Data Systems that Work

States need data infrastructure that meets the needs of all of their education and workforce communities—including educators and institutional leaders, students and families, local and state education and workforce agencies, policymakers, and the broader public. 

A robust, well-governed data system provides families, educators, communities, and policymakers with the information they need to foster successful journeys through education and the workforce. Modernized P–20W data systems that connect data over time and across sectors allow decision-makers at all levels to answer their most pressing policy questions and better support individual students on their pathways through education and into the workforce.

States Need P-20W Data

The education and economic landscape in states is complex and no one should be forced to make important decisions in the dark. Communities across education and the workforce have questions that require statewide longitudinal data systems—systems that connect data from early childhood, K–12, postsecondary, and workforce—to answer, including:

  • Are there disparities in enrollment in quality early childhood programs within states?
  • Do students have equitable access to learning opportunities?
  • Which educator preparation programs are best preparing teachers and school leaders to support the needs of their students?
  • Where are students going after high school? Are the state’s education institutions and programs preparing students for success in college and the workforce?
  • Are postsecondary students on track to graduate with high-quality credentials?
  • How well are different learning pathways meeting the needs of state economies?

Building statewide longitudinal data systems is not a one-time investment. It is an ongoing process that requires a shared vision, a mechanism for sustainability, updates to the technical infrastructure, and collaboration among people in many different roles. Policymakers should think about how creating and sustaining these processes becomes part of how they do business.

Building Strong and Sustainable Systems

Policymakers at all levels have a role to play in ensuring that statewide longitudinal data systems evolve to meet pressing information needs:

Federal policymakers can make investments in state and local data systems to relieve the financial strain of modernizing outdated source systems, build better linkages between systems, and increase the human capacity needed to manage and use the data.

State policymakers can use tools at their disposal (e.g., executive orders, legislation) to create and codify statewide longitudinal data systems.

States leaders can create or update existing data governance structures that provide a forum for cross-agency decisionmaking, include voices of external stakeholders (such as teachers, parents, and advocates), and define roles and responsibilities for linking, safeguarding, and using data.

District leaders can identify and elevate priority questions requiring linked data to ensure that data systems are built to meet the needs of the communities they serve. These leaders can ensure buy-in for these systems by using their position to communicate with the public about why these systems matter.

State and local advocates can make statewide longitudinal data systems and governance a key part of their advocacy agendas and hold leaders accountable for progress.

States Leading the Way

States are taking action to build effective data systems.


California is setting a new standard for the nation when it comes to using policy levers to build and sustain a statewide longitudinal data system and data governance. In July 2021, California passed a law to codify the purpose, structure, and governance policy for California’s new Cradle-to-Career Data System (C2C).


Kentucky has been a long-time leader in building and managing a robust data system. The Kentucky Center for Statistics (KYSTATS) manages and governs the state’s longitudinal data system. Importantly, KYSTATS has a board comprised of senior agency leaders who can set priorities and dedicated staffing to ensure the work gets done.


Maryland used legislation to create the Maryland Longitudinal Data System (MLDS) Center. This legislation also created a governance board, with some of its membership designated by statute. Maryland has continued to adapt and update their system to address new and emerging priorities.


Texas used its 2021 legislative season to set in motion a series of new policy actions that build the foundation for better data systems. State legislators passed laws to create the Texas Tri-Agency Workforce Initiative and encourage cross-agency coordination, a data management officer role in each state agency and institution of higher education, and model data-sharing agreements for use between public schools, higher education institutions, and other authorized partners.

Featured Resources

Time to Act helps states enact policies that are critical to ensuring that data is used to support student learning.

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