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Report · April 2021

Building California’s Cradle-to-Career Data System

Jacob Jackson

Supported with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Sutton Family Fund


California is on the verge of creating a data system that connects existing K-12, higher education, workforce, and social services data. A yearlong collaboration initiated by the governor among representatives from educational institutions and state agencies, advocates, and researchers has produced a plan for a comprehensive data system. This long-overdue system would provide tools for students, parents, educators, researchers, and policymakers to examine data, answer important policy questions, and navigate college access and success.

By facilitating a comprehensive shared understanding of educational and education-to-workforce pathways, the data system can help improve education in several key ways.

  • Setting and tracking progress toward statewide goals. Connected data will allow policymakers, educators, and researchers to set ambitious intersegmental goals and track progress toward achieving them.
  • Identifying successful initiatives. Tracking student progress along education pathways can help educators and researchers determine the long-term impact of programs and policies.
  • Advancing equitable outcomes. Connected student data can help locate opportunity gaps and assess strategies for improving equity.
  • Lowering educational barriers. The associated tools can help students and families set and track progress toward educational goals. It can also help streamline transitions between educational systems.
  • Facilitating cooperation among stakeholders. A statewide data system can enhance coordination among education systems, social service agencies, and other institutions seeking to understand and improve education in California.

In his January 2021 budget plan, the governor proposed funding to cover the initial costs of creating a cradle-to-career data system. The legislature will need to consider the short- and long-term funding needs of building, maintaining, and improving a system that can meet California’s needs. The state should also consider how best to implement outreach and training to students, families, and educators to ensure that the data is useful and generate long-term support from a broad range of stakeholders. Making data accessible to researchers and advocates, who will play an important role in making the system a successful investment for the state, should be a key priority.

The state’s commitment to this new data system during a once-in-a-century pandemic indicates an understanding of the need for data during a crisis, as well as the importance of education-and educational equity-in promoting economic mobility.


COVID-19 Equity Health & Safety Net Higher Education K–12 Education Workforce Needs