Subject-matter expert case studies
Data-Driven Perspectives: Subject-Matter-Expert Case Studies
The subject matter experts that presented in Year 1 informed the work of the Pathways organizations in Year 2. Three particularly influential cases are presented below.
Baltimore Promise is a nonprofit focused on improving outcomes for Baltimore’s youth and their families and has been active for 10 years.
Leaders at Baltimore’s Promise identified a disparity in education and workforce outcomes for disadvantaged and historically marginalized youth in Baltimore. To assess the effectiveness of Baltimore’s educational services, the organization needed access to data; however, integrating data for analysis was extremely challenging due to limitations in legislation and city data infrastructure.
Responding to the challenge, Bridget Blount, Deputy Chief Executive Officer, and James Sadler, Director of Research, created the Baltimore City Youth Data Hub, which allows for data sharing at the individual-level and collaboration between different agencies and nonprofits regarding services, their effectiveness, and how to best utilize limited resources. Their process – which originated back in 2017 – began with information gathering. With tools from Actionable Intelligence for Social Policy (AISP), they identified important stakeholders in the community, including public schools, local government, nonprofit organizations, community leaders and members. These stakeholders received their own support from AISP to learn about data sharing and increase engagement. Baltimore’s Promise worked with the stakeholders to create guiding principles to ensure all parties were comfortable with how data would be both shared and used. These principles emphasized the need for equity and understanding of the historical context while pledging that data sharing would be used to take on systemic challenges, not just individual ones.
A critical step of their journey was a legislative campaign. Given state laws around data privacy, the organization came to realize that it would take a legislative act to allow the group to share data on this scale. To aid their campaign, they established the governing and advising structure of the Baltimore City Youth Data Hub with data sharing agreements and Memorandums of Understanding. While these documents were first created with the hopes that legislation was not needed, they were instrumental in the process once the organization needed to pivot. In 2022 the state legislature approved the Data Hub plan, allowing data sharing to begin.
Baltimore’s Promise’s story is one of people coming together, engaging, and building trust in the community to facilitate data sharing and achieve better outcomes for Black and Latinx youth. Bridget Blount, who is now Deputy CEO of Baltimore’s Promise, shared these lessons:
- Build and maintain relationships with all stakeholders. If people do not want to share their data with your organization, your organization is not going to succeed in becoming a data lead.
- Understand all the laws regarding data sharing in your area. Gaining legal counsel early on can help organizations anticipate and navigate regulatory and statutory issues.
- Be patient with your process. Building relationships with stakeholders, identifying people who will champion your cause, and getting organizations to be willing to share their data takes time. There are no shortcuts when it comes to building trust among stakeholders. With persistence and communication about the value of collaboration, and the right systems, more and more groups will be willing to share their valuable data with your organization.
To learn more about Baltimore Promise Data Hub: https://www.baltimorespromise.org/datahub
To learn more about Baltimore Promise Data Uses: https://www.baltimorespromise.org/data-analysis-and-evaluation
KYSTATS was created in 2012 by the Kentucky state legislature to expand upon the work of the Kentucky P-20 Data Collaborative. KYSTATS is responsible for maintaining the Kentucky Longitudinal Data System (KLDS), a system that facilitates the integration of data from Kentucky’s various educational, workforce, and other state agencies. KYSTATS has the authority to collect and link data in order to evaluate education and workforce efforts in the Commonwealth. This includes developing reports and providing statistical data about these efforts so policymakers, agencies, and the general public can make better informed decisions about the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s education systems and training programs.
Kentucky’s state government was unable to link data between its educational and workforce agencies due to a lack of a technical structure and limited authority to do so. Of particular interest was linking early childhood educational information to high school completion rates, as well as linking full educational history to employment data. To be able to create these links, Kentucky applied for, and received, State Longitudinal Data System (SLDS) funding through the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) and to establish the KLDS in 2009. With this tool created, the next task was to ensure that it could be maintained and even expanded. Initial policy-related goals included understanding how early childhood education could impact high school education rates; how high school graduation rates impacted Kentucky college admissions and workforce outcomes; how many KY college graduates stayed in the state; and how all of this impacted the broader economy.
While KYSTATS must follow federal and state privacy laws with the data they house and distribute, they are empowered to acquire, store, and integrate individual-level data. To increase the number of state agencies and other partners who are willing to share data with KYSTATS, they focus on value adds for data contributors. KYSTATS now hosts data from 47 different sources, which can be used to get a more complete picture of the linkages between education and the workforce in Kentucky as well as understand the shortfalls in the outcomes for historically disadvantaged populations.
An important feature of KYSTATS operations is the ability for partner organizations to collaborate with KYSTATS about topics to include in the Research Agenda, which are renewed every two years. This approach allows KYSTATS to ask major partners what they would like to learn about, including data on building more equitable pathways for historically disadvantaged youth. For 2023 to 2025 the research agenda developed by partner agencies and approved by the board is focused on how to increase access, usage, and usability of the data set; incorporating an equity lens to the KLDS by looking at how outcomes are impacted by backgrounds, experiences, opportunities, and access; monitoring how significant events impact the birth to workforce continuum; and expanding the use of modeling and predictive analytics.
The KYSTATS story is an example of how data sharing that allows for more disaggregated analysis of populations can lead to more equitable outcomes. Scott Secamiglio, who at the time of our interview was the Visual Analytics and Strategy Director of KYSTATS, emphasized the importance of producing additional value for partners. People and agencies are more likely to share their data if they see a clear beneficial outcome for themselves. To replicate this in other states, the data must be available to all organizations through transparent processes and to the public after deidentification processes have anonymized the data to ensure privacy.
To learn more about KYSTATS research agenda: https://kystats.ky.gov/About/Agenda
To learn more about KYSTATS data request process: https://kystats.ky.gov/Reports/DataRequest
San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation
San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation (EDC) mobilizes public, private, and civic organizations to promote inclusive economic development. They aim to inform data-driven decision-making that maximizes San Diego’s economic prosperity and global competitiveness. Taylor Dunne, then-manager and now director for Talent Initiatives at San Diego Regional EDC, discussed challenges and opportunities that the organization identified when engaging employers to expand traditional employment pipelines to include historically excluded groups, including Black and Latinx youth. She also offered insights on how to maintain the program sustainably over time.
As of May 2022, 42,100 people were unemployed in San Diego, while the region had seen 75,630 unique job postings since the start of the year. While job postings data does not account for all open positions, a deeper understanding of this imbalance demonstrated that there was a critical mismatch between formal job requirements (i.e., minimum education) and the actual skills required for those jobs. For example, many job postings require a bachelor’s degree, even when the actual responsibilities could be fulfilled by individuals without one. The extent of this gap in San Diego raised equity concerns, as racial and ethnic minorities are less likely to meet the educational requirements for these jobs. As of August 2022, San Diego Hispanic or Latino and Black youth had the lowest rate of college readiness at 38% and 41% respectively. Both groups, which represent more than 50% of San Diego’s youth, also had the lowest high school graduation rates among all other races and ethnicities at 77% for Hispanic or Latino and 75% for Black youth.
San Diego Regional EDC identified a key opportunity to invest in Black and Latinx youth to turn this talent shortage into a surplus. To realize this vision, San Diego Regional EDC created the Advancing San Diego program which incorporates three strategies: communication, adaptation, and access. The first step utilizes the Talent Pipeline Management® (TPM) framework developed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, to promote active employer engagement in building high-performing talent pipelines. Adaptation refers to aligning education training programs with employers, which requires collaboration with all the higher education institutions and community colleges in San Diego. Taken together, these efforts aim to expand access to quality job opportunities for San Diego students. While Advancing San Diego is ongoing, San Diego Regional EDC’s previous experience utilizing the TPM has demonstrated tremendous impacts and will help them both measure and obtain their goal of doubling the number of skilled workers every year through program completions and hiring statistics. As a result, Advancing San Diego is well positioned to create more equitable pathways for Black and Latinx youth and fill job openings.
San Diego Regional EDC recommended three approaches to ensure sustainability of this program:
- Maintaining the “employer-driven” feature of this initiative is the cornerstone. “Employer-driven” refers to employers identifying the most promising opportunities for engagement regarding similar workforce needs.
- Integrate labor market information and existing job postings along with employer validation to clarify and refine training programs so that they are aligned with current industry needs, thereby serving both employer demand and creating a diverse STEM workforce.
- Employers help identify the skills that are truly necessary for skilled workers and shape curricula suitable for both classroom teaching and on the job learning. This clarifies employer expectations around the necessary skills for a particular job, expanding the labor pool by eliminating inflated requirements such as bachelor’s degrees for entry-level positions.
Read the full case study by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation: USCCF-case-study-Advancing-San-Diego_2022_long.pdf (sandiegobusiness.org)
Find out what San Diego Regional EDC is doing now: Talent Pipeline Management: EDC’s talent framework – San Diego Regional EDC (sandiegobusiness.org)\
Organizational Case Studies
More inclusive strategies and outcomes in employment, training, and job quality initiatives now require that intermediary organizations—those serving both businesses and job seekers—have data awareness, management, analysis, and procurement skills and sustain data sharing partnerships to drive their systems change work. To engage more organizations going forward and for scalability, the eLearning curriculum developed for this group will be available more broadly for a fee through the Labor Market Information Institute (LMI Institute) and the Council for Community and Economic Research (C2ER). We believe that these and other tools developed through our work support Pathway organizations who are uniquely positioned to demonstrate the importance of linking postsecondary and workforce data, especially to improve outcomes for Black, Latinx, and low-income students. Specific cases of progress are described below.
Case Study: CityWorks DC
“Our big project was to establish a P20W data system in DC, which was a very high risk, high reward going in – quite the Hail Mary if I’m being honest – and against all odds, we made it happen. And so in September, the mayor’s office announced the establishment of a new office, which is the Office of Education through Employment Pathways.” – Erin Bibo, CityWorks DC
CityWorks DC, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit serving to improve early career outcomes for local youth and young adults of color, faced the challenge of convincing local employers to hire residents trained in D.C.’s public schools. This issue has precluded historically underrepresented youth in DC from achieving the “social mobility trifecta,” defined as “industry-valued credentials and certifications; relevant, paid work experience; and social capital.” Lack of access to these resources has prevented historically underrepresented youth from obtaining high-pay and high-demand jobs.
To promote more equitable education and career pathways for historically underrepresented DC youth, CityWorks DC and data lead Erin Bibo, Vice President of Strategic Initiatives, collaborated with CREC in 2022. CityWorks DC specifically recognized the need to increase engagement among individual employers to participate in internship and apprenticeship programs. CREC supported the engagement effort in two ways: 1) helping CityWorks DC access job posting data for targeted employer outreach; and 2) offering Subject Matter Experts (SME) sessions to help design the P-20 system .
DC’s Mayor proposed $3.8M in local funding to launch the Education to Employment Data System , which was subsequently approved by the DC Council. The Mayor also signed the Council-introduced legislation needed to establish the system. In January, 2024, the city officially announced the launch of DC’s Office of Education Through Employment Pathways, which is responsible for leading the development of DC’s Education Through Employment Data System. At its core, this work is focused on building understanding of the opportunities and supports that set DC residents on a path to economic mobility.
As data lead, Bibo’s strong commitment to engaging her colleagues and partners across the city notably improved the city’s data-related capacity building and her organization’s effectiveness. Her efforts will ensure that CityWorks DC and other DC-based organizations can be more effective advocates for the students they serve. Bibo also advocates for the enhancement of privacy, access and interpretation of data, as well as data-driven decision-making regarding internships and apprenticeships. Bibo’s influence, supported by CREC programming, demonstrated the potential for progress in leveraging data as a strategic asset, integral to building equitable career pathways for historically underrepresented youth.
 The P-20 data system is a state-level longitudinal educational database that was created for understanding student data from preschools into future workforce.
Case Study: EmployIndy
“I think a lot of our engagement here, with understanding the different processes of data management and you know all of those things, have just help[ed] us understand both from the strategic side what we need to do and kind of getting our house in order […] to be able to jump when an opportunity presents itself rather than kind of the situation we were in two years ago where we would not have been ready to handle some of the sensitive data that would really benefit our programs and our partners if we were able to do that in a kind of kind of organize data in a cohesive way– Kristen Barry, EmployIndy
EmployIndy believes that a strong advising system is key in ensuring that all students have access to career pathways and opportunities to explore the best fit for their future in the workforce. Limited information contributes to inequitable access to career pathways for historically underrepresented youth. Implementation of a more robust, equitable system would include customized, high-quality information for decision-making, and assistance with navigating the inevitable challenges as they arise. EmployIndy joined the Building Equitable Pathways project to learn how to create a data system that provides advisors and students with accurate, timely data to make accurate decisions. To that end, EmployIndy also needed to understand policy, security, technical, and strategy considerations to incorporate into the system’s planning, design, and implementation.
Kristen Barry, VP of Research and Strategy and the data lead for EmployIndy, initially sought to connect information that would allow them to identify and address gaps in student participation, completion, and outcomes by gender, race, and ethnicity. One of the first sessions she attended was a multiday data management workshop designed to help participants take stock of available data and internal data systems. Barry gained perspective on how EmployIndy’s data appears to others and how to assess data quality within the organization. While continuing efforts to form data partnerships with local educational institutions, EmployIndy experienced a major re-organization resulting in new staffing to support internal data governance and management systems. A new strategic plan also prioritized the data as a strategic asset. Barry participated in continuing technical assistance focused on refining new metrics for strategic impact and building sustainable systems for program evaluation including access to state LMI data and using public data sources from the Department of Labor (i.e., Registered Apprenticeship Partners Information Data System (RAPIDS) and Participant Individual Recovery Layout data (PIRL)).
EmployIndy has gained capacity in governing and managing data. With increased capabilities, they can utilize data as a strategic asset and are positioned to act on future opportunities to access data, conduct research on program impact, and utilize data effectively as a programming tool.
Proof of concept can be found in the data incorporated into a custom data platform to facilitate work-based learning services in Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS). Through a data-sharing agreement, EmployIndy and IPS were able to connect this platform to the district’s student information system, allowing for tracking and reporting work-based learning activities alongside existing information, combining both academic and career interests and training activities. The integration of this data will provide career advisors with more complete information to personalize their guidance and improve students’ decision-making. In this way, strong internal data systems are leading to strong advising systems and more equitable access to career pathways.
In a final TA session, Kristen Barry reflected that the most important lesson learned through this process is that, while it is tempting to jump right into goals for data sharing or usage, it is important to work from a solid foundation, both in terms of knowledge of how the data will be used and keeping data secure. Overall, EmployIndy found participating in the program, learning about the process, and integrating their data will help build more equitable education and career pathways for Black, Latinx and historically underrepresented youth.
Case Study: YouthForce NOLA
“When I first started, one thing in particular that was helpful was the supply chain mapping exercise where we talked through key questions: Who’s the data producer? What are they? What do they produce? Who uses it? Having an understanding of our own ecosystem will allow us to conduct further longitudinal employment analysis.” – Alicia Dagostino, YouthForce NOLA
YouthForce NOLA is an organization in New Orleans, Louisiana, that works alongside a network of partner schools dedicated to helping public school students in the city gain access to high-wage, high-demand careers. The region’s limited data capacity, due in part to various organizational silos and a lack of infrastructure, hampered the organization’s ability to obtain education and workforce development information and address the underlying equity issues among Black, Latinx and low-income youth. YouthForce NOLA joined the Building Equitable Pathway cohort to increase this regional capacity and promote more equitable pathways to colleges and careers for New Orleans students.
YouthForce NOLA began working with CREC in 2022 and participated in a series of TA sessions and Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) sessions with CREC regarding how to use data effectively to promote workforce system changes and achieve more equitable career pathways for Black, Latinx, and historically underprivileged youth. Topics included identifying data sources, data strategy, data analysis, accessing and sharing data, data communication, and data governance and management. These TA sessions helped YouthForce NOLA increase their capacity to understand, interpret, and leverage LMI to deliver data-driven solutions.
According to feedback from YouthForce NOLA’s data leads, CREC’s TA sessions made a valuable impact on their day-to-day work. Simon Spadaro-Bliss, former Director of Data Strategy at YouthForce NOLA, reported that participating in TA sessions builds confidence in data management, as well as enhances data sharing and data analysis capacity. These improvements allow the organization’s leadership to provide instruction on optimizing their goals for internal analysis to foster wide-reaching impact.
David Shepard, the Director of Policy at YouthForce NOLA, discussed how his organization leveraged K12 data to shape more equitable policies. He also highlighted progress made in leveraging an external partnership to facilitate research using K12 data. Additionally, the legislative advancement of Louisiana Act 567, which enables state education agencies to build a shared database, could be transformational for YouthForce NOLA. The new act allows university-based research partners to access that data, allowing matching education records to employment records through the age of 26. This advancement left YouthForce NOLA with the task of establishing a partnership with a research institution focusing on gaining data access for internships, credential attainment, and soft skills development.
Alicia Dagostino, the Director of Impact Evaluation for YouthForce NOLA led this work moving forward. Networking with her counterparts at organizations nationwide and CREC support helped Alicia quickly acclimate to the current and prospective network and partners for the organization and informed how to advance her partnership with a local university to shape the analysis of postsecondary outcomes from educational programs.
YouthForce NOLA learned both the challenges and ultimately the rewards of leveraging a combination of tools, people, and organizations when solving challenges pursuing a longitudinal employment data analysis strategy. Consistent participation in TA sessions was key to their success, as the support provided helped YouthForce NOLA maintain its resilience during leadership changes.
YouthForce NOLA also demonstrated progress improving the organization’s and the region’s CTE data capacity, which is essential for their mission. They also improved their ability to manage personally identifiable information and quickly identify useful variables to further expand access to equitable education and career pathways for historically underrepresented youth.
Case Study: Say Yes Buffalo
“I utilized the Power BI dashboard system to help the local school district build their own data tool. Since I am working to bring the CareerWise model to the Buffalo level, that student level data from the local school district has been used to inform this process.” – Christopher Lee, Say Yes Buffalo
Say Yes Buffalo assists historically underrepresented students in the Buffalo area reach their full potential by removing barriers to educational attainment. By expanding access to family-sustaining and wealth-building careers with improved economic mobility, the region will experience a more equitable and thriving economy. To that end, Say Yes Buffalo introduced the Careerwise Greater Buffalo apprenticeship program to the Buffalo Public School District in 2021, which serves as a talent pipeline for employers while allowing students to gain hands-on experience working alongside industry professionals. The program activities and data-related activities are new to the organization, so establishing the program’s data systems was critical for assessing the program’s lasting effects, enhancing its implementation, and motivating employers to engage actively.
Christopher Lee, Data Director at Say Yes Buffalo, participated early on in CREC’s TA sessions and SME sessions. A tragic mass shooting in Buffalo in 2022 required the organization to temporarily divert resources away from TA in favor of supporting other community programs. Yet despite these events, Christopher’s dedication to engaging students, schools, and employers to improve pathways to wealth-building careers as a method for improving the well-being of the community at large never wavered.
When Christopher reengaged, he consistently participated in learning opportunities and appreciated exposure to other organizations’ dashboards and data management resources, all of which enhanced the organization’s capabilities in data governance, data cleaning, standardization, effective communication practices, and data collection processes. Christopher believes that strengthened data-related capabilities will enable Say Yes Buffalo to make data-driven policymaking decisions to help historically underrepresented students in their community. Participation with the Building Equitable Pathways group and attendance at the C2ER Conference helped Christopher identify additional metrics for equity in the region related to wealth-building careers, including access to health insurance and savings plans. He analyzed the data Say Yes already had and through a gap analysis identified missing data points, and successfully incorporated that data collection into the Careerwise Greater Buffalo program data systems.
Say Yes Buffalo has had great success in formalizing strong data practices in individual programs to benefit the organization. Christopher’s technical skills were recognized in his successful creation of a dashboard for the school district, which helped solidify its status as a trusted partner in its networks and with other local education institutions, providing a great opportunity to secure sustainable funding. His increased confidence and leadership brought about strategic decisions to create a new position for internal data systems and program evaluation.
Another major achievement for Say Yes Buffalo was expanded capacity for data collection and analysis in the Careerwise Greater Buffalo program. The Careerwise Greater Buffalo research goals expect to demonstrate employers’ return on investment for participation, providing a clearer direction for the organization while building the case for expanded data access.
Lastly, with CREC’s assistance in employer engagement strategy, the data collection and entry process of apprentices’ biannual skills assessments was improved. This led to an increase of 45% in the response rates of assessments from apprentices and employers, which expands their capacity to recruit new cohorts, ensuring students have access to education and workforce participation and helping to sustain these programs as they grow.
Say Yes Buffalo achieved these goals with the following practices:
- Intentional timing of the hiring cycle. Although a student has a short period of time to select a higher educational institution, this is a crucial time for Say Yes Buffalo to seize the opportunity as it requires a split of education and apprentice time.
- Mastering essential data storytelling skills. Christopher reflected that storytelling is an important part of the work, especially when the organization is entering the new field of apprenticeship. Employers and stakeholders are willing to contribute data when they understand the benefits, such as developing their own workforce or proving the ROI of participation. Organizations are more willing to commit resources to build data infrastructure and research when there is a success story about a pilot to demonstrate the value and utility of the program.
- Strong commitment of the data lead. In a mission-driven organization, an operational specialist must advocate for increased data-related capacity to a team that may not fully recognize the technical resources required. Christopher’s dedication in building data capacity for Say Yes Buffalo was integral for its achievements. His strong commitment helped him better understand his organization and utilize the data available to create new data that helped carry out the mission of the organization.
Case Study: CareerWise Colorado
“A big lesson from this year and past years is really about the unique nature of each community, its context, and the way that their apprenticeship programs need to respond. We’ve made a lot of progress fleshing out that structure and will continue to refine that over the coming year.” – Mandana Nakhai, CareerWise
CareerWise Colorado works to build and grow a youth apprenticeship system by integrating work-based apprenticeships in a variety of careers into K12 and higher education systems. CareerWise Colorado faced an equity issue that it wished to understand better through data collection and analysis.
CareerWise Colorado began to work with CREC in 2022 and became one of the most involved participants in the series of TA sessions and SMEs sessions. They were particularly engaged regarding data usage in response to CareerWise Colorado’s priorities. Over the course of the program, their one-on-one sessions with CREC evolved to focus on a data-related communications strategy. While continuing to attend sessions, including a multiday data management workshop to build internal capacity for data processes, CareerWise began exploring data sharing with other organizations in Colorado. This is important because they currently work primarily with state and federal data but can enhance their learning by gathering data from other sources which are more directly related to their services.
Enhancing peer learning and further organizing their data to serve programmatic purposes has had a tremendous positive impact on the internal workings of CareerWise Colorado. Armed with new evaluation tools, they have been able to identify key metrics and specific language to better understand the gaps in the apprenticeship program. These are important strides towards ensuring robust data and evaluation systems are in place to align programming with intended outcomes, identify the root causes of career gaps regarding Black and Latinx youth, and track the metrics most important to CareerWise’s overall mission. Because of this work they are focused on building the confidence of their staff and credibility of their data storytelling.
CareerWise Colorado has used this increased data capacity to take a broader look at their organization. They were able to develop a logic model to help focus on key inputs, activities, and metrics across their program delivery sites. This has been expanded into a national best practices logic model to lay out inputs, outputs, and long-term goals of the CareerWise programs across the country. While they plan work with an external evaluator to unify CareerWise communities with common references, their data leaders seek to center data for decision making in young adult programming and call attention to ways that information gathering, reporting, and evaluation could be improved. All these actions strengthen the organization and its networks so that CareerWise Colorado can better understand and address the racial, ethnic, and gender disparities in apprenticeship outcomes.
Mandana Nakhai, Senior Manager of Research at CareerWise Colorado shared these lessons:
- Broader data systems change is needed. Currently data only flows in one direction. More sharing of data, and incorporation of ground level producers of data, will improve data collection and interpretation.
- Sticking with the original problem at hand can be challenging. Data issues are often in flux and need to be intentionally connected to the larger programmatic strategies and initiatives at the organization level. As those larger strategies shift, the problem may also shift in terms of scope and direction.
- An external lens can be helpful in revealing how evidence may be interpreted. Getting perspective from a partner organization or other consultant in the data ecosystem can provide important feedback on how all the pieces fit together.
Case Study: Education Systems Center at Northern Illinois University
“We were able to bring communities from Northern Illinois to a meeting place to talk about their data. And in one of those groups there were people that hadn’t spoken to each other in a number of months. Through talking about remediation data, they were able to realize that the Community College had been offering free tutoring services that the high school could utilize. That conversation was able to foster those realizations.” – Memusi Ntore, EdSystems NIU
The Education Systems Center (EdSystems) at Northern Illinois University (NIU) is a policy development and program implementation center operating across state and local levels to advocate for advancing racial equity and prepare more youth for productive careers in a global economy. EdSystems had a high level of data capacity when it entered the cohort, but the static nature of a dashboard showing measures of college pathway success was preventing its network of communities from exploring their local and statewide data in a meaningful way. Local school districts were unable to easily view historical trends in their data, or to view multiple measures at a time or in context.
To improve its data visualization capabilities, EdSystems began participating in CREC’s one-on-one TA sessions and SME sessions to optimize its data dashboard. Topics included data communication and improved technical software skills such as Lightcast, Tableau, and R. CREC also leveraged expertise with LMI data to help EdSystems improve data products and communicate key LMI indicators to audiences with non-technical backgrounds. With this assistance, EdSystems could communicate secondary and postsecondary education outcomes data more effectively to K-12 districts and develop more effective data protection measures for Personally Identifiable Information (PII).
Thanks to CREC’s one-on-one TA and SME sessions, EdSystems has enhanced and solidified its data visualization capabilities. The organization can now independently develop Tableau dashboards internally without relying on external parties. This upgrade has empowered EdSystems to take greater control over its data and enable routine updates and refinements to the dashboard as needed. Specifically, EdSystems has developed and shared its new Career Success Network Dashboards with stakeholders which link K-12 and postsecondary data to highlight key indicators of academic progress. Stakeholders have also acknowledged EdSystems’ achievements and asked for additional dashboards summarizing student-level data. Moreover, EdSystems strengthened data storytelling capabilities has facilitated stronger connections with its stakeholders, allowing them to re-evaluate their metrics to make a more meaningful impact promoting racial equity in education. Ultimately, these efforts have enabled pathways focused school districts in Illinois to channel decision-making information to the local level, thus helping to build more equitable education pathways for historically underserved youth.
Participating in CREC’s TA and SME sessions offers both technical and non-technical advantages. On the one hand, EdSystems has expanded its data visualization skills to communicate with stakeholders more effectively regarding building equitable education pathways for historically underrepresented youth. On the other hand, EdSystems demonstrated resilience while undergoing leadership change. This smooth transition has allowed the organization to continue carrying out its mission.
Case Study: Delaware Pathways – Delaware Department of Education
“A big win is our data organization matrix that we put together. It is an internal tool that we created to take all of our data points and put them in one place. From there, we can figure out where those data points are going to be used and who they’re used for, who’s the audience, how they are aggregated, and how they are disaggregated.” – Bart Gill, DDOE
Delaware Pathways is a state program linking education and workforce development programs to provide work-based learning for students in high-demand career pathways. An important component of the Delaware Pathways initiative is making high-value Career and Technical Education (CTE) accessible to all students. Delaware Department of Education (DDOE) Office of CTE administers K-12 Local Education Agencies (LEAs) that provide CTE programming. DDOE identified three challenges as they build more equitable pathways: 1) difficulties engaging students around questions of future career; 2) unequal educational or economic return on investment for postsecondary education options, and 3) a lack of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) for historically underrepresented youth. Delaware Pathways sought to explore and better understand how the intersection of policy, student racial equity, and data can be used to improve program design and organizational practice for data-driven decision-making. This included engaging with more students, especially historically underserved youth, to gain their perspectives regarding education and career pathways.
To address these issues DDOE CTE began working closely with CREC in mid-2023 and participated in CREC’s Technical Assistance (TA) sessions seeking to leverage their access to K-12 data to inform state-wide CTE policy. Jon Wickert, Director of DDOE CTE directed the team’s work toward developing a system to use student participation data in conjunction with LMI in a new CTE curricula review process. This allowed the organization to focus more on equity issues within the school district. The team grew an appreciation for the vast amount of data available and their organization’s technical capabilities, while exploring the potential stories the data could tell.
CREC’s one-on-one TA expanded DDOE data-related capacity and its role in advancing racial equity. Specifically, the Delaware Department of Education adopted the Inclusive Goal Builder, a tool developed by Advance CTE, a national organization that publishes enrollment and completion data categorized by state and demographics. This tool captures aspects of historically underrepresented youth, non-native speakers, and low-income youth thus establishing high-level indicators for equity. The tool will be used by the state Program of Study review committees and will be available to LEAs as they incorporate student data and LMI into their region-specific programs. The DDOE team then focused on building efficient and sustainable systems for organizing their student data, including an internal guide to data related to indicators that will be most relevant to program and policy decision-making.
Consequently, DDOE improved its data efficiency, and enabled DDOE to focus on data-driven policy making. Wickert stated that participation in TA built their ability to think of data as an asset for decision-making, rather than simply a requirement of federal law.
DDOE has learned the following lessons from participating in CREC’s TA sessions:
- Not reinventing the wheel. The Delaware Department of Education has multiple data points available. With CREC’s assistance, Delaware Pathways could utilize existing resources from Advance CTE, specifically the Inclusive Goal Builder tool, to integrate data to promote racial equity. This approach saves time for DDOE for more stakeholder engagement.
- Facilitation in stakeholder engagement. When engaging with stakeholders, taking the initiative, and guiding them throughout the process is crucial. This approach fosters deeper understanding between stakeholders and provides an opportunity to share insights that can largely improve the program. Ultimately, it could lead to more effective and sustainable long-term outcomes.
- Create and maintain organized documentation. Organizing and updating documents about data sources, limitations, and important indicators helped DDOE manage information during staff turnover and ensure smooth knowledge transfer.