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.
Secretary Betsy DeVos made news when she said it wasn’t the federal government’s responsibility to track COVID-19 cases in schools or how schools were reopening. But this is exactly what school leaders across the country have been asking for. Leaders and families cannot make decisions about how to keep students and faculty safe without data on COVID-19 exposure in schools. And understanding what school reopening plans were in place across the country will allow leaders to make decisions based on data and seek out more information on best practices during recovery. The more information available to leaders on how states and districts are dealing with COVID-19, the better off students will be in the long run.
Show families the data. Last week, DQC released our fourth Show Me the Data report. States have made progress in sharing more information with families and communities – but with work as important as report cards, there is no finish line. While the pandemic has certainly caused some state leaders to shift how they think about sharing data publicly and what data they have to share, report cards remain a state’s most public-facing resource. Families and communities deserve to have access to this information in ways that are easy to find, understand and use. As states like Tennessee are changing their report cards to remove information, others must be sharing context about how and why their report cards have changed. Leaders must release state report cards to inform local decisionmaking and recovery efforts, and they should consider how they can use their state’s report card to share updates on recovery efforts and ensure transparency moving forward.
Moving past the pandemic. In a recent New York Times op-ed, Thomas Friedman writes about the massive culture shift to come following the pandemic. He writes, “No job, no K-12 school, no university, no factory, no office will be spared.” He’s right. COVID-19 has already changed our economy and workforce, not to mention how students are educated. And changes will continue as we recover—especially for youth and families who need information to chart the path that’s right for them. As these changes take place, students and families will need data to be active participants in their futures. The more data they have access to, the better equipped they will be.
One area where data is sorely needed to ensure that individuals can make decisions about their futures is postsecondary credentials. In an interview with The 74, researcher Martin Kurzweil noted that, “The pandemic has increased interest in non-degree programs among adult learners… even while the COVID-19 recession has disproportionately hit workers without college degrees.” As individuals make decisions to pursue credentials, they should have the data they need to begin a credential clear-eyed about likely outcomes.
Protecting student privacy during online learning. Our 2020 national polls of parents and teachers found that a majority of parents and teachers agreed that high-quality virtual instruction is possible with the right supports, resources, and trainings in place. According to a new poll by the Center for Democracy and Technology, “parents and teachers really do see value in online learning and the task ahead is to figure out how to do it responsibly, how to protect students’ privacy.” Families and educators value and use data to help make the best decisions for students, but if leaders do not safeguard data, people will lose trust in the information they are provided—and people do not use data they do not trust. States will need to move quickly to provide data privacy and security support so that educators and other stakeholders can trust data and use it responsibly.