States, listen up: Want to win an ESEA waiver? Like getting money from the federal government? Then you need to collect and report high schools graduates’ college outcomes – and not just for in-state, public colleges and universities, but for all postsecondary institutions.
Just as the administration has used multiple platforms (School Improvement Grants, Race to the Top, ESEA Waivers) to promote its ideas for effective school turnarounds, Secretary Duncan is turning to multiple initiatives to reinforce the need for states to do a better job with linking K-12 and higher education data. The latest is tucked into the ESEA Waiver Request. When states sign on the dotted line, they must promise to “report annually to the public on college-going and college credit-accumulation rates for all students and subgroups” for each district and public high school in the state.
This data assurance may seem like an example of how the Department is using the waivers to impose unwieldy new requirements on states. But every state is already under the gun to report this data. That’s because once states accepted money from the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund (SFSF) – the part of the stimulus that plugged holes in state budgets – they agreed to report these exact same measures by September 30, 2011. It was an easy decision for most states to take the SFSF money, but they are having a much more difficult time meeting the data reporting requirements. Accordingly, the Department pushed back the deadline until the end of 2012 for states that ask for an extension.
And more importantly, states need this data if high schools are going to improve how they prepare students for college and their careers. Last week, Congressmen, mayors, principals, and parents called on states to report this information at an event hosted by the Data Quality Campaign and College Summit. Unlike high-stakes standardized tests that only help educators guess who’s ready for college, data on college enrollment and credit accumulation actually verifies which students were prepared. And once policymakers and school leaders see the data, they can begin to diagnose where the problems are and make appropriate instructional choices. To do this, states need to build out their data capacity so that their own K-12 and higher education data systems can talk to one another and match student-level records. The good news is that 44 states report that they have this capacity; that’s up from only 12 states in 2005.
But the assurances states made in SFSF and will make in their waiver requests require more than improving internal linkages. In most states, this only gives you data for students attending public, in-state colleges. But if you read the SFSF rules closely, states need to report college enrollment information for students attending any postsecondary institution – public or private, in-state or out-of-state, nonprofit or for-profit. Here, states’ capacity is lacking; 43 states reported to the Department in March 2011 that they could not meet this standard.
So what’s a state to do? As EdSector’s Amy Laitinen has written, most states have turned to the National Student Clearinghouse to get out-of-state or private college data. But that’s not going to cut it in the new SFSF rules. States must show “progress” – not actually meet the requirement – on getting out-of-state and private higher ed data by 2013. “Progress” means data reciprocity agreements with in-state private colleges that receive state funds (read: student financial aid) or where the state has significant oversight. For out-of-state colleges, “progress” means data reciprocity agreements with contiguous states or just conducting an analysis of which out-of-state schools its high school grads attend.
Even though I’m generally a glass-half-full kind of person, it’s easy to see that “progress” isn’t going to give states all the data they need – especially for out-of-state institutions. If it’s taken this long for states to align their internal data systems, such an ad hoc, state-by-state process of building reciprocity and alignment seems horribly inefficient. That’s why Amy’s call for a public National Student Clearinghouse is particularly timely. But given opposition to a national student database, are there other options? Keep reading the Quick and the Ed for some alternative solutions Amy has put together.