Do you really know if your doctor -- or child's teacher -- is doing a good job?
In education and healthcare, job performance data are lacking – but that's changing.
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"As a doctor, the feedback to us is really quite minimal. We don't really know how we are performing," Stinson says. Palmetto physicians now use a dashboard that lets them compare their records against the national average and top performers. "They don't want to find out that other [doctors' patients] have a shorter length of stay, lower costs, and mortality rates. These are things that will really drive performance," says Stinson.Skip to next paragraph
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Similar data-driven discoveries are helping to revitalize educators' efforts. The California Partnership for Achieving Student Success (CalPASS) has a database of more than 355 million student records from kindergarten through college. Using "business intelligence" software traditionally used for sales and finance, educators have found some startling revelations.
Seeing the light in preparing students
In one study, students who stopped taking English courses after 10th grade required the same level of remediation in community college as students who continued to take advanced English courses through 12th grade.
"[Teachers] looked at the data and they freaked out," says CalPASS executive director Brad Phillips. "Upon learning this, they asked: What are our standards, what are our assignments, what are the expectations in high school compared to community colleges? While we all call it English, the expectations are clearly different."
Mr. Phillips says educators learned that high school courses emphasized literature, while community college courses covered writing and grammar, and four-year colleges emphasized analysis and argumentation. As a result, officials changed high school teaching to create better alignment.
While students these days take more tests, it is difficult to connect a student's performance to the teacher who taught him or her. According to the Data Quality Campaign, only 24 states are able to make that connection. Resistance stems from a fear that student tests will be used as the dominant measure of good teaching, determining tenure, promotion, and payment.
Berwick calls himself a transparency nut. "I just have a lot of confidence that measurements will be well used if we put them out there, and that they will get better by use," he says. The Carnegie and Gates foundations invited him to share information about the IHI model and its potential application in education.
Both professions (not to mention students and patients) are well served by learning from consistent top performers and providing support to those in the middle and bottom. Phillips calls educators using his database "courageous leaders" for their willingness to reveal weaknesses and paths to improvement. While California repealed its law prohibiting the connection between test scores and teachers, CalPASS will keep individual-level teacher data anonymous. Continued participation requires trust and support. "Most of the time data is a hammer in education, when it should be a tool for doing better," Phillips says.
We all want better education and healthcare. But we cannot fix problems we are unwilling to examine. As the carpenter's adage goes – we will be wise to measure twice and cut once.
Becky Fleischauer is a freelance writer and founder of Navigator Communications, a firm serving education, healthcare, and environment clients. None of Navigator's clients is mentioned here.