Policy Priorities Make Data Work for Kids

Last Tuesday we gathered together a bunch of smart people (and via webcast) to impress on them how we can—and must—do better for kids. We need to do better for the military mom, the first-year teacher, the struggling ninth-grader, the tireless school leader. How do we do better? By getting quality, timely, actionable information to those who need it most to help students succeed.

This was the release of the Data Quality Campaign’s (DQC) new vision and policy recommendations, Time to Act: Making Data Work for Students. On each chair was the report, outlining our actions for policymakers to transform data from a tool for compliance to one that fuels continuous improvement. When the event concluded we clapped and patted each other on the back. The big debut is over and everyone has gone home, but it’s only now that the real work begins.

In fact, most of the work lies ahead of us. Yes, states have shown a tremendous commitment to education data over the past decade in funding, building, and improving their K–12 longitudinal data systems. And no, our policy recommendations are not just lofty ideals—every action outlined in our report is actually happening in some school, district, or state across the country. Even so, we know that our policy recommendations pose a new challenge to states given the emphasis on engaging the public in the conversation around education data. Building systems is difficult, but it pales in comparison to the task of winning hearts and minds, and changing the culture around data use, in every school in the nation.

Our recommendations for policymakers outline four policy priorities:

  • Measure What Matters: Be clear about what students must achieve and have the data to ensure that all students are on track to succeed.
  • Make Data Use Possible: Provide teachers and leaders the flexibility, training, and support they need to answer their questions and take action.
  • Be Transparent and Earn Trust: Ensure that every community understands how its schools and students are doing, why data is valuable, and how it is protected and used.
  • Guarantee Access and Protect Privacy: Provide teachers and parents timely information on their students and make sure it is kept safe.

The work will be challenging, but we believe it is truly necessary. All students deserve a great education, and changing how we think about and use education data is essential to that mission. When students, parents, educators, and partners have the right information to make decisions, students excel. Data has the potential to transform education from a model of mass production to a personalized enterprise that meets the needs of individuals and ensures that no student is lost along the way. But for this transformation to happen, the focus needs to pivot from collecting data to using data. With commitment and work at all levels—from kitchen tables to school boards to state houses—we are confident that this vision can become a reality for every student. 

The Kauffman Foundation supports the work of the Data Quality Campaign to enhance the use of education data for the benefit of students, families and educators across the country.

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Paige Kowalski

Paige Kowalski is vice president of policy and advocacy for the Data Quality Campaign, where she leads a team of passionate advocates to advance education data policies that meet the needs of individuals and improve student outcomes.