Wednesday, March 2, 2011

School Districts Struggle With Data Reporting Requirements

The House Committee on Education and the Workforce held a hearing on education regulations and how their enforcement impacted schools. It quickly became apparent to everyone in the room that the panelists and many Members of Congress had some major concerns about the data collection process. That being said, people on all sides of the issue tended to agree that the schools have to been held accountable somehow since they are receiving funding from the federal government. The problem that everyone seemed to have, however, is that they don’t believe the data is collected in an efficient manner. On top of that, the data collection process can take much needed time and resources away from the classroom – especially in smaller school districts.

A prime example of how the frustration expressed by the panelists about data reporting process came from the testimony of Dr. Edgar Hatrick who is the superintendent of Loudoun County Public Schools. In Loudoun County, Hatrick said the amount of time needed for reporting data essentially results in the equivalent of six full time employees. He specifically highlighted how “the Office of Civil Rights reporting requirement comes with no funding and ignores the availability of this information from State Education Agencies.” He also later said that because the information gleamed from the data reported by school systems often takes several years before getting back to the district, he couldn’t think of any time the data he’s had to report has actually lead to something helpful.

The reason that the Office of Civil Rights and other offices collect this data is so that they can make sure underserved students are actually receiving the services that they need. While it might not have been implemented efficiently or funded correctly, No Child Left Behind was supported by people on both sides of the aisle because they wanted schools to make sure those living in poverty and/or facing cultural oppressions had the opportunity to succeed. As Rep. George Miller (the ranking Member of the Committee) pointed out in his opening statement, prior to the passage of NCLB there was very little data available to help make sure that students truly were able to overcome opportunities to overcome struggles.
“Prior to the law, only 11 states had access to data that showed gender or ethnicity. Only 6 states had data about the achievement of poor students. Only 7 states were able to see data about the achievement of students based on their English proficiency.

These students were invisible. They were struggling in classrooms across the country, and nobody knew. So nobody did anything to fix it. We passed No Child Left Behind to tackle this harsh reality, and we meant what the title said.”
Anyone who has followed the debate around education reform recently knows that despite the well meaning spirit behind NCLB, it’s simply not working. The question therefore becomes: what changes need to be made in order to make sure underserved students receive the resources they need? This is something that Rep. Bobby Scott began to get at during his questioning of the panelists by asking about what could be done to reduce the burdens of reporting data while still getting the information that various federal offices need.

The consensus coming from the panel was that there could be efforts made to mainstream the reporting of data. Instead of having to report data about ESOL students to 73 different places, for instance, there could be a centralized location that this data is reported to. This would allow for the information to still be available, but to reduce the burden on the school systems when they’re reporting what they’ve collected. As Dr. Hatrick pointed out, this is especially important for small school districts that don’t have the resources and staff that are available to larger and wealthier districts like Loudoun County. During his questioning, Rep. Scott also highlighted how having a centralized reporting location might also help to get the information resulting from the data collection back to the districts in a shorter period of time. As a result, the data would be a lot more relevant to the districts.

What’s important to note is that despite the calls of some people on the ultra-conservative wing of the Republican Party to abolish the Department of Education, most of the panelists and Members of Congress present at the hearing seemed to believe that federal education efforts have done some good. Even as Hatrick said he didn’t think the federal programs hadn’t done much for Loudoun, for instance, he pointed out that smaller school districts would probably tell you something different. As we move forward, it’s therefore a matter of figuring out how to make the requirements more efficient so that they can have an even greater positive impact on school districts of all sizes.

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