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Postsecondary Accountability

The Perkins Pundit

Monday, September 20, 2010

Salt, Oil, and Data as Soil

One of the earliest pure substances of commerce was common salt.  Yep, that shaker on your kitchen table contains something that once played a significant role in the development of human history.  Its importance was connected to its utility in preserving food.  Prior to the industrial revolution, salt was so important to the development of human civilization that any irregularity in supplies or control could be detrimental to the independence of communities.  That is why the Roman Empire concentrated their infrastructure near new salt sources or along salt routs.[i]

Today, oil is critical to the global economy because it is the world’s major source of primary energy, accounting for approximately 39 percent of global energy consumption.  Oil is especially vital to ground, air, and sea transportation, providing approximately 95 percent of all energy used for this purpose.  In addition, it is the basic component for most plastics, pesticides, paints, solvents, and other vital products.  Because oil plays such a critical role in fueling the world economy, any prolonged shortage in its availability can produce a global economic recession, as occurred in 1974 following the Arab oil embargo, 1979 following the Iranian revolution, and 1990 following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.[ii]

At one time, salt played a dominate role in determining the power and location of the world’s great cities; it created and destroyed empires.  Through innovation and the industrial revolution the relative importance of salt in the world has waned significantly.  Today, oil is arguably as vital to our national security as was salt to the world of antiquity.  Yet, again we are undergoing a radical change in innovation, an information revolution. This raises the question, might the fuel of today’s innovation, data, radically demote the role of oil in the world?

In a lecture delivered by David McCandless discussing data visualization, he shared that as a data journalist he regularly hears people proclaim, “Data is the new oil” – it is a resource that we can shape to provide new innovation and can be mined very easily.  However, he prefers a slight twist on the slogan to instead read, “Data is the new soil”.  David sees data as a fertile, creative medium for “growing” visualizations to enhance our understanding.[iii]

Unlike salt and oil, data is not a commodity.  It is not fungible, that is, it is not equivalent regardless of who produces it.  In this respect, I agree with David.  Data today more resembles soil than oil, it is quite fertile in some places, nearly barren in others, and it is the element from which we produce meaningful and valuable inferences.  Data in and of itself has no intrinsic value, its worth is rooted in how effectively and efficiently it can be utilized or reutilized.  But from this new soil, a digital soil, may grow the commodities of the future.  And, perhaps, as a result, years from now our successors will look at oil as today we look at salt – just a feature on the kitchen table.

In the coming weeks we plan to launch a new website – NCE Data & Research.  Here, we intend to offer an array of Perkins related data visualizations as a way to embrace the idea shared a few weeks ago;  “If data is to promote and inform accountability it must be well understood, and for data to be understood it must be simple – that is, accessible, palatable and, dare I say, fun.”  

Until next week…

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Answer is...Maybe!

As, undoubtedly, you are busy extracting and computing data for the 2009-2010 Perkins Report, I thought I might share an insight gained  after a conversation with one of our partners from Mid-Plains Community College, Tad Pfeifer.  We had a discussion about the 2P1 Numerator and the 4P1 Denominator.  More specifically, we pondered whether these two items, in fact, represent the same populations.

After some discussion and running of numbers, we concluded the answer is … maybe!

It is conceivable that these two populations could be the same.  However, there is a key distinction between the two.  For our purposes in Nebraska, the 2P1 Indicator is measuring the percentage of CTE Concentrators that graduate with a diploma, degree, certificate, or credential.  The 2P1 numerator is calculated as a subclass, or subpopulation of the 2P1 denominator; we refine the 2P1 denominator population to calculate the population comprising the 2P1 numerator.

The 4P1 Indicator measures the percentage of CTE Concentrator graduates employed in work, military or apprenticeships.  The 4P1 denominator represents the number of CTE concentrators from the previous reporting year that left postsecondary education with a credential, certificate, degree or diploma during the previous reporting year. On the surface, this sounds eerily similar to the 2P1 numerator definition.  However, there is a difference - a subtle difference – which is found within the computation methodology of the indicators.

2P1 requires the removal of those students attempting a CTE course during the current reporting year (see step 11 from the 2P1 denominator calculation process, page 14 of the Perkins Postsecondary Data Manual).  4P1 does not make such exclusion.

So, let’s revisit my earlier answer of “maybe”.  I noted that these two populations could be the same.  That is because if none of the CTE Concentrators from the previous year attempt a CTE course during the current reporting year, in fact, the 2P1 Numerator population will be identical to the 4P1 Denominator population.  However, this is conditional on whether or not any CTE Concentrator from the previous reporting year attempts a CTE course during the current reporting year – thus, the unambiguous answer … “maybe”. 

Until next week…

Modern-Day Soothsayers

A brief survey of public education in the United States over the past 25 years is sure to reveal the increasing importance of “data-driven” decision making.  Whether promoted from on high, or cultivated organically at the local level, accountability has become a key tenet of the financing behind public education and, thus, has induced greater attention towards data.  Yet, all too often this information is not well understood – and, for some, avoided at all costs!  As a result, those delegated to collect, manage, and interpret this information have become in the eyes of many modern-day soothsayers, entrusted to predict the fortunes and failures of education from a murky vessel of numbers.

This begs the question, in the midst of a global information revolution, how is it that data analysis has become for so many a nauseating assignment?  On an individual level, we make data-driven decision almost every day.  For example, suppose you’re driving home from work and need to fill you vehicle with gasoline.  You know you will pass two gas stations on your way home, Station A and Station B.  Station A typically sells their product at a cost of 3 – 4 cents higher per gallon than station B.  As such, you choose to stop and fill up at Station B.  Congratulations, you’ve just made a data-driven decision!

If data is to promote and inform accountability it must be well understood, and for data to be understood it must be simple – that is, accessible, palatable and, dare I say, fun.  So, as a part of a newly redesigned webpage for Nebraska Perkins accountability, we will be providing a weekly commentary on this blog entitled “The Perkins Pundit”.  Here, we intend to share tips, best practices, and all things splendid about the world that is Perkins data and accountability.  In doing so, it is our aim to demystify data and accountability, making it more valuable to Carl D. Perkins grant recipients across Nebraska.