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A school board race where putting a premium on data prevailed

June 13, 2017 3 minute Read by William McKenzie
Dallas voters see the value of using data to drive education decisions.

"A mandate for data-oriented reforms," is how Dallas school trustee Dustin Marshall summed up his hard-fought runoff reelection triumph Saturday. Marshall came from behind to win a contested race in which the Dallas school district's new teacher evaluation system played a key role. 

That system involves several metrics, from classroom observations of a teacher's work to student surveys about their instruction to student scores on Texas' annual achievement exams. The metrics are weighted so no one data set prevails. Still, the evaluation system has become a flashpoint, with critics pointing to the test scores as one problem with the Teacher Excellence Initiative

Marshall, a graduate of the 2016 Presidential Leadership Scholars class, stood by the tool. That is one reason he could claim his win is a validation for the district to use data to drive decisions. 

Dallas, of course, is not the only district using various data points as a way to differentiate classroom work. A number of traditional districts have moved in that direction, as have many charter schools. The leader of one charter management organization, who is taking part in a series of interviews the Bush Institute is conducting on school accountability, recently explained how data drives everything her organization does. That includes using it to help students meet their academic goals. 

Indeed, the reason to collect classroom information is so educators can know when to intervene with struggling students, ask for support from administrators, and challenge high-performing students to reach even higher. 

Classroom data also can be used to as a way for districts to pay quality instructors more for their superior work, show districts which teachers would benefit from extra coaching and development, and, yes, remove educators who fail to improve their classroom practice and, as a result, are unable to help students learn and succeed. 

Those are the real reasons data matters in education, although its use has become a flashpoint in many districts across the country. Marshall's triumph over an opponent who had reservations about Dallas' teacher evaluation system shows that voters in at least one district certainly see the value of using data to drive education decisions.


William McKenzie
William McKenzie

William McKenzie is editorial director for the George W. Bush Institute, where he also serves as editor of The Catalyst: A Journal of Ideas from the Bush Institute.

Active in education issues, he co-teaches an education policy class at SMU’s Simmons School of Education and Human Development. He also participates in the Bush Institute’s school accountability project.

Before joining the Bush Institute, the Fort Worth native served 22 years as an editorial columnist for the Dallas Morning News and led the newspaper’s Texas Faith blog. The University of Texas graduate’s columns appeared nationwide and he has won a Pulitzer Prize and commentary awards from the Education Writers Association, the American Academy of Religion, and the Texas Headliners Foundation, among other organizations. He still contributes columns and essays for the Morning News and The Weekly Standard.

Before joining the News in 1991, he earned a master’s degree in political science from the University of Texas at Arlington and spent a dozen years in Washington, D.C. During that time, he edited the Ripon Forum.

McKenzie has served as a Pulitzer Prize juror, on the board of a homeless organization, and on governing committees of a Dallas public school. He also is an elder of the First Presbyterian Church in Dallas, where he lives with his wife and their twin children.

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