State Tools vs. Proprietary Tools in Education Analytics

With the emergence of system-wide dashboards and scorecards in the education industry, there are a variety of paths you can choose for stepping into this new form of understanding and using data to make decisions.

Especially within the k-12 environment, district leaders are now exposed to quite a few different tools and services for increasing efficiency and effectiveness, as well as evaluating programs. Understanding where to start can be quite a difficult decision, as sorting out the difference in the full capabilities of a particular system and how much the lead decision makers will use all of its capabilities to spark and make make change can create pause.

Furthermore, there are several different options for stepping into the world of data analytics. Some may pick a concentrated area to analyze and focus on, such as food service or energy. Some may use auditors for its usefulness in communicating transparency. But more and more frequently, we are finding districts are choosing system-wide key performance indicator (KPI) systems or performance management tools (PMT) to manage programs more effectively and quickly.

chess piecesWithin the KPI and PMT realm, there are seemingly two types of tools emerging as standard within the education industry: state-data based tools and more granular, proprietary-data type systems. Although quite disparate in their abilities, both give insight and provide benefits that are new to educational organizations. Their speed of access, user friendliness, and tangible source for projecting transparency, the benefits fit the needs for time-strapped leaders.

State tools are excellent for districts who are either smaller in size and/or looking at taking their first leap of faith into a new way of thinking about accessing and using data. Since it uses information from the state, it does not have the in-depth analysis to find all areas of opportunity to improve within an educational organization. However, besides the shared benefits for KPI and PMT tools in general, state tools do offer 3 unique benefits:

1.) A barometer for finding opportunity – Acting as a diagnostic system, these tools give insight into which area within an organization leaders may want to dig further into to identify places to improve.

2.) A nice price tag –  Since data collection is rather simple nationwide, KPI and PMT companies have already created a template for the information accessed from the state. Since a lot of the work is already done, and the depth of data is not too extensive, state tools offer a very affordable price that can be easier to make a decision in moving towards the direction of KPI and PMT systems.

3.) Easy entrance into the analtyics realm – Continuing from number 2, this first step makes the transition for those organizations who have not been using KPI & PMT tools a bit less cumbersome. Not only is it cheaper, but its limitations in accessible data lighten intimidation as an entrance barrier to the deeper tools.

When the time is right though, the deeper delving proprietary systems offer analytics and insights a step or several steps above the state tools. These proprietary systems allow districts to typically measure a wide and deep set of financial and non-financial factors ranging everywhere from operations to central services. Leaders do have to be aware that there will be some manual collection time, but new advancements in automation collection and help from a range of sources reduce the amount of energy needed by leaders taking this step. Proprietary systems offer these unique benefits:

1.) Best practice thinking – One salient benefit is the best practice methods applied to the reports and scorecards. These methods adapted from Lean thinking, Juran, Quality Management, and more give credibility to the measures and methods used in these proprietary systems.

2.) Granular analysis – Looking at surface-level metrics provided in state tools is a great first step, but one that isn’t the most informative in making some deep level decision-making. A more detailed approach enables leaders to find virtually every inefficiency or area of waste that is contributing to a poorly functioning system. In facilities for example, there may be the sq. ft. covered by a maintenance FTE to how much money is being spent on cleaning supplies to work orders submitted vs. work orders completed. This level of detail ensures no stone is left unturned.

3.) Larger R.O.I. – The possible return on investment can be over one hundred dollars per student if used properly. You can do the math and realize this level of savings for simply digging deep and finding places to improve has staggering potential results. The savings identified enables institutions to delivery positive feedback to the community, reduce cuts, and ultimately, put money back in the classroom.

At the end of the day, more and more educational organizations will be seeking analytical tools to help them make more system-wide efficiency decisions. Whether with state tools or deeper systems, these new capabilities will enable decision-makers to think higher about the processes currently in place.


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