Access, Communications, Transparency

From the Kitchen Tables of Jenn and Paige: What We’re Watching, Week of October 12

From the Kitchen Tables of Jenn and Paige: What We’re Watching, Week of October 12

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.

A new COVID-19 School Response Dashboard, compiled by organizations representing school and district leadership from across the country, shares transparent information about COVID-19 cases in schools, learning models, and mitigation strategies. Information on COVID-19 cases in schools, coupled with contextual information like how students are learning and what is required of staff to deter the spread of the virus, is incredibly important for communities to understand what’s happening in schools.

While databases of this kind are useful for communities, this data should also be coming directly from states. States have a responsibility to share transparent COVID-19 case transmission data with their communities—and existing connections between state departments of education and departments of public health mean that states are already poised to have and report this data. While many states still need to share this information publicly, we were disappointed to read the latest news from Maryland and Texas. The Baltimore Sun reports that Maryland officials are refusing to release COVID-19 case data for schools. In Texas, after releasing data on COVID-19 cases in school districts, the Texas Education Agency and Department of State Health Services took that information down because of inaccuracies. Last week, they reposted the data but officials “decided to ‘suppress’ data from any school district that had fewer than 50 students in classrooms during the first week of classes.” States must be as transparent as possible—and creating arbitrary thresholds for reporting (n-sizes) or not reporting the data at all creates mistrust between communities and state leaders.

In New York, leaders are dealing with a different COVID-19 case reporting issue: Governor Andrew Cuomo is calling on schools to report their COVID-19 cases daily, as some schools haven’t submitted any information at all. In a call with journalists, Cuomo rightly noted that, “The lack of information creates anxiety. The parents want to know and the teachers want to know.” Schools and school leaders must be honest with families and communities by sharing information on COVID-19 cases with the public.

California embraces data (finally!). During the pandemic, it’s even more important that states have data systems that are linked, allowing for state leaders and others to understand challenges and identify solutions. That’s why we’re paying close attention to an effort started by Governor Gavin Newsom before the pandemic began to create a California state P–20W data system. A working group created by legislation is meeting to make recommendations to develop and govern this new data system. And recently, the working group voted on a hosting entity and a governance structure that includes members of the public. In addition, California’s chief data officer announced a data strategy for the state. Forward progress on this initiative during the pandemic is a strong signal of California’s commitment to building a system that works for Californians. And including members of the public in the process ensures that the working group is creating a system that will work for California’s leaders as well as communities.

Researching the “COVID slide.” New research from Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) attempted to quantify the “COVID slide.” The research found that, “Across 19 states, it ranged from a third of a year to a year in reading, and from three-fourths of a school year to 232 days in math.” As Paige told The 74, the study presents information on what happened to student performance last year—but leaders must also examine additional data, like which students lacked reliable internet, whether students were already behind grade level prior to the pandemic, and which schools had low participation in distance learning, to understand the full picture of how COVID-19 school closures impacted student academic progress.

Updating higher education data. In an op-ed, Third Way’s Tamara Hiler and Center for Innovation in Education’s Andrew Gillen discuss the need for federal-level higher education data. In a time when students and families need all of the information they can get about the pathways they might pursue and what outcomes are for students like them, Hiler and Gillen note that higher education data is lacking. They call for passage of the College Transparency Act, “a strongly bipartisan, bicameral bill hat would create a privacy-protected, student-level data network and bring higher education into the data-driven 21st century.” Our country is in an economic crisis and individuals are reevaluating their future plans, including whether they will pursue postsecondary education or go straight into the workforce. Without clear, transparent information that can help guide decisionmaking, students and their families are left in the dark. Leaders at all levels can and should take steps to ensure individuals have access to the data and resources necessary to make such important decisions.