Education Next Poll, Interoperability

Education Next released its 2017 Poll on School Reform, its 11th annual survey of a representative sample of the American public. The 2017 Education Next survey, conducted in May and June of this year, polled more than 4,200 respondents, including oversamples of parents and teachers. The web site includes an interactive tool that allows users to view answer trends over 11 years.  This is an interesting poll. For some questions, the researchers divide respondents randomly into two (or more) groups and ask each group a slightly different version of the same question, allowing for a more nuanced view of public opinion. This year, for example, one group of respondents were told about President Trump’s position on an issue while the other group was not, allowing the researchers to estimate the “Trump effect” on public thinking.

The survey covers attitudes towards school spending, accountability and Common Core State Standards, the role of federal, state, local government, school choice, technology, English-language learners and parental aspirations for their children’s higher education, among others.

Some flash points from earlier years are fading. Support for using the same academic standards across the states has risen five percentage points since 2016. When asked specifically about the Common Core the level of support remains essentially the same as it was last year. Nearly two-thirds of respondents support the current practice of the federal government requiring that all students be tested in math and reading each year in grades 3-8 and once in high school. Nearly two-thirds oppose letting parents opt their children out of these annual tests. While support for annual testing declined by six percentage points from the year earlier, opposition to letting parents opt children out of testing increased by 3% points.

The poll once again asked people to grade the public schools in their local community as well as the schools in the nation as a whole. Local school grades have been rising since 2014. In 2017, 54% of respondents assign an A or B grade to their local schools. In a familiar pattern, respondents are much less positive about the nation’s schools as a whole, with 22% assigning them a grade of A or B.

There’s no indication of what evidence people have that supports their views. The outcome on this question reminded me of the news a few weeks back that most parents believe that their children are on track in school, Learning Hero’s second national survey found that 90% of parents think their children are performing at or above grade level in math and reading. Anyone paying attention to National Assessment of Educational Progress scores knows that’s not the case. NAEP shows that only 1 in 3 U.S. eighth graders are proficient in math and reading, with fourth graders doing just slightly better. Three-out-of-four parents expect their child to get a college degree, and 60% are confident their child will be well prepared for college coursework. Again, we know that nearly 25% of students entering a four-year college – even those from schools widely regarded as high performing – must take remedial classes. Parents rely on report cards, grades on assignments and projects, and what they learn at parent-teacher conferences to inform their judgement about how a child is performing. I think most parents (and teachers) pay less attention to scores on national tests and I understand why. But there’s a disconnect someplace and we have to do a better job of articulating for everyone exactly what students are expected to know at a given grade level, along with realistic examples of what that knowledge looks like when students are asked to demonstrate mastery. That effort must start very early, so everyone has eyes on the progress children are making and everyone is on board to help and support from day one.

Digital Promise published an infographic on interoperability.  Based on a survey of members of the League of Innovative Schools’ Data Interoperability working group, the infographic shares insights on the state of data interoperability in member districts. There’s nearly unanimous agreement among these CTOs that interoperability is a critical priority to improving schools for administrators, teachers, and students alike. Eighty-four percent of respondents said data interoperability was important or extremely important to their districts. But only 33% of districts report that they have gotten more than half of their teaching and learning tools linked with their student information system. It’s not for lack of trying: 70% of respondents report having taken steps toward being more interoperable. And 88% say that data interoperability has an impact on decision making or is a primary consideration in district-level purchasing of an ed-tech tool.

Among the pain points CTOs report are the need to do multiple integrations in order to extract data from multiple sources and managing multiple logins and single sign-on capabilities. They also struggle with regulating apps/freemium tools/ web apps that are not officially adopted by the district. While 41% of teachers in the CTO’s districts say that data interoperability has an impact on decisions to adopt an ed-tech tool in the classroom, that leaves the majority of teachers not paying much attention to interoperability. It’s likely that these teachers are among those who complain about not being able to easily access the data points they want via the district SIS or push content out via the LMS.

The districts responding to this survey seem intent on getting a handle on this problem. They plan to advance interoperability by reviewing every application for interoperability and relying on their IT department for all app decisions. Many teachers will be unhappy with increased district control and oversight. But if districts hope to realize the benefits of interoperability—improved data quality, time savings for teachers and administrators, data visualization, increased student data privacy and security—such measures may be necessary, at least in the short term. It’s a big ask, but developers and publishers have to step up as well.

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