EDUCATION DATA SYSTEMS
Coast-to-coast school closures during the COVID-19 pandemic caused unprecedented disruption to the nation’s education system. As states rebound from the resulting unfinished learning, their use of technology and data will be vital in recovering and building stronger school systems to help students accelerate academically.
COVID-19 relief bills provided more than $263B in education-oriented funds. While these funds helped support immediate educational needs during the pandemic, they are also an opportunity for schools to strengthen their operations into the future. Data systems can help states make better decisions and prioritize investments effectively. However, only 18 states have full P20W longitudinal data systems that connect data in PreK to K12 to post secondary to workforce.
This memo lays out actions states can take in the first 200 days of 2023 to build the processes and acquire the talent they will need to deliver 21st-century education services. Building this capacity from day one will help states gain momentum and deliver quick wins that make a meaningful difference for students, teachers, staff, local administrators and parents.
SUMMARY OF OPPORTUNITIES
Invest in talent and processes to strengthen state data systems
State longitudinal data systems are intended to enhance the ability of state leaders to efficiently and accurately manage, analyze and use education data. These data systems can help states, districts, schools, educators and other stakeholders improve student learning and outcomes, evaluate program effectiveness, support accountability systems, and target resources and interventions. To modernize these systems, states need to appoint qualified technical leaders and teams. Specifically, best practices for government organizations include appointing modern technical leaders to statewide chief data officer and chief information officer positions; appointing and empowering a chief privacy officer for education and workforce to protect student and worker data; and building a centralized technical team to develop and administer state longitudinal data systems (SLDS). While the market for technical talent is competitive, states can attract expertise by emphasizing the rewards of public service and the state’s commitment to building diverse technical teams.
Protect students and workers with strong data governance
Safeguarding sensitive student data is a priority for best in class states. To do this, states need policies and security measures in place to protect sensitive data. States also need school leaders who can ensure they are in compliance with state and federal privacy laws.
States are also confronting increasing cybersecurity threats. Schools in particular have been targets for ransomware attacks that undermine public trust in the ability of educational systems to protect sensitive data. States can develop statewide cybersecurity strategies by moving quickly to hire and support qualified technical talent.
In 2023, states can take decisive action to protect student data by investing in cybersecurity and data privacy compliance efforts, appointing a chief privacy officer, engaging state employees at all levels in cybersecurity and distributing guidance to local education agencies and other organizations.
Increase capacity through partnerships, leadership and flexible contracting
States can build their capacity to develop and maintain educational data systems and privacy protections using several strategies:
COVID-19 brought unprecedented disruption to the American K-12 educational system, as nearly 93% of school-age children shifted to some form of remote learning when schools were closed. Many children lacked the ability to consistently participate in school as communities had different levels of broadband coverage and access to at-home computers. School districts and states worked to manage the abrupt transition from classrooms to homes, however student academic outcomes still suffered. Students in fourth and eighth grade saw unprecedented declines in math and reading achievement between 2019 and 2022, according to the results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).
States can begin to understand these gaps with effective state longitudinal data systems (SLDS). SLDS, also known as P-20W (information systems that collect data from pre-K to K12 to postsecondary education to the workforce), combine data from government agencies to help states, districts, schools, educators and other stakeholders improve student learning and outcomes, evaluate program effectiveness, support accountability systems, and target resources and interventions more effectively and equitably. Unfortunately, most systems are not integrated across preK, K12, postsecondary, and the workforce limiting their ability to provide information to leaders.
At the same time states are building systems to better understand student data, cyberattacks have become more frequent, threatening to disrupt school operations and learning. Education leaders also face challenges with the growing use of systems that leverage artificial intelligence to personalize learning and analyze student performance trends. But unless carefully managed, they can amplify the existing bias within datasets. And the continuous monitoring of student data raises difficult questions around very broad surveillance that could harm students.
State leaders can manage these challenges by establishing data governance strategies with transparent processes that guide what data is collected, how it is used, the conditions under which it is shared, and how it is protected. States should consider investing in robust data privacy practices, developing guidance for local education agencies, and discussing the value of data with local educators, parents and students.
To lead these systems, states need to appoint modern technical leaders and teams. Government organizations ready to build best in class state longitudinal data systems will seriously consider appointing modern technical leaders to statewide chief data officer and chief information officer positions; appointing and empowering a chief privacy officer for education and workforce to protect student and worker data; and building a centralized technical team to develop and administer state longitudinal data systems. These roles enable agency leaders to build systems to hold the data, support data gathering and data integration efforts across government, and build teams. States can follow key best practices in data and governance to improve longitudinal data systems and build technical capacity while safeguarding student and workforce data.
FEDERAL DOLLARS PRESENT A TIMELY OPPORTUNITY FOR SUCCESS OR FAILURE
The three largest COVID-19 relief stimulus bills provided more than $263 billion in education-oriented pandemic relief funds to help states and schools with their recovery efforts. These funds include the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, the Governor’s Education Emergency Relief Fund, Emergency Assistance to Non-Public Schools and the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund.
There is an enormous amount of flexibility in the allowable uses of these funds. They can support strategies to address a wide range of needs including:
Governors, state school chiefs and superintendents face several fiscal cliffs by which these funds must be obligated and spent. A number of estimates have raised concerns that the slow pace of spending may lead to some funds being left unused. A McKinsey analysis estimated that by the end of the 2021–22 school year, districts spent less than a quarter of the total funding available. Based on that pace, nearly $20 billion could remain unused by school districts.
The American Rescue Plan also provides $350 billion through the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund, which provides unprecedented flexible funding to help state and local governments respond to their communities’ public health challenges and economic needs created by the pandemic. State leaders have significant discretion in how to best deploy the funds to stabilize revenue, address budget shortfalls and address negative impacts of COVID-19. Among the uses of these funds are modernizing state data systems and technology infrastructure to improve access to and the user experience of government technology systems. These funds also include technology improvements to increase public access and delivery of government programs and services.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) also provides more than $65 billion to close the digital divide including:
KEY TECHNOLOGY OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE FIRST 200 DAYS OF 2023
Below are meaningful steps that state leaders can take at the beginning of 2023 to strengthen the technical foundation of their education and workforce systems. In the first 200 days:
- Invest in talent and processes to modernize state longitudinal data systems;
- Protect students and workers with strong data governance;
- Increase technical capacity via hiring, contracting and partnerships with outside organizations.
INVEST IN TALENT AND PROCESSES TO MODERNIZE LONG-TERM DATA SYSTEMS
Longitudinal data systems compile data on students and workers over multiple years and can measure performance and surface problems. States that lead the country in understanding and using educational data build technical teams with deep data experience and provide the resources needed to succeed. States that invest in technical capacity in the first 200 days are more likely to succeed as they will have a chance to tackle education challenges over time.
Coordinating data across government agencies is a challenge. To be effective, states can:
In 2023, states can act early to build processes that strengthen their data systems if they:
Fill key leadership roles with modern technical leaders
States that invest in technical capacity in the first 200 days will have a chance to tackle education challenges over time. Specifically, state leaders can fill key technical leadership positions, including:
More information on how to recruit and retain top leaders effectively can be found in the Talent Memo.
Create a high-quality committee of state officials to establish a data governance strategy
A data governance committee can encourage collaboration among agencies and encourage them to use consistent data access and collection processes. Typical members include leaders of education and workforce departments, though states can include any organization that contributes to this cradle-to-career data pipeline.
Members of these committees can determine the state’s data priorities and the data system the state will rely upon. A consensus on data priorities is the first step in moving to a system that produces usable data faster.
When establishing a data governance committee, the Data Quality Campaign, a nonprofit focused on education data policy and use, urges states to:
Align the goals of data governance committee and stakeholders
Relevant data answers questions, addresses challenges and helps achieve goals. States can make their data systems more transparent and useful by gaining agreement among stakeholders like agency leaders on what data their systems should prioritize.
For example, the Education-to-Workforce Indicator Framework analyzes guidance from data experts who specialize in education and workforce and from state data experts who manage SLDS across the country. States can use this framework to:
Build a centralized team to develop and administer the data
Instead of multiple technical teams across numerous departments carrying out this work, states can build a technical team located with a singular, centralized office to manage the P-20W system and carry out the governance committee’s goals. As of December 2021, 28 states have centralized their longitudinal data teams. Without such teams, many states must rely on staff from different agencies to share data — or have no clear data governance structure at all.
Working closely with the data governance committee, a centralized technical team with data, technology and product management expertise can:
Kentucky’s Center for Statistics (KYSTATS) was established in 2012 to run the Kentucky Longitudinal Data System. KYSTATS brought together leaders and datasets from the Department of Education, Council on Postsecondary Education, Educational Professional Standards Board, Higher Education Assistance Authority and the state’s Education and Workforce Development Cabinet. KYSTATS has also published reports to drive decision-making and has built one of the first K-12-to-career interactive, online portals in the country. Parents and students can access these portals to learn about educational and career pathways. Maryland and Washington state have also established centralized technical teams with promising results.
Prioritize transparency and accessibility
For a state’s longitudinal data system to be effective, it must be accessible. Administrators making policy decisions need user-friendly access to data that answers the questions they have when evaluating policy options and decisions. Researchers should also have appropriate access to help them answer policymakers’ questions, evaluate how well school and workforce programs are working and make recommendations. Prioritizing transparency and access takes this a step further, helping students, parents and community organizations make education decisions.
To craft opportunities for seamless, privacy-protected access and analysis of data sets, states could identify key target audiences, like individual students or school district administrators, and develop profiles on who they are, what they value and how these data systems can support their goals.
PROTECT STUDENTS AND WORKERS WITH STRONG DATA GOVERNANCE
State agencies often have sensitive data about students. This requires better methods for safeguarding and protecting that data.,  Student data privacy is governed through a series of state and federal laws. They include the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). In addition, since 2014, more than 45 states and Washington, D.C. enacted new student data privacy laws that provide additional data-sharing and privacy frameworks. State leaders need to ensure their systems comply with these laws as well as help build the capacity of school systems to ensure privacy protections are central throughout all of their systems and processes. In the first 200 days of 2023, states can take action to strengthen the protection of student data and associated systems.
Invest in cybersecurity and data privacy compliance efforts
State education and workforce data systems contain valuable data, and ransomware attacks have been particularly common in K-12 schools. In malware attacks, files and systems are rendered unusable until the institution pays a ransom. States must invest in technical talent and tools to protect their systems. This includes appointing a state chief information security officer to coordinate cybersecurity. Tech Talent for 21st Century Government says that “CISOs oversee agency cybersecurity, including training others in information security and ensuring that the agency has an effective information security program, according to the Federal Information Security Management Act of 2014. As leaders in charge of cybersecurity, each CISO should have modern technical expertise and experience.”
Appoint a chief privacy officer
The role of chief privacy officer is a relatively new position, especially for state education and workforce agencies. From 2019 to 2022, the number of states that adopted a statewide privacy officer or similar position grew from 12 to 21. But the limited scope of their responsibilities, along with a lack of sustained funding, means states still have work to do. Whether a CPO is statewide or in an agency, a privacy officer needs authority to build a team of experts to fully implement data privacy. Responsibilities of an effective privacy officer include:
Utah offers one example for how this can be done. In 2015, the Utah legislature asked the State Board of Education in HB 68 to craft proposals to update student privacy laws. It provided funding for a privacy officer and developed comprehensive privacy plans tailored to Utah’s needs.
The education board recommended that Utah:
- Develop a data governance plan for the Board of Education and each local education agency;
- Create data management roles at each local education agency specifically to safeguard personally identifiable information;
- Provide money for student privacy efforts.
Utah now has a dedicated student data privacy team that works closely with local education agencies to provide guidance and assistance.
States that cannot secure funding for a dedicated privacy office could still have officials from different agencies develop a statewide data privacy plan. The team would include officials who handle cybersecurity, data privacy and legal compliance. See the Other Resources for a list of resources and organizations that states can use.
Engage state employees at all levels in cybersecurity
Cybersecurity requires vigilance at all levels of government. Data breaches can occur during the most mundane activities — clicking on a suspicious link or downloading a file from an email. States need to engage all staff, from teachers to executive-level administrators, in exercises and compliance efforts that teach people to be cautious.
New York’s Office of Emergency Management offers a recent example. It piloted a new “data fire drill” program to help government teams review actions to take in emergencies. The exercise required agencies to prepare data they would use to solve a challenge on short notice. For more information about cybersecurity and data compliance, refer to the memos on cybersecurity and data.
Distribute guidance to local education agencies and other organizations
States can help schools by providing a single point of contact for questions and reinforcing the importance of data privacy training.
In an era of remote learning and student activity monitoring — or the remote tracking of student internet activity on school-owned devices or networks — it’s critical to have staff and educators trained to handle sensitive data and situations. This is especially true when sharing data is potentially harmful to students, as illustrated in the Center for Democracy and Technology’s (CDT) recent report on student activity monitoring.
INCREASE TECHNICAL CAPACITY THROUGH PARTNERSHIPS, HIRING AND CONTRACTING
Building education systems that effectively use data takes time. But states can learn from technical successes in other areas of government:
Below are ways states might build technical systems to support their education reforms:
Recruit modern technical leaders for statewide chief data officers and chief information offices
Whether launching a state longitudinal data team, a student data privacy team or any major education or workforce data initiative, it’s essential to gather and use data effectively. This is where having a chief data officer becomes critical. These officers are charged with:
Chief data officers can work with education and labor departments to organize and manage their data.
A chief information officer is one of the most important statewide technical positions to fill. They are often the highest-ranking technical decision-maker for a state or agency. They are typically accountable for all technical systems within a state, including public-facing software applications, data storage strategy, computer hardware and email systems. In some states, the chief information officer acts as the gatekeeper for technology budgets, human resources and project approval.
Partner with nonprofit organizations that can support hiring and vendor acquisition
One of the more difficult challenges for states is hiring for technical positions. Governments have historically struggled to compete with the public sector for top talent.
There are organizations that specialize in helping states address this challenge. The Tech Talent Project, Code for America and the U.S. Digital Response all offer resources and support for states looking to hire and effectively use technical talent.
There are also state-specific organizations. California IT in Education (CITE), a professional IT membership association, provides contracting that makes purchasing easier for school districts and states. CITE worked with Microsoft to provide a “statewide master purchasing vehicle” — or a negotiated contract with private suppliers of goods that all state school districts can utilize. The deal offers school districts greater discounts on Microsoft hardware and software, and streamlines application processes.
Provide data governance guidance to local education agencies, workforce boards and other groups
Most states have educational service agencies, also called educational service centers or intermediate units, that administer services and programs to school districts across a variety of areas including data collection and student data privacy. These agencies are often organized by groups of school districts that share resources to better serve students.
According to the Association for Education Service Agencies, there are 553 such agencies in 45 states, reaching about 80% of public and private schools. States can work with these organizations to help get technical talent, tools and training necessary to support their school districts.
Create flexible vendor contracts that can adapt to shifting needs
States need technical approaches that can adapt to fit their needs to maintain state data systems and ensure student data privacy. Traditional procurement contracts often prove to be a significant barrier to the flexibility states need. When preparing new contracts, states should:
State educational agencies can partner with their state procurement office and department executives to renegotiate educational vendor contracts where needed. For more information on models for flexible vendor contracts, read the state procurement memo.
BEYOND THE FIRST 200 DAYS
BUILD WAYS FOR PARENTS, STUDENTS, TEACHERS, AND ADMINISTRATORS TO ACCESS DATA
States following best practices can create tools that make data accessible for the people who make everyday education decisions including school district administrators, teachers, parents and students.
IDENTIFY STABLE, INDEPENDENT FUNDING SOURCES FOR STATE DATA GOVERNANCE EFFORTS
Effective data initiatives require dedicated resources. Short-term budget decisions can kickstart data initiatives. However, states with the most effective education and workforce data systems have secured longer-term financing for data teams that is independent of other agency funding streams.
Utah is an example of the benefits of establishing independent, ongoing financing for data teams. In 2015, Utah’s legislature passed HB 68, requiring the Utah State Board of Education to propose a way to fund student privacy efforts. Since then, the state has created a chief privacy officer position and a student data privacy office. This provides local education agencies with state resources they can use to address student data privacy concerns.