The DeHavilland Blog

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Should foundations share their data?

Interesting commentary in Education Week this week titled "Come Clean on Small Schools." The author, a professor in NYC, takes the Gates Foundation to task for failing to share its data (or, more accurately, only doing so after it was leaked) on the value of its signature small schools initiative.

This is an interesting question: if a foundation wants to help improve the education system and invests in specific initiatives, does it have an obligation to share data on its efforts? It is a private entity investing its own money, after all - certainly it legally has the right to keep its data confidential.

I could also understand a for-profit company not releasing data on its pilot efforts. If I'm testing a new product or program, and the data shows that my approach isn't valid, I'd consider that as internal R&D data - I won't launch the product or program, but I wouldn't be inclined to share information on my failure, primarily for competitive and branding reasons.

But if your goal is to improve education from an altruistic perspective, wouldn't you want to share as much information on your progress - for better or worse - to allow other people to learn from your investment? If a foundation believes in the value of small schools, invests in pilot efforts, and doesn't see any impact, isn't its best contribution to the field its ability to take the high road and say "we believe in the idea of small schools, but the approach we took didn't work - scratch that approach off the list, education community, and don't throw any more money down that rabbit hole."

That foundation can still explore the value of small schools - perhaps there are better ways to implement, perhaps they weren't capturing information on the areas in which the model was making a positive impact. (Perhaps the impact is not on immediate test scores, but rather in areas such as attendance, graduation rates, sense of community.....).

I'd love to see data sharing, particularly on the part of foundations, go into overdrive - demonstrating what doesn't work ultimately serves education as much as showing what does work.

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