Eleanor Roosevelt is credited with originating the quote, “Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.”
Never has that sentiment been proven more prescient than today. In fact, within less than a week’s time, I was told by three different administrators in municipal government that the best predictor of a community’s future economic success is academic performance in that community’s public schools. Specifically, third-grade reading proficiency has been found to directly correlate to the economic development and career opportunity environment of cities, townships and villages across the United States.
What more and more officials in municipal management are discovering is that there is much more to glean from merely looking at academic achievement metrics to understand the correlations between school district performance and future economic and workforce development. They are realizing that they can activate the analytics from educational outcome data and leverage it to plan for better economic outcomes to better serve the communities they live and work in.
As another famous American, Abraham Lincoln, once said, ““The best way to predict the future is to create it.”
Braiding Data to Optimize Performance Analytics
At its founding, Munetrix was originally launched to provide municipalities with the metrics they need to analyze performance and make better-informed decisions and plans (hence the name, mun- paired with -trics, or Munetrix). Before long, we identified the need for school administrators and educators to visualize the data driving their decisions and future planning, and we almost immediately began to serve education users as well. To this day, Munetrix is something of a unique organization, as one of few data and performance analytics providers that serve both the municipal and education sectors.
Given the connections between educational and economic drivers, serving the entire community has become more of a necessity…and a more accurate and holistic approach to building 21st-century communities that will thrive long into the 22nd century and beyond.
The key to making this work for communities large and small is the concept of “braiding” data. This will require that communities commit to a collaborative approach to “speak a common data language.” According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), a division of the U.S. Department of Commerce:
The need for a common data language is analogous to the use of a common language for people and economies to share the best of ideas, products, and services. A language used exclusively by a few isolates people from the rest of what the world has to offer.
So it is with the systems, technology and data used by local governments; schools and districts; fire and police departments; economic planning departments; and state, local and federal entities throughout the public sector. If every system is speaking a different language, they can’t possibly optimally communicate, collaborate or cooperate to the greatest benefit of the communities they serve. But that represents the reality for the vast majority of communities across the U.S. — everyone working on different platforms, speaking different languages, and missing opportunities to optimize planning and future outcomes.
The term frequently used in data and performance analytics to describe the ideal paradigm is “interoperability” — the ability of computer systems or software to exchange and make use of information collaboratively. Governing bodies in education and municipal government often set standards and guidelines for interoperability, but they can be difficult and onerous to adhere to, especially for those entities still relying on more primitive data processing systems, such as spreadsheets and legacy databases.
But this is changing. And the future is not what it used to be, as a result. What does this look like in the real world and under the best-case scenario? We don’t have to hypothesize; we can learn from others already embracing this approach…
Real-Word Success and a Modern Approach to Data Visualization
As I mentioned, three different executive-level individuals in different parts of the country and in three different contexts approached me within one week with variations of this same conversation: How can we leverage early indicators of economic and workforce development by analyzing reliable predictors of future outcomes?
It all starts with early education. By braiding school district academic performance analytics with municipal economic and other data, municipal planners and leaders can extract real intelligence to help them make both immediate critical decisions as well as better plan for the unique futures that their own communities need to realize.
For example, a school district may consider braiding transparency data with its fiscal data and with student achievement data. Or it may wish to braid academic performance data with fiscal, demographic and economic data. Overall, a community—upon adopting and achieving interoperability and a Common Data Language—can collaboratively “braid” all of their various data feeds.
Third-grade reading proficiency data predicts high school graduation rates. High school graduation data foretells workforce success. Workforce readiness, development, outcomes and employer needs should then be analyzed and fed back into the curriculum development decisions within the district. Complete interoperability and collaboration coming full-circle.
Hobbs Municipal Schools in New Mexico had a decision to make, one that was dividing the community: Where to open a second high school, based on increasing enrollment? Had leadership made the decision in a silo, a second high school would have opened nearby, perhaps serving the community well — perhaps not. But the community chose instead to understand the economic drivers and needs of the community that the school district serves, and an interesting discovery was made: What the local economy needed was more workers with career and technical education (CTE) backgrounds. Furthermore, an analysis of the community’s educational performance data revealed a student population well-suited to pursue such careers. So, instead of building a second high school, the district leveraged that braided data to inform a decision to open a state-of-the-art CTE facility, CTECH, a $47 million facility that would allow high schoolers to learn trade skills and earn certifications for industries like construction, transportation, culinary arts and IT.
The facility was widely embraced and opened to great fanfare, complete with an appearance from TV’s Mike Rowe (a vocal proponent of CTE curriculum), and very quickly saw near-full enrollment. Instead of a community divided, leadership came together, collaborated and made a data-informed decision to best serve the businesses and its residents at once — the community came together. The employers will have a more appropriately developed workforce, the future workforce will have greater opportunities for career advancement, and the school district will become the envy of its regional peers. Win-win-win.
To Serve Your Community You Must Know Your Community
Elsewhere, multiple studies have shown that there is a growing mismatch between skills and education of graduates and the worker demand from the community’s employer base — one in California and another looking at global data — to cite only two of many I’ve recently come across. The latter was presented in the context of an article entitled, “Call for a New Era of Higher Ed–Employer Collaboration.” But if communities are not sharing data between the employment sector and the educational sector, how can leaders identify those mismatches in advance, let alone do something to correct them?
The best way to facilitate that community-wide collaboration is to get the entire community on the same page — our educators, our government leaders, our citizens, our businesses, and all of our stakeholders. It starts with a rigid commitment to data literacy and doesn’t end until there is complete collaboration and total transparency.
The success stories are starting to emerge. What does your community’s future look like? As Lincoln said, the best way to predict it is to create it.