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State’s Cradle-to-Career Data System Touted as Model

A recent case study asserts that the Golden State’s approach involving data governance, political advocates, legislation and investment is one that other states’ leaders should emulate.

A case study by the nonprofit Data Quality Campaign found California’s P–20W Cradle-to-Career data system to be a model for other states to follow, with clear parameters on data governance, funding and community outreach.

Knowledge is power. That’s why, for years, state education agencies across the U.S. have been building longitudinal data systems to track student enrollments, transfers, financial aid, test scores, demographic traits and other data points — albeit in a deidentified format — to measure progress and inform policy. Professionally known as P-20W systems, short for preschool-to-workforce, or “cradle to career,” these data systems have taken on different forms in different states. Although California was among the last to build one, a recent case study by the national nonprofit Data Quality Campaign (DQC) asserts that the Golden State’s approach involving data governance, political advocates, legislation and investment is one that other state leaders should emulate.

One success factor highlighted in the study is the need for high-level political leadership to support these initiatives, which California had in Gov. Gavin Newsom. The state began work on its P-20W data system in the early part of his administration in 2019 with the Cradle-to-Career Data System Act, establishing and funding the parameters and participants to be involved in the planning process, and creating a publicly accountable work group to design the system.

In 2021, the work group made recommendations to lawmakers, and legislators passed an additional law to affirm the creation of the data system. As described in DQC’s case study, that law codified and described six things: the data system itself, its administration through open meetings, the makeup of a 21-member governing board to oversee the Office of Cradle-to-Career Data, a structure whereby the board could define roles and responsibilities in collecting and reporting data, the creation of two 16-member advisory boards to involve other community stakeholders, and privacy policies.

Mary Ann Bates, executive director of the Office of Cradle-to-Career Data, told Government Technology that the P-20W data system is still being put together, with an expected launch date in 2026. She and Ben Chida, Newsom’s chief deputy Cabinet secretary, agreed that passing focused legislation for the project was critical.

“Knowing that we’re relatively late to the game here and setting up a data system like that, it’s a tremendous opportunity to learn from what’s already been tried in other states,” Bates told GovTech. “One reflection from my end is that the fact that the legislation itself was very specific and clear about the governance structure of this data system I think is really important for how we do our work, and ensuring that the focus on inclusivity and ... community engagement ... is useful for students and families in a really practical way.”

Besides political support and codifying the project into law so it would have clarity of purpose and governance, DQC’s case study points to several other things California did right. One is substantive funding — in this case, $170 billion, according to Chida, including $10.26 million for the Cradle-to-Career Data Office recently passed by the state Legislature as part of the 2022-2023 fiscal year budget.

The rest are various measures to build public trust: the use of longstanding relationships with national and community partners, use of committees and virtual tools for community engagement, getting feedback to prioritize equity and inclusion, and thorough documentation for transparency.

Chida said the budget for the data system is a way of showing how seriously the Newsom administration takes the digital transformation of education in the state. Chida said there was a general consensus that data sharing and collaboration is important, but there was work to be done to make the system work.

“There was a lot more work to be done in terms of building trust and building a sense that we could do this safely without having massive data breaches or being improper or something along those lines,” he said. “And that’s the reason why we feel very good now, because we’ve done that legwork and we’ve built that trust. Even though we took the longer path, I think it was actually the most fruitful and actually will end up leading to the most valuable change.”

This article first appeared in Government Technology, a sister publication to Industry Insider — California. Both are part of e.Republic.
Andrew Westrope is a staff writer for Government Technology. Before that, he was a reporter and editor at community newspapers for seven years. He has a Bachelor’s degree in physiology from Michigan State University and lives in Northern California.
Giovanni Albanese Jr. is a staff writer for the Center for Digital Education. He has covered business, politics, breaking news and professional soccer over his more than 15-year reporting career. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Salem State University in Massachusetts.