A data-driven pursuit of education that works for all

I’m thrilled that the Cloudera Foundation and Urban Institute are joining forces on education data. Here’s why.

When I took the role of CEO at the Cloudera Foundation, I asked people at Cloudera Inc., the company that created the foundation, about their vision of success for the foundation. One person’s answer in particular stuck with me. He said: Building a hospital. I got it – a real place on a map where people are being helped. However, what if we could change the health system – not only create one hospital but change how people get high-quality care and ensure that they do not go bankrupt while doing so? 

When you work at a foundation or a nonprofit and your goal is to improve people’s lives, there are a couple of levers that when pulled have huge ripple effects. Enabling people to live healthy lives is one. Getting a good education is another, which is why so many philanthropists focus on it. In low-income countries, the education level of mothers makes the biggest difference in families’ lives; in countries such as the U.S., education is a key factor in upward social mobility.

My husband and I both immigrated from Germany about 15 years ago and have often said to each other that we wouldn’t be where we are without the German educational system. His father was a stonemason; my father had to leave school at the age of 14 to contribute to income for his family, who were refugees from Poland. But we still went to the same school as the children of lawyers, doctors and factory owners. We maybe didn’t wear the same sneakers, but we got the same education. 

His father was a stonemason; my father had to leave school at the age of 14 to contribute to income for his family, who were refugees from Poland. But we still went to the same school as the children of lawyers, doctors and factory owners. We maybe didn’t wear the same sneakers, but we got the same education. 

In the U.S., your neighborhood largely determines which school you go to and the quality of the school is largely determined by the wealth of the neighborhood, as the school’s budget also depends on property taxes. COVID-19 laid bare those inequities by exposing the uneven ability of schools to offer virtual learning opportunities and the differences in the ability of parents and students to make use of those offers. Not all families can afford wifi or multiple devices – one for each child. And even though we are all glued to our phones all day who really wants to be taught via smartphone? 

Clearly, having educational opportunities is not a golden ticket. Issues of race, gender, outcomes after high school and after college, access to internships and networks, etc., all rush to mind. Who is taking care of siblings? Are parents available to help with homework? I have seen nonprofits in NYC trying to assist homeless young adults – often black or people of color – who were trying to finish their GED while crashing on friends’ couches. 

There are so many aspects that determine whether we can access and successfully attain a solid education. I’m excited about the Foundation’s support of Urban’s Educational Data Portal to highlight some of those factors – used by researchers to correlate the information with other datasets to level the playing field and provide more support where more support is needed.

I don’t want to build a school – I would like us to use data to guide changes to the educational system so that it works for everyone equitably.

Claudia Juech
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Claudia is the founding CEO and president of the Cloudera Foundation.

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