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Spreadsheets vs. Inequality in New York City Schools

In this episode, Alec talks to Nikki Giunta, Chief of Staff at New Visions for Public Schools in New York City, about how they used a 270-column spreadsheet (and later, a “data portal”) to combat the sometimes-bizarre administrative problems that were preventing kids from graduating.

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT:

NIKKI:
Just giving people access to data is not enough, right? So we originally rolled out with a 270 something column spreadsheet, and we’re like, here you go, guys. You have data. Have fun.

And no one touched it.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

ALEC:
This is High Tech High Unboxed. I’m Alec Patton, and that voice you just heard was Nikki Giunta, chief of staff at New Visions for Public Schools in New York City. New Visions for Public Schools is a nonprofit. It started in 1989 in order to help New York City break up its big high schools into smaller schools with the idea that smaller schools be more pleasant places for students and teachers to spend their time together.

They ended up helping the city open 98 schools. They also run 10 public charter schools of their own. And New Visions is a pretty big operation– 165 employees with offices in midtown Manhattan. To understand the story you’re about to hear, we need to go back to the year 2000 when New Vision set a goal for its network of schools. They call it the 80/50 aim. Here’s Nikki to explain what that meant.

NIKKI:
80% graduation rate for our network, so an average of an 80% graduation rate and a 50% college readiness rate.

ALEC:
That seems modest as a goal.

NIKKI:
[CHUCKLES] Yeah, you would think it was. But when we started this work back in 2013, our average graduation rate was a 75.

ALEC:
Remember, New Visions set their 80/50 aim in 2000 so that 75% graduation rate was already the result of 13 years of work.

NIKKI:
New York city’s graduation rate was stagnant for decades at about a 50% graduation rate.

ALEC:
Is New York just full of people who haven’t graduated high school?

NIKKI:
I hope not anymore.

ALEC:
But I’m thinking like people who are like my age. In a society where for better or worse, a high school degree is a pretty critical thing to have for a lot of stuff, this is a crazy number of people to not be finishing high school.

NIKKI:
Yeah, I totally agree. It was definitely a large number of students that were not graduating from school in New York City.

ALEC:
And so you guys are seeing this, and you’re like, OK, well, within our sphere of influence, we’re tackling this because this is clearly a big problem.

NIKKI:
Yes, because not only is the overall not very high, but the variation from one school to a next was dramatic. So we wanted to not only improve graduation rates but also shrink the variability across different schools.

ALEC:
The importance of that goal is obvious, but the complexity of it is also obvious.

NIKKI:
Yes.

ALEC:
So, where did you start?

OK. We’ll get to that. But first, I need to know a little bit about where Nikki is coming from. Nikki grew up in New Jersey just outside New York City. She went to college at the University of Virginia, and she started teaching right after she graduated.

NIKKI:
I had student taught in kindergarten, loved the age, and so went into teaching. And then I would say as I approached year three, I loved my students. I loved the field of education, but I just felt like there was something else I wanted to do. And quite frankly, I was getting frustrated with some of the mandates that our district was imposing.

Not just curriculum, I think curriculum is fine if we’re all norming around curriculum. But when it came to be extremely scripted, and you feel like a robot having to read a curriculum that’s meant to work for every student and every location in every district, and you feel like you can’t personalize the instruction to your students, that’s when I started getting frustrated. And so I literally had five-year-olds in my classroom crying during a writing lesson– because I knew it wasn’t right for them, and it was hard because you have the pressure of being a new teacher. The pressure of knowing that an administrator could walk in your classroom at any point in time to see if you’re following things that is scripted.

And so I was beginning to develop my own autonomy as a teacher and pushing back in places where I didn’t totally feel comfortable, but constantly knowing that the external pressure of these scripted programs were weighing heavily on me and what I felt was best for my students. So I just kind of reevaluated, and I thought to myself, “I love education. I want to do stuff related to that. What are some options?” And so, I decided to do an online program through the University of Illinois at Chicago and got a second masters in education around measurement evaluation, statistics, and assessment.

Started looking around, came across New Visions as a nonprofit, and I like the idea of their mission. I like the idea that they worked at a really large scale. I always wanted to have a larger impact than just the 20 kids in my classroom. And so those two things were very appealing. And so I went on an interview with the now president of New Visions Mark Dunetz. But at the time, he was vice president of the district side of our work, and I just said, I’m not totally sure where I want to go with this. And he kind of presented it as it would be a really good way for me to learn about a broader landscape of education and to have an entry point into there and see where my career went from that. And so it was just on a whim, and it ended up working out really well for me.

Mark Dunetz had started at New Visions for Public Schools in 2006 as a leadership coach. Two years later, he opened one of their 98 new small high schools, the Academy for Careers in Television and Film as principal. When he interviewed Nikki, he just rejoined New Visions now as vice president. So Nikki met him just as he was putting a team together, and he hired her as his administrative assistant.

I was taking phone calls, doing his calendar, and supporting him in any one-off projects that he needed. And so being that he had so much expertise in New York and as a principal, I was luckily exposed to a lot of his thoughts and a lot of the way that he process things and just the knowledge that he had of the New York City district. I also sat in on a lot of his meetings just to take notes, so I was very quickly exposed to the breadth of information both from him, but also from a bunch of my colleagues at the organization.

ALEC:
Was that weird to go from being in charge of 30 people in your own classroom to working for somebody else in that capacity?

NIKKI:
It wasn’t weird to be like supervised by somebody. It was actually weird having my own schedule. Like, I remember the first week of being in the office. I didn’t know that I was allowed to just like get up and go get lunch. I was so used to having a set lunchtime that I didn’t realize I just get up and go, and I don’t need to ask for permission or anything like that. So it wasn’t more so the supervisory structure. It was more just the idea of the day is more my time, as opposed to my day, is dictated by my student’s schedule. But, no, Mark was always like a very welcoming supervisor, so it never really felt like I was suddenly under the microscope was somebody micromanaging me. So I was lucky enough that that wasn’t the experience that I had.

ALEC:
OK, back to the problem at hand. It’s 2013, Mark and Nikki are settling into the new jobs. The New Visions 80/50 aim has been going for 13 years. And yet even now, only 75% of students in the network are graduating from high school. When you hear that stat that one out of four kids weren’t graduating, I bet you have some ideas about what was going on.

For example, some of these kids weren’t graduating probably never felt like members of the school community. Teachers were probably using an equitable assessment methods. Maybe kids with special needs weren’t getting the support they needed. I’m sure you’ve got lots more to out of this list, and you’re probably right. But unless you’re a guidance counselor, you probably aren’t thinking fractional gym credits. And let me be clear, I’m not trying to drag on gym here. Physical education is really important to a degree we’re only just beginning to understand. Having said that, what you’re about to hear is flat out crazy. Let’s start with a little bit of background on what it takes to graduate high school in New York City.

NIKKI:
They have to pass 44 credits. The distribution of those credits are very specific. So, for example, they have to have 8 ELA credits. They have to have six math credits. They have to have four global credits. So it’s very specific credits. And so if the student is coming into senior year with less than, let’s say, 25, 26 credits, the chances of them graduating by June are not actually mathematically possible, so you would have to plan for them to be in August.

So there were certain things that we learned from schools that were just kind of thresholds to support schools and thinking about how can we start planning for students and how can we aspirationally plan for a student. There is no comprehensive way for a school leader or for a district in New York City to see what this school is planning for a student in terms of a graduation outcome. There are different diploma types that New York City offers, each of them have different requirements. And so what we started with was like first, let’s just get an understanding of what the plan is for the student, and then we can support a school and making decisions to try to actualize that plan.

So we started with something what we call graduation planning, which is the assignment of a diploma type and a graduation date for students in our schools. We developed a protocol. We developed a tool to support them and to pull together the data they need to make those decisions. And then, all subsequent decisions around programming, around exams, around instructional supports, around attendance, and attendance supports, all stemmed from this plan for a student.

So all of the planning that we do is not one of these things where it’s like you’re setting a goal that you know you’re going to meet because of accountability purposes. This was the opposite. This was saying, let’s put in the most aspirational plan for this student that is within reach, so then all of the planning and support that we do for the student moving forward comes back to that aspirational plan.

And in some cases that did involve a conversation with a student, a if they were going to go for the more advanced diploma type because that means that they have to pass for additional exams, but there were things that we noticed could be standardized. And so we were trying to do as much with the processes that could be standardized to leave more room for the school staff to dive deeper into the problems that couldn’t be standardized.

ALEC:
OK. So in the absence of this, if I was going to a New York public school, I actually had a fairly complex and not necessarily intuitive set of marks I have to hit in order to graduate. Yeah?

NIKKI:
Yeah.

ALEC:
Who is helping me make sure that I get it all right?

In some cases, there’d be a really good advisor or guidance counselor at the school that would support you with that. In other cases, it would get overlooked in you when you graduate, and that’s the variation we were seeing. We were seeing hundreds of students that weren’t graduating because of a fractional gym credit or a credit in government. There were tons of missed opportunities for students that were just due to oversight because of the magnitude of things that principals have to worry about at any given point in time. Policies are always changing. And at the time, there was no easy way for them to be able to actually manage the student planning for each of their students.

Guidance counselors were printing out student transcripts and going through hand highlighting student by student which courses they had, which courses they needed. If you’re assuming a cohort of 250 students, there is room for error there, right? Even if it’s the best-intentioned person, there is room for error just due to the fact that there’s no other systemic way of seeing what a student needs in terms of credits. And so we were seeing those missed opportunities across the board, which led us to the development of this data platform to support schools in that planning.

ALEC:
So if I’m a high school senior, and I’m missing a partial gym credit, when would I find that out?

NIKKI:
Again, depends on the school, we had students who found out once they realized that they could not graduate in June. A week before they were supposed to graduate, two days before they were supposed to graduate, they’d be notified that they were missing something and couldn’t graduate.

ALEC:
So what happens then?

NIKKI:
They’d have to go to summer school.

ALEC:
OK. This is a really naive question, but they’d go to summer gym?

NIKKI:
Yep. [CHUCKLES]

ALEC:
Wow.

NIKKI:
Yeah, they’d have to go, and the other complicated thing was this is just to give you some of the nuances. Like, there are two different gym models that schools can do. One is 0.5 credits. One is 2.7 credits, I believe.

ALEC:
What?

NIKKI:
Because they are either doing it every day or they’re doing it two days a week, then three days a week, so the timing is different. But if you’re at a school that uses one model and you transfer to a school that uses a different model, you sometimes have to double up in order to be on track to get the four credits that you need. Because even though you took gym and passed gym every term, if you had a combination of those two different models, it wouldn’t allow you to get to the four credits that you need. And so it’s like different nuances like this, so then a kid would be missing 0.03 of a gym credit.

ALEC:
Yeah. So I’m imagining if I’m a kid who is planning to go to college, but it’s going to be a stretch, and I’m working on summer before I start college to make that happen, needing to go to summer school is a problem.

NIKKI:
Yeah, leaving to go to school is definitely a problem. And if they do have summer employment lined up, what sometimes happens is they don’t actually go to summer school. And then, the kid doesn’t graduate. So there’s just like a bunch of things that happen as a result of potentially a fractional gym credit. And it’s not like they needed 0.03, so they could just do two hours to make up for it. They’d have to make up the entire semester’s course.

ALEC:
It does seem like there are other bigger solutions to this than comprehensive data system, but I also have to say that that’s outside your remit as a nonprofit.

NIKKI:
Correct.

ALEC:
The upshot of all this is that across New York City, kids were finding out two days before graduation that they couldn’t walk because they were an hour and a half short of a full gym credit, two days before graduation. By that point, you already have your cap and gown.

And this brings us to the part of the story that surprised me the most. New Visions was working on behalf of New York City’s high school students, but they didn’t tackle graduation rates by working with students. In fact, they didn’t even work with teachers. They went straight to the only people in the position to make a difference– the guidance counselors. We’re going to pick up now in that question I asked Nikki right at the beginning of the episode.

So, where did you start?

NIKKI:
We started by getting an understanding from people in the field on what are some of the things that are high stakes that take up a bunch of your time and doesn’t allow you to do the other things you need to do? So, for example, if a guidance counselor is spending all of their time going through a stack of student transcripts to identify courses that they need, they can’t spend that time on supervising teachers or supporting instruction or other things that can’t be solved necessarily at a network level.

ALEC:
It also seems hard to do. If I were going through 150 student transcripts with a highlighter, each one’s kind of its own math problem.

NIKKI:
Yeah.

ALEC:
Like, I’d be bad at that. I know I’d be bad at that.

NIKKI:
Oh, yeah. It’s like you have to have the policy guide next to you. At the time, there wasn’t a standardized course code directory, and so how schools coded the courses that landed on those transcripts could look very different. And so if a student transferred into your school, interpreting those was pretty difficult. And so it was things like this that kept coming up, where people were saying like, we spend a lot of time with programming to make sure that kids are getting the courses that they need.

ALEC:
I’m curious to like, when does the student become involved in that process?

NIKKI:
Yeah, so a lot of times, it would be the next step would then be that. So let’s say looking through the student transcript, he’s noticing a student needs these four courses. The next step would essentially be a conversation with the student.

ALEC:
And this is possibly sort of outside of this. But with an equity lens, one of the areas that’s notorious is what students are being directed towards as far as what they should be trying for.

NIKKI:
Yeah. And so part of the thing that we realized for that standardized processes, and transparency of plans actually really helped to work against biases. So if you’re telling me as a principal or as a guidance counselor, as an AP, that any student coming into their senior year with 28 or more credits can mathematically graduate by June, I can then go in and see your plans, and say, well, that’s interesting because I’m seeing these four black kids who you’re saying aren’t going to graduate until next year. But they’re actually meeting a lot of the thresholds that you identified for other students. Can you unpack this with me?

So a lot of this is standardized processes , and transparency really helps to work against inequitable outcomes because you’re for a second, you’re removing some of the personal of the student, which is kind of the opposite, right? Some people say data is bad because it takes out the personal about the student. And we’re saying, in this case, when you’re planning for a student, you’re just looking at “can the student mathematically graduate by June? Yes or no?”

We will then dive into additional context for the student, but if you’re making a decision that a lot of your black kids are not going to graduate and all your white kids have similar profiles are, those plans will be transparent, and it can open up a conversation to understand more about why that’s happening. And so we’ve actually seen through doing this work that we have not only improved graduation rates, but simultaneously, close the achievement gaps of the different demographic groups.

ALEC:
That still sounds like an awful conversation to have with the principal.

NIKKI:
Luckily, it hasn’t– because of the standardized processes, it hasn’t actually gotten to that point. In terms of graduation outcomes, we’ve really been able to help them standardize what that looks like, so it’s not left up to the discretion of a single individual. Without us explicitly saying, let’s just review your black kids or just review your Latinx kids, with us saying, we should have standardized processes for how you address student-level planning across the board, it takes out some of the implicit biases that may rear their heads during a planning process.

ALEC:
You’re not really talking to teachers here, is that right?

NIKKI:
Not really for the data portal. If we’re talking about these standardized processes, a lot of these are at the guidance counselor, AP, and principal-level.

ALEC:
That is fascinating to me.

You’re looking at tons of people not graduating, and it doesn’t have that much to do with teachers feels like it in itself does like a profound insight into just the process of helping a kid get through high school and graduate and be college-ready. There’s all this stuff that is required to do that that is actually unrelated to like what pretty much everybody thinks of as being what all of school is.

NIKKI:
Yeah, like people underestimate the amount that the administrative tasks actually bear both in terms of outcomes. But also, just when you think about the time that has to get invested by senior people within a school and the leadership of the school, if their time is being taken up by having to pull together data to understand what’s happening with a student and make a decision, that’s time that they can’t spend in a classroom. That’s time that they can’t spend supporting teachers.

And so a lot of the messaging that we gave was this is not meant to be Big Brother. This is not meant to be an accountability tool. This is meant to support you in doing student-level planning to free up your time to do the more difficult things like understanding teacher-level instruction or what’s happening in your ICT classes or things along those lines.

ALEC:
Yeah. And I mean, if you’re spending a huge amount of time with a binder doing bespoke math for understanding every kid’s credit amount, you’re not sitting down and talking to those students very often.

NIKKI:
Correct. Exactly.

ALEC:
So New Visions focused on getting timely data to schools and showing them how to analyze it quickly. If it worked, this would mean that schools would know how every single student was doing it, actually completing their graduation plan. There would be no more kids being told they couldn’t graduate because they’re missing an hour of class time, and it would mean no more highlighting binders and cross-referencing them with a policy guide, taking away huge burden from guidance counselors. So they started by asking schools what they needed.

NIKKI:
When my boss came in as the vice president, there were certain things that schools needed to be able to monitor and track, and we didn’t feel like it should be left up to the individual schools to solve those problems. And so we started on a journey where we were asking people about processes that are essentially high stakes that take a lot of time. What were some of those things? How could we support that as a network? And a lot of the feedback we were getting was it’s really hard to pull data from all of the DOA systems, compile them in a way that’s useful because, by the time we do that, the data is outdated.

And so from there, our strategy evolved, and we went from a data and systems team of 4 to a data and system of 35. So we almost have a mini tech startup embedded within the organization that is directly dedicated towards developing educational tools in collaboration with educators for the District of New York City.

ALEC:
For many schools, the word “data” has accrued some unsavory connotations over the past 20 years. So I want to specify that when Nikki talks about data, she does actually mean useful information. Like, schools should be able to quickly lookup which other seniors are missing, say, a fractional gym credit. And Mark Dunetz knew this was a problem because he’d been a principal at one of these schools.

NIKKI:
He understood firsthand the frustrations of a principal and the things that he wished he had when he was a principal. And so he came in with a set of ideas and thoughts about getting data to the fingertips of principals in order to support student-level planning.

ALEC:
So they provided data. Boy, did they provide data. Remember, the start of the episode?

NIKKI:
We originally rolled out with a 270 something column spreadsheet, and we’re like, here you guys. You have data. Have fun. And no one touched it.

ALEC:
I want to make sure we do this spreadsheet justice because those 270 columns were just the beginning.

NIKKI:
It was one master spreadsheet that was about 270 something columns, and it was different spreadsheets that spun off of that master spreadsheet.

ALEC:
And so what was on that master spreadsheet?

NIKKI:
Oh, everything you can think of. So it had demographic information, things like official class cohort, ethnicity, special ed, English language learners status, past four years of attendance.

ALEC:
A row as a kid, yes?

NIKKI:
A row is a kid, yep.

ALEC:
So you have 270 column’s worth of data about a single kid.

NIKKI:
Yeah.

ALEC:
Wow.

NIKKI:
And so far, in large schools, they had to have one spreadsheet per cohort because we exceeded sell limits.

ALEC:
Yeah, how many rows can you have in a spreadsheet?

NIKKI:
It’s a cell count, and I don’t know what the exact number is, but we were hitting our limits.

ALEC:
Yeah, that makes sense.

NIKKI:
And then we had to maintain the spreadsheet So if somebody went in and deleted a column, we would have to be able to go in and add the column back in.

ALEC:
Oh, yeah. I was just thinking about that. Like, that sounds like a total nightmare.

NIKKI:
Yeah. So we were we were managing hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of spreadsheets, and their shared spreadsheets, so people don’t realize what they do for theirs is doing it for everybody. And people would delete the header column. And without the header column, the data doesn’t update. And so we were able to work through it with our schools. Like literally, the protocol would be filter column a, b for this value. Click on this to sort the column from ascending to descending order. We were on Google Hangouts with them sharing screens and physically walking them through it with their own student data to try to develop their capacity to do it.

And then, throughout that, they’d be like, oh, this doesn’t make sense for my school because of this. We would jot it down, and we would bring it back to the group, and we’d say, OK. Four of our schools said the same thing. What can we design to allow for that variation across different schools? And so it was this back and forth process where we would iterate on the tool and the protocol every semester based off of feedback that we got until it got to a place where it was pretty consistent. And that’s when we decided to develop what we call the data portal, which is a web application because Google told us that we were exceeding our limits on spreadsheets.

ALEC:
So you sort of got this initial, hey, we really want this and this, this, and this and this. And then, you were like, hey, here’s we put this together for you guys. Like, how did people respond? I’m sure it was like a spectrum, but like were people enthusiastic? Were they like, get out of our lives. Let us do our jobs?

NIKKI:
Yes. I would say both of those. So there are some schools that we’re already using data, and we’re like, oh my gosh, this is amazing. You just saved us so much time. There are other schools that’s like this is way too Big Brother. Why do you want to know what our plans are? Why do you have access to all of our data? So there was a lot of messaging that had to come around around, this is not meant to be an accountability tool.

Especially, for guidance counselors and programmers, when we came out with some of the credit gap stuff, they got very defensive because if we highlighted a gap that they didn’t catch, it was, you know, that’s a hard thing to digest. And so we always frame things as we know how difficult your job is. We know there are things about your school that we can’t understand. This tool is meant to support you and allow you to have this information and then use the school context you have alongside this. But we don’t think it’s a good use of your time to have to pull together data that we can pull together for you.

ALEC:
This is also New York City, which has a little bit of a reputation and a history. I once talked to a New York City administrator who said we injected fear into the system, and he meant it as something he was proud of.

NIKKI:
Yeah.

ALEC:
Were there people who saw this stuff, and their response was we should bring the hammer of God down on these schools that are screwing up?

NIKKI:
Yes. So once we started doing this work, particularly when it came into the portal, we have district-level views and network views. And so we had superintendents reach out to a school and be like, but your planned graduation rate is this, and I’m only seeing this. And that’s not how we want it to be at all because we had always framed your graduation plan as aspirational. We want it to be aspirational so that we are correctly planning for all of this students, knowing that the best-case scenario was not going to happen for every student.

ALEC:
Oh, that’s so awful. So you guys are like, look, this isn’t like the accountability measures you’re used to. This is about you guys. And then superintendents are like bam!

NIKKI:
Yeah, so luckily, it didn’t happen often. And luckily, it was with the superintendent that we could sit down and work with and explain it. And say, look, this metric is not meant to be that. And so I think we are in a better place now, but that was absolutely a fear that both we had and the schools had in us getting– and making transparent data in a way that it has never been transparent before.

ALEC:
That must’ve been a worry from the beginning for you guys that you were saying to schools, this data transparency is going to be a good thing for you. It’s not going to be a bad thing for you. Like, why did you feel confident that that was true? If you see what I mean. Like, why did you feel confident that you weren’t going to get it weaponized by administrators who are beyond your control?

NIKKI:
I think a lot of it was relationships, to be honest with you. We are rolling this out to our network of schools initially, and a lot of the principals are principals that Mark was a peer to for years when he was a principal. Or they had been part of our network for a decent amount of time. And so I think where our benefit was we were able to really leverage a trusting relationship that we had established with these schools to say, look, I know all of this data being transparent is really scary. We are not using it this way.

And at the time, in spreadsheet tools, the superintendent wasn’t really looking at it. It was too much for them too. And so that gave us the leeway to get goodwill on our end from them to say, hey, look, we are just doing this to support you in planning, and so we were able to exemplify that. And then once it got rolled into the portal, though some of those concerns resurfaced. And it was like, well, now you have network roll-up views. And we’re like, yes, we do. This is how we’re going to be messaging it to the district. This is how we would be messaging it to superintendents. This is how we’re messaging it internally. And so it was definitely a huge concern of ours. I think it was just constant consistency of messaging that allowed us to get to a place where people don’t see it as accountability.

ALEC:
It’s weird the way accountability has come to mean this like– it’s small a accountability, but it’s not like accountability in the sense that it’s come to mean.

NIKKI:
Correct. Yeah, like it’s accountability for the sense of trying to ensure that we’re doing what’s best for planning for students, but not accountability in the sense of if you’re putting in an aspirational plan that you don’t reach, that your job is at risk.

ALEC:
Yeah. No guidance counselor is going like, yeah, yeah, some kids are going to like not graduate because of an administrative error. That’s just– that’s the brakes. Guidance counselors want kids graduating. That’s why they do what they do.

NIKKI:
Right, they wouldn’t have chosen this profession.

ALEC:
And look, no matter how careful New Visions was being, this data collection is stressful for teachers. I vividly remember the times the My school’s site manager sent out emails identifying the teachers who hadn’t taken attendance. Yes, I was a repeat offender. But collecting all this data at a large scale revealed interesting stuff totally unrelated to teachers fecklessness.

NIKKI:
In some schools, a lot of kids were failing first period. And then we would look at their attendance, and they have a high tardiness rate. And so it would allow us to then break it down to schools and say maybe it’s not worth offering a very important core class that’s needed for graduation first period when systemically, what we’re seeing at your school is the tardiness rate is high, and kids are missing first period. Is there an elective course you can put? So we tried to go at it from different angles.

ALEC:
Here’s one of the more unorthodox angles they tried.

NIKKI:
We actually tapped into the Google Maps API and brought in transit time for every one of the students based off of their home address and where their school is located. So if people were like, oh, but they have to travel really far. You could say, OK, well, what are you doing with these five kids who have to travel further than this student, and they’re still attending? Is there something you’ve learned with these five kids that we can apply to this kid? And so it equips you with the information to be able to more deeply coach at the school level.

ALEC:
The data portal really came into its own when the pandemic hit.

NIKKI:
We immediately were like, OK, What data do people need, and what do they need to do with it? And we rolled out, I think, 12 new tiles specific to remote learning. Around accessing school Google Classroom analytics to pull in engagement data, pull in Hangout data,? There was a device access request form. We got data to that and put that into the portal. So if schools are seeing that a student has low engagement, they can see if the student has access to a device.

They can see from the Hangout data. Are they accessing a Hangout using a mobile device or a computer? Because that would have an impact on what they can do with their work. We were able to develop a portfolio on the student profile based off of links from Google Classroom. We were able to be very responsive in a short period of time, and I think that responsiveness has developed the goodwill and respect from the educators to allow us to have such success with our tool. It’s very much a collaboration.

ALEC:
Yeah. And you said that you have tools that every school in New York City uses now?

NIKKI:
Every high school.

ALEC:
Every high school.

NIKKI:
Yeah, over 700 schools in New York City right now have access to the data portal.

ALEC:
The data portal went city-wide last fall, and it’s going to be interesting to see how it gets used now that it’s roamed beyond the confines of the New Visions network. But the results within New Visions have been impressive. Remember the 80/50 goal? When they started down this path in 2013, the graduation rate across the network was 74%. In 2019, it was 86%. That makes a pretty good case for the power of accessible data.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

High Tech High Unboxed is written and edited by me, Alec Patton. Our theme music is by Brother Herschel. You can read more about the continuous improvement work that Mark Dunetz has been leading at New Visions for public schools and improvement in action, a book by Anthony Bryk that’s full of stories of continuous improvement happening in public schools. It just came out, and it’s awesome. Thanks for listening.

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