As you dive into the flow of minutia that comes with the opening of a new school year, don’t forget to take a moment now and then to stick your head above water and remind yourself of the Bigger Picture. There are some excellent new visualization tools that can help you do it. Let me show you what I mean.
A Blueprint for Reform is a 45-page document that outlines many proposed changes in the federal role with respect to public education. You can use visualization tools to get a sense of the report even if you don’t have time to wade through all those pages. As an example, I’ve created several graphics using Many Eyes, a beta project out of IBM that lets you upload data (for example the text of a document) and then analyze it in various ways. Creating a “word cloud” is one example.
Some of the words that jump out are not surprising. We would expect that the Blueprint would reference schools and students. I was most struck by the way that the word “will” stands out in the word cloud. Some of this may be due to the fact that the document describes a desired future, but there may be other implications as well. Also of interest is the pervasiveness of “college” in this document for K-12 education. This is reflective of the emerging emphasis on college and career readiness that we can expect to amplify in the near future. For those interested in hints about future funding, the phrase that jumps out to me is “grants.”
Another visualization that I created pulled two-word pairs instead of singletons . This visual suggests that the U.S. Department of Education will be shifting away from formula-funded resources to more competitive grants. We can also see that the emphasis on student groups such as English Learners is not likely to diminish. Other phrases that stand out include career-ready, effective teachers, and charter schools. I’m pleased to see student growth emerge as a concept that may help reframe our accountability systems.
My next visualization of the Blueprint was to create a “phrase cloud” that indicates relationships between words in the Blueprint. This diagram helps to reveal the thinking behind the organization of the Blueprint. For example, states will work with districts, districts will work with schools, schools include support systems that will improve, develop, strengthen, and expand practices and programs. It is also interesting to see nonprofits included as partners to districts. Notice also how each mention of teacher (or teachers) is connected to principals and leaders.
Given my interest in data and technology, I next created word trees that isolated those terms to provide a quick visual synopsis of the role of those items in the Blueprint. For technology, this graphic reveals how it is embedded within the Blueprint as a tool to improve instruction and address student learning challenges. This word tree also shows a connection in the document between technology and engineering and mathematics—this is reflective of the expansion of this reauthorization away from just English Language Arts and Mathematics.
The word tree for data reflects an emphasis on systems, identification of local needs, and also includes a number of data elements that we can expect to see included in the new accountability model. Many of those data elements, including disaggregated analyses, are familiar to us but some—such as levels of support and working conditions—will require entirely new data collection systems and methods.
You can explore the online graphics or you can use the data set to create your own visualizations. I am hopeful that this visual tour of the Blueprint has been a helpful introduction to what appears to be an ambitious agenda for educational reform. It is my belief that we as educational leaders must not only leverage existing technology tools such as these online visualization resources, but also network and connect with one another to share information and knowledge as we continue to navigate this transition into a new era of public education.