Why Are There Errors in National Schools Data?
If you haven't checked out my colleague Christina Samuels' story on the data problems with the U.S. News and World Report's annual rankings of the best high schools in the country, you really should. Errors in state data reported to the federal Education Department led to inaccurate rankings for three of the U.S. News "best high schools," and led NCES to conduct a review of all 5,000 schools on that list.
Maintaining data quality in an ever-tighter economic climate is likely to be a hot topic at the upcoming National Forum on Education Statistics in July. At a time when education officials are increasingly dependent on complex student data systems to make policy and instructional decisions, it's vital that the data are accurate and timely. Yet in the midst of a budget crunch, support for the data systems has been under fire in some states, and most are still working to train the districts in how to correctly collect, report and later use information on their students.
Moreover, states turn over that flood of student information to the federal Common Core of Data, the giant national information warehouse run by the National Center for Education Statistics. The NCES received $108.7 million in fiscal year 2012 for managing all those school data, up about $450,000 from fiscal 2010 but still miniscule in comparison to the $68.12 billion overall discretionary budget for education in fiscal 2011. (President Obama has asked for $114.7 million for the NCES in fiscal 2012.) Of that, NCES Chairman Jack Buckley tells me about $5 million each year goes to the Common Core of Data, though other parts of the Education Department also contribute to data collection costs for CCD and other data, like that for the Office of Civil Rights.
Considering how politically combustible are some of the data states are starting to generate—teacher-student achievement links, anyone?—it will be interesting to see how much support federal and state governments put out to ensure all student data are accurate.