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Coordinating early childhood state data

Coordinating early childhood state data

By Marguerite Huber
April 23, 2018

Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest’s Early Childhood Education Research Alliance (MECERA) brings together early childhood practitioners, policymakers, advocates, and researchers from around the Midwest to increase the region’s capacity to access, conduct, interpret, and make sense of early childhood education research. Additionally, MECERA supports the use of this research in decisonmaking at the state and local levels. The alliance involves individuals from a diverse range of organizations in Illinois, including state organizations such as the State Board of Education, Department of Child and Family Services, Governor’s Office of Early Childhood Development, and Department of Human Services; the Illinois Head Start Association; school districts; and centers.

Given the diverse types of early childhood data MECERA members interact with and collect, members were interested in having further conversations to learn more about how the data can be used more effectively. In light of this interest, REL Midwest researchers held a meeting earlier this year with the MECERA members and experts on early childhood coordinated state data systems to explore this topic and facilitate a conversation with partners across the region.

But what is a coordinated state data system? Programs that serve young children, such as Head Start, prekindergarten, special education, and subsidized child care, are administered across multiple state agencies like departments of health, education, and social services. Each agency or department collects its own data. For example, in Wisconsin, the Department of Children and Families (DCF) collects data on child welfare, child support, and the state’s child care subsidy program; the Department of Health Services (DHS) manages data on maternal and child health, birth to three developmental delays, and early hearing detection and intervention; and the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) system includes data on student attendance, enrollment, and retention.

With support from a Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge Grant, leaders in Wisconsin collaborated to create the Wisconsin Early Childhood Integrated Data System (WI ECIDS), which creates linkages between the data separately collected and managed by DCF, DHS, and DPI. This new system, first implemented in December 2017, connects data across programs and agencies to help state leaders better understand how young children in Wisconsin do over time and examine how current programs and services meet their needs. Prior to the implementation of WI ECIDS, state agencies did not have sustainable and repeatable processes to easily share data.

These connected data can be especially beneficial to program leaders and policymakers once they are organized through state policies into a coordinated state data system. Developing a coordinated state data system provides opportunities to obtain a more complete picture of ECE programs and services across the state. With more robust data connections across agencies, stakeholders can get a better grasp on the relationships between children, program sites, and ECE workforce characteristics over time, and possibly could even link data with other key programs. “One benefit of integrated early childhood data systems is the opportunity track children’s receipt of services across agencies,” notes MECERA research liaison Jill Bowdon. States have explored ECE data systems for a number of reasons: connected data can be used to track a child’s progress over time, capture information with program quality, identify underserved groups, and inform the allocation of resources.

The MECERA meeting included community of practice members in addition to the Illinois-based MECERA members. The community of practice helps connect key stakeholders from around the Midwest region, allowing the other states to learn from the work conducted with the Illinois members. The meeting began with updates about early childhood data systems from around the region. Carlise King, the executive director of the Early Childhood Data Collaborative (ECDC), then presented on 10 Fundamentals of Coordinated State Data Systems and June Fox, portfolio manager at the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, discussed WI ECIDS.

King explained that child services and interventions can change the trajectory of a child’s life. She added that it is important to understand how programs support children in each life stage, “because children who start behind, stay behind.” Using coordinated state data systems to follow the child through their life stages is a new approach that states are starting to focus on and implement, and these systems can provide critical information to ensure that all students receive the support they need to succeed.

Creating an integrated data system is not without its challenges. During the meeting, the MECERA members from Illinois and community of practice members from Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, and Ohio discussed the obstacles they had encountered over the years in working on data systems. Individuals from Wisconsin noted that they have been working toward a coordinated system for over six years. A MECERA member from Illinois added that the process takes a long time, and that patience and the capacity to maintain focus and effort are essential.

Community of practice members from Minnesota noted that continued funding for data systems was an ongoing challenge. Developing a data system infrastructure can be a complex and costly activity, and many states, including Minnesota, have leveraged grants through the federal Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems Grant Program to undertake this work. Because these grants are time-limited, a state must develop plans to ensure the data system is sustainable over time with a secure funding stream and ongoing stakeholder support.

After the alliance convening, MECERA member Charlie Rosemond of the Education Systems Center at Northern Illinois University reflected on his key takeaways. “I found the MECERA convening very helpful,” he recalled. “The presenters shared useful information on early childhood data systems both nationally and in Wisconsin.” Rosemond commented on how MECERA helps overcome the challenge of being isolated in the work. “I appreciate the variety of early childhood stakeholders that MECERA convenes,” he said. “I focus on building and integrating state-level data systems, which can sometimes feel disconnected from programs and practitioners. The MECERA convenings help bridge those disconnects and provide useful context that grounds my work.”

To assist members, REL Midwest and MECERA make it a top priority to build connections and share lessons between key stakeholders in Illinois and across state lines. “Data systems building and integration are ongoing efforts in many states, and particularly in the early childhood space,” Rosemond said. “MECERA facilitates the sharing of lessons learned across states, and I have been able to apply some of those lessons here in Illinois.”

Want to learn more about what it takes to have a coordinated state data system? Check out the ECDC’s 10 Fundamentals of Coordinated State Data Systems.

At the child level:

At the program level:

At the workforce level:

At the governance level:

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Author(s) Information

Marguerite Huber Picture

Marguerite Huber

Communications Associate | REL Midwest


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