Mismatching Outcomes in Boston

Data Systems That Work
Mismatching Outcomes in Boston

This week, Education Week Research Center released its latest Chance-for-Success Index, a set of 13 early childhood, education, and adult outcome measures that provide a “snapshot of a person’s prospect of successful outcomes over a lifetime” in each state. It’s no surprise that, once again, Massachusetts leads the nation in the characteristics and opportunities that prepare students for success after high school. The state, which received an A-, was the only one to score above a B.

Also this week, The Boston Globe published an investigation of the pathways Boston’s valedictorians follow in the years after their high school graduation. Heartbreakingly, many of these bright and hardworking students never achieved a postsecondary degree or found the careers and economic stability they had worked and hoped for. Some even became homeless.

What does it mean that some of the most successful students in the most opportunity-laden state are not prepared to succeed in college and in their careers?

These powerful analyses from the Education Week Research Center and The Boston Globe help uncover problems, and possible solutions. Data is a powerful tool, but it doesn’t do anything on its own. State policymakers in Massachusetts and in every state must:

  • Use data to understand and address inequities.
    Even in communities with higher than average outcomes, resources and privilege are not distributed equally. Many of Boston’s valedictorians did not come from high-income families or have access to well-performing schools—measures the Chance-for-Success Index associates with positive outcomes. States must dig into their data beyond the averages to see how opportunities and resources are shared across communities.
  • Give districts real-time data about their students and give school and district leaders the time and skills to use that data.
    The Boston Globe’s analysis was masterful, but policymakers and school leaders shouldn’t have to rely on outside study to learn how well their students are faring. They should have secure access to information on their students’ progress from early childhood to K–12 and into postsecondary programs and the workforce. When school leaders have access to their own data, and the time and training to make sense of it, they can make better decisions for their communities. In addition, when communities have access to public, open data, they can answer their own questions and challenge established narratives about their schools and students.
  • Use data to support students in and out of the classroom.
    Many students rely on trusted adults providing a variety of educational, health, and welfare supports as they go through school. Cities across the country are increasingly looking to integrated data systems to give those adults who work with a student (like teachers, afterschool tutors, social workers, and healthcare providers) an easier way to understand and meet students’ needs. Policymakers can think about their role in ensuring the trusted adults in a students’ life have the information needed to support student success.

Data is helping us more clearly see the complex and sometimes contradicting truths about opportunity in America. Now, we need to put that data to work to improve the outcomes of all students.


Also published on Medium.