Tackling Ohio’s toughest education challenges: Create a data system that links K–12 and workforce outcomes

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Editor’s Note: As Ohioans prepare to elect a new governor this November, and as state leaders look to build upon past education successes, we at the Fordham Institute are developing a set of policy proposals that we believe can lead to increased achievement and greater opportunities for Ohio students. This is the second in our series, under the umbrella of ensuring seamless transitions to college or career. You can access all of the entries in the series to date here.

Proposal: State agencies should connect, or allow a research university to connect, students’ K–12 and higher-education records with workforce data, such as wages, career fields, or unemployment records. This proposal may not require legislation but would require state leadership to coordinate between agencies and ensure a secure IT system that protects sensitive personal information. With an integrated information system, the state could then begin reporting (though not necessarily use for formal accountability purposes) workforce outcomes by high school or college and university.

Background: For more than a decade, Ohio has reported extensive data on K–12 student outcomes on its school report cards and in publicly accessible databases. These data systems are integral to transparently reporting proficiency and growth on state exams, graduation rates, and ACT and SAT scores—at a state, district, and school level (individual student data are protected under federal and state law). More recently, the state has also reported how many of a high school’s graduates go on to attend college or earn degrees. Taken together, these data on student outcomes—from state test scores to college completion rates—are essential to helping educational leaders and the public understand how students fare on key indicators of success. But there remain information gaps, most notably in the realm of workforce outcomes. Without links between K–12 and workforce data, we don’t know how many non-college-bound students land good paying jobs after exiting high school, nor do we have a strong grasp of the labor outcomes of those who do pursue higher education. Because of these blind spots, Ohio continues to miss key pieces of the puzzle—how students’ educational experiences translate into career outcomes. A 2017 policy brief by the Education Commission of the States highlights how Connecticut and Rhode Island have created integrated systems that connect K–12, higher education, and workforce data. Similarly, researchers have used linked data from Texas and Arkansas to study the impact of charter schools and career and technical education on workforce outcomes.

Proposal rationale: A central goal of K–12 and postsecondary education is to prepare young people to lead successful and productive lives. But without data that connect education to the workforce, policy makers know little about how educational institutions are meeting that objective. Linking disparate data systems would also help state leaders better understand gaps in career preparation, while promoting cutting-edge research that examines the effectiveness of various approaches to work readiness.

Cost: The exact cost is indeterminate but likely requires administrative expenses to create a secure, unified educational and workforce data system.

Resources: For more on the state’s initiative to link K–12 and college data, see ODE’s “2016–17 College Graduation Within Six Years.” For examples of state initiatives to connect information systems, see Zeke Perez Jr.’s 2017 article “Examining SLDS Development and Utility,” published by the Education Commission of the States. For research linking K–12 and workforce data, see “The Long-Term Impacts of Teachers,” in which Raj Chetty and colleagues connect New York City data with tax records; a 2016 paper “Charter Schools and Labor Market Outcomes” by Will Dobbie and Roland Fryer that connects Texas K–12 and workforce data; and a 2016 Fordham Institute report Career and Technical Education in High School by Shaun Dougherty that links Arkansas K–12 and workforce data.