We love to see a laggard become a leader, and for many years California, home to more than a tenth of all US students, was behind other states that already had in place a comprehensive P–20W data system. But all of that changed earlier this summer when Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill into law to finally build a data system that will enable families, educators, and everyone across the P–20W pipeline to share and use data to inform decisionmaking.
P–20W data systems—systems that securely bring together data from across the early childhood, K–12, postsecondary, and workforce sectors—are crucial to providing those closest to students with the information they need to help students navigate their unique journeys from education to careers.
Implementation is key to any initiative’s ultimate success—but good policy matters and this is it. By centering equity, best practices, and evidence-based policy, California has set itself up to lead the country in using data to serve individuals.
You might think I’m overly excited. But in developing this system, California has succeeded in areas that no other state has even come close to. Here are five reasons why everyone, even in states that already have data systems, should take notice of this major policy win for the Golden State:
- California is the first state to center families, communities and practitioners in their P–20W data system. This system will deliver the aggregate research data that many states do, but California went many steps further to innovate and design this system with individuals in mind. California’s system will center the types of tools and analytics that families, communities, and practitioners want and need to better serve students along their journey. For example, the California College Guidance Initiative, a college- and career-planning platform, will soon be able to provide real-time data from across the state. A future where individuals can access timely data to help them navigate between college systems, and beyond, is within reach for all Californians.
- The system isn’t going anywhere. Legislation means this effort is sustainable and will last beyond the current administration. Unlike most states, California’s P–20W data won’t be just an agenda item, policy platform or a preference, it’s state law.
- Equity is centered because power is shared with the public. California prioritized ensuring that individuals and communities get what they need from this data system and concerns over misuse are mitigated by including diverse perspectives on the 21-member governing board. By requiring members of the public to have equal decisionmaking authority as the agency heads, the state is disrupting the usual power dynamics involved in the use of data.
- The decisionmaking and design process was transparent and inclusive. Though other states are well ahead of California in creating data systems, no state has been more transparent in setting one up. California’s process involved a Working Group created by 2019 law that required transparency in meetings and decisionmaking—including two legislatively mandated advisory groups. These groups, which represented policy and research perspectives as well as practitioners, were coupled with a lengthy window for public participation that brought together multiple perspectives to ensure that all users of the data system could be heard.
- The policy and system design decisions are based on best practices. All of the decisions made throughout the process were based on best practices that were thoroughly researched and documented. Even better, these best practices aren’t a secret, they’re available to everyone on WestEd’s California Data System website.
California had a real opportunity to go from last to first—and they have. Everyone who cares about student success should take notice. I say this not only as a proud Californian, but as someone who believes this type of innovation is possible in every state in the country. No matter where your state is in the process of building or improving a data system, it is never too late to engage stakeholders, codify goals and responsibilities via legislation, and ensure transparent processes for decisionmaking. When those pieces are in place, states are set up to get people the information they need to have meaningful impact on students from early education to the workforce.