As we all try to understand our rapidly evolving education environment during the COVID-19 crisis and the uncertainty that surrounds it, the Data Quality Campaign is working to elevate what’s happening – whether it’s concrete examples of what’s working in states and districts, ideas and proposals from the field, or things our organization and others are exploring. To accomplish this, we’re bringing you our thoughts on the most salient conversations happening in the last week on navigating education during the pandemic and future recovery efforts.
We’re writing this column together to combine our perspectives: Jenn brings years of experience in the classroom and in education leadership at the district and federal levels, while Paige’s expertise comes from more than a decade working on state and federal education data policy and issues. Check back weekly for our roundup of noteworthy thinking on education data and policy.
Cybersecurity in COVID times. The importance of cybersecurity can’t be overstated in our pandemic moment, when so many of us—and so many students—are stuck at home behind computer screens. That’s why it’s more alarming than ever when a breach occurs, news we were following in multiple US school systems last week. Maryland’s Baltimore County in particular was hit hard, suffering a ransomware attack causing the county to cancel classes and warn users against logging into their school devices. Baltimore County was unfortunately not alone, as Education Week reports. From obscene emails sent to parents and students in Chicago to another ransomware attack that resulted in student and staff data being disseminated in Toledo, Ohio, education leaders across the country are dealing with threats to their online networks. These cases are discrete and unconnected, some involving compromised privacy of student data (as in Toledo) and others involving abuse from high-tech lowlifes (as in Chicago), but they all create a sense of chaos and vulnerability that couldn’t come at a worse time.
State policymakers need to step up with the technical assistance and infrastructure funding that districts need to address flaws in their security and prevent these kinds of attacks. One new resource for school districts is the Kindergarten Through Twelfth Grade Security Information Exchange (K12 SIX), a sharing hub for professionals to crowdsource vetted information to help prevent and mitigate cyberattacks. And there’s a role for the federal government here too, as we outline in DQC’s memo to the incoming Biden administration. The new administration can support states in addressing privacy and security needs, in part by providing cybersecurity funding to states and school districts dedicated to protecting student and teacher data from ransomware and other network attacks.
Notes from the enrollment crisis. In our pre-Thanksgiving post, we talked about the phenomenon of “lost students” and what some places like New Mexico are doing to ensure that students have the guidance and support to overcome technological and other barriers and make it to class. 60 Minutes covered this unprecedented drop in school enrollment in a feature story that followed a social worker tracking down students who had stopped showing up to classes during the pandemic in Tampa, Florida. According to 60 Minutes’ research, which looked at enrollment data from 78 of the largest US school districts, at least 240,000 students were unaccounted for when school resumed this fall. The myriad challenges created by the pandemic, including displacement and frequent moving, highlights yet again the need for data that’s linked across agencies to ensure students are receiving both quality instruction and other necessary services.
The Wall Street Journal and The 74 are reporting on dropping enrollment rates for community colleges and the impact that’s likely to have down the road—especially for the students that community colleges disproportionately serve, including students of color and low-income students. According to experts cited in the Wall Street Journal piece, one reason behind the drop is that people are uncertain about what the post-pandemic economy will look like—which jobs will be spared and which will disappear—and don’t know what skills to pursue in college. Whatever students decide along their pathways to success, it’s crucial that they have access to accurate, useful information about their options as they move through education and toward careers, including information on what kinds of degrees or other credentials they’ll need to find success in their chosen careers. And state leaders should prioritize getting individuals information to help them make the best choices for their future.
Kentucky’s Continuum. Finally, good news out of Kentucky last week, where officials announced the Commonwealth Education Continuum, a partnership across state agencies to help students transition through the state’s public education system. The continuum brings together the state’s Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE), the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet, and the Kentucky Department of Education to help close gaps in student readiness as they progress through school. Kentucky already has a great linked P–20W data system in KY STATS, and the creation of this body helps align data and policy to make sure individuals can use data to help Kentucky’s students. Cheers!