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Education, K-12, News, Opinion, Uncategorized

Creating a District-Wide Culture of “Data Literacy” to Achieve Equity in Education

How to Map a Path to Your Equity Goals Tomorrow by Understanding Where Your District Stands Today

By Peter Solar and Mike Geers

A version of this article originally appeared on District Administration magazine.

As educators everywhere place an increasing focus and emphasis on achieving equity and equality in education—working to address historical inequities and increase opportunities for all students—a new challenge has emerged to present an even greater hurdle: not knowing what we don’t know. This is especially critical as stakeholders work together to specifically address the equity piece of equity and equality, as equity should be regarded as a destination, or something demonstrably achievable, as opposed to a mere goal of ambiguous “improvement.”

As the trope goes, there are things that we know, things that we don’t know, and things we don’t know that we don’t know—and it’s in that last category where lies a danger that, gone unaddressed, could result in well-meaning intentions causing purpose-defeating ends. 

With so much at stake, at a time in which so many are uniting in common purpose and resolve, it’s critical to get this initiative right, for current students and for future generations to come. 

Our secret weapon in this cause is something districts have at their ready disposal, but which has historically presented difficulty harnessing: data. It’s not that districts and educators don’t have access to data—quite the contrary. Data is everywhere: public databases, district-owned systems, spreadsheets, census bureaus, government entities…even desk drawers and computer hard drives! 

Yes, districts are data-rich. But they’re knowledge-poor.

Start with a Clear Picture

It’s one thing to set generalized standards for what a better future might look like—greater equity, more equitable access, etc.—but quite another to set definitive metrics for what improvement looks like, and what the final destination might be. The latter are hard numbers, and they’re specific, measurable milestones.

But to achieve progress toward a goal, you must have a clear picture of where your district stands today. What, precisely, is the current reality when it comes to existing equity gaps—social, emotional, educational and financial? The only way to truly understand the disparities (and the degree/extent of disparity) is to look at hard data. Numbers don’t lie, and there are numbers everywhere.

If there were ever a critical time and clear justification for the modernization of school districts’ data management systems, this is it. No longer is it enough to have data storage systems. We must get the numbers off of the paper, out of the spreadsheets, unlocked and out of disparate systems that house our data, and get them all into one system, where they can be analyzed and cross-analyzed, aggregated and disaggregated, compared, contrasted and shared.

“Using data to inform all of our practices in K12 education—from budget management to student instruction—is more important than ever,” says Paul Liabenow, Executive Director with The Michigan Elementary and Middle School Principals Association (MEMSPA). “We must analyze the data that we find at our fingertips to make timely course corrections if our desired outcomes are not being met. Most importantly, we must use data to expose and correct inequities in our systems and immediately make changes for the benefit of our marginalized students.”

Making the Invisible Visible

As districts and educators, and as the cornerstones of the communities we serve, we should be cross-pollinating and overlaying publicly available census data, district financial and modeling data, student achievement and educator evaluation data, population demographics and economic data, student migration and graduation data, grant and budget-forecasting data…all of it. And more. We should be working with our partners (public and private) in the communities we serve to harness as much information as possible. 

Only then will we truly understand the equity gaps that exist in our buildings and in our communities. And only then will we be able to conceive of and implement data-driven strategies, plans and programs to overcome them. Anything less, and we risk applying a well-meaning solution to the wrong problem, thereby missing the opportunity to achieve the end itself, or worse, exacerbating the problem.

A complete data set has the effect of “making the invisible, visible.” That danger of not knowing what we don’t know is very real. What if a root cause of a given inequity is presumed to be financial in nature, but in reality, is socio-political? Will throwing more money at this particular situation address root causes, or will it merely present the illusion of effort? And can you even measure progress toward a goal if you’re addressing the wrong underlying cause? Given that scenario, will your efforts be rewarded and applauded, or be met with cynicism and demands for greater transparency or compliance, when reporting demonstrates lack of progress?

If we truly want to address the drivers of inequity, we must first see them, later make sure we understand them, and finally show our work in overcoming them. By tapping into all available data sources, and enabling the data points to talk to each other, we can determine if a particular gap is driven by economics, demographics, geography, educator experience, or geopolitics.

You simply can’t see the invisible by looking at spreadsheets, one at a time.

Create a Culture of Data Literacy to Measure Everything—Even the Invisible

The challenges that educators face when it comes to equity—as well as equality—in education are similar in nature to all of the other myriad challenges confronting district personnel:

  1. Understanding the issue, problem, challenge or opportunity;
  2. Understanding what steps to take to overcome the shortcoming or achieve the aspiration; and
  3. Reporting out to the various stakeholders and compliance officers that action is being taken, and to what effect.

Achieving a district-wide commitment to what we call a “culture of data literacy” is a district’s best opportunity to check all three boxes, including for today’s equity and equality initiatives. This means having a very real, very consistent commitment to optimal data-use practices in order to facilitate better data-driven decisions. Enough of the invisible; enough of not knowing what we don’t know. There are easily implemented and easily understood systems that take all of the time and labor we used to devote to the administrative headaches of keeping data systems current and execute it all for us…way better and faster than we humans ever could.

Take these actions as a district, and yours will be well on its way to achieving this culture of data literacy, and making measurable, demonstrable progress toward greater equity and equality:

Understand the whole community. Know the district you serve, and not just its students and parents. What portion of the population rents versus owns? What is the size and nature of its homeless population? What about its percentage of single-parent households? What is the district’s complete demographics picture, from ethnicity to income, and everything in between? What are the geographic boundaries, anomalies and trends? All of these data points are potential contributors to inequality. But until you see them all, overlaid against one another, it’s difficult to discern which are the drivers, and which are the resultant outcomes.

Follow the money. Do you truly and completely know your financial spend at a district level, and at a building-to-building level? Do you know which schools have more active and more successful grant writing initiatives, and do those (or lack thereof) have an impact on financial gaps or inequities? What are the tax revenues, as well as state and federal funding sources, relative to your neighboring districts and statewide peers? “More money” is one solution, yes. But if a district doesn’t know how the money is spent now, how can it make a better plan to more efficiently allocate resources to greater effect, equity and equality, so that the new good money doesn’t go out with the old, bad?

Evaluate personnel. Consider cross-referencing student achievement data with financial data sets and educator evaluations. Are the higher-income areas of the district being served by teachers with more experience, and is that contributing to (or working against) student achievement metrics and educator outcome inequities?

Quantify the gaps and articulate the needs. With some $54 billion coming to schools in the second federal stimulus, a significant portion of that will be earmarked to address learning loss and student well-being (social, emotional and learning deficiencies). If you can’t quantify your district’s needs with hard numbers, it will be difficult (if not impossible) to demonstrate measurable progress toward closing the gaps, which will be a reporting requirement to be eligible for those funds. For example, can you demonstrate that your Title-I population experienced greater learning loss than the general population? Start this analysis now so you can expedite access to much needed federal funding and assistance to come as it becomes available.

Make it a team effort. Collaborate with district leaders, local office holders and city councils, police departments, and other entities that share your commitment to addressing community-wide inequities, and invite these stakeholders into the tent. Ask them to share their available data. Consider forming a task force with each entity represented at the table, and create a project workflow with assignable tasks and accountability, so that the entire community can share in the progress the district makes.

Get it together. Most importantly, get all available data sets into one, centralized, intelligent system, so that you can start with a clear picture of today, conceive of a measured plan for demonstrable progress, and implement that plan with purpose. With all of the data in one place, and with all stakeholders working together, reporting out to state and federal agencies will be easier, more transparent, and more accurate than ever before.

As with any important initiative, one cannot address such a critical goal of achieving equity in education by “going a mile wide and an inch deep.” There are so many interdependent forces at work—both historical and current, both plainly visible and subtly latent— that to make presumptions based on limited information or intuition does a disservice not only to the challenge before us, but to the requisite remedies as well.

Mike Geers

Peter Solar (left) is Director of Client Partnerships with Munetrix. He can be reached at peter@munetrix.com. Mike Geers is Client Partnership Manager with Munetrix, and he can be reached at mike@munetrix.com.

Education, Municipal, News

Munetrix Again Named to the GovTech 100 List

Munetrix Named to GovTech List for Fifth Year Running

Munetrix is proud to be once again featured on Government Technology’s GovTech 100 list, a compendium of 100 companies focused on, making a difference in, and selling to state and local government agencies across the United States.

Munetrix has earned this prestigious honor every year since 2016, each year the list has been researched and published.

The announcement reads, in part, “In 2020, as detailed in this feature-length article in Government Technology magazine, the gov tech market brought bigger deals, more investment, new companies and many fresh new innovations that moved the needle in the public sector.”

“We are thrilled to once again named to the GovTech 100 list,” said Bob Kittle, Munetrix President and CEO. “This annual recognition is a reflection of our team’s commitment to innovation, product development and, perhaps most of all, personalized customer service. We continue to try make data analytics easy, intuitive and centralized for our users in the municipal government and education sectors.”

Government Technology wrote in support of the 2020 announcement:

“Five years ago, Government Technology saw something happening: Civic tech was changing. Fueled by new technologies, modern methodologies and a sudden interest from investors, startups were beginning to work more with government. In a space long dominated by incumbents, notorious for complex procurement and implementation cycles, agencies were hungering for something new. We took note, and launched a list of 100 companies that represented that ecosystem.”

Municipal, News

Munetrix Releases List of Safest Cities in Michigan

Data Provided by Michigan State Police and U.S. Census Bureau for 2019

Munetrix, a data analytics solutions provider serving municipalities and public school districts nationwide, has again released its list of the 10 safest cities in Michigan, according to the company’s analysis of publicly available data provided by Michigan State Police and the U.S. Census Bureau for 2019, the most recent year for which crime data is available.

As it has in the past, the just released Munetrix list looks at total crime data for Michigan communities of more than 50,000 in population. Based on the numbers of total crimes committed in Michigan’s cities, relative to each city’s total population, Michigan’s top-ten safest cities are:

  1. Rochester Hills
  2. Farmington Hills
  3. Sterling Heights
  4. Novi
  5. Royal Oak
  6. Ann Arbor
  7. Troy
  8. Livonia
  9. St. Clair Shores
  10. Dearborn Heights

“As we analyzed the data, we discovered an interesting and encouraging trend at the macro level, also represented fairly consistently from city to city,” said Bob Kittle, President of Munetrix. “If you look at the three-year trend data dating back to 2017, the data reveal a trending decrease in total crimes overall—communities statewide appear to have been getting safer, in terms of the data we have available, which is a pleasant byproduct of this study. 

“Local city governments and public safety professionals in our state should be proud of what the data suggest, and take heart that their hard work and efforts toward safer communities appear to be paying off,” he added.

In Michigan, there are 1,856 local units of government: 83 counties, 1,240 townships, 278 cities and 255 villages. All in, there were 657,166 total offenses across the state in 2019 according to data released by the Michigan State Police in its annual crime statistics report. Munetrix cross references this crime data with population data made available by the U.S. Census Bureau. With 9.99 million residents in Michigan in 2019, there were 65.7 total crimes (offenses) per thousand people.

Total crime numbers include everything from murder, rape and assault to white collar crimes, Minors in Possession (MIP), and petty thefts. Total crimes encompass four categories: 

  • Crimes against people
  • Crimes against property
  • Crimes against society
  • Other crimes

Here’s how the top-10 safest cities in Michigan rank, in terms of total crimes relative to their total populations:

Where Does Your City Rank?

To find out where your city ranks on this year’s list, or to get access to the complete list, please contact us and submit a request.

About Munetrix

Auburn Hills, Mich.-based Munetrix, among the nation’s largest aggregators of municipal and school district data, promotes municipal wellness and sustainability through its cloud-based data management tools and proprietary performance management applications. In partnering with Munetrix, municipalities and school districts are able to manage their data and access cost-effective products and advisory services to make meaningful and reliable budgets, financial projections, academic achievement metrics, trend reports and better-informed forward-looking decisions. Learn more at www.munetrix.com.

Education, Municipal, News, Opinion

Munetrix Offers New COVID-19 Dashboard to Michigan Municipalities and School Districts at No Cost

Company Partners with Bloomfield Hills Schools and the Metro Bureau to Develop and Distribute Dashboard Statewide

Munetrix, in partnership with Bloomfield Hills Schools, has developed and launched a new COVID-19 dashboard and is making the dynamic dashboard available to any municipality, county or school district that wishes to embed it on its own website, at no cost to that government entity. In addition, Munetrix has partnered with the Metro Bureau to distribute dashboard embed codes to its member organizations across the state of Michigan.

First deployed on the Bloomfield Hills Schools homepage, the COVID-19 dashboard was developed initially to address the desire of Bloomfield Hills Schools administrators to provide clear communication regarding the school district’s readiness to return to face-to-face learning to parents in a way that would be as easy to understand and as readily updated as possible. In doing so, district officials approached Munetrix to develop technology that would source data from state of Michigan’s coronavirus case data and display relevant metrics to provide clear indicators as to the most current moving averages of new cases per 100,000 population, sortable by county, as well as to display each county’s rolling percent-positive data.

The dynamic dashboard draws state data that is both updated (with new cases) and refreshed (updating prior case data) daily, giving district parents the most accurate, timely and geographically relevant data available.

The two data visualizations provided on the dashboard are intended to give parents and community members an instantly intuitive snapshot regarding a given district’s readiness to return to face-to-face learning or its risk level of regressing to all-virtual learning environments using a color-coded graphic representation of moments in time, dating back to March 1, 2020. The system utilizes the Harvard Global Health Institute Model developed by Dr. Ashish Jha and others to create standards for risk factors and thresholds by which a school district can establish triggers for moving from one phase of risk tolerance to another. For example, the Bloomfield Hills Schools parameters dictate that the county remain at least 21 consecutive days in a given risk level before the district is eligible to enact predetermined protocols for moving to a next phase of learning modality.

Leveraging the standards established by the Harvard Global Health Institute Model, Munetrix displays risk ranges in the conventional red-orange-yellow-green convention, making the data intuitively accessible and visually clear, educating parents, children, district personnel and the community at large as to a district’s current state of return readiness at any given time.

Making Difficult Decisions Easy to Understand

Not only does this accessible dashboard allow for quicker, data-based decision making, it is a tool that serves to provide transparency and information to parents during a time when uncertainty and anxiety are heightened, making such information accessible on-demand, 24/7.

“We’ve heard of parents who watch the numbers on our dashboard like you might watch the stock market—three times a day!” said Patrick Watson, Superintendent of Bloomfield Hills Schools. “It also gives parents the information when and how they want it, no longer relying on answered phone calls and returned emails that may take some time to address,” he added. “The number of phone calls and emails into the office, with people looking for updates and information, has dramatically reduced, allowing our staff to focus their energy and resources on optimizing our learning environments, both virtual and in-person.”

“As a data visualization company, we continue to consider it our duty to do whatever our technology allows to deliver easy-to-understand, actionable intelligence to those who need it, and to make it simple for anyone to display, use and understand,” said Buzz Brown, Vice President of Customer Engagement and Chief Data Officer with Munetrix. “There has never been a more urgent time for accurate and timely information than during this pandemic, especially given how it’s affected our schools, educators, administrators, families and learners.”

Melissa Baker, Executive Director of the Metro Bureau, immediately recognized the value that this new dashboard provides to school districts and their constituents, offering to facilitate the distribution of free embed codes provided by Munetrix to its membership. “This is such an incredible value-add to our district members,” she said. “People are craving accurate, timely and understandable data these days, and our members are committed to providing it. Anything that makes this easier on everyone is something we as an organization are committed to broadly distributing.” 

Munetrix and the Metro Bureau receive requests for embed codes daily, with dashboards now being displayed on several district home pages across the state…east and west, north and south. 

Munetrix will provide a copy-and-paste embed code at no cost to any school district or government entity that would like to display the dashboard on its own website. Simply contact Munetrix to submit a request, or Metro Bureau members can complete this form to request a code. 

To see how this dashboard is being deployed by local school districts to make informed decisions about learning environments and communicate transparently with parents and the community in real time, watch the story that Local 4 Newscasters shared with their viewers. 

About Munetrix

Auburn Hills, Mich.-based Munetrix, among the nation’s largest aggregators of municipal and school district data, promotes municipal wellness and sustainability through its cloud-based data management tools and proprietary performance management applications. In partnering with Munetrix, municipalities and school districts are able to manage their data and access cost-effective products and advisory services to make meaningful and reliable budgets, financial projections, academic achievement metrics, trend reports and better-informed forward-looking decisions. Learn more at www.munetrix.com.

Education, Fiscal Health, Municipal, News, Press Releases

Munetrix Provides Live, Interactive Map of Coronavirus Cases to Any Government Agency at No Cost

Free Embed Code Allows Governments to Provide Visualized Map for Any Website

Munetrix, a data analytics solutions provider serving municipalities and public school districts, has developed and launched a visualized map that renders live coronavirus cases data by county, and is making the map available to any municipality, county or government agency that wishes to embed it on its own website.

The Michigan Association of Counties was the first such organization to embed the map on its home page, and since then, more than ten others have embedded the map, including regional councils of government, counties, cities and more, representing more than 5,000 cumulative user views of the map in total as of April 13th.

The interactive map visualizes various data in a live, interactive and scalable manner, with various ways to render the most recently reported government data, including the number of cases, the number of deaths, as well as cases and deaths per 100,000 population, which is sortable by county, council of government and other geographic criteria, as set by the user.

“Access to updated, actionable information is critical right now, both for governments and the constituents they serve,” said Bob Kittle, President and Chief Executive Officer of Munetrix. “It’s vital that the data be visualized, easily understood and widely accessible, as leaders, administrators, health departments and the general public alike make critical and, oftentimes, life-or-death decisions during this COVID-19 pandemic.

“We felt, as a data visualization company, it was our duty to do whatever our technology would allow to deliver that intelligence to those who need it, and to make it easy for anyone to display, use and understand,” he added.

Munetrix will provide a copy-and-paste embed code at no cost to any agency or government entity that would like to display the map on its own website. Simply contact Munetrix or the Michigan Association of Counties to submit a request.

About Munetrix

Auburn Hills, Mich.-based Munetrix, among the nation’s largest aggregators of municipal and school district data, promotes municipal wellness and sustainability through its cloud-based data management tools and proprietary performance management applications. In partnering with Munetrix, municipalities and school districts are able to manage their data and access cost-effective products and advisory services to make meaningful and reliable budgets, financial projections, trend reports and better-informed forward-looking decisions.


News

As Michigan’s K-12 enrollment declines, count day grows in importance; first count day of the school year is Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Auburn Hills, Mich. –August 27,  2019 – The term, “count day” which is Wednesday October 2, 2019, is a familiar one to both Michigan educators and the parents who want their child counted, according to Buzz Brown, co-founder and Vice President of Munetrix, a public sector solutions provider offering data management, analytics and reporting tools for states, local governments and public school districts. Brown says the familiar term is taking on increased significance as Michigan’s K-12 population declines.

“Students in Michigan school districts and charter schools are counted many other dates besides the first official count day in October,” Brown said. ‘There are actually four official count days each school year, but the October date is the standout because it’s first. From a percentage perspective 90% of district students are accounted for in October and 10% are accounted for in January.”

Most schools only count on count day because of the extra paperwork and reporting requirements for counting students after that date – but that can be a costly mistake, Brown cautions. That’s because declining enrollment and the competitive race to attract children to neighboring school districts, charter schools and private schools are collectively slicing into a shrinking pie.

“One of the few growing districts in SE Michigan lost $1M in state funding last year when 120 children failed to be counted for unknown reasons, yet given their growth rates, this district was able to absorb the cost more easily than others – but it still hurt,” Brown said.  “Most Michigan districts are contracting and fewer students mean fewer dollars.”

For those who miss count day, there is some leniency. Schools have 10 days after count day to count a child that has an unexcused absence, 30 days if the absence is excused and 45 days if the student is suspended. The challenge to the districts, regardless of the number counted, is that they always start the school year in Michigan before the state budget is decided, leaving some schools to borrow money until state aid is released.

“The timeframe of the state budget for education is a hot topic each fall. Compared to that, getting students to be counted on count day is a much easier task,” Brown said. “As some school districts will attest. a pizza party and other incentives to lure students to school that day also helps.”

Additional information on  school count day and funding can be found at the State of Michigan website.

News

And then there were none…cities and schools must prepare for silver tsunami of public sector retirements as next gen college students select other careers

Auburn Hills, Mich. –September X, 2019 –A silver tsunami of retirements is anticipated in schools and municipalities over the next several years; yet, as college students head back to college this month, only an estimated 5% are considering a career in the public sector. Further, a 2019 survey found the number of students graduating with a master’s degree in public policy and entering careers in federal, state and local government dropped 15% from 2011 to 2017. These statistics should have local government unit leaders on edge, according to Bob Kittle, president of Munetrix, a public sector solutions provider offering data management, analytics and reporting tools for states, local governments and public school districts.

“Finance directors, assessors and administrators are just an example of positions already in short supply. Think of where we’ll be when those who understand complex water and sewer systems leave,” Kittle said. “And those technical positions lean more toward skilled trades rather than traditional four-year college grads, and the shortage of skilled trades has already been well established.”

A 2016 report from Pew noted that 50% of state and 52% of local government employees were between the ages of 45 and 64 in 2013; but Kittle says administrators at the local level can be reticent to share information on their own local unit’s expected retirement wave.

“I’m regularly on the speaker’s circuit discussing data driven decision making and succession planning.  When I ask for a show of hands as to how many in the audience will be retiring in the next five years, typically # hands go up,” Kittle said. “This supports the data we have in our platform that tracks employees by age range in cities and schools, but when we ask our customers outright for data on planned staff retirements over the next five years, there is definitely a reluctance to provide the information.”

Kittle says the hesitation can be that certain districts or cities don’t run reports on the data or track it well enough. That’s why Munetrix has a tool with its platform that makes tracking easier.

“We are really heading toward a crisis situation in the public sector in terms of talent and seniority,” Kittle said. “The Munetrix app is a tool to help support succession planning and institutional knowledge preservation, and to increase the portability of key jobs within the local unit, but we still need to raise awareness of the option for career changers and young adults to pursue public sector opportunities.”

For their part, the company established Munetrix University in 2013 to provide paid internships in data science to college students. The company has had 26 interns since it began the program in 2013.  Additionally, Munetrix announced this month a new scholarship program through the Michigan Government Finance Officials Association and (name of school association) that it would offer five  $1,000 scholarships to college students who plan to pursue a career in local government. Students may apply for the scholarship through (add website links.)

Education, Municipal, News, Opinion

Cheers to a successful millage passage!

By: Bob Kittle

It was announced at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference in May 2019 that a coalition of education advocates is aiming for a Wayne County millage to support after-school programs. If supported, the county-wide proposal would be on the Wayne County ballot in 2020. While this effort may be worthwhile, it is certain to be a challenge, first because it’s a county-wide vote, but also because gaining support for any millage proposal can be difficult – as almost any city or school district can attest. Having accurate and timely data can help build a strong case for millage requests and lessen the handwringing for anxious policymakers at the same time.

Munetrix understands the importance of data in community decision making. Increased demands for transparency make it clear that constituents want confidence that every penny is spent wisely. When current dollars aren’t enough to support operations or a new community initiative, a strong case can be made for additional funding by comparing how similar communities pay for equivalent services. You can also respond to naysayers with data reflecting that proposed millage rates aren’t unprecedented or out of line using relevant comparable analysis.

Citizens expect data to be accessible and will use it to better understand their community’s use of taxpayer funds. While preparing for your next city or school (or, in the case of Wayne County, after-school) millage, use data in your favor.  

Munetrix makes government data easy. If you need assistance with your next millage proposal, don’t hesitate to contact us.

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