As schools have continued to transition to in-person environments, the toll the pandemic had on students’ ability to engage in the classroom is becoming clearer. Chronic absenteeism soared during the pandemic, and while it is difficult to track from state to state, McKinsey & Co. recently released a report that showed 22 percent of students were on track to be chronically absent—more than double the rate before the pandemic. Low-income students face greater barriers getting into the classroom, such as transportation issues or work obligations. Schools are offering night classes, gift cards, and even pep rallies to encourage attendance.
The U.S. Chamber Foundation grew concerned about these developments early into the pandemic. Last year, Cheryl Oldham, senior vice president at the U.S. Chamber Foundation, wrote about learning loss and lack of soft skills opportunities in virtual classroom settings, which can give insight into the aftershocks schools are currently experiencing.
In response to the dire need for more data and information only exasperated by the pandemic, the U.S. Chamber Foundation has launched an initiative on the Future of Data in K-12 Education.
“Historic learning loss has occurred across the board, and we need to find a way to get kids caught up,” Caitlin Codella Low, vice president of policy and programs at the U.S. Chamber Foundation, said. “It takes time. It’s not even a problem that money can solve alone. And so right now is the time to make sure that the federal and state and local policies that are in place, are serving the kids in a way that ends up giving them what they need to be successful in the future.”
This three-phase, multi-year initiative includes the support of a working group of preeminent leaders in national and local education. The working group members represent organizations such as The Education Trust, Foundation for Excellence in Education, Parents Amplifying Voices in Education, and the Center for Measurement Justice. Forming such a diverse working group with differing perspectives offers a unique opportunity for collaboration as they review policies and reforms over the past 20 years, such as No Child Left Behind.
Data and information will help inform how students are doing and will better support students who are not being served by their schools at the current moment. Reviewing policies from the past 20 years, which covers the previous two generations of students, allows the working group to use data to cultivate any future recommendations that are ultimately focused on the best interests of the students and the economic sustainability of the country.
“You cannot turn on the news without talking about workforce issues,” Codella Low explained. “It is an issue that is facing every single community. You can’t walk into a restaurant, into a hotel, into any business that doesn’t have a help wanted sign flashing on its front door. You cannot fix a workforce problem today without focusing on K-12 because all of that leads up to workforce.”
Learn more about the U.S. Chamber Foundation’s Future of Data in K-12 Education initiative, the working group, and stay up to date on the research here.