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If a student’s family gets evicted, her teachers may never know. If a student’s parents initiate a divorce, if someone dies or goes to jail, if a caregiver loses a job – all these things affect a student’s ability to focus on school, get homework done and even show up to class. Yet if students aren’t forthcoming with the information, schools can miss the signs. Teachers may see a child acting out and address the behavior problem without digging deeper. Absences may pile up without anyone figuring out what’s causing them.
In Kansas City, a new citywide partnership aims to improve the capacity of both schools and nonprofits to serve students well. The school district has long shared some of its student data with trusted community partners, but now those data-sharing agreements are getting turbocharged, thanks to new software designed to create a holistic view of individual children by bringing together data and insights from all the organizations that serve them. Kansas City is the first community to try out Apricot 360, a platform developed by the software company Social Solutions and made more affordable by a $59 million commitment from the Ballmer Group, a nonprofit focused on improving economic mobility.
Once all the right data-sharing agreements are in place, Apricot 360 will automatically integrate data from the Kansas City Public Schools and nonprofits like the Local Investment Commission (LINC), which operates before- and after-school programs along with specialized support services for foster and court-involved youth. Besides offering a more effective platform to track their own programs and their impact, the partnership means each agency has access to extra data about students that can help them tailor their services. If a student is struggling in math class and her grades reflect that, an after-school program leader can offer more support even before it’s requested. If a student consistently shows up to after-school programs but not to school, educators will have a way to take note.
Brent Schondelmeyer, deputy director of community engagement for LINC, said data sharing can be challenging because everyone stores their data differently. It takes a lot of time to make sense of another organization’s information. Apricot 360, he said, will allow everyone to spend a lot more time serving kids rather than assembling data.
And he expects the sheer power of the technology to make people more ambitious about how they serve kids.
“In some sense, the opportunity here is that we have ways to do better and we can do better,” Schondelmeyer said. “It used to be I couldn’t do this because the technology didn’t permit it.” Now, he said, he and his colleagues have to catch up with the technology.
The citywide partnership is in its earliest stages and the schools and nonprofits are still deciding what data to share. In some cases, there are ethical questions about what is right to share. LINC, for example, collects data about who is on food stamps or receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. There will have to be discussions about who really needs what information. Schondelmeyer, though, sees great potential in the ability to pay attention to new data, connecting it for the first time to the educational achievement of students.
Social Solutions has a team of data scientists ready to spot trends in the data and build out the predictive power of the tool. Eventually, their insights will help identify students who are at risk and recommend interventions.
Mike Reynolds, the chief research and accountability officer at Kansas City Public Schools, said the new software will also help the district determine whether it’s getting a return on investment for certain initiatives. This year, for example, the district poured money into supporting students’ social and emotional needs. The data-tracking capabilities of Apricot 360, even without the citywide partnership, expand the district’s capacity to assess its own internal programs. And with the partnership, it’ll give the district a better sense of which out-of-school programs are the most effective, he said.
“Are our interventions working? Are some working better than others? Are some working in tandem? Are certain providers having a greater impact on certain segments of the community than others?” Reynolds mused. All of these questions, he hopes, can be answered by the new software one day.
This story about school and student data was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for the Hechinger newsletter.