This blog is authored by Kim Eisenreich as part of a series on seven principles of effective data sharing. Eisenreich uses the example of The Family League’s work in Baltimore to illustrate that guide’s observation that “most communities don’t need more systems; they need more system integrators.”
Like many cities, Baltimore has a plethora of collective impact strategies to improve outcomes for its citizens that have not always historically worked together. From Boston to Oakland, from Saint Paul to Dallas, cities across the country are wrestling with how to coordinate place-based initiatives, measure impact, streamline resources, and achieve better outcomes for children, youth, and families. The need for better data are at the heart of the kind of rigorous collaboration these initiatives envision—and in Baltimore there is growing recognition that, to get these initiatives the answers they need, our challenge will be to connect our existing pockets of excellence rather than building a whole new suite of technologies.
In every city today, bits and pieces of information about the children we serve are trapped in numerous institutional “silos.” These silos each hold a page of information that when put together tell an important story—one that is specific to each child and gives crucial clues to that child’s teachers, counselors, and parents about the kind of support and enrichment we can provide for them to thrive. While our goal in Baltimore is eventually to dissolve these silos and keep those “pages” of each child’s story together, the reality is we need to first identify all of the systems in play, to understand the barriers that currently prohibit organizations from sharing what they know, and ensure that the information we do have is accurate, protected, and being used to support our community’s kids.
In Baltimore we are fortunate to have a wealth of data rich collaborations and organizations including the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance, Baltimore Education Research Consortium, Baltimore’s Promise, B’More for Healthy Babies, Baltimore City Opportunity Youth Coalition, Grade Level Reading Campaign, and Family League of Baltimore just to name a few. The individual work these entities are doing are the vital foundation for a truly comprehensive set of supports for the city’s youth, with information shared and used across neighborhoods and institutions. For the whole to serve kids better than the sum of these parts, requires that we generate the political will to share our records, build champions among critical stakeholder groups, map our data ecosystem and—crucially—identify the questions that are “mission critical” to our schools, families, and youth service providers.
Family League of Baltimore is working strategically with many of these organizations to streamline the work, connect dots, and align efforts. For example Family League is working with the Baltimore Grade Level Reading Campaign and Baltimore City Public Schools to not only align data sharing agreements, but to also align performance measures and outcomes among the different partners and coalitions. Family League is also working with many of these same partners to chart our current data ecosystem: what data is being collected by each organization, with whom the data is being shared, and what legal and technical factors constrain this sharing. As the work continues to move forward we are identifying gaps in our knowledge and problem solving to see how we can help to fill those gaps, adding to the richness of the ecosystem rather than duplicating efforts.
As much as we are collaborating city-wide, we are also trying to link our own data systems within Family League. Family League houses B’More for Healthy Babies, the Family Literacy Coalition, which are both partnerships with the city Health Department, the Community School and Out-of-School Time strategy, and the Baltimore Attendance Collaborative. Each coalition or strategy has its own theory of change and performance framework. Family League bases its work around a continuum that starts before a child is born and ends when they graduate from high school and transition to college and/or career. Throughout our history of serving Baltimore’s children Family League has filled may roles in the community, such as grant maker, program designer, convener, data collector, evaluator, and direct service provider. Ultimately we are driving towards improved outcomes for children and youth. Our strategic approach in leading collaborations allows us to identify initiatives through data analysis and issue research while considering whether a clear outcome can be measureable.
While there is a well-articulated theoretical process for integrating data systems, as a city we recognize the implementation of that process is not always the ideal sequence and includes lots of starts and stops. However, we remain steadfast in our long-term vision for a Better Baltimore that includes breaking bureaucratic silos, new ways of collaboration and integrating critical data so we can better serve our children, youth and families.
The current flurry of state and federal legislation reflects a national consensus: safeguarding student information is important. The uptick of attention paid to student privacy is understandable given the recent shift of education technology—and data use—from the fringes of classroom culture to the mainstream. Also a part of this national conversation is the need to protect teacher information. States, districts, and the service providers they work with collect data on teachers and while some information on teachers may be of public interest, other information is sensitive and must be safeguarded.
How can we think about teacher information?
Much like the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) designates some student information (such as name, address, grade level, participation on sports teams, etc.) as directory information that can be disclosed in more situations than other parts of a student’s record, there are two ways to think about teacher data:
Employee information (name, address, information about teachers’ education, certifications, and experience, etc.)
Performance information including student growth data and classroom observations (e.g., data that’s often used for teacher evaluation)
Most of the headlines about teacher data focus on performance information, but employee information is a critical piece of the teacher privacy picture as well.
Questions around when and how states should disclose teacher performance data are leading states into largely uncharted territory. At the crux of the issue is the question: Do parents (or the community, or policymakers) have a right to know teacher evaluation scores? If yes, does the right to be informed outweigh a teacher’s right to privacy? The answers to these questions have very real implications for teachers, parents, and communities. For example, much debate was sparked back in 2010 when the Los Angeles Times published the value-added ratings and names of teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District and was met with swift backlash from teachers and unions. More recently, Virginia has been in the spotlight after a parent sued state officials to force the release of teacher evaluation data under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
How do existing state laws protect teachers?
Most states have laws that govern access to employees’ personnel records. Some states’ open-records laws and court interpretations give the public a right to access employee evaluations. In other states, government officials can keep some information from employees’ personnel records strictly confidential. Many other states determine public access to employee records on a case-by-case basis.
Still, state employee privacy laws don’t always apply to teacher data. Where general employee privacy laws are not sufficient, states can implement policies specific to teacher data. For example, New York limits the disclosure of teacher evaluation information to parents or guardians of students in the teacher’s class. The public can still see evaluation data, but only with the names of teachers removed. Tennessee and Louisiana have strong teacher privacy laws. The Tennessee law specifically addresses the disclosure of teacher performance data to the press, whereas the Louisiana law offers a more comprehensive look at teacher evaluation, including the parameters for disclosure of teacher performance data.
What legislation have states considered around teacher privacy in 2015?
A few states have made efforts to protect teacher privacy in 2015 legislation—most by simply applying the state’s protections of student data to teacher data as well. Eight states have introduced 13 teacher privacy bills so far in 2015, all of which deal with protecting teachers' employee information. In comparison, during the same time period, 45 states introduced 178 bills and passed 12 laws relating to student privacy. Only few states this year have introduced bills to keep data on teacher performance private; for example, South Carolina introduced a bill to prevent through FOIA the disclosure of teacher evaluation records that could identify an individual with the goal “to promote candid feedback for continuous improvement of teaching and learning.”
Looking ahead, what should we be aware of?
As states continue to develop laws that both protect teacher privacy and provide critical data to schools and parents, they’ll need to address some important issues including:
How to ensure teachers have access to their own data and are empowered to use this information to reflect and improve on their practice.
How to protect privacy while avoiding any unintended consequences that might interfere with established education practices. For example, prohibiting videotaping in a classroom could have unintended consequences for professional development opportunities or teacher evaluations processes. Limiting when teacher data can be shared could prevent the state from providing feedback to teachers’ preparation programs on how their graduates do in the classroom.
How to protect teacher privacy when they use a third-party website/app.
States must work to ensure that all education data are used as a flashlight to illuminate best practices and successful pathways, not as a hammer to punish perceived failures. As states continue to create student and teacher data and privacy laws, they can find ways to protect privacy and turn on the light!
New Book: How Do School Leaders Effectively Use Data to Improve Achievement?
In 2013 the Petworth neighborhood campus of Center City Public Charter Schools posted the biggest English Language Learner (ELL) achievement gains in Washington, DC. Through the use of data, teachers and other education leaders in the school found patterns that improved instruction by addressing the unique needs of each student.