Access, Communications, Transparency

From the Kitchen Tables of Jenn and Paige: What We’re Watching, Week of May 25

From the Kitchen Tables of Jenn and Paige: What We’re Watching, Week of May 25

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.

State leaders are craving more accurate information to locate and serve their students; federal grants offer a solution. While you may not see the term “education data” appear very frequently in the federal government’s initial COVID-19 response efforts, we’re struck by the many opportunities in new and existing federal grants to help make this happen. Here are some we’re looking at:

  • The US Department of Education’s new Rethink K–12 Education Models Grants program includes language encouraging the use of linked open data and provides quite a bit of flexibility for states to improve data systems to help them address the current crisis. ​
  • The CARES Act’s K–12 Emergency Relief Fund permits states and school districts to use the law’s emergency funding for data systems and use consistent with ESSA Title IV’s technology provisions.
  • Earlier this spring, NCES announced a Using Longitudinal Data to Support State Education Policymaking grant, which could be used to improve state data systems and research capacity to answer questions on relevant COVID-19 topics like the impact of remote learning practices.
  • Twenty-eight states were recently awarded funds through the FY19 round of SLDS grants and 26 states were awarded funds through the most recent round of Preschool Development Grants. Both of these programs provide states opportunities to strengthen data governance and data connections across P–20W. Looking ahead: More to come from DQC and Foresight Law + Policy next month on early education data.

Many of the country’s most robust education data systems were built by piecing together different smaller funding sources and opportunities. Even though education data might not be the explicit thrust of a certain federal initiative doesn’t mean that there aren’t ways to use federal support to increase a state’s data capacity – or that it shouldn’t be a state’s priority throughout this crisis and into recovery. We encourage states to apply this creative thinking as they work to strengthen and use the data systems that can help them respond and recover now.

CDC guidance raises questions about data sharing. The CDC’s new guidance for reopening schools recommends a number of considerations for data use, including: schools should “develop information-sharing systems with partners” for day-to-day reporting and disease surveillance efforts; local health officials should be a key partner in this sharing; and administrators should alert local health officials about large increases in student and staff absenteeism. While these are important steps toward reopening safely, there are questions about and implications for data sharing. What will this data sharing look like in practice, how will it be accessed and used, and what will be the lift for schools to establish these processes in a way that ensures data quality, privacy, and maintains trust? State leaders must protect student privacy and ensure that they collaborate and securely share information with key partners to support both student learning and safety.

What state and local education leaders can learn from COVID-19 trackers. We know that transparency matters and during the current crisis, that truth is no more apparent than with health data. Trackers we’re seeing in places like Maryland and from Texas2036 are providing the public with clear information on the spread of coronavirus and recovery. Georgia, however, was recently under fire for posting misleading information on its tracker – which the state has fixed. Whether the error was intentional or accidental, Georgia’s situation underscores the need for good communication, because once the public’s trust of data is broken, it’s hard to win back.

Education leaders can glean a lot from how states are dealing with this public health data. With anticipated declines across the board in student and school performance measures, education leaders should look at what to do – and not to do – as they try to help the public understand the challenge ahead. If leaders can’t be honest and transparent with the data they have been entrusted to collect and report, then communities will face even tougher struggles in recovery.

Closing the gap between evidence and policy. Last week, we covered both a new Illinois research-practice partnership and Paige’s thoughts alongside Results for America’s Sara Kerr in Education Week on how education researchers can help right now. And we’re happy this focus on the value of research and evidence continues this week.

The Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) announced the creation of a new initiative – The Evidence Project – that will focus on advancing “solutions-oriented analysis of the K–12 response to the COVID-19 pandemic.” CRPE intends to aggregate and coordinate existing research efforts, connect researchers with leaders to spur new collaborations and conduct rapid-response research. Other initiatives, like USC Rossier School of Education’s Answer Lab project, take questions directly from policymakers and find the right experts to answer them, working to answer COVID-related policy questions. Leaders will need this information in order to make decisions about how to move forward and ensure student success.

Parent polls provide key information about remote learning. Poll results released by the National Parents Union earlier this month found that parents are spending more time (1) helping their child with their homework assignments, (2) guiding their children through school-provided lessons and (3) creating lessons or learning activities for their child outside of what they get from school. These findings highlight how parents are more involved than ever in their children’s day-to-day schooling due to remote learning and are uniquely positioned to share insights about how it is – or isn’t – working.

This week, Learning Heroes released parent polling data that will also be useful as schools think about the 2020-2021 school year – whether instruction is ultimately remote or in person. Here are some findings that jumped out to us:

  • Almost 70 percent of parents will seek a better understanding of where their child is academically next year. This response is yet another reason to prioritize measures like two-year growth so that schools, teachers and parents can all understand the amount of academic growth students saw during this remote period.
  • Ninety-five percent of parents reported that they heard from their child’s teacher in some way, but only 33 percent say they have regular access – underscoring the importance of parent access. Looking ahead: DQC is working to highlight how some school districts are creating parent or family portals to both keep parents up to date and allow them direct access to staff. Stay tuned for more!
  • Less than half of parents have received key resources from schools; even fewer have received personalized resources. Read Jenn’s comments in EdTech about how creating cultures of data use allows teachers to personalize learning.