Access, Communications, Transparency

From the Kitchen Tables of Jenn and Paige: What We’re Watching, Week of September 21

From the Kitchen Tables of Jenn and Paige: What We’re Watching, Week of September 21

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.

No “data vacations.” In partnership with the George W. Bush Institute, The 74 is out with a new series on assessments titled “Beyond the Scantron.” We were especially interested in this interview with brightbeam CEO and parent advocate Chris Stewart. Stewart discusses the importance of high-quality assessments for parents as well as education leaders: “I have a real worry about what I’m calling a ‘data vacation.’ I think that a lot of people are using COVID as a timely excuse to take a data vacation for a year or maybe two. I see that a lot, as if we would decide not to take Americans’ blood pressure for the next two years because people are in disarray. If we did that, hypertension would go out of control. And we wouldn’t find out who was most at-risk until we got back from the data vacation.” Assessments give those closest to students information about where their students are academically and what kind of progress they’ve made (or haven’t). Skipping assessments next year will leave parents, families, teachers and education leaders in the dark about how the pandemic affected students and what they need to do to get students back on track.

Who decides when schools reopen? A new analysis from the Center on Reinventing Public Education found that 23 states and the District of Columbia “provide no clear public health criteria to guide reopening decisions. And the states that do provide guidance on health use widely varying criteria to deem when it’s safe to provide in-person instruction.” School, district and state leaders need information in order to make the best decisions for students. And while this information must include clear guidance on reopening, it should also include transparent information on cases of COVID-19 present in schools. While districts and schools could report this on their own, states have existing relationships with their departments of health and can take some of the burden from districts by reporting this information in one central place. Efforts to share data during the pandemic help to decrease fear and promote trust between communities and policymakers.

The promise of college and career readiness. Over the past few months, we’ve discussed declining FAFSA applications and the need for students and individuals to have clear information on potential college and career pathways. Last week, Bellwether Education Partners released a new analysis of college- and career-readiness measures, looking at how states are tracking the effectiveness of these programs. Higher education and employment prospects are uncertain as the country works to recover from the pandemic, and individuals need as much information as possible about their options and outcomes of those options for students like them. The Bellwether research reminds us that it’s not enough for states to promote high school college and career preparation in general. States must also ensure that students have the information they need to make the right choices for their futures.

This sentiment is echoed by Denison University President Adam Weinberg in a recent op-ed. He notes, “Higher education has a huge role to play in getting us from where we are to where we need to be—and it is a heavy lift. It’s not so much that we need to change the courses our faculty are teaching as much as we need to alter the pathways that we create for our students to graduate.” Higher education institutions have a role to play in ensuring that graduates are ready for what comes next. As students leave their postsecondary education, it’s even more important that they have the skills necessary to succeed in the workforce.

Teacher diversity. Education Week reports that many newer teachers—including teachers of color—are being laid off due to COVID-19-era state budget cuts and seniority-based “last in, first out” policies. Data is critical for efforts to diversify the teacher workforce and avoid setbacks caused by the COVID-19 crisis. As DQC Board Member and President and CEO of the Branch Alliance for Educator Diversity Dr. Cassandra Herring noted earlier this summer, leaders can use data to shine a light on the current process of recruiting and hiring diverse educators, and should also take a close look at the considerable amount of data they already have. A diverse teacher pipeline benefits all students, and is even more important during a school year with such unprecedented challenges for students.