As entrepreneurs, we at Spotlight are eager listeners to the podcast StartUp. So when this series of stories about new enterprises and their struggles to grow, survive, and thrive, announced that it would feature a different kind of “startup” – a fast-expanding network of charter schools known as Success Academy, we dove right in.
We found the series itself to be evenhanded and well-produced. Plenty of interviews and deeper fact-finding; a thoughtful treatment of an organization that has proven to be controversial – and a founder who is downright polarizing.
As we’ve written previously, Spotlight isn’t a political organization; after all, whether you hail from the right or from the left, you surely don’t have a problem with making education data transparent and useful – right? We listened to the Success Academy story with…call it objective interest.
But one moment jumped out at us: at one point in the fourth episode, a teacher is describing to a mother why her child might be held back a grade. The mother describes being shown a spreadsheet full of data; she intimates that – particularly in a moment when emotions were already running high – the data was overwhelming and confusing.
Alarm bells went off in the Spotlight office.
When students’ education is at stake; when educators and administrators are being held to high standards; when parents seek to make informed decisions on their kids’ behalf – why are we satisfied with sharing “data” – rows and columns, charts and graphs – instead of insights
Fortunately, we see many examples of empowering educators, students, and families with insights: California’s pilot of student test score videos; New Mexico’s radically innovative school accountability reports; districts from Long Beach Unified to Chicago Public Schools providing their students with college readiness “maps” – in every case, data-infused insights are enabling key stakeholders to make thoughtful, informed decisions – which will, we believe, result in improved outcomes.