Access, Communications, Transparency

From the Kitchen Tables of Jenn and Paige: What We’re Watching, Week of October 5

From the Kitchen Tables of Jenn and Paige: What We’re Watching, Week of October 5

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.

This week’s update coming to you from Jenn. Paige is enjoying some time off.

States are providing different levels of support for districts and schools as many students return to online learning. Collaborative for Student Success Communications Specialist Joshua Parrish has pulled together some of the innovative solutions that states have pursued during this time. Whether its adopting a homework freeze to reduce screen time like in Texas’ El Paso Independent School District or using CARES Act funding to expand internet access like in Pennsylvania, innovative solutions will help leaders provide students and educators with the resources they need to “do school” this year. It’s encouraging to see leaders thinking outside of the box—but privacy remains paramount.

As school happens online in many places, there are new considerations to take into account, especially when it comes to student data privacy. A recent survey by the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) found that privacy “mid- to low-level” concern for parents, but CDT expects that “privacy concerns are likely to become more common as digital platforms and contact tracing systems integrate with and enable school districts to operate.” Schools and districts may be moving quickly to adopt solutions, but leaders must take care to only adopt solutions that maintain the privacy of student data. Not only is this required by policies across the country designed to address safe data use in modern and evolving classrooms, but it’s also important in ensuring continued trust. 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 don’t use data they don’t trust. States will need to build data privacy and security support into any plans so that educators and other stakeholders can trust data and use it responsibly.

A “meteor moment”? In his commentary on The 74, Steven Hodas of the Center for Reinventing Public Education also discusses trust. Communities trust their schools for so much—much more than just education—but COVID-19 has thrown many schools and districts into uncharted territory. In the op-ed, Hodas argues that we can’t just go back to business as usual, and that school leaders will need to find new solutions. We’re seeing this play out most starkly in the transitions from high school to postsecondary education or career. As students try to make choices about their futures in an uncertain economic climate, they need more information than ever about potential pathways and what the outcomes would be for students like them. With robust information on credentials, careers and outcomes, individuals are better equipped to make the right decisions for their futures.

Discipline disparities and the role of data. Friday’s New York Times included a beautifully written article, shining yet another light on school discipline disparities in this country. While the article notes that discipline disparities are widely seen between Black and white boys, Black girls are particularly at risk. This article comes on the heels of a recent report by the Education Trust and the National Women’s Law Center, which recommended that school districts employ alternatives to suspensions and detentions for girls of color. The key to understanding these disparate rates of discipline is data. Without clear, disaggregated information on which students were disciplined and how, state, school and district leaders cannot take action. And communities can’t advocate for change. Our 2019 Show Me the Data analysis of state report cards found that 26 states did not include discipline data at that time. COVID-19 hit our country’s most overburdened communities the hardest, and leaders must work to ensure that problems that existed before the pandemic are not ignored as they move forward with recovery plans. Ensuring that all students have the resources they need to succeed should be the priority.