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We Can’t Take Our Eyes Off The Ball When It Comes to California’s Education Data System

Authored by: Natalie Wheatfall-Lum, Director of TK-12 Policy, Education Trust West and Alfredo Camacho, Western Regional Director, Young Invincibles

California’s education system is at a critical juncture. From teacher burnout, attrition, and overall educator shortages to changes in enrollment that have meant inconsistent resources and decreased revenue for schools across the state, California classrooms are heavily burdened. These issues only exacerbate the inequities students of color and multilingual learners experience – inequities that we must see and understand fully to address.  

To help teachers and students alike, California has made significant investments for the last five years in the Cradle-to-Career Longitudinal Data System. If done right, this will be one of the most ambitious, inclusive, and thoughtful data systems in the nation, connecting the data gathering and sharing efforts that were previously limited to specific regions and pilot programs throughout the state. It has the potential to become a powerful, public tool that not only highlights equity gaps, but also helps education leaders and others take action, creating equal opportunity for every student to succeed into adulthood, starting from early childhood. 

While financial investment is essential, funding alone does not ensure the Cradle-to-Career (C2C) system will be the strong equity lever it needs to be. It will take a community-wide effort to ensure the Cradle-to-Career Data System includes the data and design to benefit all children and students in California and to address the opportunity and outcome gaps so many Black, Latinx, Native American, and AAPI students experience . With the allocation of $15.26 million to increase staffing and maintain the current rollout timeline, decision-makers must use these resources to continue to engage with community members, parents, and advocates on their priorities. Moreover, community engagement efforts must continue to be clear, accessible, and authentic, ensuring partners are respected in ways that lead to their investment in and their perspectives meaningfully informing the development of the system.

In fact, the success of what C2C staff and Governing Board members have been able to accomplish to date has been grounded in grassroots efforts of the community who advocated for the legislation that introduced this important project. In a notable and necessary display of collaboration, lawmakers worked alongside education leaders, national and local advocates, community partners representing students and families of color, and members of the public to design a process to create a data system grounded in inclusion, equity, transparency, and governance. 

The benefits of such a well-designed system can potentially serve wide-range of purposes and stakeholders across the state. This data system’s dashboards and tools can present all stakeholders of the education ecosystem with answers to their unique questions, even guiding which questions should be posed that were not previously considered. In addition, if well-executed:

  • Families will be able to find information on the best education choice for their childrens’ unique needs in a location that is accessible to them, 
  • Students will be able to identify which higher education options align with their interests and set them up to earn a living wage. 
  • Organizers and advocates will be able to access actionable data that can help guide strategies to hold state, community, and education leaders accountable for improving the lives of students of color and multilingual students. 
  • Policymakers will be able to see how their legislative and budget priorities make an impact on individuals’ lives at the various stages of their educational career, informing more equitable decisions and long-term policy solutions.

A well-designed C2C data system will also help state leaders and education advocates address some of the most significant challenges the state faces in ensuring the education system is strong, sustainable, and supports student success. For instance, we know California has a long way to go to increase access to high-quality early learning opportunities and to ensure that we design and sustain a diverse educator pipeline that addresses the teacher shortage. If designed – and rolled out – effectively, the C2C will provide incredibly useful tools for stakeholders to work together to address these and other issues that continue to disproportionately affect families from marginalized communities. 

The state has made significant investments and substantial progress on the new state data system. However, advocates, legislators, and educators alike must keep our eyes on the ball. Stakeholders, whether parents or lawmakers, shouldn’t need a statistics degree to interpret the information presented. Every dashboard must be as complete, accessible, and actionable as possible. Continuing to engage a wide range of community stakeholders is how we get there. We urge all those involved in the C2C system’s further development and implementation to prioritize accessibility and stakeholder engagement.  


The Education Trust—West is an evidence-driven advocacy organization committed to advancing policies and practices to dismantle the racial and economic barriers embedded in the California education system. For over two decades, Ed Trust—West has worked to improve racial equity in education by engaging diverse communities and increasing political and public will to build an education system where students of color and multilingual learners will thrive. For more information, see or follow us on Twitter.

Young Invincibles (YI) is a national advocacy and policy nonprofit organization focused on amplifying the voice of young people in the political process at the local, state, and federal levels. YI focuses on issues impacting young adults ages 18 to 34 in higher education, health care, economic security, and civic engagement. Our offices include Washington, D.C., California, Colorado, Illinois, New York, and Texas. For more information, please contact Emma Bittner at (972) 510-3395 or