My name is
and I help schools help kids!
Hi! I’m Matthew Courtney. I help schools help kids, and I want to show you how to leverage the power of education research and data to drive continuous improvement in your districts, schools, and classrooms.
I will never forget the first time I set foot into my own classroom. It was a very hot July afternoon when I arrived at Mayfield Elementary to pick up my key. The hallways smelt of floor wax and you could taste the dust from the annual summer renovation floating in the air. To save money, the air conditioning was turned off making it so hot it was difficult to breathe. I met a burly custodian in the office, signed some papers, and was given a shiny brass colored key.
After wandering the halls for a few minutes, I came up to a freshly painted blue door. Someone had neatly printed “Mr. Courtney – Music” on the wall plate. I took a deep breath, intent on savoring the moment. I turned the key, pushed open the door, and entered my future.
I didn’t fully understand what was in store for me. While teaching at Mayfield, I came to understand what good public schools are all about. I met children who would shape me into the man I am today. Jonathan, a second grader who had been to so many schools in his short life that he hadn’t learned the alphabet. Sammie, the young lady who came to school primarily to eat, and later to learn. Darrell, the boy with autism who taught me the phrase “the wheel is turning but the hamster is dead.” Jocelyn, who showed me how to show love through patience in the way that she cared for her peers. Each child left their mark, and I have never been so proud as the day I ran into Chelsey, now a teacher, at a conference or the day that I saw Richie, now a professional trumpet player, on the stage.
These children, and the millions like them, are why I got out of bed every morning – and why I get out of bed every morning still. I have dedicated my life to a singular mission: using research and data to grow high quality schools for every child.
I believe that every child deserves an equitable opportunity to learn in a high quality school where the instruction is rigorous, the culture is warm, and the commitment to success is universal. At the heart of these three pillars is continuous school improvement.
Continuous school improvement isn’t for “low performing” schools. It isn’t a theoretical policy framework cooked up by folks in Washington, D.C. It isn’t the enemy of good teachers and leaders.
Research and data driven continuous school improvement is for everyone. It is a focused mindset that ensures that everybody is bringing their best to every situation – every day. It is about intentionality; doing what’s best for kids not because we think it is what’s best, but because we know it is what’s best.
If you’re struggling with a big problem in your classroom, school, or district, I have GREAT news for you! You are not alone! Thousands of other educators across the nation and around the globe have experienced the same problem. By learning to leverage existing research tools and deeply understanding your local data, you can solve any problem that your school is facing.
Throughout my career, I have worked to empower educators at every level to use educational research and data to drive continuous improvement. Whether it was providing professional development to my fellow classroom teachers, facilitating action research and building theoretical models at the Bluegrass Center for Teacher Quality, or crafting policy to increase access and usability of research in decision making at the Kentucky Department of Education, my entire career has been focused on improving opportunities for our students. I truly believe that if we can all learn to leverage the power of research and data, we can expedite school improvement efforts and make good schools great and great schools even better.
Let’s work together to learn and understand what makes great schools so special and share our insights with educators across the globe so that students everywhere can have a future bigger than we could even begin to dream of.
"Matthew Courtney brought energy and enthusiasm to the topics of data and evidence-based research for the purposes of school improvement. His expertise as a researcher and as a practitioner was evident and his passion for using data to drive improvement was contagious. He was very insightful and provided information and ideas educators could easily take back to their school and implement to support their improvement efforts."
I'm Committed to YOUR Success!
When faced with a continuous improvement challenge, education leaders don’t have to go-it alone. Their work and thinking can be supported by the vast amount of research and data available right at their fingertips. The challenge that we face is that research and data use are only a very small portion of the training that we give education professionals. That’s where I come in.
Research that examines the way that educators use research to inform their decision making has shown us that educators generally use research to solve timely problems (Penuel, et. al., 2016), generate buy-in for decisions (Honig & Coburn, 2008), or convince granting organizations to fund their ideas (Malin, 2019).
That’s a great start! Unfortunately, we also know that leaders tend to have a very broad definition of what “good research” is (Goertz, et. al, 2016), that personal opinions and experience often outweigh the weight of research in their decision making processes (Hemsley-Brown & Sharp, 2003), and that our profession lacks a sufficient infostructure to support meaningful research use (Hemsley-Brown & Sharp, 2003).
One really cool study from 2016 surveyed education leaders across the nation and asked them to report on how they used research to inform their decision making processes. Findings from a National Study on Research Use Among School and District Leaders found that leaders largely get their research second hand from professional organizations, struggle to balance the time required for effective research use, and were challenged when asked to differentiate between important research design elements and indicators of research quality.
The world of data and research is simply too big to expect educators to fully understand all of the nuances on their own. Many educators feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of data and research available to them, and they simply give up (Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, 2015). We can, and must, do better for our kids.
My purpose in life is to empower educators to leverage the power of education research and data to drive continuous improvement. Through my keynotes and workshops, I strive to nurture an environment where educators can feel safe to explore this world in a fun and low-stakes way. As a practitioner myself, I endeavor to present information in a way that is meaningful and immediately applicable to other practitioners. We know that quality training can change attitudes and boost the adoption of research and data use (Lange, Range, & Welsh, 2012). My workshops are designed to do just that.
My commitment to this work is deep and my connection to the audience doesn’t end when the lights go down. Through my online community, I continue to engage with my former training participants. I am here when they need a brainstorming partner, get stuck on a data analysis technique, or just simply don’t know how to begin to tackle a problem. The resources available in The Repository are also available to help stretch their learning and drive long-term adoption of my practitioner oriented techniques and strategies.
"Dr. Courtney has the unique ability to capture and maintain the attention of those attending his presentations with his immeasurable knowledge and experience."
University of Kentucky
Check Out Some of My Work
Exploratory Data Analysis in the Classroom
In Exploratory Data Analysis in the Classroom, I will teach you all the skills necessary to thoroughly examine your student data and carve out meaningful insights that will inform your planning processes. I will provide step-by-step directions for performing essential data analysis tasks in spreadsheets and you will learn from the experience of a colleague through a vignette that illustrates the power of EDA.
The Education Agency as Research Intermediary
Since the late 1970s, researchers and policy makers have debated the role of research in policy making. Since the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in 2015, education policy has experienced a renewed interest in this topic. ESSA presents a rigorous framework and set of requirements for research use in educational decision making. This paper presents an evidence-informed model that education agencies (EAs) can follow to support schools in the implementation of ESSA’s evidence-based practice provisions. The model includes three key activities that EAs should engage in to become effective research intermediaries: (1) model effective research use, (2) build capacity in educators, and (3) promote action research.
Adventures in Action Research
Action research is a systematic process that allows practitioners to deeply study and understand problems of practice so that they can improve teaching and learning conditions in their schools and classrooms. It is a wonderful continuous improvement framework that allows educators to make better informed decisions for their students. As you work through the book, prompting questions at the end of each section will help you choose the next step and direct you to the right page to find step-by-step directions. If you follow the steps, you will finish the book with a detailed analysis of your problem of practice and a deep understanding of the impact of the solution you chose.
Initiating School Improvement
An Analysis of Improvement Priorities Issued by the Kentucky Department of Education
In the United States, state education agencies (SEAs) are required to regularly identify low performing schools. Initiating the school improvement process is one of the most important, yet most challenging steps. The Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) has been nationally recognized the way it initiates the school improvement process. This study seeks to distill findings from 476 suggested first steps issued by the KDE to create action statements that a school leader could use when initiating school improvement on their own. Leaders of school with declining performance may use the EIPs identified by this study to inform their improvement efforts as they seek to enhance teaching and learning conditions in their school.
Don't Miss The Repository!
The Repository is a special spot on my website where I host a variety of tools and resources to help educators be mores successful with student data analysis and research use. Here are just a few of the things you will find when you visit The Repository...
FREE Data Analysis Tools
The Repository includes six auto-analysis tools to expedite your student data analysis. These tools will help you to analyze a distribution of scores, disaggregate your data across any identified groups, compare the performance between two groups of students, create color-coded correlation matrices, and understand the impact of your home-grown behavior interventions. Simply upload your CSV file and have your data reviewed instantly! These tools have been used by teachers and scholars across the globe and I am committed to keeping them free forever. Check out the auto-analysis tools here!
Detailed Tutorial Videos
Data analysis and research use doesn't have to be hard! My library of tutorial videos will prepare you to process your own student data with ease. This free video library includes tutorials and workflows to help you master spreadsheet tasks, work with pivot tables, deploy continuous improvement tools, and navigate research data bases. This video library is always expanding; do you have something you want to see? Let me know!
The Repository includes a number of FREE downloadable eBooks to help expand your learning. These eBooks may be shared with those in your network to help everyone on your team expand their skills. Whether you're looking for a replicable method for performing a literature review or looking for downloadable templates for continuous improvement tools, the Repository has a guidebook for you! Check out the eBook library!