Why San Mateo Daily Journal Really Doesn’t Like California’s Education Dashboards

In an editorial on March 22, the San Mateo Daily Journal called the new California School Dashboards “problematic”, “confusing”, and “useless”. It’s worth examining their perceptive reasoning, worthy of Silicon Valley, by reading the editorial, but the crux was this:

A dashboard in essence provides useful data, how fast you are going, what level your fuel is, if your engine is running hot, what your revolutions per minute are and if you need to check your engine. Based on your situation, one indicator may be more meaningful for you than others, but it is an apt description for a variety of indicators based on levels of data.

A car’s dashboard alerts to simple problems that call for immediate action:  slow down, get gas, or head to the mechanic. Dashboards were not designed to evaluate a driver’s or car’s ongoing performance, persuade that there’s a problem over a longer time scale, or motivate improvements, much less to compare performance to that of others. Making dashboards serve such goals leads to the editorial’s remark that “… how the information is presented is problematic and even the icons for performance levels are initially confusing.”

Overall, the editorial concludes that the California School dashboards don’t serve the goal of comparative evaluation, aka benchmarking:

The dashboard as it stands right now is fairly useless, and that could change once more information fills in. But the template also seems fairly poor as something parents may be able to use to see how their school is doing compared to other schools in the district or even other districts.

Except in narrow cases like a car running out of gas, we humans are best enlightened, persuaded, and motivated to act by language, which is why Daily Journals write editorials, and I write this post, rather than put up dashboards. Language deals quite well with quantitative information.

Raul Valdes-Perez