Louisville Links Schools and Community Programs

Software and a swipe card break down information silos
by | July 12, 2010 AT 3:00 AM

The school day runs from 8 a.m until 2:30 p.m., but a child's day doesn't end there. After-school programs run by nonprofits and other community organizations play a big role in youth development, particularly in at-risk communities. Too often, information about the child isn't shared, creating a disconnect that diminishes the effectiveness of both school and these ancillary programs.

Since 2004, Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) in Louisville, Ky., have been pioneering a system-wide data-sharing effort with local community and after-school organizations. The data-sharing is made possible through a software program known as KidTrax, which relies on a simple ID card with a magnetic strip. Whenever a student enters a participating provider they check in by swiping their ID card. For example, if the child attends a reading enrichment program, that data is shared with the schools.

The software can be used to create individualized reports on student attendance, achievement and behavior from data regularly collected by JCPS and after-school providers. The data can be used in real-time to shape and adjust programs based on a student's in-school performance.

Though there are some concerns regarding sharing of performance data wih non-school parties, the data does generate some key benefits. Mary Gwen Wheeler, the Mayor's senior advisor for Education and Youth, states, "Our partnership with KidTrax has provided a valuable platform to start building a system for youth development. It also has helped our program folks become more results-oriented."

According to one high-ranking JCPS official, roughly 10 percent of JCPS' 100,000 students attend an after-school program. Those who participate are among the most economically and academically challenged. With services being provided to roughly 10,000 kids, the community has a clear stake in building an effective and coordinated system.

The linking of school and community has opened up ownership of education beyond the schools to community-based organizations, parents and the private sector. The benefits of strong community-wide goals and a thriving partnership-based system are clear, with the bonus of creating a more dynamic environment that celebrates and pushes for innovative, high-performing programs. Now, hard data can quickly be generated that shows not only input measures, such as attendance at an after-school program, but the academic impact as well.

KidTrax-enabled reporting and data also have additional indirect effects. The data collected through the software has enabled providers to better work on other system initiatives including the unique Every1Reads program, a mayoral initiative to improve at-grade reading levels and give providers up-to-date information on program effectiveness that can be readily used for fundraising. Now, backed by hard data, Every1Reads can make their case to the business community for financial support.

For districts considering ways to improve alignment and effective use of data along the education continuum, Louisville's KidTrax offers a low-impact, user-friendly technology platform for collaborative and efficient system-building. However, communities (particularly parents) must be prepared to open up with respect to data, and come to an agreement regarding what type of data to share. They must ensure that agreements balance confidentiality and flexibility, creating safeguards for privacy while not impeding the system's responsiveness.

Most importantly, officials must recognize that the data can't substitute for relationships. Though KidTrax can provide insights that can help shape programs, ultimately parents, teachers and the community do the hard work of guiding at-risk youth.

Jay Kairam provided research for this article.