Team success is organizational success. Capacity to build and deploy effective teams has repeatedly been shown to be more important than individual skill, procedural clarity or even well-defined performance targets in improving organizational outcomes. Good teams affirm members, build support and deliver better outcomes. The intersection of big data, teams and education provides school leaders with insights to creating these high-performing teams.

The power of big data is not new. It is rooted in a lesson that scientists have known since at least Galileo but amplified considerably in the digital age. Observations reveal reality.  Multitudes of observations reveal more and unexpected realities. If zero vaccinated children get sick and millions of non-vaccinated children get sick, the vaccination works. Before the digital age, scientists did one experiment at a time, tracking observation data in a lab book. Today, scientists use factory-labs with robots, conveyor belts and grids of test tubes and perform thousands of simultaneous experiments, tracking the observations in automated systems to find the experiment that works.

If a high school has sent zero graduates to the Harvard University and 20,000 graduates to the local community college, it is fair to wager that this year’s graduates will not attend Harvard. If one teacher gives only As and another teacher only gives Cs, it is rational for students to expect an A from teacher one.

The implicit message is that at some point when the data set is big enough the observations reveal reality.

Educational institutions have more data.

Conclusions from ever increasing data sets are leading to more and newer conclusions, knowledge that was not before known or was relegated to the world of stories about common sense. Big data indicates reliable truths. After reviewing billions of searches, if Google sees that people who type a “C” into the search box usually want Craigslist, it makes sense to have Craigslist pop up as an option. If absence data show that after a certain number of absences, performance drops precipitously, it makes sense for a school to design a policy acknowledging that reality.

Statewide school report cards are increasingly popular. These report cards include the results of big data analyses offering information about average class size, per-pupil spending and test scores. Parents are using this information, and schools are noticing. No parents seek out a failing environment for their child, so these school report cards are gaining in importance.

Budgets are big data sets, and finance and accounting analysts embrace the truths found there. Changing budgets mean changing values and priorities. National aggregate test scores are big data sets. The SAT, ACT, PISA, NAPE and other big database exams highlight trends with good reliability.

Educational leaders knew big data was coming. Foresight of larger data sets ushered in the data-driven decision-making movement that swept through educational leadership circles a few years ago. Schools held team meetings to review data on attendance, grade distributions, discipline trends, test validity and extra-curricular participation. Occasionally the data sets were not sufficiently large to provoke a compelling case for change, but they often did.

The last enactment of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) passed at the start of the Obama administration, Race to the Top, focused on big datasets from schools and teachers, and Race to the Top prompted most schools in the country to evaluate teachers, usually to a tiny degree, on student growth data, which is another big data set. The newest enactment of ESEA, the Every Student Succeeds Act, continues to look at big data sets through a local lens.

Data is not a panacea for education, but at a certain effect size, educational leaders have to take notice. Data sets in education offer increasingly compelling truths about the student experience, curriculum needs and educator teams. 


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