The folks who think Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools makes up its numbers might want to skip this one, because a couple of interesting, complex national reports on CMS and data have come out recently.
The Michael and Susan Dell Foundation spent 2010-11studying the district's efforts to create a "data-driven culture." Researchers saw the turmoil of school closings, the data overload some teachers face and the battle over testing and performance pay, but still came away impressed by much of what was going on. The 18-page report is worth a read for anyone trying to get a handle on how CMS can move forward.
About the same time, an article in EdWeek cited CMS as a district making sophisticated use of data to identify which students are at risk of dropping out, using risk factors that show up as early as elementary school.
Given CMS' recent data woes, particularly the erroneous public report that purported to track students on track for graduation, that may sound like a setup for saying EdWeek got duped. But I don't think that's the case. The irony of the simplistic graduation-track calculation is that CMS does use a complex set of factors to identify and work with at-risk kids.
What strikes me about both of these reports is the tangle of moving pieces that makes up the CMS data picture. For every spreadsheet I peruse, there are reams of internal reports. Some are almost certainly helpful to kids and teachers; other internal data systems are so flawed or cumbersome that they fuel employees' skepticism.
For better or worse, the CMS accountability department has lost so many key players in the past year that rebuilding it is going to be a front-burner task for the new superintendent. The CMS data machine needs some repairs, but as these articles make clear, "scrap the whole thing" isn't a realistic solution.