Professors create revolutionary database




The Philadelphia public school districts will now be able to utilize a database that Penn professors have been working on for the past 10 years.

The city government has created a new unit called the Policy and Analysis Center to mediate relationships between city executives, a broad population of welfare researchers and members of the community. The database will help collect information about the youth population in Philadelphia for research.

PAC will draw from Kids Integrated Data ­— information collected by Graduate School of Education professor John Fantuzzo, GSE research associate Heather Rouse and School of Social Policy and Practice professor Dennis Culhane.

When Fantuzzo came to Penn in 1988, he had previously worked at Philadelphia’s Head Start program.

“We were realizing that the children’s families were facing so many challenges and because of a lack of connection between health agencies, families were unwittingly confused,” Fantuzzo said.

He added that even though many agencies had information, they did not collaborate with each other so the research was never put to much use.

Rouse will serve as PAC’s deputy research director, and Fantuzzo and Culhane will advise the city on various procedures and protocols that they have used in the past.

With funding from the William Penn Foundation, Fantuzzo, Culhane and Rouse created KIDS in 2004. The system is essentially a catalog of client records from various health and human services in education programs in Philadelphia.

After many legal and ethical modifications, KIDS was ready for public use.

“We needed this to be incorporated with the government, because we had really good information that could help inform policy makers,” Fantuzzo said.

“We’re just providing consultation to help it get moving and working on its own,” Culhane said. “We’ve had ten years of experience with this stuff.”

Fantuzzo said the timing was right at the beginning of 2010 to launch PAC. The current Deputy Mayor for Health and Opportunity Donald Schwarz was interested, a new school district superintendent was appointed and President Barack Obama has shown a keen interest in data integration.

“We now have a president who understands how important it is to integrate data and develop intelligence for social policy,” Fantuzzo said.

He explained — as Obama also said in his January Remarks on Strengthening Intelligence and Aviation Security — that the country had a great amount of data, we just don’t bring it together in a meaningful way.

“If we demonstrate that we can share data and make a positive impact, it should translate to a national level,” said James Moore, director of policy and evaluation at the deputy mayor’s office and executive director of PAC.

In addition to gradually building a sustainable, economically viable system, PAC hopes to start working with communities immediately.

“We hope to demonstrate impact in the next year,” Moore said.

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