Interview | Chuck Amos Wants to Visualize Your School District’s Data

by Judy Faust Hartnett

In June of this year, Chuck Amos became the CEO of GuideK12. Amos has worked in the education technology field for 19 years, most recently heading up his own education-consulting firm. Previously he was the CEO of Atomic Learning until 2007 and a regional education manager for Apple before that. He is involved in national educational policy with organizations including ISTE, CoSN, SIIA, and SETDA.

GuideK12 was once a family-owned mapping company. GuideK12 now is a software-as-a-service, cloud-based solution that uses geovisual analytics, an emerging interdisciplinary field integrating perspectives from visual analytics and geographic information science. This is a powerful, web-based tool that can help districts solve critical educational challenges.

“The moment that I really enjoy,” says Amos, “is when we show an administrator information from a Student Information System and other district data sets, connected to household county data all displayed on an easy-to-read, interactive map. The potential impact of representing their data this way immediately resonates and the response is overwhelmingly positive.” Visualizing data can save a district weeks or months of time, improve decision making as well as increase transparency. With GuideK12, an administrator can map student learning success by neighborhood, create what-if boundary change scenarios, analyze demographic or socio-economic balance or  evaluate the impact of school choice, among other tasks.

Judy: What was it about GuideK12 that made you move from a successful consulting company to being a CEO again?

Chuck: I love this market, and I’m absolutely passionate about it. I was running a successful consultant practice with a wide range of clients, including a major publishing firm on one end, to early-stage innovative companies trying to get their sea legs on the other end.  GuideK12 struck a chord with me. I realized it was unique and very compelling and had the ability to help solve some thorny issues in education in a very positive way.  I knew we had something game changing once I saw customer’s reactions to our product.  The reaction from customers has been phenomenal and is what pulled me in to take over as CEO.  It really is an “oh wow” product and I know will make a big difference in how educational decisions are made. That’s what gets me out of bed in the morning.

Judy: Can you explain how geovisual analytics can make significant changes for K-12 education? 

Chuck: Schools are awash in data. They don’t need more data. What they need is more insight into the data they already have, and they need that data available for the right decision makers at the right time. There have been really significant improvements in business with decision support tools and business intelligence tools. I have not seen that same positive impact come over into education. The time between making a data request and getting meaningful data can be significant for an administrator, or the data is too difficult to get to, or it’s siloed to the point that it’s not meaningful, because it’s not compared with other key elements of data that it needs to be taken in context with. That’s really what we do. We liberate the data by bringing disparate data together and then making it visual and interactive all in one place.  Users can filter on any characteristic and instantly see the results.  Administrators tell us that they feel more confident in their decisions. And we have such confidence in the robustness of our technology because our development partner, Excensus, has been using this technology for work with the U.S. Census bureau for years.  We know it is powerful and proven.

Judy: Tell me more about liberating data.

Chuck: Most people can comprehend things more deeply when they see it in a visual format. Patterns and trends emerge that would have never been revealed in spreadsheets. To be able to represent student characteristics on a map—whether it’s academic performance, which for instance, is one of the key elements that the Miami-Dade County Public Schools uses, or federal reporting on demographics, understanding student mobility or the impact of school choice, both positive and negative on a district can be very powerful. These, plus many others, are key elements that lend themselves to being visually represented and help the end user who may not be a professional at running a Crystal report or a GIS professional. They are educational professionals, and our product lets them be educational professionals and get quick access to what they need because this is so intuitive and easy to use.

Judy: I’m guessing that the transparency GuideK12 allows fits right into the important move toward more transparency in education.  

Chuck: When a district is contemplating a boundary change or opening or closing a school, these are all emotional decisions. The data that we provide allows easy representation and access to a plethora of different scenarios that can be run, so administrators and board of education members and all stakeholders can really think through the implications and consequences of potential changes. Our product helps to make sure the decision is what is the best thing for the district and for the kids. We don’t eliminate the emotion—I wish we could—but we certainly can help by letting the data be the driving force in the decision instead of emotion.  Every step of every scenario is recorded, so all the logic is apparent to all decision makers.

One district in the northeast had proposed some boundary changes that did not have support from all of the board members. The conversation got contentious to the point that they canceled the board meeting, let things cool off, and reconvened two days later.  The superintendent said, “Here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to use GuideK12 to help us with this decision facing us today and we’re going to go through the proposed scenario live by projecting it on a smart board.” Then he said, “Now we’re going to run through the scenario that the administrative team had advocated for.” After looking at the two scenarios, they turned to the board member and asked him what he thought. After seeing the two scenarios together, he saw that the administrative teams proposal was what was best for the school, the district, and the community and he changed his position to support it.

To me, this is a good example of taking the emotion out of difficult decisions and letting the data support the right decision and significantly speeding up the timing. I’m confident that if the scenario that some members of the board were advocating for was a better decision for what the district was trying to accomplish, that that scenario would have won the day. The data would have been there to support it.

Judy: Are other options out there for analyzing data besides GuideK12?

Chuck: No one that we’re aware of does what we do, the way we do it.  There are demographic companies out there, and some homegrown systems where people have tried to use Google Maps, for instance. But the problem is that they are continuing to silo data and it is not interactive. In the example of the demographic companies, they come in and run a few scenarios, and then when they leave, if new data points enter into the decision-making process, they have to be brought back in to run scenarios again.  Generally speaking, each case is one event in time instead of being part of the process. GuideK12 allows for ongoing proactive planning, and not just analyzing data once an “event” requires change.

With our tool, district decision makers can run hundreds of scenarios, down to what happens if they move even just one student, and what impact that would that have on racial balance, ELL resources, or on capacity for the building. It really does flip that conversation from what the traditional model has been, not to say that these other options are not valuable. What we do is change that conversation to have the data at the fingertips of the decision maker.

The other thing that tends to be a bit of a competitive issue for us is that so often these things are only approached from a facilities standpoint. Facilities are important, but facilities need to be tied back to impacting the student. What does it do for the student? GuideK12 can help answer questions like when the 5th graders move from a district’s ten elementary schools to four middle schools, do they have the right resources in the right places to accommodate the unique needs of this group of kids?  Are they identical to the classes in previous years?  Perhaps there is a greater need for ELL specialists or advanced math teachers. That’s really powerful for a decision maker, as opposed to just thinking, “Do I have enough class space?”

Judy: What pricing model is used for GuideK12? 

Chuck: I really cannot stand it when companies nickel and dime education, with the price going up if they want this module or that module. We’re an all-you-can-eat buffet, and the product is $2.25 per student, per year. There is on-site professional development in addition to that, and then the initial implementation, which tends to be a very small percentage because we are an easy product to implement.

Judy: Can school administrators who are not tech-savvy use this product easily?  

Chuck: Yes, that is the feedback we’re getting. What’s interesting is that very often our conversation starts with a planning group in a district, but with those districts that really embrace it, it starts to impact people in very different departments—from building level administrators to heads of federal programs, to CIOs, to CFOs, to superintendents and front office personnel It can have a far-reaching impact as far as helping many different stakeholders.

Judy: As an industry expert, do you feel that education is moving in the right direction?

Chuck: I think there are a lot of positives. Asking hard questions is where you start to find answers. We as Americans have asked a lot of hard questions, and we’re focused on serving our kids better. It’s absolutely essential. In terms of the data and measurement put in place over the last several years, I get it. I understand that the metrics of an organization are critical. I operate that way from a business standpoint, but it can also go too far. Education has to inspire kids to want to learn, not to be terrified to take another test. Testing is important, but I hope it doesn’t go too far.

Judy: What are your future plans for Guide K12?

Chuck: We’ll always have more to do. We have new features in the planning stages now, such as early warning notification of noncompliance so that the product can find  issues proactively.

But just as important is helping districts understand how GuideK12, geovisual analytics can benefit them right now. The potential is huge.   Just one simple example, if a school was affected by a natural disaster such as a hurricane or a tornado and the building could not be used temporarily, reassigning the students in a thoughtful, yet efficient manner could be done in a matter of a few clicks.  We continue to hear from customers new applications of the possibilities they see once we bring their data to life through visualization.

___

Judy Faust Hartnett is a contributing editor to EdTech Digest. She was editor-in-chief of District Administration magazine for nearly six years. Passionate about education technology, she is a recognized leader in education journalism. Previously, she was the managing editor of ConsumerReports.org. Write to: jfhartnett@optonline.net

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2 Responses to Interview | Chuck Amos Wants to Visualize Your School District’s Data

  1. Pingback: 2014 – Finalists & Winners | edtechdigest.com

  2. Pingback: EdTech Digest Interview: Chuck Amos Wants to Visualize Your School District’s Data » Modern-Day Storytellers | Modern-Day Storytellers

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