Access, Communications, Transparency

From the Kitchen Tables of Jenn and Paige: What We’re Watching, Week of November 2

From the Kitchen Tables of Jenn and Paige: What We’re Watching, Week of November 2

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.

It’s officially November and that means you’ve been hearing from us for six months. Is there something COVID-related that we haven’t addressed that you’d like to hear about? Let us know!

New CRDC data. Last month, the US Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) released long-awaited findings from the 2017-18 Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC). But its analysis largely ignores the experiences of students of color. In two accompanying briefs, the OCR explores trends in restraint and seclusion, and sexual violence in schools. Yet these resources only reference how these issues affect Black and Brown students a handful of times, and fail to address larger issues of systemic inequalities and racial opportunity gaps. Earlier this year, the Department of Education proposed eliminating nearly 30 data points entirely from the CRDC, raising concerns about implications for transparency and equity. Policymakers, educators, and community members rely on CRDC data to shed light on disparities and advocate for students’ needs. And as leaders seek to understand how to support the communities most impacted by the pandemic, it is even more crucial that CRDC data is protected.

A recent Hechinger Report/Associated Press analysis of CTE enrollment data from 40 states underscores the necessity of disaggregated data. Based on 2017-18 data, the analysis reveals “deep racial disparities in who takes these career-oriented courses. Black and Latino students were often less likely than their white peers to enroll in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and information technology classes.” Like with CRDC data, information that shines a light on how different groups of students are being served allows leaders to make changes to support all groups of students. And when individuals have access to information like graduation rates and workforce outcomes, they can make informed decisions about their futures based on real outcomes for students like them—which is especially important as students seek to navigate our current economic climate.

Opportunity-to-learn data. Aspen Institute’s Ross Weiner writes in The 74 that states should start collecting opportunity-to-learn data from districts and schools. This data, which “provides vital details about which students have a computer and broadband access, who is attending class and how often, whether students are receiving grade-level instruction and turning in assignments, and what services and support are being delivered, whether through in-person, remote or hybrid learning,” can allow leaders to allocate resources effectively to meet student needs. With access to information of this kind, leaders can make better recovery decisions for students. And as we’ve said before, measuring access to a computer and high-speed internet should be ongoing, as it’s not certain that students who had internet or a device one month, may not have it the next. Continuing to monitor access, attendance, and engagement will ensure that leaders better understand how they can support students.

Keeping student data safe. Minneapolis School District is receiving criticism for its new contract with a digital student surveillance tool. Despite the criticism, district leaders are standing behind their decision, citing federal law—the Children’s Internet Privacy Act (CIPA)—that requires schools to monitor students online. This news brings up a lot of questions for us. If Minneapolis’ argument is that they’re following federal law, are districts who don’t do this out of compliance? Why aren’t all districts doing it? And there’s ample evidence to underscore that this is a bad practice. Principles recently released by the Center for Democracy and Technology and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights call for ending high-tech profiling; the Future of Privacy Forum stated that any technology adapted or adopted to assist with online learning should be evidence-based and evaluated for efficacy; and the first Student Data Principle is “do no harm.” This practice not only causes harm, but also is not opening doors for children, so it’s on shaky ground. This situation highlights that states, and especially districts, need more guidance and more up-to date privacy laws. It’s still unclear to many how the three largest federal privacy laws— the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, and CIPA—interrelate. And there’s even less guidance available on how to apply them. While the conditions of the pandemic are new, this legal confusion isn’t. Without more guidance and training, and clearer laws, we’ll keep seeing these types of issues pop up.