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Durham Children's Data Center Aims to Improve Lives

February 3, 2015

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  • Duke researchers and Durham leaders have formed the new Durham Children's Data Center.

    Duke researchers and Durham leaders are working together to determine what public policies make a positive difference in the lives of Durham citizens.

Leaders seeking to improve the lives of Durham’s children are joining forces to create the Durham Children’s Data Center, a hub for research into vital policy and practice questions. Initial partners in the Data Center include Durham County, the Durham Public Schools and Duke University. 

“The data center represents a major step forward in our ability to collect, protect and use locally generated information to enhance our understanding of what public policies can make a difference in the lives of our citizens,” said Assistant County Manager Drew Cummings. “With limited financial resources for local systems, the center enhances our ability to work smarter, to make sure our resources are spent in the wisest, most effective ways possible.”

The Children’s Data Center will be housed at and administered by the Center for Child and Family Policy at the Duke Sanford School of Public Policy.

One of the first policy questions the research team will tackle concerns the community’s investment in pre-kindergarten programs. What characteristics of pre-k programs are associated with children’s educational progress? Would a greater investment improve children’s literacy? To answer these questions, Data Center Director Beth Gifford and Senior Data Analyst Yu Bai will assemble data on Durham’s pre-kindergarten programs and children’s progress through elementary school.

“Durham Public Schools has a wealth of student data that we can use to identify trends and support our children early in life, when it does the most good,” said Superintendent Bert L’Homme. “Our challenge has always been having sufficient resources to fully analyze that data. Working with Duke and Durham County, we will be able to safeguard the privacy of our students while gaining a new understanding of what our children need to become safer, healthier, and better prepared for college and careers.”

Co-organizer Kenneth Dodge, director of the Duke Center for Child and Family Policy, called the Durham Children’s Data Center a highly innovative way to bring the best policy and data analysis tools to bear on policy decisions affecting Durham’s children, families, and schools.

Data center staff members will meet regularly with Durham community leaders to identify the most important policy questions to study, identify which administrative data files can be examined, and then complete research reports, Dodge said. Faculty with expertise in a wide variety of fields, including public policy, psychology and business, will take part in the research. The center plans to disseminate its findings at public meetings.

Initial funding will be provided by Duke University. The center will be governed by a team of Durham community leaders and initially co-led by L’Homme, Cummings, Dodge and Duke Assistant Research Professor Clara Muschkin.