On September 1, 2015, Turn the Page KC and the Kansas City Mayor’s Office hosted a GradNation summit sponsored by the America’s Promise Alliance and AT&T. At this summit, community leaders and school district administrators discussed the correlation between highly mobile families and low high school graduation rates in our urban core.
We were inspired to research this issue further in order to discover potential solutions. We analyzed data that we downloaded from the Data for Diplomas project and observed low high school graduation rates in several of the larger urban school districts in our area, particularly districts with high rates of poverty. We obtained school level data from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) that showed a clear connection between high school graduation rates, student transfer rates, and chronic school absenteeism. In other words, our analysis showed that in communities where there is high family mobility, students miss high numbers of school instructional time as a result of the days they miss when transferring schools. Family mobility has many root causes, many of which are related to poverty, but the high number of days missed when students transfer is unacceptable. After conducting phone surveys with forty elementary school principals, we concluded that transferring students miss between five and thirty days of school each time they transfer schools. This enrollment gap is a product of two delays: (1) the delay in time it takes a family to prove residency in the new school district boundaries, and (2) the delay in time it takes for the new district to obtain student records from the old district.
Our solution to this problem has two parts. Part one will solve the proof of residency issue. Proof of residency is given in the form of a utility bill at the current residence. Families who move the most often live in poverty, which means that they often do not have ready access to their most current electricity bill online. We have approached Kansas City Power & Light (our local electricity company) about creating a portal for school administrators to confirm family residency. This portal is not a part of this Data for Diplomas application. Part two of our solution is the crux of this project proposal. We propose to streamline student record transfer by creating a simplified system in which school administrators can access necessary enrollment records and documents for incoming students. This would be adopted by Missouri’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), and included in their comprehensive data system which is in the process of being developed.
Our student enrollment “dropbox” would significantly increase the amount of instructional time received by students in our city by eliminating a barrier to regular school attendance. By increasing student instructional time, we will ultimately improve high school graduation rates in our community. Through our data analysis, we have found that there is a high correlation between a school’s mobility rate, chronic absenteeism rate and high school graduation rate. This makes sense because students who constantly move schools have to miss at least 5 days while their records transfer, and these high need students need the most instructional time they can get to graduate. In Kansas City, the districts with the lowest high school graduation rates have a mobility rate ranging from at least 60% to almost 96%. The district with the highest high school graduation rates have mobility rates that are at most 52%.
What it does
This “dropbox” is a model that streamlines student record transfer by creating a simplified system in which school administrators can access necessary enrollment records and documents for incoming students. This would be adopted by Missouri’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), and included in their comprehensive data system which in the process of being developed.
As outlined in the process charts, this portal would function as a place where the old school and the new school would be able to upload and access student transfer documents. The main categories of student transfer documents are proof of residency, health records, Individual Education Plans (IEP) if any, parent releases of information, and academic and discipline records from the old school. Basically, the new school must know that the new student lives within its boundaries, has been immunized, may or may not belong in Special Education, get transcripts and suspension information and get a guardian’s permission to view all of this data. Unless all of these enrollment documents are provided, the new student cannot start attending classes.
The solution in and of itself is very simple, even if the problem is incredibly complex. All schools in Missouri need one secure place to go to in order to obtain or request documents. This place needs to be digital in order to reduce the number of days of instructional time children miss while schools wait on the faxing and mailing of necessary documents. Our portal is ideal because it is secure and managed by Lumen Touch, an education software company that already has FERPA compliant structures and the infrastructure to handle sensitive student data. It is searchable by student state identification number and will destroy records of the documents on the server when the transfer is complete.
The process for transferring records is simple. If the old school knows a student is moving, they can upload all relevant documents to the portal. The new school will upload a parent release to access those documents, or to request additional ones from the old district. Because it will be tied into DESE’s statewide system, the request will go to the correct old school to be notified.
Once the transfer has been completed, or within a month, the records and the profile in the portal are destroyed, thus keeping the whole system FERPA compliant.
In order to log into the demo site linked to this application, use the Location ID 5, Username risarelearner and Password 12345. You must click on the Access Tablet Environment button. No other portal will work.
Once inside the demo site, the home page shall have the basic functionality for this application. However, the additional tabs will be kept or removed as our pilot runs.
How we built it
Lumen Touch has built the prototype of the portal in order to begin piloting. We already have a web-based Student Information System, so we modified one of our student portals where students and parents can upload documents and assignments to teachers and maintain an online portfolio. Working off of that basic functionality, we modified the portfolio function to essentially work as a “portfolio” of transfer documents tied to a specific student. We stripped away all of the extra functionality to maintain security and will develop stricter log-in processes once we have a partnership built up with DESE, or local school districts.
Challenges we ran into
One main challenge we ran into was simplifying the system without falling out of compliance with the Family Educational Rights and Compliance Act (FERPA). After much research, we were able to develop it so that with restricted access, the dropbox both serves its purpose and falls under compliance with FERPA laws.
Another challenge we ran into is the broad spectrum of student movement between school districts. Kansas City, Missouri is home to 15 school districts and 29 charter schools and charter networks, and with so many different schools and entities involved, it was difficult to hone in on creating a centralized and streamlined system that would work for each district.
Accomplishments that we’re proud of
Turn the Page KC and Lumen Touch are proud to be tackling a problem that has a huge effect on graduation rates for students living in poverty and in the urban core. Tackling the effects of the high rate of mobility among Kansas City students was the focus of a GradNation summit convened by the Office of the Mayor. The community had a simple need: reducing the time it takes to transfer records to make a more responsive system to a highly mobile population. We are proud to be able to address that need for our community.
What we learned
The process of creating a system that is both functional and sustainable relies on the cooperation and collaboration of the many different stakeholders involved. This is because, oftentimes, small, bureaucratic processes create tremendous roadblocks to student achievement. These roadblocks are often ignored when people think about innovation in education because they do not lend themselves to flashy solutions. However, when spaces for disparate community actors are created to talk openly, it is these dowdy roadblocks that get a lot of attention. Therefore, we believe that if a realistic, solution-based approach is valued and acted upon, the results will be favorable. In order to succeed, all parties must place a high value on education, and in turn be willing to show direct action to improve these issues associated with our educational system.
What's next for Mobile Student Enrollment Solution
Our team is working on engaging key stakeholders for the development and implementation of this solution. We have contacted representatives from necessary sources including the Kansas City Power & Light utilities company, MO DESE, and officials in the Kansas City Mayor’s office who have the abilities to institute these changes. From here, we will continue engaging these key representatives and exploring organizations who have the power to help make these crucial changes to our antiquated enrollment/transfer system.