Improving long-term outcomes for all students requires a commitment to educating and tracking “the whole child” — from kindergarten all the way through post-secondary outcomes and beyond.
Comprehensive, data-enriched early warning systems are critical to ensuring that each and every student receives the resources and assistance they need to successfully navigate primary and secondary education. Yet, according to the Department of Education, just over half of public high schools in the country have some sort of early warning system in place, and more than half of these schools report limited or non-existent coordination between their early warning systems and the delivery of other educational services.
One of the primary obstacles to the development of an effective “cradle-to-career” decision support framework is the efficient coordination of student data across many different technical and organizational systems. Taking a comprehensive approach to student success — or working to understand “the whole child” — implicates a number of different organizations and stakeholders, not all of whom are accustomed to collaborating with one another. To build the kind of integrated data system required to support “whole child” decisions, school districts must do two things: First, they must facilitate the establishment of shared goals and outcomes between all of the data owners. Second, they must align technical infrastructure to support those goals and outcomes. The important thing here is that the work shapes the technology and not the other way around.
But creating this new systemic decision space is only a starting point, as educators’ ultimate goal is not simply to access information. We also need to make sure these systems support professional decision making and action. Therefore, whole-child decision systems should consider how to support and record action-oriented decisions.
As an example, I believe that the typical cradle-to-career system (if there is such thing) will need to bring together datasets from social services, foster care organizations, the justice system, post-secondary education, and wage and labor data. In an ideal scenario, the agencies and organizations that track this information would come to the table with an understanding and awareness of the decisions that educational stakeholders need to make and the kind of data that can or should inform such decisions.
We also should consider how to look beyond the traditions of our existing infrastructure. For example, non-cognitive factors are quickly becoming important constructs for how we think student development. Angela Duckworth, an Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, is one of the country’s foremost experts on “grit,” or the “disposition to pursue very long-term goals with passion and perseverance.” According to her research, it’s possible for educators to help their students develop grit and other non-cognitive, “personal quality” measures that lead to an improved likelihood of both academic and non-academic success. Similarly, Dweck has pioneered the concept of a “growth mindset” — as opposed to a “fixed mindset” — or a deeply-held belief that one’s “most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work — brains and talent are just the starting point.” This mindset, Dweck asserts, “creates a love of learning and resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.”
When a community successfully integrates these kinds of systems, it can often add up to more than the sum of its constituent parts. Decision-making processes begin to substantially change — almost always for the better — when stakeholders have access to a complete picture of a student instead of highly-siloed “snapshots” of this or that aspect of the student’s progress.
This can only occur if stakeholders agree to break out of their traditional informational silo and work with their colleagues to achieve a more systemic view of the problems and challenges that young people face in today’s world. A cutting-edge data aggregation platform like Hoonuit can help educators achieve the level of data coordination necessary for such bridge-building, but at the end of the day, a firm commitment to educating the whole child — and treating each child as unique — is a critical feature of systemic and personalized decision making.