The voices of Urban Institute's researchers and staff
April 11, 2014

Who cares about data?

April 11, 2014

Data-driven programs. The U.S. Department of Education has set a high bar for measuring and reporting program performance and it hasn’t gone unnoticed.  The strict requirements even begged the question “Can they be this obsessed with data?”  from one Washington Post education reporter. But ask those hard at work in communities like Northeast DC’s Kenilworth-Parkside neighborhood of the DC Promise Neighborhood Initiative (DCPNI), and they’ll tell you it’s not just the federal government or researchers that care about data.

DCPNI is one of 12 Promise Neighborhoods implementation grantees, the Obama Administration’s effort to build a continuum of cradle-to-college solutions for children and youth that put great schools at the center.  Grantees are required to collect data on 15 specific performance indicators for the communities they serve, ranging from how many young children have a place to go when they are sick to how many parents talk to their high school students about the importance of college and career readiness.

Data-driven communities. Last month, DCPNI invited its partners, community members, and other stakeholders to get a first glimpse at the data behind their efforts.  The data told the story both the strengths and needs of children and youth in their neighborhood—highlighting how they compare to other neighborhoods and what that means for their future and DCPNI’s role.  DCPNI showed their community that though the data’s collection and reporting requirements are demanding, understanding and acting on it is the first step to charting a better path for their children and youth.

One required Promise Neighborhoods indicators is the rate of chronic absenteeism, defined as the number of students who are absent 10-percent or more of the days they are enrolled in school. Research shows chronic absenteeism is a key predictor of negative outcomes for children and youth, including poor academic achievement, school drop-out, poor physical and mental health, and even adulthood poverty.

DCPNI found that the rate of chronic absenteeism across all grades in its target schools during the 2012-2013 school year was 32.6%--three times the 10% national average. This data hit the message home to residents and stakeholders that decreasing chronic absenteeism is a key to improving outcomes for students in the Promise Neighborhood. DCPNI shared it goals to change this trajectory through programs such as attendance campaigns, inviting input and collaboration from the community and partners.

Data-driven results. "Data for the sake of data is useless,” DCPNI’s Director of Data and Evaluation, Isaac Castillo, told community members and partners. “We have to share the data and act on it to make the data meaningful.”  DCPNI understands that being “obsessed with data” is not just about reporting statistics for government and researchers. The data belong to the community—and the community, government and researchers can work together to find data-driven solutions to get results for their children and youth.

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