Early Childhood Education

School District Partners with Duke U on Community Data Center with Focus on Early Learning

Durham, NC is getting its own analytics operation to answer questions about children and families of interest to the regional population. Along with Durham Public Schools and Durham County, Duke University in North Carolina recently opened the Durham Children's Data Center. The goal of the new center: to inform decision-making related to area policies, programs and practices.

One of the first projects the new data center will undertake will be to look specifically at community investment in pre-kindergarten programs, a topic that is receiving a lot of attention in the 2016 federal budget proposed by President Barack Obama. The questions the center hopes to answer include what characteristics of pre-k programs tie to children's learning progress and whether a bigger stake could improve children's literacy. The center will analyze data on Durham's pre-k programs and children's progress through elementary school.

The new center is being housed and run by Duke's Center for Child and Family Policy, which resides in the university's School of Public Policy.

The school system has long had an arrangement with Duke's Center for Child and Family Policy to provide data and guidance to researchers, to the extent that the district and center have a liaison team to oversee research proposals.

"Durham Public Schools has a wealth of student data that we can use to identify trends and support our children early in life, when it does the most good," said district Superintendent Bert L'Homme. "Our challenge has always been having sufficient resources to fully analyze that data. Working with Duke and Durham County, we will be able to safeguard the privacy of our students while gaining a new understanding of what our children need to become safer, healthier and better prepared for college and careers."

Noted Assistant County Manager Drew Cummings, "With limited financial resources for local systems, the center enhances our ability to work smarter, to make sure our resources are spent in the wisest, most effective ways possible."

The center expects to meet regularly with the region's community leaders to identify the policy questions to be explored, pinpoint the data files that can offer insights, and review and complete research reports. Faculty from multiple fields--public policy, psychology and business--will lend their expertise to the research. Findings will be distributed at public meetings.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @schaffhauser.