School developers have done as much as TFA to bring new talent in to education.  They include charter school networks Achievement First and the Alliance for College Ready Public Schools, platform-centric support organizations like New Tech Network, place-based intermediaries like New Visions for Public Schools in NYC and Educate Texas (formerly the Texas High School Project). Each of these organizations combine an array of talents to create great new schools.

George Tang is a case in point. George co-founded Rosetta, a marketing company with a strength in predictive analytics–making sense of Big Data.  After selling some of his founding stock George had options.  He spent some time with his new son.  The family moved from NYC back to Dallas where he grew up.  A friend introduced him to John Fitzpatrick, director of Educate Texas (formerly The Texas High School Project), and shortly thereafter George became the Chief Operating Officer.

Career educators look at me like I’m from a different planet when I go off on data, but think about this: I was in charge of strategy for a $5 billion retailer 20 years ago and I knew more about every box of Cornflakes on our shelves than we know about most of our students today–that’s CRAZY.  I knew sales by item by store minutes after we closed in 1990.

At 7am on February 1 the CEO of Ford was on TV talking about his January sales.  There are few superintendents in the country that could tell you anything about what his/her students learned in January (or even how many there were).  We can’t report graduation rates for states until years later.  There is just no excuse for sucky data systems. And there is no excuse for delaying the shift to personal digital learning because the Big Data it produces will help us be far more responsive and effective.

At lunch yesterday George said, “We found that data could make organizations 30 to 300% more productive.”  Other data-savvy outsiders like John Danner, Rocketship, and Steve Steve Schoettler, Junyo, share George’s experience and sense of optimism about the potential of Big Data.  That’s why I’m so excited to see talent like George hard at work supporting the development of new schools.

In another conversation yesterday, a couple of us were wrestling with how to fund the shift from time to competency.  It’s a profound change and we’re not quite ready  for it at scale.  But I’m confident that as schools make the shift to personal digital learning, Big Data will help solve this problem.  When a standards-based grade book has 200 pieces of evidence (perhaps 3000 pieces of evidence) for an Algebra class, it will be easy to monitor and pay for progress rather than marking time.

Earlier this week I noted that the two most important uses of Big Data would be:

  • Recommendation engines: the ability to produce a customized playlist for every student every day will be a core personalization capability
  • Achievement recognition systems: managing competency-based environments will require systems of standard-aligned benchmark assessments and a big gradebooks to deposit evidence—game scores, papers, projects, quizzes and more—and badges or bar charts—a visual dash board of achievement that monitors and motivates progress.

It’s great that edtech startups and school developers are bringing so much new talent to bear on the challenges of public education. I’m confident that folks like George will make a big contribution.