The current obsession with big data has buried the fact that K-12 educators and administrators are more likely to gain useful information from small data sets.

Big data’s overwhelmingly large data sets can be analyzed to reveal patterns, trends, and associations, especially in human behavior. Small data, on the other hand, is focused and fact-based, revealing the current state of something and providing context and opportunity for change.

While big data is a huge deal in today’s business world, small data can make a real and timely impact on the education field. It drives your knowledge of your fiscal reality and cost measurement opportunities. It enables the smarter use of funds toward improving learning outcomes, student performance, and budgetary health in changing economic times.

Small Data for Big Change

A small data approach to tracking financials allows districts to better monitor available funds, make operational decisions, report trends, and establish fund balance policies to better align budget cycles with revenue projections. Historically, analyzing expenditures and revenues on a transactional level has been highly difficult for K-12 administrators. Traditional number-crunching tools are clunky and outdated, requiring hours of IT support and manual labor.

If funds aren’t tracked effectively and efficiently in today’s economy, it can be easy to overspend and put programs in jeopardy. Arizona, for example, has cut per-pupil spending by 17.5 percent since 2008.

The only way to use big data to help with this is to reduce it to small data that’s actionable. That means determining which pieces of data carry importance, then putting them to use.

Putting Your Data into Action

Districts seem hesitant to shift toward small data analysis because it will be difficult to learn new systems and train their staff members. But thanks to cloud technology solutions, doing so is affordable and easy.

Subscription-based cloud software is a cost-effective method of reducing IT infrastructure and labor expenses while increasing organizational efficiency and flexibility.

Here are the seven most dramatic benefits of using small data techniques.

1. Actionable data

To discover patterns or make predictions, big data routinely applies algorithms and complex calculations to business and student information systems. But the results often represent aggregate views of the data and lack the specific details administrators need to make specific strategic and tactical judgments. Small data systems solve this issue by providing an immediate, in-depth context to your reports.

2. Widespread access

User-friendly technology makes it easier than ever for administrators and educators to access detailed information without needing to rely on expensive IT support. Opening the access gates to data analysis offers institutions a stronger, wider foundation for smarter decisions.

3. Expense and asset management

The world of education tends to have a difficult time accurately tracking expenses and reporting fixed assets. Small data helps paint a clear picture of your overall organizational efficiency to drive new day-to-day processes. It can also promote more effective contract negotiations and help properly align your business practices with your top priorities.

4. Earlier interventions

Data has shown that students who miss several days of school are more inclined to drop out. In fact, one study found that chronically absent students between the eighth and 12th grades were nearly eight times more likely to drop out before graduation. Tracking student attendance on a granular level can empower teachers and administrators to step in before absenteeism impacts skill development and motivation.

Similarly, administrators can use small data to boost test scores. Research has shown that students who are frequently absent from school score lower on tests than those who attend regularly, and the trend begins as early as kindergarten.

5. Grant revenue tracking

Small data can also enable schools to better track and report grant expenditures in order to take full advantage of the funds available to them.

6. Alignment between student performance objectives and investments

Small data sets highlighting how a district is faring in meeting its student performance objectives, combined with small data sets regarding budgetary investments per student spend, can create a new data set to measure outcomes.

7. Internal and external transparency

Small data analysis creates a culture of transparency that will have a positive effect on your credit ratings, bond issuance costs and overall educational quality. That’s because it’s timely and easily understood by those who are investing.

Knowledge is power, but only if you know how to properly use it. No one understands this better than educators.

Arm yourself with this vital information, and put it into action. Not only will it improve your institutional operations, but it will also provide the best education possible for our kids and the generations to come.

Erin Latham founded Mo’mix Solutions with the goal of delivering software and services that drive better outcomes for the public sector and education. She has served as a technology government advisor focused on ERP, budget, business intelligence, and open data/transparency solutions to local and state governments and higher education organizations for more than 15 years.