When education nerds like me spend so much time within DC’s beltway, it’s easy for arguments about technology, policy, and regulation to dull our sense of what’s most likely to get talked about in the car on the way to school in the morning. Sometimes we think in terms of authorizations instead of aspirations, and get comfortable with the limits of our institutional area of influence. And so one of my resolutions this year is to put kids and families back at the center of how I think about education.
School districts are a starting point for that conversation, but schools are nearly always embedded in communities with boys and girls clubs, summer jobs initiatives, and faith-based mentoring programs that are just as committed to their students’ success. Kids move across neighborhoods and the bureaucratic lines that separate schools and community organizations an awful lot easier than the adults who are looking out for them – and very often, they leave critical information locked up in the files they leave behind. That’s a problem.
Last year, Child Trends released an extremely compelling summary of research on what they called “integrated student supports (ISS)” that illustrated why it matters that data belong to and follow students, and not get stuck within bureaucratic silos. These “ISS” initiatives—sometimes called community schools or collective impact networks—prioritize similar strategies: they carefully assess individual students’ needs and coordinate with trusted community partners to get those needs met. They take a whole-child perspective and are rigorous about using data as the currency for communicating with each other and with families about what’s working, what isn’t, and what’s next.
What Child Trends’ analysis confirmed is that these strategies are powerful—consistently increasing the attendance, reading and math achievement, grade completion, and overall GPA of students—and that they are worth the public and private dollars we spend on them.
It would be a no-brainer to expand these strategies if it weren’t also so difficult. And a central difficulty for most of these communities is how to share and use data: how to ask the right questions, empower educators to act on the answers, and use FERPA as a guide for safely sharing data rather than as an excuse for locking it away.
DQC is very proud to have partnered with StriveTogether this year to create a new set of resources to help communities tackle this challenge head-on. We structured these resources around seven principles that our organizations have seen work again and again, in communities across the country to help schools and their partners create the kind of student supports that Child Trends’ report endorsed. And because we know that schools need partners they can trust, we helped to advise StriveTogether’s terrific set of student data privacy best practices for nonprofits and community-based organizations.
The bottom line is that we ask a lot of our public schools—and we should!—but that the achievement of our young people is everybody’s job. Keeping students at the center of our educational system means getting families and teachers the information they rely on. Integrating student supports means that data should follow the kids and families it belongs to, and to whom we are all—as educators and policymakers—accountable.