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What Can Big Data Do for You?

Updated: May 12, 2021



Comparative and raw data collection and evaluation are excellent ways to accurately and objectively assess individual and organizational standing. If the data analysis is thoroughly and carefully executed, and the outcome measurement is clearly defined, managers can use the data to discern and locate patterns of successful individual and organizational behavior. As Eileen McMahon, Director of The Carmel Hill Fund Education Program in Denver, CO, pointed out, “it [data collection and analysis] makes the invisible visible.”


The Carmel Hill Fund is a non-profit organization whose sole mission is to foster a love of reading and literature in children of all ages. Through a partnership with Denver Public Schools (DPS), the Carmel Hill staff aims to instill sustainable and independent reading practices by providing educators the means and tools to improve student reading and comprehension. The Carmel Hill Fund specifically focuses on the development of school and classroom libraries, technological resources and professional skills in Denver’s public schools. In the past, The Carmel Hill Fund relied on referrals from DPS librarians and educators, but more recently, due to the organization’s exemplary (and measurable) outcomes, the DPS superintendent has been calling directly with requests for program implementation in low performing schools throughout the district.


The Carmel Hill Fund was born out of an effort to elevate children out of desperate living conditions. In 1999 William Ruane, a successful investor based in New York City, developed a project designed to remove drug and gang influences and instill a sense of community along one city block in Harlem. Mr. Ruane began his project by developing a partnership with the Children’s Aid Society and petitioning the city to bring public buildings up to code. As his work continued and he became more connected to the community he realized that the 80 children occupying the area were being spread across 26 different schools. In an effort to develop a more cohesive and connected community, he provided support and resources to a nearby Catholic School and established a scholarship program for the community’s children.


Once the scholarship program was in place, and the children from Harlem began to attend, Mr. Ruane realized that the students were in desperate need of something that could improve their reading and comprehension skills. Based on a recommendation from the school’s principal, he purchased and implemented the Accelerated Reader software program. The results were staggering. From 2001 through 2003 he watched in amazement as the Iowa Basic standardized test scores rose 70% and library circulation increased by 60%. He became dedicated to implementing the accelerated reader program into schools worldwide. In 2005 Bill Ruane established The Carmel Hill Fund in Boulder, CO. Eileen McMahon, Mr. Ruane’s niece, was named Director of The Carmel Hill Fund Education Program in Denver, CO.


Program implementation begins with data collection and thorough analysis. This step is crucial as it guides the initial decision making process. CSAP/TCAP records are pulled and analyzed as they aid in identifying individual students, classes and instructors requiring immediate attention. In addition, Carmel Hill staff has determined at least 20 books per student, two computers per classroom and at least 30 minutes of independent reading time per day are necessary to establish a sustainable and effective literacy program in an individual. As a result, text books, technology, and time spent in the classroom are painstakingly inventoried. The location of the school, it’s demographic and economic make-up are also carefully considered as that information aids staff in choosing appealing and appropriate literature for the children they engage. As Ms. McMahon points out, “it [data collection and analysis] makes the invisible visible.”


In addition to data collection and analysis, Carmel Hill employs the use of comparative data to aid in program implementation. Classroom and teaching behaviors are documented and compared to data collected from schools with records of high achievement. This methodology gives The Carmel Hill Fund the ability to highlight additional areas of opportunity within the school and incorporate those into the program. The use of concrete, comparative data allows Carmel Hill to delicately point to issues requiring attention and improvement without alienating educators or students with accusations of incompetence or laziness. As McMahon explains, “The data tells the story for us.” It aids in developing and maintaining a good relationships with all stakeholders.


The development of meaningful performance measures will require public managers to ask and answer the following questions:

  1. What kind of performance do we want to measure?

  2. Where can we find that in the data? How do we effectively correlate the data with performance?

  3. What do we do with the information we collect? How do we implement change?

Performance measurement is most effective when used in a positive manner to demonstrate individual progress and illustrate team success. When data can be utilized to provide team members with a connection to the success of the larger mission, it works to increase team commitment and motivation.



References:

Behn, R. D. (2003). Why measure performance? Different purposes require different measures. Public administration review, 63(5), 586-606.

Denhardt, R. B., Denhardt, J. V., & Aristigueta, M. P. (2012). Managing human behavior in public and nonprofit organizations. Sage.

Kerwin, S., Doherty, A., & Harman, A. (2011). “It’s Not Conflict, It’s Differences of Opinion” An In-Depth Examination of Conflict in Nonprofit Boards. Small Group Research, 42(5), 562-594.

McMahon, Eileen. The Carmel Hill Fund, Executive Director. Personal Interview. 25 June. 2013