Long-sought ‘cradle-to-career’ education data system for California comes at a steep price – Daily Democrat

By Louis Freedberg, EdSource

One of the few notable areas where Governor Gavin Newsom left his predecessor Governor Jerry Brown when he took office was his support for the establishment of a longitudinal data system linking information from kindergarten to the workplace. .

Despite the fact that most other states had created this system in one form or another, Brown for years resisted pleas from researchers and advocates to allocate funds to create one.

But it was such a high priority for Newsom that, days after taking office in 2019, he called for it in the second paragraph of his first budget as governor. He designated an initial $10 million for “critical work” to create what he called “the California Cradle-to-Career Data System” to “better track student achievement and increase the alignment of our education system with the workforce needs of the state. ”

Newsom’s push culminated in 2019 legislation (Senate Bill 75) that kicked off a year of intense planning. It involved nearly 200 data experts and representatives from all major educational institutions in the state, and culminated in a report that will be sent to Newsom this week, after obtaining final approval from the overseeing task force. the project. Its spearhead is a working group made up of representatives from 16 different institutions and agencies involved in setting up the data system.

All work was coordinated by WestEd, the San Francisco-based consulting firm.

However, starting the data system will incur a high price. According to a draft report to be finalized at a task force meeting on Wednesday, it will take five years to fully implement the system, at a cost of $15 million to $20 million for the first year alone. The challenge is that the legislature should approve these funds at a time when the state is struggling financially, due to the pandemic-induced recession. Demands on the state’s general fund will be extreme for discretionary projects like this.

Among other things, funds will be needed to cover the costs of creating the governance structure, the staff to support it, and additional staffing costs incurred by the California Department of Education, University of California Employment Development Department, California State University and the community college that will provide the data to power the system.

If the legislature adopts its recommendation, the system will collect data on 160 different variables from multiple state agencies and educational institutions – ranging from a child’s attendance at a half-year child care program. day or full day earnings of college graduates 10 years after leaving college. . All data will enter a system that will eventually have over 400 million records.

It’s unclear what Newsom will recommend for further development of the data system in the upcoming fiscal year budget he will propose on Jan. 10.

“It’s not a whirlwind priority” for Newsom, said Ben Chida, Newsom’s chief deputy cabinet secretary, whom the governor has appointed to be his point of contact on the project. “We want to look back on this in 5-10 years and be proud of the foundations we’ve laid.”

Those working on the project did not provide any estimate of the total cost of the data system beyond its first-year projections.

They want it to be accessible and useful not only to researchers but to the general public through dashboards, fact sheets, a research library and a “query builder” – a tool that would allow educators, advocates and policymakers to discover, for example, the proportion of students enrolled in various eighth-grade math courses, or the availability of transfer-level math courses at community colleges, or the characteristics of students majoring in STEM subjects.

Students and their families would also have access to the database to help make college and career decisions, have access to their high school and college transcripts electronically, and have access to financial aid and other services.

All of this will drive up costs — and make it more expensive than what other states have had to spend on systems with far fewer records and data points. Washington State, for example, spent $28.1 million over a 10-year period on its Education Research and Data Center, which contains 61.8 million records. California, on the other hand, will have almost seven times as many records and, if all goes according to plan, should be much more accessible to the public.

“If the legislature and the governor want this done right, he needs this kind of investment,” said Tom Vu, vice president for policy for the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities, representing all state private non-profit colleges. He said California could “build something that just has the data. That’s what other states are doing, but California wants to do more. Since California is building a new data system, he said, “we have the opportunity to do it in a more robust way, using the most advanced technology possible.”

Patrick Perry, head of policy, research and data for the California Student Aid Commission, who is also a member of the task force, said he thought the proposed budget for the first year was “pretty reasonable, while well-regarded” and “pretty well-tempered” within the overall framework of California’s more than $100 billion budget.

UCLA education professor John Rogers said the $15-20 million figure may seem like a lot, “unless we consider the alternatives.”

“While this is an imperfect comparison, it’s worth noting that the average private sector company spends more than 3% of its annual budget on IT,” he said. “Using this metric here, we see that this investment is only a fraction of what one would expect from comparable efforts in the private sector.”

About a dozen years ago, California developed and implemented the California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System, called CALPADS for its K-12 school system. Community colleges around the state have also developed a data system called Cal-PASS, and California State University and the University of California also have data systems to track student progress. But these systems were not fully integrated with each other and other state databases, and had limited utility. A 2008 EdSource report noted, for example, that “without certain features and data elements, CALPADS’ ability to provide sophisticated information to policy makers will be limited, as will the ability of educators and researchers to use the information at local level.

Heather Hough, executive director of Policy Analysis for California Education, or PACE, a research and policy collaboration based at Stanford and several other top universities, pointed out that the state has already made big investments in these systems. It would make no sense to give up those investments now, she said. “To a large extent, what this money (for the Cradle-to-Career data system) will do is connect existing data sources and make them useful for improving education.”

Samantha Tran, who oversees policy and analysis at Children Now, a leading children’s rights organization, also gave her support. “California is one of the few states that does not have one of these systems in place and this is a modest investment, especially considering the return for children, practitioners, decision-makers and the general public,” she said.

Not everyone is so enthusiastic. Bruce Fuller, a UC Berkeley professor of education and a leading education researcher, expressed skepticism about the projected costs. “The state has a tortured history of building data systems that prove horribly expensive and then fail to inform on the most pressing issues,” he said. CALPADS is a good example.

But, said PACE’s Hough, “It’s critical that we maintain momentum and move forward with building the data system, so we can use it as soon as possible to improve equity and student outcomes.” Californians.”

Regarding the state’s current financial problems, the launch of the data system “came at a time when we thought the state would be full of money, and now we’re not,” Perry said. of the student aid committee. “So it comes down to a question of political will.”

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