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Biden Executive Order Could Shed Light on District Needs During COVID

Joe Biden signing executive orders

A presidential executive order tasking the U.S. Department of Education to collect data to inform K-12 school reopenings could provide companies across the market with a window into districts’ most urgent needs.

Data on attendance, funding priorities, public and charter school enrollment, teacher vaccination rates, assessment scores, and learning loss were among the areas that education advocates and company officials interviewed by EdWeek Market Brief said they would like to see the department collect when it implements the directives of the Jan. 21 executive order.

Among other things, the executive order instructs the Secretary of Education to coordinate with the department’s director of the Institute of Education Sciences to facilitate collection of “data necessary to fully understand the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on students and educators, including data on the status of in-person learning.”

The order calls for consultation with students, educators, unions, families, and state and local officials.

It would be difficult to glean a nationally representative sample of districts as they address challenges posed by the coronavirus, but the forthcoming data could help vendors improve their offerings to better fit district needs, said Reg Leichty, a founding partner of the education consulting group Foresight Law+Policy.

For example, detailed information on absentee rates and anticipated learning losses in reading, math, and other areas, could help companies better support teachers and students, he said.

“If we’re able to gather data about why students aren’t attending school, and it turns out to be something like broadband connectivity — which we know to be a problem — basically that’s a signal to companies that provide those services” that schools need what they’re offering.

In collecting attendance and assessment data, it will be important to pull in granular information about the student’s learning setting—whether it be virtual or in person—and to correlate those data with that student’s assessment scores, said Angela Jerabek, executive director of the BARR Center, a company that trains school staffs on relationship-building and school-level data collection and contextualization.

If the Biden administration can correlate those two data points, it will help contextualize the factors behind students’ learning progression or regression, she said.

Before IES collects the data, the agency will have to provide federal notice of its intent to survey states for new information.

Once IES provides notice, the federal comment period can take 30-60 days, meaning it could be at least a month after today before the education department starts collecting data.

Spending Needs, Other Than PPE

Kate Topping, vice president of marketing and communications at NWEA, said she would like to see the department collect data on public K-12 enrollment declines as well as charter school enrollment.

One big question is whether the rising interest in charters and private schools during COVID will continue, or whether parents have been sending their kids to these institutions merely because that was the only way to ensure their children would receive in-person instruction, Topping said.

It would also be helpful to know how increased spending on cleaning products for districts, across the board, may have diminished their ability to spend in other areas, she said.

NWEA did its own analysis of district funding priorities, and hand sanitizer, Wi-Fi hot spots, and student devices were all near the top of the list, Topping said.

“Those are the basic needs,” she said, “and then what will they take beyond that?”

In addition to instructional data, data on staff health records such as vaccination rates will be critical to collect, as policymakers weigh the factors necessary to reopen schools, Leichty said.

“Both sets of data are going to be important for administrators and their educators to not only run their schools,” Leichty said, “but also target instruction in a way that…helps support students through this period.”

Photo: President Joe Biden signs an executive order in the state dining room at the White House, one of many he has signed, on Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

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