Nashville's "Data Warehouse" at Center of City-School Partnerships for Smarter Youth Services

October 10, 2011

by Chris Kingsley

The reform of the Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) under Director of Schools Jesse Register is being meticulously recorded by one of the country's most comprehensive district-based information systems, the LEADS (Longitudinal Education Analysis and Decision Support) data warehouse. This sophisticated analytical tool is also playing a central role in facilitating city-school partnerships to better support Nashville students.

Begun in 2009, LEADS was developed in response to the Nashville schools' slipping status with regard to the benchmarks set by the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). The lesson for district leaders, says LEADS Director Laura Hansen, was that "to really reform our district, Nashville needed to do a better job of analyzing data so that we could see where we could improve."

Two years later, that analysis is well underway. In May of this year, the district presented its early results to a committee of Nashville's Chamber of Commerce. The committee, CEO Champions, was impressed by the level of detail LEADS provides on individual students throughout their academic career in the city's schools.

"It's not a mystery anymore," said Hansen. "And it helps raise the bar on accountability within the school district to be able to say, 'Look, you know what's going on - you've got data broken down in various ways at the class level to provide teachers with information on which students are at risk and how their students are progressing throughout the year.'"

To move this warehouse of information into the classroom, Nashville is using federal "Race to the Top" funds to match 12 data coaches with teachers and principals in the city's approximately 140 public schools.

To further leverage this investment in student data, the city and district have begun to collaborate on projects that extend the capabilities of LEADS well beyond the school system:

  • Place-based initiatives: The district has been an advocate for Nashville's Promise Neighborhood and supports the planning effort being led by the non-profit Martha O'Bryan Center, with data provided from the data warehouse in aggregate form for the schools in the area. Plans for sharing more detailed information for family/student interventions by community partners, once the Promise Neighborhood is implemented, are also being developed.
  • Youth safety and support: Police and district data managers are building capacity to compare students' home residence and neighborhood crime data, hoping to provide school principals with more detailed information on the risks faced by their students as well as guidance on the support Nashville's schools can offer.
  • Afterschool enrichment: The Nashville After-school Zone Alliance (NAZA), a project of Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, has targeted students in high-risk areas for afterschool academic and enrichment programming, and is working to improve both the quantity and quality of these programs. City information technology staff built a software bridge between schools and providers that allows them both to track participation and plan to use the information stored in LEADS to identify which programs have good attendance and contribute to positive results for students. NAZA has doubled the number of middle school students participating in afterschool enrichment, and plans to open up additional zones in the coming years.
  • Postsecondary success: Nashville and the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce are working to improve the alignment among Nashville's public schools, local career academies and the regional job market. By the end of the year, LEADS will be able to utilize data from the National Student Clearinghouse to do additional analyses on information about which graduates of the Nashville public schools enroll in postsecondary programs, which students earn their degree and which students need more targeted support.
  • Reduced truancy: The Metro Student Attendance Center, implemented by the Mayor's Office, was an early information-sharing partnership among the schools, police and juvenile courts that reduced the MNPS truancy rate by 17.2 percent and contributed to the district's successful effort to achieve "safe harbor" status in 2009 under NCLB.

These projects have developed out of a very close working relationship between Mayor Karl Dean and Director of Schools Register.

Mayor Dean has been a strong advocate for MNPS and the city's youth. His administration has fully funded Nashville's public schools each year, shielding the district from cuts faced by other city agencies. The Education First Fund, established by the mayor at the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee, introduced Teach for America to Nashville and built a well-regarded charter school incubator. In 2009, Mayor Dean convened a Child and Youth Master Plan task force, informed by NLC best practices, to pursue comprehensive improvement in services for children.

Fundamental to both the LEADS data warehouse and the Child and Youth Master Plan is the "regular use of data to be able to look at our young people holistically and find out how we could improve," according to Laura Hansen, who moved from MNPS to the Mayor's Office and then back to the district, playing a key role in directing both projects. With early successes in education, out-of-school time and truancy reduction as validation for its efforts, Nashville is now evaluating how to link information on early childhood education and student health to what it already knows.

The goal, says Hansen, is a "true citywide system" to support improved outcomes for children and youth.

Details: NLC's Institute of Youth Education and Families is expanding its work on city data initiatives to highlight the crucial role of local information in driving better outcomes for youth, families and communities. For more information on Nashville's LEADS system and similar initiatives underway across the country, join a roundtable discussion at NLC's Congress of Cities in Phoenix that will be held Saturday, November 12, 9:00-10:30 a.m., and will be led by Chris Kingsley, who can be reached at (202) 626-3160 or kingsley@nlc.org.