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

Photo credit: Gigaom.com

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?

Workforce Developement

Growing up, I wanted to be an artist, teacher, and singer all before I even knew what education and life experiences would change my mind and determine which career path that I would ultimately choose for my future.

Take a look below at U.S. President Barack Obama on his 2011 American Jobs Act Tour in Emporia, VA as he spoke on the importance of education as it pertains to workforce development.  Throughout his speech, he spoke words such as “hard work is valued and responsibility is rewarded,” saying that as Americans, “we’ve got to step up on education and we must invest on basic science, as well as focus on putting people back to work.”

Well, the Virginia Longitudinal Data System (VLDS) is trying to do just that! Workforce Development Programs have become a much desired and needed resource for those who are unsure of their talents, unable to receive the proper education and/or training, etc. What if VLDS could help to aid these programs and perhaps even decrease the need for them in regards to future generations?

Over the past couple of years, I have seen workforce development in central Virginia make much progress in helping residents of the city.  Richmond residents have been given the opportunity to team up with The Richmond Workforce Pipeline Department of Economic and Community Development to participate in a job preparation program to discuss possible training and employment opportunities.

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Photo Credit: Briana Williams

I was able to personally attend a meeting in which Laurie Brooks, Workforce Development Coordinator, and Jamison Manion, Workforce Development Administrator, gave a complete overview and discussion of how the program was designed to help residents find out where they are, where they are trying to go and help them to get there in the workforce.

Various jobs provided in the program are in areas such as construction, healthcare, food services, customer service, and even starting their own businesses.  The meeting not only served as a way for new resident to begin the program, but also as a way for residents who already were involved to follow-up on their progress and find even more opportunities.

The program strategically works with each individual, discussing the times they can work, whether or not they are limited in transportation, need childcare, have legal barriers, etc. Despite situations that arise, representatives find opportunities the residents are interested in and find employers who are able to help.

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Photo Credit: Briana Williams

With residents facing such a tough economy, it was explained that the program could not guarantee a job, but would work diligently with each of them to get an interview.

“It’s kind of like a boxer.  We train you to get into the ring and then you are by yourself.  If you get knocked down, we help you get back up and get you ready for the next time,” said Manion.

Just imagine what database system such as the Virginia Longitudinal Data System (VLDS) provides, can do for the younger generation right now.  Just as President Obama stated in the video, “we must invest in basic science,” which includes this very important research initiative.  Although numerous workforce development programs are currently helping to place people into training opportunities and jobs, this database can only help to make the programs more successful in the future. Do you think that is could serve beneficial in helping to place these people in the correct fields and/or help to guide them in some way or another?  I certainly do. –BLW

Importance of Ethical Research & Data Management in Education

What is the true importance of research?  Let me rephrase that.  What is the true importance of “educational” research?  Well, it seems as though the answers to this question can vary from one person to another.  Some may believe that there is little to no importance in gathering such information and it is a waste of time and money.  On the other hand, others may believe that based on such research, better decisions can be made in the future when teaching and guiding the younger generation into their careers.

Big data systems, such as the Virginia Longitudinal Data System (VLDS), houses and utilizes a mass amount of this essential information, but why and how is it chosen and used wisely in the success of education?  One may wonder what information is deemed important enough to keep and what is simply disregarded.

According to the VLDS.org website:

These systems are intended to enhance the ability of States to efficiently and accurately manage, analyze and use education data, including individual student records, to

  • improve student learning
  • facilitate research to increase student achievement
  • close achievement gaps

In addition, the value of such information in today’s society is found when it can help individuals in deciding which colleges or universities to which they should apply or even choose a specific career to pursue.

Now, that we’ve covered what educational research through these big data systems can do, how can one remain ethical when gathering and distributing such information?

RRES

Photo Credit: Research-ethics.net

The Resources for Research Ethics Education takes a stance on this issue and its main mission is “to promote best practices and evidence-based education in research ethics (responsible conduct of research, RCR).”  In addition, according to the RREE, the following criteria should be followed when dealing with such data management:

  • Data provide the factual basis for scientific work
    The integrity of research depends on integrity in all aspects of data management, including the collection, use, and sharing of data.
  • Integrity of the data is a shared responsibility
    All researchers have an interest in, and responsibility for, protecting the integrity of the research record.
  • Quality of data collection depends on thoughtful planning
    Adequate preparation for data collection helps to ensure that resources are not wasted and that significant results can be obtained.
  • Selection and analysis of data should be specified
    If the research is to be presented in a useful and significant way, critical decisions about selection and analysis must be made before the research commences, when possible.
  • Data should be shared
    An open data policy reflects positively on those who share and benefits science by increasing the likelihood for new insights, collaboration, and reciprocal sharing.

Each of these is being followed by VLDS to make sure to take all precautions in the protection of  identities and personal information of each student within the database including using double de-identification security.  Now, with all of this in mind, what is your stance of ethical educational research?  Do you feel as though it as beneficial as I do? – BLW

National Approach

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Photo Credit: Apps4VA

With the Virginia Longitudinal Data System (VLDS), information about schools and individuals are recorded. All of the individual information is kept safe and it only tracks a student as long as he/she attend a school within Virginia. If a student moves out of state the VLDS system stops tracking the individual. There is no national databases yet, because there are three states that are not using any type of system to track their education programs.

Not only does this system track the educational whereabouts of students but it tracks the average income that is to be expected from attending college. VLDS is working to narrow the focus even more by being able to track which degrees make the most money.

Currently, only researchers have access to this information, but this information could be vital to parents looking to make informed decisions about where they would like their children to go to school. This information could be critical to recruiters when looking for candidates for new jobs as well. But since this system only tracks state-by-state, information could fall through the gaps if someone moves around the country a lot. This information could be better utilized if it was taken nationally. If all 50 states tracked their students to see where they went through their college years and the income levels after college it could paint a better picture of our education system nationwide instead of on a state-to-state basis.

Apps4VA is a huge driver behind the VLDS system. It is working hand and hand to create a powerhouse of information that can change the way people look at the VA school system. This system will track demographics about schools, the surrounding areas, performance levels of the students, etc. all while keeping the students information secure. But what happens if the student moves out of state? If they move to one of those three states that does not track their student’s educational history then their information stops there. If they move to a state that does use a tracking system, it begins again, but it starts from scratch. The information is not carried over.

Apps4VA is being utilized already and will continue to help the Board of  Education make improvements in the following way:

The Commonwealth will use these apps to
– help students, educators and administrators make better data-driven decisions
– measure Virginia students’ performance;
– decipher factors that affect student performance;
– reveal ways to better prepare Virginia students to enter the workplace;
– help Virginia students compete in the global marketplace;
– provide Virginia teachers with tools to help tailor their programs to student needs;
– facilitate communication and collaboration among Virginia school divisions to compare best or promising practices; and
– plan for future educational, technological and workforce needs.

VLDS said this information is used to help inform lawmakers on how to better reform education. If there are laws that are make that will affect the country as a whole when it comes to education, why not have a system in place that provides sufficient data to these lawmakers to help them make informed decisions. Why wouldn’t you want to take this nationally?

Planning for the Future

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Photo Credit: Fastcoexist.com

As someone who has gone through the college process more than once (undergraduate and now graduate), I can tell you that there is a lot of research that goes into picking the right school. My generation comes from the baby boomers, a lot of our parents may have little to no college experience because it was not required of them. As society has changed through the years, a college education is not only expected but required.

In the state of Virginia, there are fifteen public colleges or universities. When you are 17-years-old and are excited about starting a new chapter in your life and being on your own for the first time –  how much money you will be making after college is not the first thought that comes to mind. Being that young, the trials of adulthood have not set in yet. The normal college student has their parents pay for school, they are on a scholarship or they take out loans (which they do not have to see until they are six months out of college). The gravity of your career choice and the debt looming over your head does not set in (at least for me, it didn’t) until the last semester of undergrad. The urgency to find a job in an unstable economy made the anxiety even worse. Luckily I chose a career that is versatile, but not everyone knows exactly what he or she wants to do. Many people go to college study in a specific field and 60 percent cannot find a fulltime job in their field after graduation.

The Virginia Longitudinal Data System (VLDS) is working to obtain information about students throughout their lifetime within the state in which they reside. This information will help launch demographic insight to the best schools within the state. This has created some fear among the school systems,which if certain information is released students will not want to apply to their schools. Instead of fear, this should provide a challenge to better their education system and provide the best so that their students can receive the best.

Already, VLDS has released reports stating future earnings of Virginia college/university graduates. This information may help many upcoming college students narrow their focus when looking at universities. VLDS is planning on narrowing the focus even more by obtaining information that lists which degrees make the most money and from which college/university. This information then gets complied into reports that list the average income 18 months out of school and then five years out of school. Colleges/Universities may be hesitant about this information being released because application rates may drop but this would provide a better picture for applicants who are looking for make the smartest decision for their future.

The number of graduates who come out of college with more the $24k in debt is a startling 59 percent. This short video explains the future of college graduates with the current economic state and what the future may hold.

This information could be key to upcoming college students who are looking to make smarter decisions. These reports were not easily accessible before and if all of this information is in one place it could mean a more stability and a better financial future for college graduates.