The Advocate: November 2020

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The Advocate: November 2020

November 2020 may be a month that will be defined by its election, but we run The Advocate early in the month, and this means we are writing this in late October when we don’t know who the next president will be. What we do know is that our nation’s schools continue to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, balancing the very important push and priority to open schools at the exact same time the nation’s COVID-19 rates are peaking and we rapidly approach flu season. So what’s a district leader to do when they find themselves in the middle of a pandemic, lacking meaningful and reliable federal data on rates?
 
That’s where the National COVID-19 School Response dashboard comes in. This is a collaboration between AASA, the National Association of Secondary School Principals, and National Association of Elementary School Principals. Together we are working with Professor Emily Oster (Brown University) and Qualtrics, an experience management company (Researchers often use Qualtrics as a survey tool and combine it with SPSS to analyze survey data). The collaboration is the first nationwide database that systematically maps schools’ responses to the pandemic across the United States. Data is visualized in a single dashboard that empowers school leaders, policymakers and the general public to examine current conditions in their own communities—as well as compare against other areas—to adapt to changing environments and make data-driven teaching and learning decisions as they continue to navigate the 2020-21 school year.
 
AASA supports this work because our members, the nation’s public school superintendents—and the schools and students they serve—started the 2020-21 school year with inadequate access to broad, nationwide data reporting the realities of COVID in schools. We are proud to be a partner in this effort, to respond to a critical need, and to be able to share a robust set of locally reported data that will help district leaders and school principals answer questions critical to ensuring their staff and students are safe in school. The initial dashboard, launched in September, was just the first step in what will be an enduring effort to make this data as robust and meaningful as possible.
 
Top level takeaways of the database to date are:
  • It is likely safer for schools to be more open than they currently are, though there are two very big and important caveats: where opening is happening well, it takes a lot of mitigation strategies, and those mitigation strategies cost money.
  • School COVID rates appear to reflect/track those of their broader community (not surprising) but at an overall lower level. That is, if you are in a community that is experiencing an increase in COVID rates, your school rate is also likely increasing, though is at an overall lower level. 
Looking forward, there are big updates as of the last week in October: The dashboard now includes data from New York, collected by the state, on all their public schools. The inclusion of the New York data both increases the sample a lot, and address some of the concerns raised on selection bias (Not ALL of the concerns, the data is still not perfect!). And the research team tweaked some of the dashboard filter functions to better allow you to look at age groups, learning models and state community rates (grouped). Scroll to bottom to get the New York raw data, and some summary of what you'd get from filters.
 
Next steps are just as exciting, as well! We are working with other states to do what we did with New York (if you can help us with this, we’d welcome it!). We are in discussions to enroll more parochial and private schools, including outreach to Notre Dame, who is monitoring COVID-19 in private schools. And, the research team will be expanding its analysis on race and income.
 
Specific to districts, though, AASA is very pleased to announce: as part of the November 17 webinar How Schools Can Reopen Using Data Driven Decisions (Feat. Emily Oster, Noelle Ellerson Ng, and Byron Adams), we will be previewing the dashboards with relevant benchmarks that participating districts and schools will receive (this is a much more granular level than is currently available to individual enrollees).
 
We remain committed to this dashboard and our work to ensuring the nation’s public school leaders have access to robust, real-time and locally-reported data detailing COVID-19 in schools, information critical to ongoing efforts to open schools safely. You can direct any questions to AASA’s Noelle Ellerson Ng (nellerson@aasa.org)
 
Related Information:
 

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