Getting the Data System we Need in California Education; A Job for the Next Governor

There is some powerful data coming out on school performance and operations in Oakland, often comparing charter public schools and the district schools.  The challenge comes in interpreting it.  Charter school overall outcomes are stronger than the district’s, particularly at the middle and high schools, but is that because charters are actually doing a better job, or is it because they have higher achieving students to start with.

It is an important question, and one I honestly don’t know the answer to.

But I could, we all could.  And a recent EdSource article highlighted the latest efforts to create a longitudinal data system in California.  As they stated,

“California needs a statewide system that tracks student performance from pre-school to college and beyond, several experts and lawmakers said at a state Senate hearing on Tuesday.

The state, which trails most states in providing such a system, needs to be able to answer questions about education quality and how students progress from K-12 to college and the workforce, speakers said…

Senate staff outlined in a report the information the public could obtain if such a system existed:

  • What percentage of the students who graduated from a district’s high schools enroll in college within eight months of graduation?
  • What percentage of those students need remediation once they arrive at college?
  • How are students’ chances of finishing college related to their high-school courses, grades and test scores?
  • Whether students attending a state-funded preschool “have a better chance of meeting state academic expectations in elementary school.”
  • What are the college majors that lead to the highest and lowest rates of employment?”

Without good data its hard to make good decisions, and right now we really don’t have good data.

The system we need

We need a system that follows students in their academic careers, and tracks and compares their progress.  Whether that is the proposed state level system or even a localized one.  A real cohort study.  If a child is in a public school, we know where they went, because eventually that school will collect the per pupil funding from the state.  So charters and district schools should be covered.  But given the 17,572 students that aren’t in either I would try to enlist the private schools as well.

Don’t tell me it can’t be done.  We did it in NYC with 1.1 million students, and over a thousand schools.  You could see year to year growth, and compare it to average growth for similar students, and look at real attrition rates.   You can also look at school lotteries, who got in, who didn’t, and then compare the progress of the two groups.   This serves as an imperfect but relatively good randomized trial, to assess school effects.

Why don’t we have it

So with 50,000 or so students and less than 200 schools why can’t we do it here?

We have a top university, Cal, a laggard that might be interested, Stanfurd (Go Bears), on the ground research in Oakland Achieves, and I bet we could get voluntary information sharing, if there wasn’t a way to just do it automatically.

We have big strategic decisions to make in Oakland that will affect the shape and future of the City’s public schools.  And the data we are getting now is in some ways the best it has ever been, but it’s not good enough.   We need to invest in that next step to not only start asking the right questions, but getting the right answers.

There is no good reason this has not been done, except that we haven’t yet done it—and we should.


What do you think?

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