Attendance, test scores, suspension rates — these numbers tell a story about a school. But for many education leaders who lack the means to centralize, organize, and analyze the data, the story goes unheard. The Strategic Data Project (SDP) was created to give coherence to those numbers — to tell a school’s story and find avenues to improve outcomes for young people across the country.
The Strategic Data Project has built a nationwide network of education analysts and policy-shapers — uncovering trends, measuring solutions, and finding evidence for what works.
Since 2008, SDP has enlisted data strategists to help school districts and education agencies use data to inform systemic change. To date, more than 300 data specialists — SDP fellows — have worked towards school improvement in more than 150 agencies. “The goal from the beginning was to provide a route into school districts and state agencies for a different type of data analyst,” said Professor Thomas Kane, faculty director of the Center for Education Policy Research (CEPR) at Harvard University where SDP is housed.
The fellowship program attracts researchers, education professionals, and doctoral and master’s candidates who not only demonstrate expertise in quantitative analysis and a willingness to tackle systemic problems, but also have a passion for equity and a dedication to improving the lives of young people. More than 98% of past fellows have remained in education, contributing to a growing nationwide network of leaders and researchers who value data for its ability to improve practice.
“When I saw they were looking for people who are education leaders with a technical skill set, it was a great combination for me,” said Atnre Alleyne, founding executive director of DelawareCAN, who worked with the Delaware Department of Education as an SDP fellow. “There’s a need for a fresh look and a specific skill set to bring to policy decisions.”
From providing school leaders with a rubric to organize data to organizing an annual convening that facilitates cross sector collaboration, SDP has brought important and often unseen problems to the forefront of policy discussions at the state and national level. Reports and analyses from fellows have led to the development of early-warning indicator systems for at-risk students; uncovered key insights about teacher quality, school discipline, and chronic absenteeism; measured the impact of teacher performance pay; and piloted and evaluated new FAFSA completion strategies.
“Over the last decade, SDP fellows have made a lasting impact in their agencies through innovative data projects,” says CEPR’s executive director Jon Fullerton. “As we look to the future, analytic sophistication is becoming even more important in identifying which students — from early childhood to postsecondary — urgently need support that can change the trajectories of their lives.” – Emily Boudreau