While yesterday may have been another sad day for ESEA reauthorization hopes, there was an unexpected and understated glimmer of good education policy hope as Representative Hunter (R-CA) introduced The Student Right to Know Before You Go Act.
Faithful readers of The Quick and the Ed might be asking, “But didn’t Senator Wyden—a Democrat— just introduce the same thing?” Given the complete lack of bicameral, bipartisan support of anything these days, it’s a fair question. But this was no mix-up at the hopper. Hunter, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education, knew what he was doing. Hunter and Wyden have actually been (gasp) working together on what seems to be common educational ground for Republicans and Democrats: data and transparency.
A few months back, Mr. Hunter gave a powerful keynote at the Data Quality Campaign’s Strengthening the Feedback Loop: Using Data to Support the College-and-Career-Ready Agenda. Although he is a good-looking former Marine with a rich and resonant voice, it was his understanding of and belief in the power of data that made the education nerds in the room swoon (see him speak here). Hunter and Wyden understand that the problem isn’t our lack of data or data systems. We have tons of each. We have K-12 data. We have post-secondary data. We have workforce data. But these systems rarely speak to each other, leaving students, parents, taxpayers, and policy makers unable to answer basic questions about how students are doing as they move through the various education systems and into the workforce.
What questions can’t we answer? Well, let’s take high schools, for example. We know that a high school diploma does not always mean college and career ready—there is wide variation among graduates of different districts, schools, and teachers. So how do high schools know if their graduates are college and career ready? Too often, they don’t. They rely on stories from thankful students returning from their first year at State U or from landing their first real job. While these anecdotal stories are important, they don’t paint the complete picture. Not all students go to college. And many others get trapped in the Bermuda Triangle of remedial education, dropping or stopping out with thousands of dollars in debt, only managing to secure a low wage job. These students are unlikely to shower their former high schools with visits and thank you cards. It’s time to move past relying on anecdotal evidence of how students fare.We need to use data. Hunter and Wyden’s bill would help us to do just that.
Republicans and Democrats can’t agree on much these days—but transparency in education seems to be a rare exception. Let’s hope that other members of Congress follow Hunter and Wyden’s lead and work together to get something positive done this session for students and their families.