Finally, a school data system emerges in California – Orange County Register
California has a very fragmented approach to education – a collection of institutional silos that only occasionally communicate with each other and are often more competitive than cooperative.
This fragmentation is most visible in the perpetual conflicts between traditional K-12 schools and parent-run charter schools, and in the battles between the three public higher education systems over academic terrain.
The victims of disunity are students seeking an education to prepare them for careers and places in society, who struggle to know which high school classes they should take to apply for college, or which community college courses are transferable to four-year institutions.
One aspect of fragmentation is that California has been a laggard in gathering meaningful information about how well its education systems are working. It’s one of the few states that doesn’t have what’s called a “longitudinal data system” to track students from kindergarten through high school and college and into the workforce.
“Over the past decade, the state has invested billions of dollars to improve its public education systems, including creating several new programs to streamline the education pipeline so students can better navigate the path to kindergarten to the workforce,” a 2018 report from the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) points out. “During this time, many institutions have seen steady improvements in academic outcomes, such as retention and graduation rates. But the lack of information about how students are doing during key transition points makes it difficult to assess which programs and interventions have been most effective, which are not worth the investment, and what we could do to improve them. Although some institutions share data across sectors for research or practical purposes, most of these connections are infrequent, inefficient, incomplete or ad hoc.
The educational institution has not pushed for a central data system, apparently fearing that it could, as PPIC suggests, reveal which institutions and programs are “not worth the investment” and thus invite intervention or even an elimination.
Former Gov. Jerry Brown has been adamantly opposed, perhaps because more data could expose flaws in one of his main claims to success, the Local Control Funding Formula, which spends billions of dollars to improve the academic performance of poor students and English learners, but so far seems to have had little impact.
In short, collecting more data on student outcomes would – and should – be a precursor to greater accountability for everyone involved in education.
On this issue, fortunately, Governor Gavin Newsom departs from his predecessor. Shortly after his inauguration last year, Newsom began pushing for a centralized data system and one of the budget “trailer bills” he later signed creates what he calls a “Cradle to Career data system” and allocates $10 million to operate it.
The legislation and the launch of the project are something of a departure for PPIC, which has conducted vigorous research on many public policy issues for several decades but has generally eschewed advocacy or direct involvement.
PPIC has not only beaten the drums for a data system, but is participating in its design, creating a California Education Data Collaborative to help a “task force” created by the legislation to, as PPIC describes it, “determine the elements of relevant data to include – variables such as graduation, eligibility, and enrollment – as well as when and how to combine data, where to store results, and who governs data access.
It won’t happen overnight, but within the next year or two, California should join the dozens of other states realizing that developing education policy without knowing what works and what doesn’t is the height of madness.
CalMatters is a public interest journalism company committed to explaining how the California State Capitol works and why it matters. For more stories from Dan Walters, go to calmmatters.org/commentary