Alter Everything

A podcast about data science and analytics culture.

Data science isn’t just for making important business decisions. This week, we are joined by Dr. Oscar Rico, the executive director of technology services at the Canutillo Independent School District. He shares how his district is using Alteryx to transform their school's analytics, the data problems they face, and his vision for a data-driven education system. Interested in sharing your feedback with the Alter Everything team? Take our feedback survey here






Ep 150 (YT thumb).png



Episode Transcription

150: Building the data-driven education system of the future

149: Analytics in K-12 Education (rough draft)

[00:00:00] Megan: Well, it's great to have you on our show today, Oscar, hoping you could give a quick overview of your background and, what brought you to Alteryx. Yeah,

Oscar Introduction

[00:00:12] Oscar: Rico. I'm the director, the executive director of technology services for the account with you independent school district. Now kind of the independent school district is in the suburbs of El Paso, Texas. So I am right in the middle of the Southern part of the country, about the same distance from Dallas, Texas to Los Angeles, California.

So that's where you find us a very unique tapestry of diversity that we have here. A lot of our families are nestled in this area and have. lived here for generations, right? So we have that, that sense of community. that really kept me in my community. I was a biology teacher for the better part of a decade.

I was a school administrator for about seven years and now stepped into this role and being the executive director of technology, ever since March 2020. And you might think March 2020 is probably not the best time. To take any job in technology involving schools and,I was brought here because of my knowledge of the school based system and had to learn technology all over.

Right? So, what brings me to Alteryx, I can tell you that as a principal, I was very successful. As a teacher, I was very successful, and part of it was just understanding the overarching idea of what students in schools really are. I am one that is a follower of everything data, right? Because data really gives us an understanding of who we are, where we are, and where we're going.

As a school leader, I always understood that data has an expiration date, right? So, as quick as we can turn around data, it's really what is informing our practice, which is allowing us for students to be successful. So what brought me here is the panacea of education, the silver bullet, right? We all try to look at causative factors.

I have a PhD and wrote my dissertation on causative factors and the decision of dropping out of school. So, particularly of Mexican American students to drop out of school, it's something that is near and dear to my heart to understand What data tells us as to why students decide to take one path over the other, why some students in the same situation are successful over another, and it's just intriguing to be able to understand aspects of our students.

Right? And Megan, one of the things that I like to, to understand data On the pathway and education is really the way we understand data on the commercial side, right? So I am in technology yet have not turned off my listening modes to a lot of my devices to a lot of the smart home devices. So I still get a lot of those recommendations, right?

If I have a conversation with my spouse, if I tell my kids we're going somewhere, if I, Google the location, if I rate a restaurant, it starts understanding who I am as an individual. Whatever we think about AI is our belief, right? But for me, it builds. Parameters of who I am as an individual and gives me recommendations of stuff that I enjoy now that I never would have known had it not been for data.

So, my idea here is, why can't we be able to take the 13, 14 years of traditional schooling in this country and form that picture of who students are, how they learn, what they prefer, what they don't, and be able to provide a pathway that And I feel that together, somehow before, while I'm still upright, we are able to do that and really understand students in that way.

[00:03:37] Megan: that's great. And super interesting. I also find it really interesting your dissertation and, understanding student success and dropout rates and understanding all the complex data factors into Things with really big real world consequences. and so I'd love to just hear more about how your school district is currently using Altrix.

How is the district currently using Alteryx?

[00:04:01] Oscar: Sure, so we're cookie crumbling it, right? we're starting to look at causative instances of data, right? We're starting to look at the enrollment and how it's affected the way we spend our funds.

we start tracking student attendance, staff attendance, and we are taking that made in because we, we really are in the process of reverse design. Right? So, with Alteryx we imagined. What we want a product to look like, And to describe a little bit about that product, Student Success Indicator. And we wanted to start with the definition of success for us.

We brought in stakeholders and figured, if you are to look at our school district and say, Oscar was successful, there's going to be specific matrices that are going to say, this is why I was successful. So we took a successful graduating class, everybody that we defined as being successful, and started deconstructing that class, So that's how we're cookie crumbling it now and getting smaller pieces of data together, so that we're able to put it into this massive element of what student success is. Our goal is to understand that variable, that class, all the way back to the time they were pre K students. And looking at everything that had a multilayered effect, so we wanted to go as granular as to understanding teacher success.

So looking at our teacher evaluation instruments, looking at teacher attendance, looking at teacher turnover, looking at experience of teacher and saying this teacher receives this grade, right? And we will put a numerical value to it. And then we were able to say, is there a correlation between having an A teacher with a student that is being successful and then at what grade?

we've gotten to look at data from transportation. Does it matter if you ride in a bus? Does it matter if you have breakfast at the school? Right. Does it matter if your teacher was always absent on Monday? So really what we want to do, Megan, is come up with this map that says, if you want to replicate the success of these students, all of these treatments need to be in effect these years.

That's really what the big picture is. Currently, we are cookie crumbling it in the sense that This big picture of data is going to have multiple variables, and we're building in one variable at a time for data that is useful for us now, and that will be useful for us in the future as well in that sense.

[00:06:25] Megan: And when you say like data that's useful for us, I think we talked before about, some of the variables you have control over, and then some you don't. Has that been a challenge? When you're modeling.

Variables you can and can't control

[00:06:38] Oscar: It has, so you know one of the things in, in our business in education, if you look for a causative factor for any type of negative consequence to a student, there are several things that are always going to pop up. socioeconomic status. Well, I cannot, in my wildest dreams, give money to each one of the families, right?

So that they are able to rise up in socioeconomic status. That's not something that we can control. Uh, single parent households. That's not something we can control. So we want to focus always on ideas and issues that we can control, So even, even with our current economic environment here in the state of Texas.

whatever is happening in the political realm, the reality for us is there is a surplus that could help educators have more access to resources and funds, but it's not coming for whatever the reason. So, we need to be more strategic about the way we spend resources. So, what data is doing for us now, too, we are looking at enrollment and enrollment growths, and how it affects our full time employees, or FTEs as we describe them.

Ideally, you would have a correlating effect, right? If there's a drop in enrollment, there will be a drop in teachers. If there's an increase, there will be an increase. However, the practice for many districts is we have to provide additional services. So it creates what now through the use of data we understand is an alligator effect.

So one curve, which is usually full time employees or teachers, increases at the same time that your student enrollment decreases, for us, that means we are overspending, And it's clear to be able to understand how we are overspending. So that's the use of data that we're looking at now. another big portion for us in Texas that we need to understand, we get a percentage of our allotment based on student attendance.

So every time a child comes to school, I don't know the exact number, but the average number is about 35 that they generate, right? So for every time you are absent, the school district is losing 35. And you think, well, 35, however, we have 187 days, and on average, good attendance are 180. Good attendance on average is 90%.

That means 18 days per student throughout the year. So for us is we needed to make those leaders aware of what their campus attendance is. that also helps us educate children better. And also understand the fiscal resources that get lost when we don't have kids in school. So we are very forward thinking when it comes to the use of data.

We are a smaller district than ones surrounding us. So we are able to be more agile in the way we we make decisions and That's great. Yeah. When we had chatted before about this, I noticed that too, like so much of what you're doing is very. Forward thinking and, corresponds to challenges that people face in, business and in the private sector to, that need for the baseline data, the need to understand spending and attendanceto start to work towards making your case, making changes and, and optimizing.

[00:09:40] Megan: I think is a struggle that our listeners understand well, too. but it's very cool that you guys are implementing, best practices like that in education. another thing I wanted to ask about was, is it hard to acquire this kind of data? I could see, students coming in and out of the school district or.

certain types of data might be challenging to get your hands on. How have you guys worked through that?

How do you get the data you need in education?

[00:10:07] Oscar: data in education is extremely difficult to attain and and not so much because of the transient community that that students become for whatever reason. I think what happens Megan is the commercialization of data. Right? So I can buy a product that produces data, but at the same time, they're going to flip around and say, hey.

School district for X number of dollars. You are able to have access to these type of data visualizations, which can be okay, The problem with us is that we get very specific about the way we want to and manipulate that data in order to be able to understand it. we need to build it better, Because every community is different. A lot of these, corporations are going to build based on what their pilot district show. Right? So I know you're in a different state than I am. and a perfect example of this would be a company based on your state creates this package, and then they bring in a pilot district from your state that uses a different curriculum that uses different laws that tracks different things, and they're going to put together a package that works for them, right?

And then they're going to turn around and say, Hey, Oscar, we're selling you not only these, this substitute tracking system, but along with it is the data for you to be able to understand it, which is great. If I was in making state in that pilot district. But when you, when you then standardize it and say, this is good for everybody, then it is so watered down that it's impossible for us to understand.

So, one of the things that we found is that is one of the number one reasons why we don't have access. we have become good ushers to our data of having all of these companies understand that it's numbers that we are producing. Thankfully, there are a lot of guidelines in place. at the federal and state level that have specific topics when it comes to student data privacy that we can attain, right?

And then we can then use it for our purposes. A lot of the times it is a long process, but it's a successful process when we're able to engage with these companies and be able to have access to our own data. This is never going to be easy. It's never going to be something they support, which is why our partnership with Alteryx has been amazing, Because while we do not understand all the ins and outs, Alteryx. We are a district that employs close to a thousand people. I do not have the buying power and I do not have the expertise to be able to manage this on my own. So, instead of hiring a consultant, we hire professionals, right? That are able to, through the team of Alteryx and with their product be able to show us how to connect to it, show us how to visualize it.

one of the things that we envision as a school district is that our community can go into any website and, come down with granular data all the way to their students classroom for them to understand everything about it. Because that's that is the type of data consumption that we now have as parents, We want to know everything before we send our kids. And it's understandable. We hear of so many tragedies. We hear of so many, bad associations with public education that we want to be able to provide that. And the only way to do that is by being able to have access to our data. So while there is access widely available in commercialized products.

It is never going to be catered to you unless you are, or you're, you're lucky enough to be that pilot district, which, in which a big corporation is always working to do that for you. Otherwise, you're going to need to tailor it to your needs if it's going to be successful.

[00:13:23] Megan: That's super interesting. Thanks for, adding some color to that and diving in. I'm curious to hear how you see analytics, like helping you serve your students and community better. You touched on that with providing that information out to people considering the school district, but there are other ways that, you get to see analytics in action, Helping the community or the students.

How does data directly help the community and studends?

[00:13:46] Oscar: Yeah. So pie in the sky for us, for this educator, for this classroom teacher, building principal. Ideally, analytics would be what drives. Education, A lot of times we come in, we have kids pop open, you name it, a social studies textbook, biology textbook, and we want them to learn based on what our 1920s believe of education is to be a reality.

So you read, you regurgitate, you have a memory test, and you show mastery. Take, for example, learning. the capitals of the 50 U. S. States. When I was in school, I graduated high school in 2001. When I was in grade school, that was something you needed, right? I needed to understand the capital of Wyoming, capital of North Dakota, and then for some reason, be able to memorize them enough for a test. Fast forward to now, If we go into a sixth grade classroom, fifth grade classroom, and we visit their Megan and ask the child, do you know what the capital of California is? They might know, but if they don't know, they're going to take out a phone that is in their possession. They're going to either Google it, ChatGPT it, whatever you want to call it now, right?

So what happens to that knowledge? What happens to the knowledge that me and my peers have of understanding? Names of bones in the body, U. S. Capitals, understanding the capital of what X country, right? that has truly become useless information because if you are to break down everything that I probably learned from third grade to sixth grade, it can be summed up and maybe two hours of Google searching, which is a very sad reality, right?

So when you ask, how does analytics change things? Get to dictate schools. Now it should be personalizing the experience for that child, That if my interest is Vehicles that you're able to give me a pathway in education This shows me all the engineering behind. This shows me the biology of how you're able to replicate the aerodynamics of a fish in order to create a sports car where you're able to teach me to think and consume data that is while widely available now, right through Google or all of these other, data sourcing companies to our youth for them to become independent thinkers.

I think that as a country, we don't focus on that. We focus Yeah. Too much on the pinnacle of education, which is after and in my state, at least after 10 years, 11 years of schooling, you're going to answer 30 questions in this 50 question test correctly. We're going to be able to say that you are ready for the next step because of that. We don't, We, we, we don't prepare kids properly and appropriately. We don't teach them to think beyond that. And it's really through analytics and then what we're trying to do of understanding what makes kids successful. where we are able to tailor that experience. Um, I think the pandemic was really a great evolving moment for all of us.

And we could do one of two things. We could understand it as something that was going to go away and we're going to bring kids back, put them in rows, put up a power point and having copy notes. And think that that is providing knowledge for them or that we were going to be able to use all the tools that we had, right?

I envision a moment in time where we were able to say, Hey, you know what? Today I'm not going to go to school. I'm going to go in remotely. I'm going to work on my class, but I also have to go to this state park because I need to understand,the fossils that are found there. I need to understand the formation of that mountain.

And, and when you ask that fourth, fifth grader, why, that they're able to provide you a whole understanding of their natural world and what is around them. Because to me, Understanding that Austin is the capital of Texas means nothing, right? But if that child is able to be a passionate learner and be able to change the erosion of mountains, be able to change the way we protect against natural disasters, that's really where it hits a spot.

And again, it's something that I hope I'm upright when, when I'm able to see it.

[00:17:47] Megan: I think those are great examples that, that you shared and showing how, as the world changes as the technology we have access to changes, analytics and data can help us tailor, how we're teaching to prepare kids even better for the world that's out there. So I think that's, that's super powerful. you talked about that as the pie in the sky or the North Star that would guide. But when we, when you think about like, what's next for your district in your, analytics journey, could you share like what you're excited about or what you're working on?

What are you excited about next in your analytics journey?

[00:18:23] Oscar: Yeah, so, so to us, I mean, we still have to, we still have to drink from that water hose. Right. we still have to do everything that is compliance in our school district and everything that is compliance in our state and for us in the immediate future is understanding knowledge of our essential skills.

the state provides a set curriculum that we have to follow and we have to measure students and it's usually done at the pinnacle of the school year, which is . The end of the school year, we're able to then understand what a child, had knowledge of for that year. And then, because there is no better word for me, we'll call it postmortem data analysis, right?

Because then, when, when that child is already in the 8th grade, we are looking at the child's understanding of 7th grade curriculum. And I, I, I'm not going to be able to go back and teach them another year. So, what we are doing now is we're able to take different data points from classroom grades, from attendance, from other assessments.

And be able to understand that child and whatever deficiencies in the curriculum they portrayed, and be able to remediate in the immediate time frame in which those scores are coming in. So that's that's something great for us now where we're able to, to look at that data that is being produced per student and be able to have what we call a student portfolio.

So every teacher in our district. We call them the district essentials or the non negotiables is able to have a picture of that child and understand their scores, understand their attendance, understand their dynamics, and it makes a difference. We are a triple a rated district. So the state started rating school districts 4 years ago, except for the pandemic every other year.

It was a rated year. so in every opportunity, we've received an a rating, which means the highest rating available and. Been the top rated school district in our area. And so we understand that it's the way we utilize data, right? It's the way that our principles are are creating a pathway for students.

That is best going to create an avenue for success. another thing we understand that the number 1, causative factor of having a great, school journey is going to be that you have a great teacher and that teacher is available. Right? So we also are now tracking. Teacher teacher attendance and then be able to see, hey, when do we, when do we need to recruit more substitute teachers?

When do we need to ensure that kids are better supported throughout their journey and we're able to correlate this data as well. So all of that, it's just amazing for us. And like I told you, we are also a district with dwindling enrollment. So we are able to then track where those enrollment trends are going and be able to respond accordingly.

[00:20:58] Megan: that's really awesome. And I love what you were saying earlier about. real time data analysis when it comes to catching students before they fall behind or right as they start to, to be proactive in, helping those kids get back up to speed. I think that's really important and, getting data on the teachers and, ways that you can have more substitutes fill or support teachers.

That's also super cool. no, it's hard to be a teacher out there. So, so that's really cool. The work that you guys are doing and kind of the, the forward thinking.

1:1 Student device data capture (search patterns etc.)

[00:21:31] Oscar: Yeah, one of the things also, we are a one to one school district, right? So all of our kids have a device that travels with them. And we are also taking data from that device, understanding. Internet search behavior at home, understanding the engagement with the curriculum at home, understanding what's going on and in school time.

So a lot of these commercially produced packages are very expensive. Right? And when we talk about, resource and resource allocation, the data that we are able to take and is able to be turned back and sent to a curriculum and instruction department. To schools to teachers allows them to to understand the behavior that their students are exhibiting with their device and and be able to either pivot from that and then look for something else or be able to have students more engaged with that curriculum.

 It's been an absolute new window that we hadn't seen in the past

[00:22:22] Megan: I haven't heard of that kind of technology being used and that's, yeah, it's just exciting to hear about ways that students, can, experience the technology of the future that you can get the data you need and that. Overall, students can be more equipped for this future high tech world that they're going to enter into.

I love that. 

Extract meaning from existing data sources

[00:22:43] Oscar: and I think Megan, it goes back to what we were discussing earlier. All of this data is already being produced by a filter product is already being produced by a firewall product. It's just a matter of somebody on the other end on our end here be able to say, Hey, we need to extract that data and be able to run it through a product like Alteryx, where we're able to say this is the way we're going to engage with the data that already has been there the entire time.

We just didn't know how to visualize it.

[00:23:10] Megan: That's super cool. Alteryx unlocking that, those possibilities for you guys. It's really awesome. Well, thank you so much for joining me today for the podcast. This has been super interesting and yeah, I'm just excited about how. You all are using all tricks and the good that you're doing for your students.

[00:23:27] Oscar: Thank you. And we look forward to sharing our story with whoever has the time to listen. Thank you, Megan.

[00:23:32] Megan: Sounds great. 

[00:23:34] Oscar: Thank you.

This episode was produced by Megan Dibble (@MeganDibble), Mike Cusic (@mikecusic), and Matt Rotundo (@AlteryxMatt). Special thanks to @andyuttley for the theme music track, and @mikecusic for our album artwork.