Haircuts and Love Notes Don’t Matter, but Supporting Personalized Education Does

Topics: Education Policy, ESSA

By Jesse Moyer

The last few weeks have been a pretty exciting time, both personally and professionally. No, it isn’t because of my family, although my six year-old did give himself a haircut at school and my three year old got his first “love note.” No, it isn’t because of anything I am doing through volunteer work, although I did get to attend a pretty cool leadership conference recently. It isn’t because of any of those things.

What is it you ask?

It’s the Super Bowl and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reauthorization, of course! One of my favorite sporting events and potentially the biggest education policy development in the last decade are happening at the same time.

I enjoy monitoring both of these events, not in the least because of the lead-up for each. “Testing is terrible.” “Testing is absolutely necessary.” “Or maybe it’s somewhere in between?” “I’m only here so I don’t get fined.” “No, I didn’t let any air out of those footballs.”

Watching it all unfold is pretty interesting (and sometimes entertaining).

Part of that lead-up are the recommendations KnowledgeWorks and iNACOL published around the support of competency education in the ESEA reauthorization. Several of the recommendations resonate with the research we’ve done about the district conditions necessary to scale personalized learning.

Recommendation four stood out to me because it focuses on supporting learning infrastructure to enable competency education. One of the biggest barriers we’ve identified to scaling personalized learning, which would include competency education, was the lack of data system solutions at the district level.

Here is what our paper says about a comprehensive data system:

Districts should maintain a comprehensive data system consisting of learning management, assessment, and student information systems. These systems should be able to track student achievement history, teacher comments, supports and interventions, and other indicators while protecting student-level privacy.

The Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University offers several examples of how increased use of data, made easier by a comprehensive data system, positively impacts student learning, including educators using assessment data to pinpoint knowledge and skills gaps, principals using data to uncover patterns of performance, and instructional coaches using data to improve instructional performance. Without direct funding to help with start-up costs or the “flexibility to use state and district activities funds in applicable formula and discretionary programs to establish or improve learning infrastructure,” it is likely districts will continue to struggle using data and data systems to enable these activities.

However the ESEA reauthorization turns out, whether it involves Senator Alexander throwing a Hail Mary pass to Senator Murray or Secretary Duncan being called for pass interference on Representative Kline, I truly believe comprehensive data systems are the backbone of personalized education and desperately need to be addressed in any version of ESEA.

To learn more about our district conditions for scale, you can visit KnowledgeWorks’ policy page and signup for our email newsletter to stay up-to-date on this developing work.