Big data for kids

“Imagine you’re a school principal with a struggling student and you have no information about what’s going on,” said Rebecca London, assistant professor of sociology and research liaison to the Silicon Valley Regional Data Trust (SVRDT).

Substantial information about health, living situation, and other social factors—which contribute in major ways to school performance—resides in public agency databases, said Rodney Ogawa, research professor of education and a SVRDT director. However, because each agency’s data are isolated, they’re unavailable to outside educators and health and human service workers trying to help children. The SVRDT aims to change that, Ogawa said, while safeguarding students’ privacy.

Most county-level agencies that serve children and families currently don’t share information. That makes for disjointed educational and social service delivery to kids, especially those living in poverty. The Silicon Valley Regional Data Trust addresses this problem through a “big data” collaboration led by UCSC researchers. Credit: U.S. Department of Education.

Working with San Mateo, Santa Clara, and Santa Cruz county child welfare services, Offices of Education, juvenile probation, and behavioral health staff, the SVRDT has nearly completed a prototype Internet “portal” that will allow authorized individuals—including teachers, social workers, policymakers, and UC Santa Cruz researchers—to access certain student information. Made possible by recent California legislation, the “big data” sharing collaboration so far includes information about some 265,000 students.

“We expected some hesitation, but everyone said ‘yes, we need this,’” Ogawa said, “This is ultimately for the kids and families of Silicon Valley, particularly those at risk for poor outcomes. That’s what’s driving us.”

Sascha Zubryd