Noman Khanani talks about data — and transforming education

Noman Khanani Noman Khanani never expected to work in educational data analytics. But this spring he’s part of the research team that dives deep into City Connects’ data, and he’s sharing some of the results at national conferences. 

“I had always been interested in data,” he recalls. “When I was younger, I always enjoyed math and statistics, but I never really thought of pursuing this as a career. It was just something I was good at in the classroom.” 

Khanani enrolled in graduate school at Boston University’s Educational Leadership and Policy Studies master’s degree program. He thought he would go on to work in administration. 

Then he got a job as a research assistant. 

“That was my first exposure to education research and the use of quantitative analytics and statistics to measure student learning and understand the impact of programs and interventions. This work combined my interests in statistics with working for social good.” 

Today, Khanani is enrolled in Boston College’s Ph.D. program in Measurement, Evaluation, Statistics, and Assessment at the Lynch School of Education and Human Development. He’s also a Graduate Researcher in the Center for Optimized Student Support, the home of City Connects.

Khanani has presented a number of research papers on City Connects, including several earlier this month at the virtual annual conference of the American Educational Research Association (AERA). Here’s his take on the importance of this work.

Replicating Success 

Khanani, N., Raczek, A., Dearing, E., & Walsh, M. (2021, April). “The impact of integrated student support in elementary school: A replication study.” 

“One of the research concerns with educational intervention like City Connects is, Will this scale? Can this be replicated in other contexts?” Khanani says. 

 “We’ve already done a lot of research on the effectiveness of City Connects in Boston. This was a replication study of the effectiveness of City Connects and its impact on academic achievement in Springfield, Mass.” 

 “We specifically looked at the impact of City Connects in five of Springfield’s turnaround schools.” These are the lowest performing schools that have been taken over by state officials who implement a “turnaround plan” to improve student performance. 

“We wanted to see if City Connects has an impact beyond the effects of the turnaround plan. And we ultimately found that, yes, the turnaround schools implementing City Connects improved at a higher rate than turnaround schools in other cities that were not implementing City Connects.” 

Breaking down silos 

Khanani, N. & Lawson, J. (2021, April). “Addressing missing data in educational evaluation: Predictive mean matching imputation for test score data” 

“This paper reviews recent developments on how to address missing data and educational evaluations,” Khanani says. “Large chunks of missing data,” a problem in schools where students frequently move in and out of the district, “can result in biases.” 

“My paper reviews some of the new techniques that are being used to ‘impute,’ or recover, missing data. It’s an area of research that hasn’t had much development over the last 30 to 40 years since its inception.” 

“As a field, applied statistics extends beyond education. It’s also part of epidemiology, economics, social psychology, and other fields. But in all these fields, we tend to work in silos. There isn’t much conversation happening between fields. 

“So part of what I was doing was I was borrowing some techniques from other fields, and bringing them into the conversation of educational researchers because we don’t have time to look into journals of other content area fields, so we miss out on opportunities to learn from those fields. This was an opportunity to share what researchers from other fields are doing and how we can apply them within an educational context.” 

 The big picture 

“People have been trying to reform education for a very long time. They have focused on failing schools and the fact that the education system in the United States is falling behind systems in other countries,” Khanani says. 

“A lot of what is left out of those conversations is how poverty is a huge contributing factor to the state of our educational system in terms of our outcomes relative to other nations.

“We talk about different interventions to improve student gains over time in math, reading, and STEM subjects. But we rarely talk about the root cause of poverty, which is often a function of structures in our society that limit individuals’ abilities to succeed.” 

“For me, research on City Connects confirms the idea that we need to provide students with the basic opportunities and support that everyone else gets if they grew up in households that are not economically disadvantaged. 

“We have to help students and families achieve food and housing security. We have to help parents stabilize their work and earnings situation. If we address these issues first, then we can talk about curriculum changes, then we can talk about other types of reform.”

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