Software maker Social Solutions has landed a key partnership in an initiative that leverages data to forge closer cooperative relationships between schools and social service agencies.
Kansas City, Mo., Public Schools (KCPS) has become the first district in the country to sign onto the national initiative, which promotes data sharing as a means to give nonprofits greater insight into the lives of the students they serve. It’s a joint effort between Social Solutions and The Ballmer Group, a nonprofit led by ex-Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer that works to improve economic mobility for children and families.
“This is all about providing a more holistic view of students,” said Alexis Zotalis, director of education solutions at Social Solutions.
Some 3,500 nonprofit end users already leverage Social Solutions case management software. Its Apricot product offers data tracking and reporting tools to help social service agencies manage individual cases and gain insight across diverse programs. The partnership with The Ballmer Group looks to broaden the base of information by building interfaces between school databases and service providers.
“You have a lot of agencies and organizations providing wrap-around services like tutoring and mentoring, all those add-on services. But right now, they tend to operate in silos,” Zotalis said. “We are building a more robust case management and outcome management solution that includes data analytics and predictive recommendations within the tool itself.”
The nonprofit sector “often lacks the technology to uncover life-changing insights and drive systemic change,” Steve Ballmer said in announcing the initiative. “We can do better to connect the dots and protect privacy at the same time.”
To protect privacy, the software complies with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). Connecting the dots, meanwhile, means enabling nonprofits to take a more proactive stance.
“Let’s say Sarah has five unexcused absences within the last quarter,” Zotalis said. Ordinarily an after-school tutor might not get word of this in a timely way. With enhanced data sharing, “the nonprofit case manager who has been working with her could receive a recommendation to have her meet with a guidance counselor or perhaps refer her to a mentoring program.”
The system could do more than just help to remediate problems. The software could for instance take note of a student’s steadily rising science scores. It would then issue an alert to a case manager suggesting the student enroll in an upcoming science fair.
Kansas City officials say they’re excited about what a data-driven approach could do for student outcomes. “Our mission is to provide a better education for all of our students, and we’re making solid progress,” said KCPS Superintendent Mark Bedell, in announcing the relationship. “This partnership, which will connect our schools with local nonprofits, will help us continue down the path to success, and we look forward to collaborating with organizations and programs in our community.”
In order to elicit buy-in from school districts, the engineers have sought to construct a plug-and-play interface, one that simplifies the exchange of data.
“School districts need to know that they are not going to be required to have a big resource commitment, that they are not going to need to tie up an IT team on this,” Zotalis said. “We’ve built all the connectors to the various school information system platforms. The connections are there: We just need to turn on the water.”
For the nonprofit partners, that freer flow of data should help to drive improved student outcomes.
“If the nonprofits had greater insight, they could better tailor what they are doing. If the student is having trouble in a reading class, the after-school program can work more on reading,” Zotalis said. “With data they can set milestones and goals, and make sure that student is moving through their path.”
Looking ahead, Social Solutions expects to sign San Antonio schools onto the program soon. “We are getting close there and we excited about that. From there we’ll be looking to expand to more cities across the United States,” Zotalis said.