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A man compares printed data charts to information from his laptop computer
Impact

Informing the Future of Education through Secure, Transparent Data Access

A resource for education policymakers nationwide

Objective

To modernize education data sharing and access.

Approach

We worked with NCES to develop, maintain, and modernize a website that enables secure, transparent access to NCES datasets.

Impact

By providing access to a wealth of education data in a consistent, standardized format, DataLab helps policymakers gather evidence that will help inform the future of education.

DataLab: Enabling Secure, Transparent Education Data Access and Sharing

To create evidence-based education policies, policymakers must answer many different questions about the condition of education in the U.S. Where can policymakers access the data they need to pave a clear path forward for education?

The Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2018 (commonly referred to as the Evidence Act) tasked the federal government with coordinating the education data it collects so it can be used strategically and transparently.  The National Center for Education Statistics’ (NCES) DataLab is an example of the Department of Education's commitment to the Evidence Act by providing secure, streamlined, and accessible data dissemination tools.

We joined with NCES to create this analysis-based website, which allows users public access to datasets from across NCES studies–including National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS), Baccalaureate and Beyond, Beginning Postsecondary Students, and others.

This data provides a wealth of evidence into many major topics of conversation from pre-elementary to postsecondary education – such as the frequency of cyberbullying, preparation for college, teacher demand, student loan debt, and more. However, the tool isn’t just for researchers – it helps reporters, school administrators, and even students understand key issues around U.S. education, which in turn helps them consider solutions for improving school safety, creating more equitable learning environments, and more.

The primary objective of this modernization effort was to upgrade DataLab’s entire legacy codebase to current proven technologies. The new technical foundation improves system performance, offers more intuitive user interface capability, and provides a platform for faster implementation of future enhancements.

Ensuring Privacy, Accessibility, and Confidentiality

By linking from different components and source files, we helped NCES create one streamlined, more analytically powerful data set. We are also ensuring the database stays up to date with industry standards by leveraging more current technologies and open-sourced systems, such as Python.

With DataLab sharing such a wide range of information, it was essential to prioritize data security and data confidentiality. Though education data usually requires a license, DataLab allows access to aggregate data in an unrestricted, secure way, while prioritizing keeping personally identifiable information private.

Together with Sanametrix, we are helping maintain and update the three applications making up DataLab—PowerStats, the Tables Library, and the Online Codebook. Designed to be used by researchers and non-researchers alike, PowerStats is an interactive data analysis tool with access to over 100 NCES datasets; users can create custom analyses, without needing to create statistical code in a software package. The application also allows users to visualize their education data through built-in charts, graphics, and maps.

Those wanting to conduct deeper, more complex analyses can create a data set in syntax and pull data to their own machines through the Online Codebook application.

Anyone looking for a quick statistic can use the Tables Library, a searchable, query-based system that allows users to search over 8,000 NCES tables by data set and keyword.

Informing Education Policy Decisions

To help policymakers gather evidence to support key decisions around the future of education, there must be more streamlined, secure, and transparent access to the education data that agencies collect. Whether users need to view a single data point or conduct detailed analyses, DataLab is built to provide this simplified yet powerful access to education data.

As NCES’ studies continue to evolve and produce results, we will continue to prepare its data in the consistent, standardized format that users expect. By maintaining DataLab and continuing to add new data and functionality, we are helping education researchers and policymakers gather the data evidence they need to help mold and shape future education policies and systems.

The challenges educators across the U.S. face will likely continue to change year after year. Whatever the challenge or research question, we are excited to partner with NCES and Sanametrix to continue developing and enhancing DataLab to ensure it is a modernized, flexible solution that meets users’ needs.