–More from our new report, Putting Data Into Practice…
Students in New York City schools interact with a number of public agencies and participate in a variety of out-of-school activities. All are likely to influence academic achievement. Yet educational data systems are mostly blind to students’ lives outside the classroom. At the same time, public agencies and community groups know little about the academic situations of the youth they serve.
As the school district is doing with ARIS, New York City is working to consolidate disparate bits of data to get a more complete view of the citizens it serves. The city wants to coordinate services across nine city agencies, including those dealing with public health, homelessness, and juvenile justice. On average, a single family is involved with five different agencies, says Linda Gibbs, deputy mayor for Health and Human Services, “but they didn’t know about each others’ presence in the household.” Social services data is not yet integrated into ARIS. Nor is ARIS data available to the social workers who use a new system known as HHS-Connect.
Because of these gaps, educators and community leaders lack data to help them understand how these systems interact and to help them make decisions and coordinate their work. It means they can’t take advantage of powerful tools to detect patterns or risk factors across interventions — patterns that might be impossible to discern from school data alone. This cross-agency information is particularly important to serving at-risk youth, such as children in foster care, who are most likely to use multiple public services.
But in New York and elsewhere, schools and social service agencies are slowly improving their capacity to share data toward useful ends. Some examples:
- In St. Louis, the main objectives of Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Eastern Missouri are to improve attendance, behavior, and classroom success (“ABC”). But the organization had little information about what actually happened in their mentees’ classrooms. So, after getting privacy waivers from parents, officials secured access to school data about students’ attendance, tardiness, behavior, and grades. Now youth workers and mentors can step in, working with parents to improve attendance, for example, and checking up on homework assignments if they see students going off course. They can also recognize and praise student success.
- In California, the Youth Data Archive, run by the John W. Gardner Center for Youth and Their Communities at Stanford University, uses data from schools and community organizations to research questions, such as the association between Boys and Girls Club attendance and the development of proficiency among English language learners.
- Nationwide, Intelligence for Social Policy (ISP) promotes the development and use of integrated data systems. Now working with nine jurisdictions, ISP grew out of Philadelphia’s Kids Integrated Data System, which houses data that helped shape the city’s dropout prevention initiatives. Dennis Culhane, one of ISP’s two principal investigators, says that four of the ISP sites include some educational data and that “all wish they did.” Integrated data, he says, is especially important across developmental transitions. For instance, during early childhood, he says, the “baton gets dropped all the time.”
Still, these examples are nascent. And, without careful attention to the design of data initiatives, the potential to coordinate actions across the variety of organizations and adults supporting youth learning will go unmet.