Connecting the Dots: Rethinking Data Systems to Improve Outcomes

Results for America
4 min readSep 27, 2023


By Nichole Dunn, Vice President, Federal Policy

Photo Credit: Pexels

At a recent webinar hosted by Results for America (RFA) and the Data Quality Campaign (DQC), Tulsa, Oklahoma Mayor G.T. Bynum astutely observed, “There is no generation in human history that has more access to more data to deliver superior results than ours right now.” Over the past decade, governments, research organizations and nonprofits have made significant strides in collecting and reporting data. But to deliver on those superior results, we must rethink the type of data we collect and how we leverage it, particularly statewide.

Our current data systems are largely siloed. Information lives with the agency or organization that collects it. They determine the type of data collected, the detail of it, and who can use it. But people’s lives are pathways that bring them in and out of the purview of different agencies and organizations. We must integrate our data systems to mirror these pathways and follow individuals — without any identifying information — if we hope to answer the many questions that are critical to achieving personal and systemwide positive outcomes.

Case in point: States and school districts across the country are reporting difficulty finding and hiring enough credentialed teachers to fill vacant positions and, as a result, have been experimenting with solutions from “grow-your-own” programs to salary increases. But studies that have attempted to drill down into state and district-level data have raised more questions than answers about the breadth and roots of the problem. The situation with teacher shortages is nuanced. The data about teacher supply and demand, when it even exists, is unfortunately not. This makes it difficult, if not impossible, for education and workforce policymakers, community organizations, and citizens to make informed decisions about the best path forward.

No one sector can or should be able to do this on their own. It’s not possible. So how do we get early childhood, independent school districts, higher ed, workforce, corporate partners, foundations, government — all of these different folks around this idea that we are creating this pathway for our young people to truly be future ready?

— Emily Calderón Galdeano, Ed.D., Chief Impact and Strategy Officer, UP Partnership in San Antonio

There are inspiring pockets of work happening around the country that show the potential for integrating data across sectors and over time to achieve better outcomes.

  • In Spartanburg, South Carolina, every kindergarten student is assessed with the state’s Kindergarten Readiness Assessment (KRA). Data from the assessment can help teachers and staff support children as they progress through school. But local, nonprofit organization Spartanburg Academic Movement (SAM) saw the potential for using that data in a different way — to guide communities in providing early childhood support prior to children entering kindergarten. Russell Booker, Chief Executive Officer of SAM, sees readiness as the responsibility of the community, but says they need information on what needs to be done in order to take action. So, working with partners, SAM secured a population-level school readiness instrument that allows the county to view data by census tract to find patterns of vulnerabilities. One community, on seeing potential for improvement, rallied together to apply for and receive a grant for a full-day 3-k program and recently opened a family resource center. Other communities realized they were providing duplicative literacy interventions and were able to redirect resources.
  • In Oakland, California, disaggregating data on third-grade reading levels showed significant racial disparities. In response, the school district made the equitable performance of all students in the district a top priority, adopted a new curriculum and undertook a full push on literacy, including bringing in community partners to help provide additional in- and out-of-school support. In Oakland, community organizations that work with the school system to advance well-being and equity for Oakland children, knew that these efforts would only be successful if they produced system-wide outcomes for students. So, working with partners, they backed out student performance data to the school level, and mapped every school and the support services they offered. This allowed them to more quickly see school-level disparities in the types of support offered to students and to help the district quickly correct practices as needed, as well as create to help young students and parents find resources.

Data can reframe the conversation about what we need to do to be successful from ‘we need to fix these children’ to ‘actually, we need to look at the system.’’

— Melanie Moore, Ph.D., Chief Executive Officer, Oakland Thrives

  • In San Antonio, Texas, UP Partnership is using the strength of a data coalition to increase the number of young people enrolling in a post-secondary degree or credential program by targeting educational systems to close the gap for young people of color and Dreamers. They are using cross-agency data to address and understand practice, policy, and resource needs in ensuring young people are ready for the future. Emily Calderón Galdeano, Chief Impact and Strategy Officer at the UP Partnership, says that data has provided a common language for community partners to support young people in achieving positive outcomes.

Creating statewide data systems that meet current and future information needs is an ambitious task that will require ongoing federal investment and support. Specifically, as recommended by the Invest in What Works Coalition, federal leaders should include in fiscal 2024 appropriation bills: $100 million for competitive grants from the Institute of Education Sciences to enhance access to integrated data and $40 million for competitive grants from the Workforce Data Quality Initiative to develop and enhance longitudinal data systems that integrate education and workforce data. With integrated and accessible data systems we can ensure that we are using data to its high potential of delivering superior results.



Results for America

Working with decision-makers at all levels of government to harness the power of evidence and data to solve the world’s greatest challenges.