Closing the Enrichment Gap: The Power of Data

What does a genuine 21st-century education system look like? Well, for starters, it closes academic achievement gaps, gaps in health and wellness, and enrichment gaps among all young people.

    Emmanuele Rosario, 6th grade, and Daniel Wu, 8th grade, demonstrate an underwater Remotely Operated Vehicle that they built in the SeaPerch afterschool program.

Two Orlando middle-schoolers demonstrate an underwater Remotely Operated Vehicle that they built in the SeaPerch afterschool program.

Sounds like a tall order, but for Harvard Graduate School of Education professor Paul Reville, nothing short of it will suffice to provide every student with the tools to succeed—to show that “‘all’ means all” when we talk about educating every one of our nation’s youth.

Reville, who formerly served as Massachusetts Secretary of Education, was the opening speaker at last week’s National Conference on Summer Learning in Orlando, FL (Nov. 11-13), and in his speech he hit on themes that not only resonated for the expanded-learning providers in the audience, but also captured some of the current zeitgeist in education reform. He made an eloquent case for individualized and differentiated learning, calling it a “logical fallacy” to argue that the same thing (i.e., content, instruction) for the same amount of time will work to bring every kid to the same level, when each kid starts out from a different place. And he encouraged those present to stop calling social-emotional skills “soft skills” and instead legitimize them alongside academic development with identifiable and measurable metrics.

Metrics—and using data to drive outcomes and demonstrate value—were the overarching theme of the conference, which was attended by over 500 people. Across workshops and “power sessions,” presenters spoke about the data they collected and how they put it to use. Here are some common themes and new developments around data that I heard about:

  • Data is important for continuous quality improvement. Communities in Baltimore, MD; Grand Rapids, MI; and Oakland, CA have been piloting a new tool to guide summer learning providers through a continuous process of program assessment, planning, and improvement. The final Summer Program Quality Assessment tool should be ready for general use by Summer 2015.
  • Data presents challenges. Mapping and sharing data in an accessible format is tricky; the field is still figuring out which non-cognitive indicators to track and how to track them; and programs have to balance long-term results with short-term tweaking and improvement.
  • Data presents opportunities. In Boston, measurement has been essential to advancing the partnerships strategy behind the Boston Summer Learning Project, a demonstration project involving 51 schools and 18 nonprofit partners. And in Providence, longitudinal data has helped the Providence After School Alliance make the case for expanded learning to the local school board and superintendent.

Toward the end of the conference, I watched a group of middle-schoolers demonstrate the underwater robots they had built in the SeaPerch after-school program at the Orlando Y. One seventh-grader talked about the importance of precise measurements, cutting, and assembly when using the Navy-supplied robotics kits; another said he preferred to “hack” the kits and solve his way to the answer. Reese, one of the few girls in the program, explained to me how light bends in the water and makes objects appear in different places from where they’re actually located, making it difficult to pick up objects on the floor surface underwater.

This principle (light refraction) was something I learned in my advanced physics class in high school, but was unable to articulate quite as clearly until many years later. If we in the expanded-learning field can capture Reese’s self-confidence, articulate diction, and knowledge of physics in data, then we will be well on our way to making the case for every student to have opportunities like the one she’s had—meaning “all” when we say “all” in education.

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