Last month, the U.S. Department of Education (USED) held a virtual summit to address the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our nation’s schools. Throughout the day-long summit hosts Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and Director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Dr. Rochelle Walensky spoke with education leaders to discuss strategies for implementing CDC guidance and best practices for reopening and keeping schools open. The summit also addressed the social and emotional needs of students in returning to schools and how to tackle a year of schooling loss.
If you are like me, with each speaker and panel discussion your mind focused on what data we need to make all this work and how we’re going to connect it all. Opening and operating schools in normal times requires significant data inputs; layering on the need to think differently about student attendance, increased learning modalities, home access to devices and the internet, the daily scheduled activities of student cohorts on buses, in spaced classrooms, and in the cafeteria exponentially increases the need for interoperable data.
The CDC guidance for reopening requires a layered approach to five protection strategies: 1.) universal and correct mask wearing; 2.) physical distancing; 3.) increased hygiene and handwashing; 4.) additional cleaning and disinfecting; and 5.) diagnostic testing, isolation and quarantining. Implementing these guidelines across a district requires leadership, flexibility, communication, and furthermore a ton of education data. High quality connected data allows us to make the decisions we need to support a safe school reopening and to ensure learning can continue through uncertainty of the ongoing pandemic.
When reopening schools in the 2020-2021 school year districts have had to plan for continued distance learning either as a district-wide strategy to restart learning, an option for parents through the year, or as a necessity during a quarantine event. With COVID-19 factoring how schools have planned, this exaggerates a need for quality roster data to ensure easy planning for proper distancing and contact tracing. And as a result, new education data needs emerged quickly around attendance, student learning modality, and home connectivity and device access. Districts deploying Learning Management Systems quickly found the need for additional data to be unlocked and connected and to include data around student engagement in digital learning.
As we begin to emerge from the pandemic year, we face new challenges in re-engaging, supporting, and helping our students thrive after more than a year of interruption and schooling loss. One of the most powerful tools we have in supporting students is quality, real-time and connected data. Schooling loss does not have to be a learning loss if we correctly connect data to arm teachers with the information they need to support each student and strengthen family engagement by helping parents and guardians understand their own students’ progress.