Education, K-12, Webinars

Watch Webinar Replay: The 31a Reporting Toolkit for “At-Risk” Reporting

31a “At-Risk” Reporting Made Easy — in Minutes, not Hours!

The 31a “At-Risk” reporting process can be daunting. Districts frequently use handwritten forms, spreadsheets or Google sheets to collect the information and involve several personnel across the district — principals, secretaries, counselors, social workers, and teachers — to manually identify students who meet at least one of the 13 eligibility criteria and/or which programs and services these students are receiving. And this process must be done at least three times per year! This requires several hours of time from individuals, let alone cumulatively across the district it can require hundreds of hours.

Watch the replay of our recent Webinar to learn how the Munetix 31a Toolkit automates the eligibility, programs, and services reporting processes so entire process can be done in minutes — not hours!


Education, K-12, Webinars

Watch Webinar Replay: Individual Reading Improvement Plans (IRIPs)

The Academic Module: IRIPs Made Easy!

According to the Nation’s Report Card, “Average scores for age-9 students in 2022 declined 5 points in reading and 7 points in mathematics compared to 2020. This is the largest average score decline in reading since 1990, and the first ever score decline in mathematics.”

Watch the replay of our webinar to learn how the Academic Module can help in monitoring and reporting Individual Reading Improvement Plans (IRIPs):

Education, Fiscal Health, K-12, Municipal, Opinion

The Importance of Communities Speaking a Common Data Language

How to Get Your Community Cooperating, Communicating and Collaborating for Everyone’s Benefit

Remember those famous paintings by Georges Seurat? Seurat used a technique known as pointillism. He and others would paint beautiful landscapes by using a multitude of small dots, carefully placed in harmony to create beautiful imagery. The technique relies on the ability of the eye and mind of the viewer to blend the color spots into a fuller range of tones.

What’s interesting about the technique is that, if you look at the paintings too closely, all you see is the dots — mere pixels that don’t amount to much at first glance. It’s not until you step back and look at the literal big picture that you truly understand what you’re looking at.

I use this analogy all the time to illustrate the powers — and the limitations — of data analysis. By examining data at a very granular level of detail, you see something different than when you step back and look at the bigger picture, taking all of the “dots” into account…and connecting them!

Any given data point is like a dot in a pointillist painting. It bears information on its own; but only in context of all of the other data points does it truly have meaning. A community’s “data dots” reveal secrets—micro data sets that each tell their own story. Yet together, they make a bigger picture; as distinct inputs, they stand alone.

The more granular you can get in terms of the insights and data about the neighborhoods and citizens you serve on a daily basis, the easier it is to connect dots, understand correlations and causation, and design programs and plans in the interest of both the individual and the community at large.

How to Paint the Perfect Picture of the Future for Your Community

For this analogy to truly have application in the real world, our communities and the public-sector entities that drive their growth and success need to speak a “Common Data Language.”

According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), a division of the U.S. Department of Commerce:

The need for a common data language is analogous to the use of a common language for people and economies to share the best of ideas, products, and services. A language used exclusively by a few isolates people from the rest of what the world has to offer.

So it is with the systems, technology and data used by local governments; schools and districts; fire and police departments; economic planning departments; and state, local and federal entities throughout the public sector. If every system is speaking a different language, they can’t possibly optimally communicate, collaborate or cooperate to the greatest benefit to the communities they serve. But that represents the reality for the vast majority of communities across the U.S. — everyone working on different platforms, speaking different languages, and missing opportunities to optimize planning and future outcomes.

The term frequently used in data and performance analytics to describe the ideal paradigm is “interoperability” — the ability of computer systems or software to exchange and make use of information collaboratively. Governing bodies in education and municipal government often set standards and guidelines for interoperability, but they can be difficult and onerous to adhere to, especially for those entities still relying on more primitive data processing systems, such as spreadsheets and legacy databases.

What would this look like in the real world and under the best-case scenario?

  • School district leadership would clearly understand what economic drivers exist between community demographics and student achievement.
  • Economic planners would easily draw causal conclusions about how equity in education and access to technology should shape future planning programs and investments in infrastructure.
  • Financial administrators in school districts could easily overlay public safety data with educational outcomes, to draw potential correlations between community crime and student performance.
  • Economic development professionals would clearly understand the demographics and detailed data about its available workforce, by “braiding” education data with workforce and U.S. Census data, and they could have unfettered access to data visualizations that plainly articulate trends, correlations, causes and effects.

In other words, all of the data points (Seurat’s dots), would work together to paint one clear picture of the past and present, so that leadership and employees in the public sector can access and apply all of the available data and information to their budgeting, planning, programming and overall decision-making processes for the future.

What Does “Braiding Data” Mean?

I mentioned the notion of “braiding” data above. The concept of data braiding is being increasingly used in the data analysis world, in place of bridging or integrating, as it suggests a greater connectivity and higher degree of codependence. 

For example, a school district may consider braiding transparency data with its fiscal data and with student achievement data. Or it may wish to braid academic performance data with fiscal data and economic data. Overall, a community—upon adopting and achieving interoperability and a Common Data Language—can collaboratively “braid” all of their various data feeds. 

Where are the connections? Which is the driver of outcomes, and what data demonstrates the effects of those drivers? The key to this working is to have the ability to combine data sources, then intuitively visualize how various data sets are interdependent and codependent.

I like to say, “Overlay to understand.” Connect dots. Draw more insightful conclusions. Make the invisible visible, and move away from the siloed data sets you are using today toward a more robust and more accurate predictor of community welfare. Making better informed decisions will naturally have a greater impact on your community, but you must be considering all of the available data that paint your community’s pictures, not just the “dots” that are easy to find.

Picture a braided cord, with each strand being a single data stream in your community, from education to economic and from demographic to overall community health. To get started:

  • Partner with the other public-sector entities that serve your community and collaborate to adopt a Common Data Language.
  • Establish and insist on standards of interoperability, so everyone can share, collaborate and communicate for the betterment of every aspect of the community.
  • Make your data intuitive, visual and transparent, so it can be accessed and understood by all stakeholders, from the professional on your team to the layperson resident with no data expertise.
  • Make the first move: Take it upon yourself to be your community’s Common Data Language ambassador and pioneer, as big ideas and bold programs need to be pushed forward, so nobody has to be pulled along grudgingly.

If you’d like to see how all of your community’s data threads can effectively intertwine, how easy it can be to adopt a Common Data Language, and why all of this is so critical to the future of your community, let’s talk.


Education, K-12, Webinars

Watch Webinar Replay: How to Prevent Learning Loss From Going Undetected

The Academic Module: Your Early-Detection Warning System

According to the Nation’s Report Card, “Average scores for age-9 students in 2022 declined 5 points in reading and 7 points in mathematics compared to 2020. This is the largest average score decline in reading since 1990, and the first ever score decline in mathematics.”

Watch the replay of our webinar to learn how the Academic Module can help in our battle against past and future learning loss.

Imagine a single tool that could not only alleviate burdens of time and workload, but also improve your ability to accelerate academic outcomes and effectively educate and monitor the progress of “the whole student”—academically, emotionally, socially, demographically, and socio-economically—all with a single, easy-to-use interface. This webinar will provide a brief overview of the Munetrix Academic Module, data required, and tips for a successful school year.

Education, K-12, Opinion

NAEP Releases “Nation’s Report Card” to Reveal Pandemic-Related Learning Loss

According to the Nation’s Report Card, an annual assessment of student achievement delivered by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), reading and mathematics scores declined during the COVID-19 pandemic, something many feared and expected would happen.

According to their 2022 analysis, “Average scores for age-9 students in 2022 declined 5 points in reading and 7 points in mathematics compared to 2020. This is the largest average score decline in reading since 1990, and the first ever score decline in mathematics.”

Now is our chance to reverse these trends, and get our students back on track.

Education, Fiscal Health, K-12, News

How to Remove Uncertainty, Headaches and Human Error from School Finance Administration

The Munetrix Financial Module helps districts increase transparency on fiscal, operations, safety, and other compliance reporting with their community. The Financial Module also provides districts with tools that make managing and reporting on capital improvement projects, benchmarking/peer analysis, debt obligations, check expenditures, budgeting, forecasting and scenario building – EASY!

Education, Fiscal Health, K-12, Municipal, Opinion, Webinars

Watch Webinar Replay: How to Battle Inflation with Better Budgeting

Tips and Methodologies for Battling the Uncertainty of Inflation in Budgeting

Watch the replay of an informative webinar on how inflation may impact your school district or municipality. Munetrix hosted David Zin, Chief Economist for the Senate Fiscal Agency, who joined Buzz Brown, to share insights on how the current rising inflation may impact the fiscal health of school districts or municipalities. Also learn how different budgeting tools and techniques can help reduce fiscal stress across your organization.

Education, Fiscal Health, Municipal, Opinion

Has Inflation Made You Rethink and Retool Your Budget?

Persistent and historically high inflation is dramatically impacting municipalities nationwide, in some cases completely altering prior projections and forecasts. Some municipal leaders are finding it necessary to completely rethink and redraft their budgets in order to reflect the new realities. And if they’re forced to do things the old way, they’re also doubling down on time, resources and labor already expended to repeat work they thought was once complete. Munetrix can introduce you, your team and your processes to advanced technology and new methodologies that can inject greater confidence and flexibility into budgets and forecasts, even accounting for dynamic, ever-changing scenarios.

Education, Fiscal Health, K-12, Municipal, Opinion

The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing but the Truth

How to Apply Comparative Analytics to Make Better Decisions and Forecasts

American computer scientist Kurt Bollacker once said that, “Data that is loved tends to survive.”

While many of us might find it difficult to “love” data, it is the lifeline of the organizations we run. Data tells us how we’ve performed in the past, what is likely to happen in the future, and how we can alter the path forward, for better or worse. So while we may prefer to ignore data than love it, we do so at our own peril.

In fact, too often, leaders of public institutions like schools, districts and municipalities either willingly or through benign neglect fail to apply a necessary love of data, and in doing so, fail to maximize the potential to make better decisions and more accurate forecasts.

Too many times, it is tempting to believe that you have all of the data you need, when in reality, there is data out there…keeping secrets from you…causing you to “not know what you don’t know”…and as a result, potentially leading you to draw inaccurate conclusions and make under-informed decisions. Not only can leaders fail to see the big picture, they may be looking at the wrong picture altogether.

After the past two years, and the uncertainty of what lies ahead, it’s never been more critical to have the most complete data set possible so that we are making the most informed decisions and the best possible prognostications.

Comparative Analytics and Errors of Omission

The future of planning and budgeting is something called “comparative analytics.” Put simply, comparative analytics refers to the process of examining your own organization’s data and performance against those of your peers and competitors to draw more informed conclusions and to make better decisions. It’s a methodology for avoiding one of the greatest perils to critical decision-making: thinking we have all of the information we need and omitting a potentially decision-changing data set.

The good news: For schools and municipalities, the performance and budgeting data for all of your competitors and benchmarked peers is publicly available. All you have to do is go find it.

If you can view your own historical data and forward-looking projections against those of neighboring entities with whom you may be competing, won’t you be able to make more confident decisions and more strategic allocations of time, treasure and talent? Anything less, and you’re making critical decisions in a vacuum.

To provide just one illustrative example, let’s say you’re examining a school district’s expenditures on instructional investments for the past three years, and the data show that the district is accounting for 10% annual increases in that budget category. Sounds promising. The district appears to be investing in educational outcomes, the chief metric for educational excellence. 

Not so fast. Unfortunately, all that data set provides is an insular, backward-looking reporting of past events — and only the district’s own. Now imagine a scenario in which district leadership could instantly compare their own budget allocations against a neighboring district. Suppose the neighboring district is reporting student achievement data that far surpasses the first district. And then imagine that, through just a few clicks, we can see that the outperforming district is allocating a much larger budget to instructional line items, likely accounting for (at least in part) the better achievement outcomes. Despite the scheduled 10% increases, the spending gap remains large between districts, and so does the disparity in student achievement.

In other words, while District A at first blush appears to be investing in educational priorities, when we look at the big picture, we discover that District B is far outpacing District A in student achievement and taking an entirely different approach to prioritizing instructional spending.

How that might change District A’s assessment of its own budget allocations, and how might that data inform a decision about how to allocate public funding going forward?

Failing to “love” all of the data, in this example, is how an error of omission can quickly lead to errors of commission.

How to Avoid the Most Common “Errors of Omission”

If getting access to the complete set of all available data were difficult, we’d understand why someone might be tempted to take shortcuts or expedite decision making. But practically everything a public employee or leader needs to equip themselves for optimized decision making is publicly available, much of it required by mandate to be made readily accessible. So given that the “secrets” are out there, let’s examine what some of the most common self-inflicted errors of omission tend to be:

(If you would like any of the following reports pulled for your district or municipality and its relevant peers, contact us and we will send you a PDF report within 48 hours at no cost or obligation).

Error #1: Not Going Far Enough Back

The more historical perspective you have, the better you are able to draw conclusions as to what’s driving trends, and what’s likely to change or continue. Too often, data analysts look only one or two years back, when there could be some revelatory trend data hiding in the entity’s more distant past that would prove informative and applicable to the present and the future.

10-year historical analysis

Error #2: Missing the Comparative Intelligence

Looking at your own data only is an error of omission that can, as illustrated above, lead to errors of commission. Here we look at comparative analytics that demonstrate how a sample school district allocates its own budget categorically relative to how all districts within that region do. Now we know if we are overspending, underspending, or misallocating resources, based on how our peers are doing their own budgeting. Look at the disparities and gaps, and consider what that data is trying to tell you.

Budget allocation peer-comparison report

Error #3: Failing to Connect the Dots

How is budgeting data aligned with performance metrics? Isn’t that the key to truly understanding whether our budgeting decisions and forecasts are aligned (or misaligned) with outcomes? With just a few clicks, you should be able to overlay key performance indicators with budgeting inputs to see if you’re getting sufficient return on investment, or whether you need to redirect funds and either double down or reallocate resources.

Overlay data sets to spot trends and performance drivers

Error #4: Not Seeing How Small Data Drives Big Trends

If you’re not examining historically significant data sets, and you’re not comparing both past performance and future forecasting against competitors or peers, you can’t possibly draw accurate correlations and conclusions relative to drivers of big-picture trends. One of the most critical trend data sets for schools and districts, for example, is enrollment. Enrollment data not only reflects success metrics of all kinds, it directly impacts per-pupil funding. The small discrete data points all come together to influence the larger trends we all hold dear and measure ultimate success or failure by. Failure to put the pieces together and see the entire puzzle is perilous, and an unforced error in the modern age.

Data visualizations matched with trend analysis provide a clearer picture yet.

Love the Data that Survives

Perhaps it’s too heavy a lift to expect everyone within leadership at public institutions to truly “love” data. But we do urge that those in positions of critical decision-making at least embrace all that data has to offer…and all that lies in wait to undermine decisions if leaders neglect to listen to the secrets data is keeping from them.

That “loved” data will not only survive, as Bollacker suggests…it will help government institutions thrive.

Unlock the best-kept secrets today! If you would like any of the referenced reports above (or others) pulled for your district or municipality and its peers, contact us and we will send you a PDF report within 48 hours at no cost or obligation.


30-Second Preview of Munetrix in Action:

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