Tech tracking worth of school programs
- By Dibya Sarkar
- Mar 27, 2001
Eight community schools in a Louisville, Ky. district are using technology
to track youth participation in after-school programs to see how they affect
a child's development and educational achievement.
In conjunction with the Academy for Educational Development, a nonprofit
education group, and with funding from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation,
the school district has installed tracking software and hardware developed
by Phoenix-based nFocus.com for the study. The project also includes six
Boys and Girls Clubs in lower income level areas of Louisville.
"The ultimate [goal is] to provide better programs and services to kids,"
said Martin Bell, deputy superintendent of Jefferson County Public Schools,
which has a 95,000-student enrollment. Although there are 150 schools in
the district, the eight participating schools are the only ones open for
after-hours activities and to the entire community.
Bell, who said it only cost about $42,000 to install the tracking system,
said it's difficult to quantify and qualify how those programs affect kids.
The tracking — that is, following the attendance and number of hours spent
at a particular extracurricular activity — could help get money for programs.
"We know all the outcomes in terms of the grades, but we don't necessarily
know what the inputs are," said Don Pruitt, vice president of nFocus.com.
"We can't correlate youth involvement in extracurricular community-based
activities with dropout rates [or] teen pregnancy rates, and that's what
we're looking to do."
The company provides software to nonprofit community and government
organizations to track youth, volunteers and staff. It's the first time
it has deployed the system in a school district. With the nFocus system,
participating children receive identification cards with bar codes. When a child arrives at a school and swipes a card through a scanner, the Trax system signs him or her in, and a display
screen notifies the child of messages left by a parent or interesting activities being offered that day. Bar code
scanners throughout the facility track the child's movements and amount
of time spent at each activity, whether it's a sporting, mentoring or tutoring
Pruitt also said the system could include "sensitive" data, such as
whether a child's family uses food stamps, which may provide information
to funders about providing food programs.
Bell said the information would be input into a data warehouse to analyze
academics, attendance, dropout rates, discipline problems and relationships
with adults, mentors and employers. It will also assess children's perception
of their own impact on their future.
"Down the road, if we see a student having discipline problems [who]
is not connected with a community-based organization, that [analysis] could
help that child," said Bell, who added that the Jefferson County Government,
city of Louisville and other community organizations are supporting the