March 28, 2023
Cheryl A. Oldham
Vice President of Education Policy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Senior Vice President of Education and Workforce, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation
Over the last 20 years, the education industry has faced many new challenges — the COVID-19 pandemic, the implementation of Common Core, and the threat of school closures due to poor performance, under-enrollment, or lack of funding. While these challenges affect all schools, schools in some areas had more resources to adapt more quickly than others.
Over the last two years, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation worked to compile information about these changes in its Looking Back to Look Forward report, the first report of its kind. It analyzes existing quantitative research and qualitative feedback on federal K-12 education policies, including the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act and the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Leaders from the foundation met to discuss the most surprising and concerning findings from their data and note important takeaways for those at both the state and local levels.
Accessible Data Provides Insights on Performance But Can Place Additional Pressure on Educators
While analyzing the data, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation members were surprised by some of the findings they discovered. One of the most important takeaways for Chris Stewart, Chief Executive Officer of brightbeam, was the importance of accessible data.
“[Many] things that we heard were upsides,” Stewart said. “One of them is just really the improvement of data, the ability for school leaders, communities, just the public in general, to have more access to real information about how students and schools were performing … [in addition to] being able to provide [teachers] with more data, more reliable information about their practice and their outcomes.”
With these changes in data, however, Superintendent of Highline Public Schools Dr. Ivan Duran highlighted the pressure felt by teachers and administrators to conform to new policies and procedures.
“It felt like we went from learning to all of a sudden accountability and focusing on kids doing well on tests, and these outcomes that really created a lot of stress and started to label a lot of different schools,” Dr. Duran said. “The school that I was involved with had quite a large number of second-language learners and students of color, so we just felt a lot of pressure.”
Teacher Training and Supporting Schools Will Be Crucial to Education Reform
While the data showed necessary insights into what worked and what didn’t work, it also highlighted concerning patterns that, according to foundation members, should be the focus moving forward.
Maya Martin Cadogan, Founder & Executive Director of Parents Amplifying Voices in Education, discussed two crucial points that should be examined in the future of education reform: teacher training and supporting schools.
“One of the things that we've really heard about from every single parent is that they know that the number one intervention for their child in terms of their academics is a great teacher, and that comes across all throughout the report,” Cadogan said. “And yet, the report talks about how we really didn't put as much investment in teacher preparation programs that aren't just about teaching teachers how to teach, but also about how to understand the cultural background of your students, how to build relationships, and how to do family engagement.”
In addition to lacking diversity training, Cadogan noted how diversity is left out of school support as well.
“The report talks about how many Black and brown and low-income families don't have the choice to move,” she explained. “So some of the decisions that wealthier or white families are making, like [choosing] a different neighborhood to live in, are not something that our families have access to. We need to make sure that [we’re using this information] to support and buttress schools with what they need and make sure they have the right funding streams.”
Armed With New Information, Everyone Must Play a Part in Advancing Education
As far as the responsibility for course-correcting some of these areas of concern, the panelists all agreed that everyone needs to play a part.
“There are important areas where states need to be held accountable by the federal government for at least reporting out to parents,” said Dr. Dan Goldhaber, Director of CALDER at the American Institutes for Research.
Stewart pointed out that “there's a role for everybody to play” and raised an important question in the discussion.
“We don't rate governors or state houses or decision makers and lawmakers on the performance of the schools, even though they rate everybody else on it,” he posited. “How come we don't have upward accountability for the performance of the schools too?”