Inside the Education Department’s plan to build a data-driven culture

Building a data-driven culture within the Department of Education will lead to improving core business functions of the agency — and with that, better addressing the needs of students — agency leaders said this week.
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Department of Education offices are looking to expand the coordination and integration of department data to make better-informed decisions around assistance programs and other policies affecting the nation’s education system.

Agency leaders said Wednesday this effort to build a data-driven culture within the Department of Education will lead to improving core business functions of the agency —  and with that, better addressing the needs of students — in line with the requirements set by the 2018 Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act.

As part of the initiative, the department will establish teams of experts who understand how to coordinate data and prioritize data integration and accessibility.

“It begins for us by being really clear as to what our shared goals are around evidence-building,” Matt Soldner, commissioner for the National Center for Education Evaluation and chief evaluation officer for the Department of Education, said during a webinar hosted by the Data Coalition.


Soldner said the Education Department’s efforts include prioritizing essential data projects that will address the needs of the agency, the public and the federal government. And the creation of a Data Governance Board and the Evidence Leadership Group, he said, brings together leadership from across all the offices within the department to discuss shared goals for data use and explore projects and policies that serve those common objectives.

“So we’ve created kind of the interlocking directorates … to force collaboration and to force those ears being in the same room around the same topics,” Soldner said.

One of the groups’ top priorities so far has been to develop a strategy to assess the agency’s data infrastructure and identify components of data programs that are essential and need to be improved upon.

By surveying all of the offices within the Department of Education individually on how they use data and what their data processes are, the agency has been able to gain valuable insight into what improvements need to be made to optimize data collection, management and use, said Greg Fortelny, the Education Department’s chief data officer.

“So those offices are really gonna be able to see where they need to focus their attention or resources, and they’re going to have some ability to see if they’ve made gains in those areas,” he said.


The results of those assessments will be announced near the end of fiscal year 2020, Fortelny said.

Collaborating on data strategy, Fortelny said, will improve many of the essential functions of the Department of Education, like student data collection, grantmaking and research. It will also help the agency to make evidence-based decisions to address the needs of students, their families and the federal government.

“We’re really going to be doing our best to kind of execute in our current environment and deliver high-quality data for staff and the public,” Fortelny said. “I think we do have a lot of work to do, but we have a lot of talented staff and leadership support to get it done.”

Betsy Foresman

Written by Betsy Foresman

Betsy Foresman was an education reporter for EdScoop from 2018 through early 2021, where she wrote about the virtues and challenges of innovative technology solutions used in higher education and K-12 spaces. Foresman also covered local government IT for StateScoop, on occasion. Foresman graduated from Texas Christian University in 2018 — go Frogs! — with a BA in journalism and psychology. During her senior year, she worked as an intern at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., and moved back to the capital after completing her degree because, like Shrek, she feels most at home in the swamp. Foresman previously worked at Scoop News Group as an editorial fellow.

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