Yesterday, record numbers of midterm voters turned to the polls to cast their vote in elections across the country. While education was not polling high as a top issue on the ballot, the many changes in state level leadership will have a potentially huge impact on students and educators (and their ability to access and use data!)
Most notably, 20 new governors were elected who now have the power to set education agendas and priorities for their state. This includes prominent education advocates Jared Polis (CO-D) and Tony Evers (WI-D), both long time education data champions. Seven of these governors will have the power to appoint a state school chief who will drive decisions about the access, use, and security of state data systems. And in California, the nation’s largest state, there are sure to be big data implications. Gavin Newsom (D), a vocal advocate for data, was elected Governor and in the yet-to-be-called state school chief race, both candidates are on record supporting data as a strategy for improving schools and outcomes.
One of the biggest factors shaping the impact of this election will be how these new leaders choose to interpret and implement their state plans under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). As one of the Collaborative for Student Success and Bellwether Education Partner’s state ESSA plan reviewers, I had a hard time untangling the often imprecise language some states used to describe how they intend to hold schools accountable. Very often, multiple readers would have different interpretations of the same language, leaving us confused as to what states truly committed to. With fresh eyes and leadership, new governors and state chiefs could bring with them different interpretations of their state’s existing plan. This possibility has major implications for how states will work to improve and hold schools accountable for student performance.
Despite questions about what the future holds, one thing the election did make clear is that people are paying attention. Last night’s election turnout was the highest for any midterm election in 50 years and the public has shown they are focused on holding leaders accountable and asking tough questions. Trust in our institutions is low and skepticism around policymaking is high. In this climate, data matters more than ever because the public is demanding answers and not talking points. As states strive to build trust and ensure systems and schools are working in ways that support student learning and success, access to timely, high-quality education data is essential.
While uncertainty has impacted the political and policy climate, data can serve as an objective tool to shine a light on what’s working for students. In today’s education landscape, where debates over the role of charter schools, school funding, and teacher preparation and retention are ardently contested, data makes it possible to ask and answer critical questions about what’s happening in schools and classrooms. And when used to inform dialogue, data can objectively orient leaders at every level to the work needed to drive change and boost outcomes to support learning.
Building a culture where data is trusted, valued, and used requires that we the people – parents, teachers, community members and leaders alike – are empowered with the information we need to make decisions. The responsibility for making this happen lies squarely with our newly elected (and re-elected) state leaders. As these state leaders look to make good on their campaign promises to reach the education goals in their state, ensuring those closest to students have access to clear, meaningful data and the capacity to use it will be critical for success. As new leaders look to take up this charge, having a clear understanding of the landscape of education data will be vital to both build on past progress and shape new opportunities to leverage data. New leaders should be encouraged to consult DQC’s Education Data 101: A Briefing Book for Policymakers, which breaks down the most pressing education data topics policymakers need to know, including data privacy, linkages, and more. This tool serves as a critical resource for newly elected leaders and the public as we continue work to ensure data is put to work in service of student success.
The public has questions and leaders at every level have a responsibility to answer. By putting quality, meaningful data into the hands of the people who need it, everyone, including elected officials themselves, will be best positioned to act from a place of confidence to make decisions and improve outcomes for schools and students.
Also published on Medium.