From the Kitchen Tables of Jenn and Paige: What We’re Watching, Week of March 22

From the Kitchen Tables of Jenn and Paige: What We’re Watching, Week of March 22

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 periodically bringing you our thoughts on the most salient conversations happening 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.

Data and the COVID-19 relief package. President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act (ARP) into law last week, and we’re starting to dig into what this new relief funding means for education and data. Here are a few quick notes:

  • Like the prior two rounds of emergency relief funding, ARP has dedicated funds for Elementary and Secondary Emergency Education Relief (ESSER), which can be used for a broad range of purposes—including data activities such as data systems, reporting, and evidence-based interventions.
  • A certain percentage of funds are designated to be used to address learning loss and on “evidence-based” summer enrichment programs and afterschool programs.
  • ARP includes a “Capital Projects Fund” that potentially could be used for data projects, depending how the Secretary of the Treasury interprets language about “critical capital projects directly enabling work, education, and health.”

So what does this mean? The bottom line is that states can use these new funding streams to enhance their data systems—and they should. Making strong data systems a priority goes hand in hand with other recovery goals: people need good information to effectively allocate resources to recover, and state systems need improvements to be able to produce the information needed to inform those decisions.

It’s important to have these opportunities to fund data efforts throughout federal relief funding, but we also strong encourage federal leaders to invest in data systems specifically (see our coalition letter). Given all the competing priorities states are dealing with, we can’t assume that states are set just because data funding is possible; dedicated money is needed to modernize state systems and ensure they’re capable of providing leaders with the information they need to fuel recovery efforts.

Surveying the states. The Biden administration has made it clear that data will be an important tool for learning recovery after the pandemic. And now the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) has rolled out an initial monthly survey to gather quick information on how elementary and middle schools are employing virtual, in-person, and hybrid learning.

This survey is a worthy start, but we’ll need much more to get us to the “full understanding” of the pandemic’s impact on students and teachers that President Biden’s calls for in his executive order. For one thing, the initial survey missed an opportunity to get data from schools about whether their students have access to internet and necessary technology. Future state and federal efforts (including an expanded “School Pulse” survey that IES will launch in August) need to get to actual measures of student experience, equity in access to learning opportunities, and learning progress. How we’ll get this critical information is especially worth considering as state leaders push back on statewide assessments.

Collecting this information is crucial, and in the meantime states should continue to make investments in data systems and human capacity to deal with this crisis—and the inevitable next one.