The Case Against Big Data

Big data is fashionable and parochial schools are being urged to use it. Mission Enablers is among those who advocate for its use but we also urge caution.

If you use data to determine what your vision should be you will sacrifice your uniqueness because everyone else will draw the same conclusion (The average student in our community needs …). We all have access to the same statistics and formulas, so we are all going to draw the same conclusion. Whether you are in the front, middle, or back of the herd you are still part of the herd.

If you define your vision based upon where you and your board think the mission should go, it will have a higher probability of offering a unique destination. Data will tell you how to package your vision (the average family wants a supportive learning environment, the average student wants school to be fun, etc.). In other words, data is an important tool to help you plan the path to your destination but it is a misleading tool when you want to choose your destination.

If data tells you to choose destination X, you know you will be headed in the same direction as everyone else. What compels Christian schools to follow the data?

Safe – No one is fired or criticized for doing what everyone one else does (so called best practices)

Low Risk – Foundations like to fund schools that are going to do what everyone else is doing because it protects the foundation from criticism

Familiar – It is hard to explain why you are doing something unique and hard to explain what is being done if this is the first time someone hears the idea (If everyone is talking about it, it sounds Safe and it has probably been explained enough times in enough different ways that the average person understands it.)

Unknown – Doing something unique takes courage and creativity, which makes people feel uncomfortable

Complex – Without a road map to your destination, it is easy for everyone to assume complexity will abound

Remember, your job is to lead your school. Our community needs a leader to take us off the safe path and take us somewhere new. None of our social, political, economic, medical, scientific, or business problems were solved by people who chose the same path as someone before them. If your school is going to follow big data, you are unnecessary. The staff can follow big data with the help of a pocket calculator or cell phone app.

Next Step:

Chart a unique path (each of your students is a unique individual with unique needs)

Be prepared to persuade those who want the safe, low-risk, and well-known path

Use big data to help you effectively and efficiently walk the path

Because of the preceding five points, you will experience resistance from your board and staff when you abandon the safe path defined by big data. It is important to remember that you were hired to lead them in a new direction. Now that you have the five points, you can create your case for the new path and overcome the initial reaction.

What is the uncharted path that your students need for a unique future better than anyone else will provide for them? What is the uncharted path that will inspire your donors to be more generous than the other donors in your community? What is the uncharted path that will firmly establish the uniqueness of your mission and increase the sustainability of your school? When your board hired you, they wanted a leader who could provide the answer to those three questions. Now is the time to prove to them that they were wise to hire you.

Take It Further:

It is going to be hard to reach your chosen destination without a few innovations. How will you change your school’s culture to be more innovative and courageous?


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