I know I said I’d cool it on schools but I lied. In particular, I wanted to take today to provide a little bit more information on the (ambitious) school dashboard project, which launched this week. This is a bit more formal than usual, but I really, really want to get this out there. Please do share this out with anyone you think would want to participate or help. (If you are a parent: ask your school; if you are a principal, ask your superintendent, etc, etc.)
The broad motivation is the need for better data on COVID-19 in schools. I think in a way we all share the same goal : open schools if possible, as long as we can make it safe. Some conflict arises because of disagreement about what “safe” is — for people who think that even one case among someone in a school is too many, there is no safe — but some also arises due to uncertainty. We simply do not know enough about what will happen in the US when we open schools. What precautions are most useful? What age groups are lowest risk? How much does community spread mater? Is there a threshold level of spread that makes it unsafe to open?
Answering these questions requires evidence. It requires us to observe what schools are doing, how they are opening and see information on COVID-19 cases.
This project aims to collect this data from as many schools as possible, over time, on a national scale.
Our basic approach is simple. We are recruiting school districts, and individual schools, including public, private, charter, independent, Catholic. If you are a school of any type, we want you. Enrolled schools will complete two types of surveys. First, a baseline survey with basic school information — how are you reopening (hydrid/remote/in-person), age groups, enrollments, staffing and, if in person, some information on COVID-19 precautions like masking and distance rules. The whole survey is designed to take no more than 10 or 15 minutes.
Then, we’ll survey the schools bi-weekly, with a very short survey asking simply about current opening status, average attendance and staffing, and COVID-19 cases in students and staff.
The data will be anonymized and published immediately in a navigable dashboard which will provide metrics of cases at the county level, and allow policy-makers and others to explore variation across age groupings, precautionary measures, and so on.
So that’s the basic idea. Of course, there is a lot more behind this. We’re coordinating with districts and in some cases directly with States. We want to make participation as easy as possible, which means work on our end to facilitate. And we want to be fast. Our goal is to have a dashboard up the week of September 21st. I bolded that so now we have to stick to it.
Below, some next steps if you want to participate or help, and some FAQ. But first: Sometimes people ask me whether the pandemic has any “silver linings”. Usually I say more time with my kids. But I will also say that it has provided me with an opportunity to work with some extraordinary people who just want to help. This project is joint with the AASA, The School Superintendents Association; the National Association of Secondary School Principals; the National Association of Elementary School Principals; and Qualtrics. It’s also benefiting from all kinds of other partnerships with a million different people.
My AASA counterpart, the incomparable Noelle Ellerson Ng, has said the motto for the project is “Yes, And…” meaning that when people ask if they can help or be involved we say “Yes”, and then we ask what more we can do together. The sense of communal effort has restored some of my slightly fractured faith in humanity.
Next Steps - Can I help?
“I’m a superintendent or school district and want to enroll”: Complete our district enrollment survey here!
“I’m a school and want to enroll”: Provide your contact information here and we’ll reach out with baseline survey next week.
“I’m a person who wants to help you do grunt work of organizing excel sheets and other great stuff like that.” Email us at email@example.com.
“I am an organization who would like to help fund this project.” Not going to lie, we would take it. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Questions! So many Questions!
People have asked a lot of questions — let me try to answer a few here, and we’ll keep a longer FAQ up at COVID-Explained.
Why is this any different from those crowd-sourced data which collects media reports on cases?
This question we get A LOT. There are a several groups collecting data through reporting of cases by people in schools, or through media reports. And the bottom line is that we applaud any data efforts.
This approach misses a couple of things. First: denominators. Observing 20 cases is very different if the enrollment is 100 than if it is 100,000. Second: it misses cases that do not make the news, etc. Third: it doesn’t really distinguish between cases that arrive from outside and cases that spread in school. We’ll be able (we hope) to make more progress on this with the data over time.
Having said this: there is data here which is really useful, and it’s complementary in the sense that we can use it to cross-reference with our data. In the slightly longer run, I hope we can develop partnerships to bring all this data together in one place.
How will you verify the data is real?
We will have procedures in place to follow up with schools who enroll individually to make sure they are truly representing a school. And we’ll have checks in place to verify data, including cross-referencing to other sources which report cases, like county health departments.
How will data be protected?
Only the project team will have access to data with school identifiers. Publicly accessible data will be identified only at the county and state level.
What is the incentive for schools to participate?
The main reason to participate here is the public good. These data are (we think) necessary to get our kids back to school and project the safety of teachers, staff and students. However: we are thinking through ways to report out to schools about how they are doing (kind of an “Opower” for schools) and we hope to have that available.
Can schools participate if they are not opening in person?
Yes. We’re interested in any school that is open for the 2020-21 year, including remote-only instruction, along with those who are opening initially. Please indicate your interest here.
Keep the thoughts coming. I cannot write back to everyone but I do read all of your emails, I promise.
Where to Find Me