to college how much information people had in figuring all that out. Right now we call it college knowledge. I don't think we called it anything back then, how much more information they had than I had. So I made more mistakes.

Paige Kowalski [00:04:36]:
I picked the wrong school. I didn't know how to pick a major, I didn't know anything. I didn't have AP classes in high school, so I was just less set up to succeed. And things seemed like they took longer and there were more mistakes involved. And when Great Schools launched, it was the first time I had really had access to see what was going on in other schools and what kind of outcomes they were achieving. I think in my school we'd always heard, well, we don't have these kinds of programs, basically because your parents didn't go to college, but the high school over there, they do have these programs. And I just sort of bought that. It sounded rational.

Paige Kowalski [00:05:18]:
And it wasn't until I was starting to see this data come out about other schools for the first time that I realized that was garbage. That was an excuse. And it really just drove me to seek out ways of getting out better information and lifting up narratives and stories and people who are, who are trying to move up that social mobility ladder but just get held back because they just don't know. They don't have access. And I came out to DC in goodness, I've been out here for 20 years now, and right after No Child Left Behind had passed and got involved in some of these conversations around. All right, we're going to have a test score in math and reading in every student in America.

Paige Kowalski [00:06:07]:
What do we do with that? How do we do more with it than just tell the teacher and the parent or send an accountability report to the feds for our money? How do we use that information and actually start to understand what's driving certain outcomes? Who are the kids that are slipping through the cracks in our grad rate? Who's not going to college? That could be going to college with some better outreach and better understanding of what kind of programs would lead to that. And that's really what's driven me for the last 18 years, is really thinking through, I want to make sure that families who don't have that information have that information. And honestly, you can never have too much information. So I have a son in college and a son in high school. I have all the college knowledge in the world anybody could ever want. And I still find myself digging through admission rates and, you know, salaries that kids are getting after college because I am paying tuition. It's not cheap, no matter how you play that game.

Curt Merlau [00:07:13]:

Paige Kowalski [00:07:13]:
So I'm using that information now as an adult, thinking through how to help my kids make better, smarter decisions.

Curt Merlau [00:07:21]:
Amazing. Thank you for sharing a little bit of that with us. And I'd really like to talk with you today about state longitudinal data systems, or sometimes it's just shortened to SLDS. We've also maybe heard the phrase P20W: preschool/kindergarten through college/workforce, P20W, Cradle to Career. Right. There's many different names out there with some subtle nuances to them. But I would love your perspective on these systems because these systems really hold a promise, a potential to provide parents and educators and even students themselves with access to this critical data that you were just describing.

Curt Merlau [00:08:08]:
And so for our listeners, if you wouldn't mind just kind of unpacking what is a statewide longitudinal data system, an SLDS, and we'll get into kind of where they are today and where they're going. But, you know, this program, and, Paige, correct me if I'm, if I'm misquoting it, started around 2004, I believe, really, when the federal government started to issue grants out to states to establish these longitudinal data systems and have evolved since then. And there's just a lot of discussion around these systems today. It's just very relevant, I think. So, just to open it up, could you describe for us what is an SLDS? And then we'll get into the history, I guess, the evolution.

Paige Kowalski [00:08:56]:
Yeah. So I mentioned that after No Child Left Behind ,we're going to, for the first time ever, have individual data at the state level. And I think what most folks don't know is prior to that, we've always had reporting, right? We've always had data collection in education. We've always had reporting up to the state and to the federal government. That's how money flows: send data up, money comes down. But that data was never very good, and it differed district to district.

Paige Kowalski [00:09:26]:
Right. We didn't have common definitions or formulas. And so a graduation rate from, you know, I'm from California, so a graduation rate from my home county of Contra Costa County would look very different than the graduation rate from Kern County, California, simply because the numerator and the denominator is different and it's chosen by the district. And so they would send the grad rate to the state, the state would report it, they'd send it to the feds. And so we didn't have very good data. So when we, when states were charged by No Child Left Behind to administer these assessments, the state had an individual data point for each student for the first time. So the idea was, what else can we bring into the state level, to the state, at the individual level, that will help put some context around that test score, right? We get a lot of concern about what does a test score even mean for a child? Aren't they growing up in certain conditions? Their school isn't resourced properly.

Paige Kowalski [00:10:26]:
They don't have aftercare or enrichment activities or access to this or that. Those things are all true, and they're important context around that test score, as is family income. But without a means to connect it to that one single data point of the test score, we will never know and we will never be able to do any kind of analysis and start to unpack the kinds of questions that really matter to driving student achievement, which is, who is it working for? Who is it not working for? How do we learn from our high flyers, from those schools? Beating the odds beyond income, right? Because it's the one thing school systems can't really change. So to do that, states started to build out what's called an SLDS, a statewide longitudinal data system. And you're right, it was around ‘04/ ‘05 when federal dollars began to flow for that. Coincidentally or not, that is around the same time the Data Quality Campaign was founded with the ten essential elements of an SLDS to sort of provide a roadmap for a state of like, all right, y'all have test scores. Let's get courses and grades. Let's get student demographics and attendance and behavior data.

Paige Kowalski [00:11:38]:
Let's get AP scores and SAT scores. Let's get outcomes. Did the student graduate high school? Did a student drop out? There are actually about 20-odd different ways a student may leave a school. So being able to incorporate all of that and link it to the individual student helps you better understand what's going on. The idea of longitudinal, so another sort of knock on these state assessments is that it's a snapshot in time, it's a moment, right? My son took his SAT yesterday.

Paige Kowalski [00:12:10]:
It's not going to define his whole life. It was the Monday after day length savings change. So I don't know why they scheduled SAT after that.

Curt Merlau [00:12:19]:
Yeah, four point.

Paige Kowalski [00:12:19]:
Yeah, they're not score super high. We can have that conversation. But what longitudinal analysis enables you to do is understand was it a bad day for the student or is it every year that trend is happening? And what. So it allows you. It's sort of like snapshot is a picture and longitudinal is like a movie. It's moving, it's over time, it's got a length to it. And while something may be a fluke, right, we all have bad days where we don't do well. If you see that consistently, there's a clue to a family and a school, that there may be a problem.

Paige Kowalski [00:12:55]:
The other thing it enables you to do, looking longitudinally, especially if you have these other data points like AP scores and graduation and such, is that once you have a number of years of data, we can start to answer those critical questions. Do students who take more AP classes enroll at higher rates in college? And what is that critical cutoff? Is it one AP? Is it ten? Because that's going to drive how principals and school district superintendents think about their programming. If their goal is we want to increase the number of students who do enroll, if that's their goal. That's not the only goal or even the best goal, but if that's your goal, you would want to know, what am I doing currently in my school that is actually helping kids go on to enroll in school and be successful in college? And how do I do more of that? How do I do less of what's not working? Or are there things that are working for some students that aren't working for others? And how do I do that? And maybe nothing's working in my. But now I want to know who are the schools like mine in my state? This is where that comparable data at the state level comes into play. Because if I design a graduate one way and I call the district next door to say, how are you getting such a high grad? What are you doing for your kids? And it turns out just their denominator is different. Well, I can change my denominator, but that's not changing outcomes for kids, right? It's changing, and it's changing a number that you report. So there are critical systems to help folks, whether you're a governor or a legislator, that's trying to allocate resources and scale up programs.

Paige Kowalski [00:14:31]:
You're a parent trying to understand your own child's trajectory, or you were a school principal or a district superintendent trying to, trying to understand what works and for whom.

Curt Merlau [00:14:41]:
I think that's a great overview. And the Data Quality Campaign, you really did set the pace, t he standard of these systems that was later codified into federal law and has since been kind of the guiding light for these systems. And that was several years ago. There's been a lot of evolution. There has been the proliferation of AI and machine learning. And these systems, when done right, and when data is standardized, we talk a lot about standardization. There holds a lot of potential, and I would venture to guess a lot of people who maybe are outside of education don't realize that these systems exist.

Curt Merlau [00:15:24]:
And they do play a critical role in decision-making. As an example, is pivotal in the COVID response. And looking at learning loss and trying to understand, you know, what was the anticipated gains or outcomes if we were to have had our assessments and compare that to where students are showing up to try to quantify how many years of academic loss has been endured? I mean, the list goes on and on, early warning indicators to help predict students at risk of dropping out. All of those things are just phenomenal. And I'm curious, Paige, your take on over the last two decades of these systems being around, where are we as a country or as a majority of states, and where do we still need to go in order to really tap into the full potential of these longitudinal data systems that are just amassing huge amounts of data, and not just from the education sector. We see them pull in workforce data. You mentioned employment and wage data. We see early services, early care and service data being pulled in social services, health data, even.

Curt Merlau [00:16:40]:
Yeah. Where are we now after investing in these systems for as long as we have been?

Paige Kowalski [00:16:46]:
Yeah. I mean, so we've made a ton of progress. In the beginning, these systems were largely funded to be K–12 systems. The bulk of the work happened in K–12. That's the bulk of the use of the data, the value of the data. It's the bulk of the money going in, bulk of the money that the state spends. And so the question that states began asking of these systems started to make it clear that they wanted to know more than just what was happening inside of K–12. They wanted to understand who's coming into our schools, right? What's happening in birth–to–five, pre-K in particular.

Paige Kowalski [00:17:24]:
And then they wanted to know, okay, well, our kids are graduating high school or not, where they're taking a GED or what have you, what's happening to them after? Do they enroll in college? And if they do, is that a two-year or four-year? Is it in state? Is it out of state? Did they get financial aid? Are they in debt? They want to know then, or did they go get a job? Are they in an apprenticeship? Which is something that's a new conversation for us all, or did they enlist in the military? There are a lot of successful outcomes for young people. Even if you don't graduate high school, there are successful outcomes, and what having that data be linked up across time, across systems and sectors, so pulling in that early learning data, pulling in that post secondary, the credentials, including non-degree credentials and certificate, apprenticeship, military enlistment, UI wage data, other kinds of workforce data, that really starts to target what is happening, what are we doing? What are we spending? What are our programs and what is it leading to? Because if we keep focus on, did you enroll in a four-year college? And that's the definition of success. First of all, we're never going to win that. And second of all, there are other definitions of success. My dad enrolled in the military. It's how I got here today. There are many ways to get there and be successful, and we need to understand them all and make sure that young people are being guided correctly.

Paige Kowalski [00:18:56]:
If you don't want to go to college, for whatever reason, you can—and I know this was the narrative when I was in high school—you could go to college, or you could go up the street where the mall was and apply at one of the stores. Those were the choices I was given. It was a no-brainer. I did not want to go work in the mall, and that was literally the biggest reason why I went to college. And I wish I were joking, but I'm not. And it worked out for me.

Curt Merlau [00:19:21]:

Paige Kowalski [00:19:22]:
But I think there's got to be better advice and better information available to young people, especially with the costs that we're looking at, and can you calculate a really good ROI for yourself, for your family. Is it two- or four-year? Is it, can you take on the debt? What do those jobs lead to? Do those colleges actually get you jobs? So they have become critical information sources for that information. You mentioned, well, where do we have to go? Our biggest problem is nobody has access. So states did a great job of building the systems. The technology is not the hard part. These are not IT projects. These are tools and systems that should deliver information to people to make better decisions. And that's the big disconnect we have, is you've got to build it, but then you have to build out access.

Paige Kowalski [00:20:17]:
Access isn't magic. It's not organic. You don't just turn a knob and it flows out. You have to build it into something so that people know that it's there, they know what it means, they know how to get it, they know how to use it. Dashboards are great. We could look at KY Stats in Kentucky. It's a fabulous dashboard of very rich indicators from early learning all the way through workforce. But having something that I as a parent or a teacher could log into that pulls data from that system and helps me understand, where do kids from my kids’ high school go? What kind of salary could my child, who's now applying to the University of Kentucky nursing program, what kinds of jobs do they go get and where is— and the best part is, if you really build it out, my child is currently a freshman in high school.

Paige Kowalski [00:21:09]:
Are they on track to do that? What is it? What does the rest of their high school course selection need to be, to be competitive, to go to that college, to get that degree, to get that job and earn that way. And that's where the hard work is left to do. And it does take money. But what it takes is the recognition upon state leadership that everybody deserves access to that information, that the data doesn't “belong” to the state or any particular agency and belongs to all of us, and that it's time to get it out of the system into our hands.

Curt Merlau [00:21:44]:
You made several great points. I'll go back to the first one, and I often quip that states have taken this notion of “build it and they will come.” We will build these huge infrastructures, these large amounts of data, and people will just come and use it. It'll be great. That didn't happen, to your point about accessibility. We have seen this trend of serving data back to schools, administrators, whether it be publicly accessible dashboards or even authenticated dashboards, to see row-level data and for students to even see their own data and to be able to manipulate and have agency over their own data. This idea of a golden record or a student data backpack accessible by the students themselves. We'll be sure to put a link in the episode to KY Stats and then also to the Indiana Graduates Prepared to Succeed dashboard that Resultant built and looks at 17 data indicators from pre-K all the way through graduation and beyond.

Curt Merlau [00:22:47]:
And what that dashboard allows users to do is look at the district and the school level and say of children who graduated from this high school, where are they now? What is their average salary from this school? And so that, you're right, is what we also see as the next evolution of these systems.

Paige Kowalski [00:23:06]:
And privacy protected, right? We're not looking at Curt graduated from this school and is making this money. It is all anonymous and de-identified. Private.

Curt Merlau [00:23:18]:

Paige Kowalski [00:23:18]:
And just helps us all plan better.

Curt Merlau [00:23:20]:
That's right. And we can look it up by student populations to look at things like equity and understand how are we serving student populations? To a point you made earlier, where are there bright spots where we're serving particular populations exceptionally well? And how can we go learn from that, if there's a school system similar in demographic and in geography and all those things that might have some learning that they can do from the school that's doing it exceptionally well? And so I've often, I think every episode now in this mini series, I've said this. So the listener's probably getting tired of it. But the power of the data is not in the data itself or in the dashboard. It's in the conversation that happens around it. And you mentioned governance. And governance can be a term that can really turn people off or make people fall asleep, but it's such a critical component. And I know that the Data Quality Campaign advocates for data governance to be articulated and well defined, where does this infrastructure live and how do people access to this data.

Curt Merlau [00:24:25]:
I'm curious, could you share some bright spots of either states or some initiatives that are doing this particularly well, ones that we could learn from and take some examples from?

Paige Kowalski [00:24:36]:
Every state has work to do, first of all. No state has truly realized the potential of these incredible assets in their state, but we see a lot of bright spots. I mentioned Kentucky, you mentioned Indiana. These are two leaders of getting the data in, getting it to quality, and putting out information and tools in easily accessible ways, and making sure that researchers and policymakers can access information so that they can make decisions better, too. We're starting to see the advent of some tools that get more at, what can I as an individual do for myself? Rather than just look at this aggregate data, how can I look at my data or my child's data and do something differently? So Idaho, for example, has, because they've linked up their K-12 and their post-secondary data, they have this direct admissions. I'm not sure if that's what it's called.

Curt Merlau [00:25:37]:
Flipped admissions, I think is I've read kind of a flipped admissions process where schools are applying to students instead of students applying to schools.
Paige Kowalski [00:25:47]:
Because the state has student information and they know in sort of like the IRS when they're like, you have to do your taxes and you're like, don't you already know what I earned?

Paige Kowalski [00:25:56]:
In sort of the same way, if the state already knows, hey, I took calculus and I got A's and I took these AP classes and you have my test scores and you paid for me to take the SAT. You have that. Why don't you tell me where I can go to college and how much aid I might be able to get? Right? Like, you have all this information. And so Idaho has done that and it's been amazing. I mean, imagine wherever you are in the system getting a letter from your flagship university saying, congratulations. Congratulations, based on your GPA and your test scores and such, you've been admitted. Follow these steps to enroll or apply for financial aid.

Paige Kowalski [00:26:37]:
That's huge. That would have been huge for me as a high school student to know that I can do this and it streamlines it. You may be a kid that was already gonna do that, but if anybody's ever met a 17-year-old, like streamlining that process, really valuable.

Curt Merlau [00:26:53]:

Paige Kowalski [00:26:54]:
And just less work for parents, less deadlines to keep track, fewer deadlines to keep track of. So that's a great example of how do you use all this information and not just do research and put out indicators, but make it work for people? We've got examples in California. They're just getting going, building their system, which sometimes it's easier to build from the ground up than to try to retrofit an existing legacy system, as I'm sure you all know. And in California, they were very intentional and thoughtful on the front end, as they are passing a law to say, we're going to build the system. Here's who it's going to serve. All of our state data systems were mostly originally designed to serve policymakers and researchers.

Curt Merlau [00:27:38]:
That's right.

Paige Kowalski [00:27:38]:
California said, okay, we can do that and we can build out from the get-go intentionally with parents and guidance counselors and community college presidents and students in mind. And so one of the things they're doing is scaling up an existing tool in the state called the California College Guidance Initiative, CCGI, that will enable every student, regardless of which one of the 1000 California school districts they are enrolled in, to participate in a data-driven initiative that they and their parents and their high school guidance counselors can help them chart their high school journey to align with the post-secondary journey that they would like. That then enables, because too many kids are getting to their junior and senior year and finding out, oh, you're not on track to take calculus your senior, you'll never get into the University of such and such.

Curt Merlau [00:28:32]:

Paige Kowalski [00:28:33]:
And you're like, well, I needed to know that in the eighth grade or the seventh grade. I don't need to know that now. Like, now it's too late. So let's not wait till it's too late. We have the data to tell principals and guidance counselors and moms and dads and kids much earlier than senior year. And that's what that initiative does. And then stray more into the process to apply and also delivers better information earlier, particularly to community colleges in the California state system, in California, around enrollment projections. Because you talked to any college president, they want to know as soon as possible how many kids are going to enroll in the fall, going to plan housing, financial aid, courses.

Paige Kowalski [00:29:13]:
They got to have faculty like, they've got a lot of planning to do. So finding out in May, June, July, what August looks like is not super helpful.

Curt Merlau [00:29:22]:
Right. And even helping close the gap to the transition into the workforce. And so employers can be able to say to school districts, these are the type of skills or credentials that we're looking for, and then students can all align to that to be able to chart their course, and they very well may change their mind. I know I sure did. And the ability to say, okay, now that I might want to become a nurse, what now do I need to do to prepare with the time I have remaining in high school? And what are my options and what could the financial aid look like? And that goes back to that student agency idea. And, you know, when I taught, we would put all the students’ data in a binder and, you know, print it off and three-hole punch it, put into a binder. But now we're talking about being able to log in and see that manipulate it, project, and have this personalized learning, which is super, super exciting. And, you know, I don't know about everyone else, but I'm energized to the conversation.

Curt Merlau [00:30:18]:
The bright spots that are happening across the country and see the progress and see the road ahead. And you mentioned California. That's a great example. And we have also seen this pendulum swing of these systems for researchers and policymakers towards these systems for citizens and other stakeholders, and really understanding the value that they want to get from these systems and making human-centered offerings to make these systems more accessible. I could probably spend hours talking with you, Paige, but before we end our conversation, I would love your take on, what is data-driven leadership to you? And if you would provide your insights, I know we would appreciate your perspective on that.

Paige Kowalski [00:31:09]:
Yeah, I think first and foremost, it's. It's about taking risks and having courage. The data doesn't always tell you what you want it to tell you, and it doesn't always tell you you're doing a good job or the right thing. And so having the courage to dig in honestly, and that's regardless of where you are, it doesn't matter if you're a governor or a district superintendent or somebody running a household. If you can honestly take a look at what the evidence is showing you is a result of your hard work. If you like what you see, keep going. If you don't like what you see, dig in and bring people together. To your point that you made earlier, data is the beginning of a conversation.

Paige Kowalski [00:31:53]:
In and of itself is not a decision. It's information that should cause you to ask deeper questions, better informed questions. It should help you pivot a direction and get a new set of data and interrogate it and sit down with people that you trust, sit down with some devil's advocates, poke holes and find out what's really going on, and have the courage to know that maybe you are part of the problem, maybe the agenda you rode into town with in your office, isn’t working.
But if you believe in the outcomes you were seeking, have the courage to take the risk, to pivot off your initial agenda, use the leadership that you brought in, that everybody trusted you to use wisely, and say, I'm not seeing the results I wanted to see. The data tells me, I added, you know, 20 AP classes to my high school. We're still not seeing kids go to college. There's something else. It doesn't mean get rid of AP classes, but it's not having the intended benefits.

Paige Kowalski [00:32:56]:
So the answer isn't double down, it's dig deeper. Do you have an attendance problem? Do you have what is going on in your school and have the courage to look at that? And I think at the end of the day, that's all it really comes down to, is courage and risk taking. And for the leaders that are under you, are you supporting them in their risk taking, or are you sort of communicating, intentionally or unintentionally, you know, don't take a risk, because then it's gonna look worse. And that really matters. They need to feel the support to take the risk off of what that data is telling them and using their professional judgment.

Curt Merlau [00:33:37]:

Paige Kowalski [00:33:38]:
Educators, these are people that they're trained. They know what they're doing. Give them information, let them poke holes. Give them a space to iterate a bit.

Curt Merlau [00:33:49]:
Yeah. Teaching is an art and a science, and we have to have both that data and that experience to be able to make these data-driven decisions. And I really appreciate your commentary on that. And unfortunately, in our history as a profession, data has been used as a gotcha or as a blunt force instrument, and being able to use it as an improvement tool and adapt more improvement science does take courage. Absolutely right.
Paige, thank you so much for your time and for the work that you do to advocate and to just share knowledge around these systems and the potential of data. Really do appreciate it.

Paige Kowalski [00:34:29]:
Thanks, Curt, and thanks for being a great partner.

Curt Merlau [00:34:31]:
Pleasure. Thank you for joining us today on this episode of the Education miniseries. I'm Dr. Curt, your host. If you're interested in learning more about the Data Quality Campaign, you can visit

Curt Merlau [00:34:44]:
As we close out, I leave you with a question. How can you bring together people, policy, and technology in a way that will drive change? For more from me, you can connect with me on LinkedIn at the link in the show notes. And for more from Resultant, sign up for our education practice

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