As the Commissioner of Education in the state of Nebraska since 2014, we, like other states across the nation, have had our fair share of unprecedented events and natural disasters. Following each event, we regroup and we learn. We pull together as a community, a state, and a nation. We look to the future and to our “next normal.”
The scale of school interruptions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated a number of deeply-embedded challenges in our school systems – challenges of wellbeing and safety, challenges of academic progression and opportunities missed, and challenges of access and connectivity. As we emerge from this moment and create that “next normal” we have an incredible opportunity to do so in a way that is more responsive, inclusive, and equitable for all students.
Concluding this unprecedented school year, we look forward to summer, and plan for the next school year. We have a lot of work to do to support our students and educators. With passage of the American Recovery Plan Act we have significant new funding to use, wisely and effectively, to rebound from the pandemic and reimagine how we support all students. The Act directs funding across early childhood, K-12, and higher education to support evidence-based programs and interventions, target at-risk communities, and focus on social emotional needs. With this new funding we have the responsibility to lead with data to provide support to schools.
State education agencies have a responsibility and a mandate to collect data and show evidence of student progress for both public reporting and compliance. With this historic investment and a “once in a lifetime opportunity,” we must serve our schools with quality education information, better, more interoperable tools and resources, and targeted support. This requires a modernized IT infrastructure, and supporting capacity that is responsive and scalable. By implementing the Ed-Fi data standard and connecting data across siloed systems, we can streamline the data collection aspects of day-to-day work and use that saved time and energy to analyze and use data information to support student growth. This will allow us to increase long-term capacity to prioritize and focus on acceleration of unfinished learning and the renewal of approaches to education in general.
In Nebraska, we’ve already started to benefit from a modernized and standardized approach to data infrastructure. This year alone we’ve worked with the Ed-Fi Alliance and our colleagues across several states to define and implement a Digital Equity collection. Together, we also streamlined the process for rostering statewide assessments, standardized the way we collect student attendance and modality with quality, accurate data, and blazed a trail to automate federal reporting to concentrate on services and support, while also addressing compliance.
I invite you to join Nebraska in this effort to modernize our education IT systems, enabling us to utilize real-time, connected data and create equitable access and solutions for our students and educators.
This call to action is beyond addressing the moment but about improving the system now and for the “next normal.”
Matthew L. Blomstedt
Nebraska Commissioner of Education