In summary

Continued funding for a Cradle-to-Career Data System would empower communities and educators to demand better from schools.

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By Christopher J. Nellum, Special to CalMatters

Christopher J. Nellum is interim executive director at The Education Trust-West, a nonprofit focused on educational justice, cnellum@edtrustwest.org. He serves on the Cradle-to-Career Data System Policy and Analytics Advisory Group.

Positivity rates. ICU capacity. Unemployment claims. Vaccine efficacy. Inflation. Over the past year, California’s public officials and individual citizens alike have navigated the pandemic by relying on data. 

It’s helped us understand a terrifying new reality. It’s helped us recognize that 

Black and Brown Californians are least likely to have access to work-from-home options, in-person learning and vaccinations; that we are more likely to become infected, lose our jobs or lose our lives. And now, data is helping us chart a pathway out. 

At least when it comes to our public health and economic crises. Our educational crisis is a different story. 

Gov. Gavin Newsom and state legislators understand that a full, equitable recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic necessitates smart decisions made with comprehensive information. In the most recent budget proposal, they allocated funding to continue creating the California Cradle-to-Career Data System

This system would link existing datasets on early education, K-12 education, college and career readiness, college enrollment, college success and entry into the workforce. It would enable students, families, educators, policymakers and the public to evaluate educational programs, illuminate roadblocks to access, find solutions for supporting students and inform decision-making about everything from new legislation to which postsecondary options to pursue. 

The proof is in the pudding: 41 states have already developed similar systems and benefitted from them. For example, in Kentucky, high schools use the data to see which higher educational institutions do the best job of ensuring students graduate on time and succeed afterward. Now, a teacher can pull up that data during a conversation with a student to help them make an informed decision about applying to colleges most likely to help them achieve their dreams. 

When finished, California’s system will allow us to understand the pandemic’s long-term impacts and also prepare for other emergencies like wildfires that may befall us in the future. 

The $15 million initial investment would kick start work that has been carefully planned for years – a modest sum that would have a lasting, positive impact on students’ lives. Plus, it’s a low price to pay for the increase in transparency it would provide: What is the California state budget funding that is working well? What isn’t? 

Simply put, funding for a Cradle-to-Career Data System is a win for the state and the culmination of years of advocacy from students, educators and civil rights organizations.

However, the work isn’t done. Now it’s time to ensure the data system proposal is approved in the state budget, and is designed and implemented so that communities and educators are empowered to demand better from schools and colleges. 

The system should include not only a database but also tools that are easy-to-use and designed with parents and teachers in mind, like Kentucky’s website for high school counselors. With a thoughtful rollout, these tools will make data accessible and informative to everyone – even empowering. 

Whether and how that happens rests with a committee of agency administrators and regular community members – people like you and me – who represent the voices of students, parents and educators. But here’s the catch: it remains to be seen how powerful our seat at the table will be. All of these questions are still being decided, so our voices matter. 

In the decades to come, scientists, epidemiologists and health officials will monitor the long-term effects of COVID-19. Economists and public officials will measure the long-term effects of a pandemic-induced recession and use it to prevent another. So when it comes to how well schools and colleges are recovering, why wouldn’t we do the same? 

Join dozens of organizations from my own, The Education Trust-West, to the California State PTA, the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, to the California Chamber of Commerce, along with racial justice advocates, business leaders and advocates across the nation in urging California legislators to invest in the Cradle-to-Career Data System. 

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