Improve Education & Labor Markets

education-dosomething-dot-org-250x183When I was a senior, I was not sure what I could do after I graduated from college. I tried to find my way by analyzing my personality and ability along with knowledge I have learned from school. After that, I thought being a marketing analyst might fit me. I started to think how I could achieve this goal? What knowledge and experiences I should have to be qualified to this position? Besides going to school, what else should I do to improve my ability? And are there many opportunities for me in markets?

Today, many schools offer their students consulting services, such as helping students find work opportunities and identifying their characters, interests and abilities. Those services are useful to help students find their ways. However, can those services be further improved to strengthen a connection between education and labor markets? Yes, they can. Data mining plays a key role in accomplishing this job.

Now, thousands of companies use data mining systems to improve their businesses. For example, firms apply CRM (customer relationship management) systems to identify customers’ needs. By doing that, firms are able to adjust their services or products in the moment to increase their costumers’ satisfaction.Correspondingly, applying a data mining system to our education can be very helpful to reform our education and labor markets.

Our society has invested a great amount of money and labor force in primary, secondary and higher education. Through managing and analyzing data, we are able to know how our inputs influence or produce outputs. For instance, we can identify which academic practices need to be held back and and which need to be encouraged. We are able to offer advanced trainings to students in order to match industries’ needs. By using a data mining system, we can accelerate the process of data collection and management and also receive more precise data. Researchers, legislators and educators will be able to receive information from the system and further make improvement on their works.

The United States Federal Government has developed Statewide Longitudinal Data System Grant Program, to improve American education and labor markets since 2005. Until now, Virginia and the other 46 states have received the grant to establish their education data systems. In Jan. 2013, the Virginia government launched Virginia Longitudinal Data System (VLDS). VLDS has collected Virginia education and workforce data from the government and other reliable agents. VLDS will improve the state’s education and workforce systems, and other state services.

More information about how to use data mining systems to improve education, please read: How data and analytics can improve education.

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Why Is This Important to Virginians?


Have you ever heard that Wal-Mart displayed beer next to diapers in the store and sales increased? How did this happen? Wal-Mart used their data mining system to analyze all the customer transactions. It turned out that beer was most often sold with diapers. The store tried to figure out the correlation between these two products. They found out that many wives asked their husbands to buy diapers, because a pack of diapers is too heavy for women to carry. On Friday afternoon, their husbands, who just left work, would like to buy beer at the grocery store to drink on the weekend. Accordingly, they bought the diapers and beer at the same time. Such a coincidence! If the store didn’t have the data mining system, would they notice this coincidence? Maybe, but it would have cost them more on time and labor consumptions.

Although some people may judge this story as more like an urban legend, it is a good example to promote the concept of big data. Here, you probably start wondering: Besides Wal-Mart, how have other companies used a big data system to improve their businesses? T-Mobile has integrated their multiple data systems to collect and analyze their customer transactions. By leveraging social media, CRM and billing data, they cut their customers’ dissatisfaction in half within three months. Hertz has applied an advance data analytic system to better predict their customer defections. The company was able to identify where, when and how problems occurred immediately, and then made adjustments to the business. Today, many companies use a big data system to improve their businesses. So does Virginia government! (For more big data case studies, please see 6 Case Studies Prove ROI of Big Data)

In 2010, the Virginia government launched the Virginia Longitudinal Data System (VLDS). VLDS was developed by five organizations: Virginia Department of Education (VDOE), State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV), Virginia Employment Commission (VEC), Virginia Community College System (VCCG) and Virginia Information Technologies Agency (VITA). VLDS has collected Virginia education and workforce data from the government and other reliable agents. VLDS has been designed to make improvements in the state’s education, workforce systems, and other state services. For example, researchers receive data from VLDS and apply those data to improve their studies. Legislators use data from VLDS to establish laws and make decisions about laws.

In an initial stage, only researchers, legislators and some permitted partners are allowed to access VLDS. However, the system might be available for the public in the future.

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Branding & Longitudinal Data Systems

Longitudinal Data System

Photo Credit: Candace Parrish

Data & Branding? Absolutely! Branding and Longitudinal Data Systems (LDS) go hand in hand.  Establishing a cohesive brand (logos, messaging, and services) for an LDS can prove beneficial in the area of usability.  From a database website to programs and apps used, clear recognition of an organization by its users across any market is a key to success.

With the rise of “Big Data” research and the use massive database systems it is increasingly important to keep organizations and their constituents on one accord. No matter how precise the research, faulty branding and/or key messaging could easily dissatisfy database users and cause disconnect. There is vast opportunity for brand confusion of an LDS considering longitudinal research is conducted over a lengthy period of time and often includes third party contributors. According to EBSCO Publishing, branding promotes:

  • Personalized search experiences using library logos.
  • Library awareness with unique logos and library names.
  • Customized messages via text added to the bottom of key screens.

The online reference system offers a couple of tools, EBSCOhost & EBSCOadmin making it a prime example of cohesive branding amongst various company programs. The company also offers branding tutorials for interested users.

With so many database systems, how can an LDS be made more distinguishable?

An LDS is more likely to be differentiated amongst similar databases by creating a brand strategy. Below, the St. Paul Marketing Team (an online marketing group) offers a Marketing and Branding- What is Brand Strategy video, which explains the value of strategically marketing a brand.

Once a cohesive brand strategy has been created and implemented promotional efforts do not cease. Through positioning, the brand must continuously be exposed to LDS publics and users, as the database will be operating over vast periods of time.

Strategic Marketing Services’ blog post, Quantitative Techniques for Brand Equity Research, Part I, suggests that the momentum of branding can be continued by conducting brand recognition research; a method used to evaluate recognition of the brand by its users, visually or orally.  Brand recognition research can help strengthen the memorability of an LDS’s logo, message, or services if used as a benchmark assessment tool.

Famous actor and director Orson Welles once said, “Create your own visual style… let it be unique for yourself and yet identifiable for others.” This very quote is applicable to an LDS when it comes to creating a unique and memorable brand.

In general, branding should be embedded throughout an LDS’s campaign. Over time company imagery and messaging may change for a multitude of reasons, however, implementation and assessment of a brand should be continuous.

Just like VLDS

We (Virginians) are not alone. In 2009, the U.S. Department of Education released a fact sheet stating that 41 states nation-wide were given grants of up to $265 million to develop “longitudinal data systems to capture, analyze, and use student data from preschool to high school, college, and the workforce.


Much like Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems (SLDS) in other states, the Virginia Longitudinal Data System (VLDS) is designed collect information from Virginia school systems and workforce to create a cohesive database useful to publics such as educators, policymakers, and researchers. This information is collected continuously over long periods of time to capture the progress of students from kindergarten all the way to their first job experiences. Although a student’s personal information (name, social security number, etc.) cannot be accessed by researchers, collective data about groups of individuals will be tracked and analyzed for educational development.

As mentioned before, we are not alone in the quest for the betterment of education. States like IllinoisOregon, and Michigan have proceeded with implementing SLDS’s for research and educational system assessments. Closer to us, the District of Columbia created a Statewide Longitudinal Education Data System (SLED) as well. Even Hawaii initiated efforts in creating an SLDS. Participation from fellow states within the US makes the movement towards maximizing educational research monumental.


The Institute of Education Sciences (IES)’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES)—apart of the U.S. Department of Education—opens it’s “About” page with a thought provoking quote: “Better decisions require better information.” This is quite an appropriate quote as Virginia has access to incredible tools to produce groundbreaking educational research, yet no cohesive system collect and analyze the potential data.

In 2009, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) was signed into existence by President Obama proving more funding for LDS research to improve America’s educational opportunities.  Federal funding opportunities like this have jump-started initiatives for states across the U.S. to create SLDS’s and further motivates Virginia to begin research to better statewide educational systems.

Educational excellence should be a standard in Virginia school systems, not a dream. With top of the line research using data collected from the beginning of a student’s academic career to their first workforce experiences, the VLDS could offer a broad range of positive opportunities. What positive research or opportunities can you see developing as a result of implementing a statewide longitudinal data system in Virginia?

What can Virginia legislators do? Use VLDS.

Let’s look at the top of the government food chain in Virginia.

The governor holds the keys to the kingdom, figuratively speaking. As the head honcho over Virginia’s government body, Bob McDonnell is the force that can and should lead an effort to improve education in Virginia. As a steward, McDonnell should stress this to members of Virginia’s General Assembly. As a political figure, it’s just the right thing to do.

Low and behold! Bob McDonnell recently launched an initiative in early January called ALL STUDENTS which aims to educate all K-12 students in Virginia with a high-quality education regardless of zip code. It’s a shame this premise isn’t a baseline already, but I digress.

McDonnell is asking for policy ideas to improve and better equip Virginia’s K-12 education system. As a Virginia resident, the idea of being able to post ideas and the governor reading them is so idealistic and democratic. But, I am also a skeptic. It would be even better if the governor’s office had a public tracking system for the submissions. The ultimate gesture would be to let the public vote on the suggestions. Or, maybe I am too idealistic about how government should really work?

To prevent my suggestions from being lost in online submission oblivion (or from an assistant throwing them out before they reach McDonnell’s desk), here is how Virginia legislators can make a difference in our state’s education system:

1. Support the Virginia Longitudinal Data System (VLDS). It launches this summer.

2. Create a task force to visit under-performing schools in the Commonwealth and identify why they are not up to par. Make sure the task force is diverse. Yes, you can fill an EEO quota here.

3. Compare the under-performing schools to the top performing schools.

4. Cross-check the findings to information in VLDS. This is a hunch, but I bet certain zip codes in the state have a lot to do with an abundance or lack of resources.

5. Close the gaps.

6. Publish the information for Virginians to read. Make sure it is in plain, everyday, Joe Schmoe language.

7. Rinse. Lather. Repeat.

The video below is about ALL STUDENTS. While it is a nice package and talks about how much reform is needed, it doesn’t really highlight any solutions. I guess that’s where Virginians come in. I hope the governor’s office updates this video before 2013 ends to showcase what he and his regime plan on doing about education in Virginia. 

The Future of Parenting and Education — Look at the Data

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I stumbled across a Denver Post article about getting parents involved in schools and it appealed to me as a parent of a rising kindergartner. Admittedly, I didn’t pay close attention to the condition of schools until I enrolled my child at a private school in 2012. Yes, my husband and I would rather pay for our daughter’s education than to subject her to the poor state of the public schools in our area. Sure, we could’ve searched high and low for a school suitable enough to compliment the lessons we’re teaching her at home and then go through the financial effort to move close to these schools; but, why must we uproot the life we’ve established so far when the quality of schools in the U.S. should be top-notch anyway?

Last year, Education Week published an annual U.S. educational report card called Quality Counts 2011 and our schools ranked as average – with a grade of C – and a majority of the states received a D or less. Surprisingly Virginia, where I live, received a B-, but that still doesn’t discount the fact that schools in my neighborhood look like they were built using leftover supplies from the newer school facilities built in the city possibly over the last forty years. If the outside is crumbling, I could only imagine what the inside looks like.

If you are a parent, or if you plan on having children, you soon will have more to rely on than just the physical makeup of schools and report cards published by private institutions to judge whether or not a school you have in mind is the right place for your precious gems to spend their weekdays. According to the Denver Post article, a new tool to measure the quality of parent-school relationships is starting to make its way into several school districts. The purpose is to measure family and community engagement and to collect data that can determine what parents think about their school’s effectiveness.

Think about it, you probably trust word of mouth recommendations more than anything. How convenient would it be to see how schools fare based on what other parents in your area are saying about them? You could attempt to interview every parent where you live, but who realistically has time for that?

Launching soon is the Virginia Longitudinal Data System (VLDS), one of the few data systems in the nation that tracks and connects education demographics from grades K-12 and in-state colleges to the workforce in Virginia. Imagine reading a report that can show the probability of your child landing that coveted engineering or medical job (or whatever coveted job you dream of for your child). Wouldn’t you read it?

Partnership Profiles


Photo Credit: Bacon’s Rebellion

The Virginia Longitudinal Data System (VLDS) is an educational data system that tracks student records from K-12 and after the student enters the workforce. Ultimately it will provide information to allow policy makers to make more informed decisions and assess what programs are successful. VLDS is directed and managed by five agencies including:

  • The Virginia Employment Commission (VEC)
  • The Virginia Department of Education (VDOE)
  • The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV)
  • The Virginia Community College System (VCCS)
  • The Virginia Information Technologies Agency (VITA)

The Virginia Employment Commission is the department that can answer questions such as: how much an occupation pays in an area, what are the fastest or slowest jobs in an area, what’s the unemployment rate, what training institutions are in the area, along with profiles for demographic, economic, and educational data. VEC is one of the data providers for VLDS.

The Virginia Department of Education’s purpose is to ensure that students are educated in the fundamental knowledge and subjects they need in order to become responsible, self-reliant, and capable citizens. VDOE works together with the Virginia Board of Directors and the superintendent of public instruction to ensure this. VDOE   is another data provider and the grant awardee for VLDS.

Established by the governor and General Assembly in 1956 The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia’s mission is making recommendations to the Governor and General Assembly. The areas in which they work include enrollment projections, institutional technology needs, capital and operating budget. SCHEV is another major data provider for VLDS.

The Virginia Community College System delivers quality higher education and workforce training throughout the 23 community colleges (and 40 campuses) in Virginia. VCCS provides data such as the number of students enrolled in the colleges, average tuition and fees, percentage of college graduates, the number of employers served through workforce programs and much more. VCCS is the follow-up data provider for VLDS.

The Virginia Information Technology Agency’s purpose is to provide data technology and services that allow the government to serve Virginia citizens. Their duties include governance of the Commonwealth’s information security, operation of the IT infrastructure, procurement of technology for VITA, and more.  VITA is the technology developer for VLDS.

Also assisting with the project is the Virginia Polytechnic Institution (Virginia Tech) who serves as a technology partner and develops the data adapters. Another partner is the Center for Innovative Technology which also assists with the technology for VLDS. -LL