Privacy & Transparency: New Resources for Schools and Districts

We all know how important it is for parents to have open lines of communication with their children’s school. Parents want to be champions for their children and to protect their interests and to do this they need information. When it comes to information that is stored digitally, parents often ask questions such as:

  • What information are you collecting about my child?
  • Why do you need that information, and what do you use it for?
  • How do you safeguard my child’s information?

I’m pleased to announce the release of new Privacy Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) guidance regarding transparency best practices for schools and districts. This document provides a number of recommendations for keeping parents and students informed about schools’ and districts’ collection and use of student data.

The recommendations can be divided into three main categories: what information schools and districts ought to communicate to parents; how to convey that information in an understandable way; and how to respond to parent inquiries about student data policies and practices.

Some of the best practices covered in the document include:

  • making information about student data policies and practices easy to find on districts’ and schools’ public webpages
  • publishing a data inventory that details what information schools and districts collect about students, and what they use it for
  • explaining to parents what, if any, personal information is shared with third parties and for what purposes
  • using communication strategies that reduce the complexity of the information, and telling parents where they can get more detailed information if they want it.

The document also encourages schools and districts to be proactive when it comes to communicating about how they use student data.

We’re also pleased to direct you to the new website for our FERPA compliance office, the Family Policy Compliance Office, or FPCO. The new website is more user-friendly and will help school officials, parents, and students find the information they are looking for. It’s still a work in progress and we have many new features that we hope to launch in the coming weeks. We will soon begin posting FPCO’s decision letters from prior complaints and we will be launching an online community of practice for school officials to share information, templates, and lessons learned.

Kathleen M. Styles is Chief Privacy Officer at the U.S. Department of Education.

How Can the Department of Education Increase Innovation, Transparency and Access to Data?

Despite the growing amount of information about higher education, many students and families still need access to clear, helpful resources to make informed decisions about going to – and paying for – college.  President Obama has called for innovation in college access, including by making sure all students have easy-to-understand information.

Now, the U.S. Department of Education needs your input on specific ways that we can increase innovation, transparency, and access to data.  In particular, we are interested in how APIs (application programming interfaces) could make our data and processes more open and efficient.

APIs are set of software instructions and standards that allow machine-to-machine communication.  APIs could allow developers from inside and outside government to build apps, widgets, websites, and other tools based on government information and services to let consumers access government-owned data and participate in government-run processes from more places on the Web, even beyond .gov websites. Well-designed government APIs help make data and processes freely available for use within agencies, between agencies, in the private sector, or by citizens, including students and families.

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Four New Civil Rights Data Collection Snapshots

Last week, the Department of Education released the latest data from the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC). The CRDC is a vital resource that provides the public an opportunity to understand how our nation and individual states, districts, and schools serve all students, including our students of color, English learners, and students with disabilities. The troubling disparities revealed in this comprehensive, searchable database serve as a reminder of the importance of ensuring all students have equal access to educational opportunities.

Holder at Wilson Elementary

Attorney General Eric Holder talks with a student following the announcement of the latest CRDC collection at J.O. Wilson Elementary School in Washington, D.C.

For the first time in more than a decade, the CRDC contains information on approximately 16,500 school districts, 97,000 schools, and 49 million students. The data shines a spotlight on educational equity in areas such as discipline, access to preschool, teacher equity, and access to college- and career-ready courses.

To coincide with the most recent data release, the Office for Civil Rights has created four new snapshots to help understand the data:

Data Snapshot: Early Childhood Education

Examples:

  • Public preschool access not yet a reality for much of the nation: About 40 percent of school districts do not offer preschool programs.
  • Black children make up 18 percent of preschool enrollment, but 48 percent of preschool children suspended more than once. Boys receive more than three out of four out-of-school preschool suspensions.

Data Snapshot: School Discipline, Restraint, & Seclusion Highlights

Examples:

  • Disproportionately high suspension/expulsion rates for students of color: Black students are suspended and expelled at a rate three times greater than white students. On average, 5 percent of white students are suspended, compared to 16 percent of black students. American Indian and Native-Alaskan students are also disproportionately suspended and expelled, representing less than 1 percent of the student population but 2 percent of out-of-school suspensions and 3 percent of expulsions.
  • Disproportionate suspensions of girls of color: While boys receive more than two out of three suspensions, black girls are suspended at higher rates (12 percent) than girls of any other race or ethnicity and most boys; American Indian and Native-Alaskan girls (7 percent) are suspended at higher rates than white boys (6 percent) or girls (2 percent).

Data Snapshot: College and Career Readiness

Examples:

  • Limited access to high-level math and science courses: Nationwide, only 50 percent of high schools offer calculus, and only 63 percent offer physics.
  • Significant lack of access to other core courses: Nationwide, between 10-25 percent of high schools do not offer more than one of the core courses in the typical sequence of high school math and science education — such as Algebra I and II, geometry, biology, and chemistry.

Data Snapshot: Teacher and Counselor Equity

Examples:

  • Teacher salary disparities: Nearly one in four districts with two or more high schools reports a teacher salary gap of more than $5,000 between high schools with the highest and the lowest black and Latino student enrollments.
  • Access to school counselors: Nationwide, one in five high schools lacks a school counselor.

Learn more about the 2011-12 CRDC collection at ocrdata.ed.gov.

Cameron Brenchley is director of digital strategy at the U.S. Department of Education

Five New Facts from the Civil Rights Data Collection

Equity – the push to ensure strong educational opportunity for every student – drives everything we do at the U.S. Department of Education, and particularly in the Office for Civil Rights. From preschool enrollment to college attendance and completion, our office’s work is grounded in the belief that all students, regardless of race, gender, disability, or age, need a high-quality education to be successful.

Yet despite the gains we’ve made as a country, too many students are not receiving the education they deserve, and it is our collective duty to change that. Data is crucial to this work and helps us understand the extent of educational inequity throughout the U.S. and make informed decisions for action.

Since 1968, the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), formerly the Elementary and Secondary School Survey, has collected data on key education and civil rights issues in our nation’s public schools. Our office uses this data to focus our equity efforts and monitor the effectiveness of our programs. Earlier today we released new data from the 2011-12 collection, and for the first time since 2000, we collected data from every public school in the nation. This newest collection also includes data on preschool suspensions and expulsions for the first time as well.

Below are five striking new facts from the 2011-12 CRDC collection:

  • Access to preschool is not a reality for much of the country. About 40 percent of public school districts do not offer preschool, and where it is available, it is mostly part-day only. Of the school districts that operate public preschool programs, barely half are available to all students within the district.
  • Suspension of preschool children. Black students represent 18 percent of preschool enrollment but 42 percent of preschool students suspended once, and 48 percent of the preschool students suspended more than once.
  • Access to courses necessary for college is inequitably distributed. Eighty-one percent of Asian-American high school students and 71 percent of white high school students attend high schools where the full range of math and science courses are offered (Algebra I, geometry, Algebra II, calculus, biology, chemistry, physics). However, fewer than half of American Indian and Native-Alaskan high school students have access to the full range of math and science courses in their high schools.  Black students (57 percent), Latino students (67 percent), students with disabilities (63 percent), and English learner students (65 percent) also have diminished access to the full range of courses.
  • Access to college counselors is uneven. Nationwide, one in five high schools lacks a school counselor.
  • Disparities in high school retention.  Twelve percent of black students are retained in grade nine – about double the rate that all students are retained (six percent).  Additionally, students with disabilities served by IDEA and English learners make up 12 percent and five percent of high school enrollment, respectively, but 19 percent and 11 percent of students held back or retained a year, respectively.

Learn more about the CRDC at ocrdata.ed.gov.

Catherine E. Lhamon is assistant secretary for the Office for Civil Rights.

New Guidance: Tech and Protecting Student Data

Today, more than ever, schools and districts are managing a lot of digital data. Some of that has to do with teaching and learning, but there’s plenty more: from bus routes, to food service records, to enrollment and attendance information. Districts and schools are working to be more efficient and smarter about storing and using data. Many have chosen to move data “in the cloud,” meaning off-site data centers that securely store information.

PTAC VideoThis advancement in data storage has created some important and reasonable questions about what steps are being taken to insure that student data is kept secure and private. In a speech yesterday at the Common Sense Media Privacy Zone Conference, in Washington, D.C., Secretary of Education Arne Duncan reaffirmed that school systems “owe families the highest standard of security and privacy.”

What I want to say to you today is that the benefits for students of technological advancement can’t be a trade-off with the security and privacy of our children.

We must provide our schools, teachers and students cutting-edge learning tools. And we must protect our children’s privacy. We can and must accomplish both goals – but we will have to get smarter to do it.

Duncan noted that many school systems are showing leadership on the privacy front, such as the Kansas State Department of Education, which has developed an innovative data quality certification program to train staff on data quality practices and techniques, including privacy and security.

Read Secretary Duncan’s speech – Technology in Education: Privacy and Progress

In a panel following the speech, Acting Deputy Education Sec. Jim Shelton talked with Julie Brill of the Federal Trade Commission about further actions the federal government can take to protect student privacy in education, floating the possibility of joint efforts between the two agencies.

Earlier today, the U.S. Department of Education’s Privacy Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) released new guidance to help school systems and educators interpret and understand the major laws and best practices protecting student privacy while using online educational services. The guidance addresses a range of concerns regarding the security and privacy of student data.

Click here to read the new guidance.

Cameron Brenchley is director of digital strategy at the U.S. Department of Education

Students in Large Cities Make Progress

America’s big cities have long been beacons of promise and opportunity. Yet too often, big-city school systems have failed to equalize educational opportunity or truly prepare our young people to compete in a knowledge-based, global economy.  In large cities, more than a third of all teens fail to graduate on time, and high school dropouts have few opportunities as adults to find rewarding work to sustain a family.

That’s why the results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress’s new study, examining educational performance in big cities, are encouraging.

Math GraphicToday, the National Assessment Governing Board released the results of the 2013 Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA). It found that student performance in large cities continues to improve overall, and that large-city schools nationwide are improving at a faster pace than the nation as a whole.

That progress is welcome, especially since large-city districts typically have higher concentrations of Black or Hispanic students, low-income students, and English language learners than the nation as a whole.

To be clear, a lot of work lies ahead to close achievement gaps in our largest cities. But here’s the good news: in 2013, tens of thousands of additional students in large cities are Proficient or above in math and reading than was the case four years earlier. And three districts that pressed ahead with ambitious reforms — the DC Public Schools System (DCPS), Los Angeles, and Fresno — made notable progress since 2011.

In comparison to 2009, 44,000 more students scored at or above Proficient in 4th grade math in large cities in 2013; 34,000 more students scored at or above Proficient in 4th grade reading; 20,000 more students scored at or above Proficient in 8th grade math; and 28,000 more students scored at or above Proficient in 8th grade reading.

This progress is a credit to the hard work of teachers, principals, other school staff members, parents, and students themselves.

Signs of progress on the TUDA are especially compelling because they cannot be attributed to teaching to the test or testing irregularities, such as cheating.

DCPS students made substantial gains in both fourth and eighth grade in reading and mathematics. And students in Los Angeles and Fresno—two of the CORE districts participating in district-based waivers to the No Child Left Behind Law–also made notable progress since 2011.

Fresno was the only district in the TUDA to report a significant decrease in the achievement gap in math and reading (in eighth grade) from 2009 to 2013 between students eligible for free- and reduced-price lunch programs and better-off students, who didn’t qualify for free- and reduced-price lunch.

The spoiler in this picture of slow and steady progress is the failure to meaningfully close racial achievement gaps in our large-city schools nationwide since 2009. Tens of thousands of students still lack the opportunities they deserve—and that opportunity gap is painfully at odds with the promise of equal opportunity in America.

Yet the TUDA results also tell us that leadership, vision, and a commitment to get better matter tremendously in big-city school districts.

A large performance gap persists between students in higher-performing cities, like Charlotte, Hillsborough County, and Austin, and students in Detroit and Cleveland, the two lowest-performing districts.

Those city-to-city gaps in performance provide a great opportunity for lower-performing districts to learn from higher-performing districts–and for districts where performance has stagnated to learn from rapidly-improving districts, like the District of Columbia Public School system.

I’m encouraged by the progress students overall are making in big cities. But it is time now to dramatically accelerate the pace of progress, not just in our big cities but in our nation as a whole. An opportunity for a world-class education should be the birthright of every student, no matter what their zip code.

Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education

Digging Deeper into ED Open Data: New ED Data Inventory

If you love data, and especially open data, there’s a good chance you also care about quality metadata. We have some exciting news: the Department of Education launched a new ED Data Inventory!

The Inventory is available as a searchable website and a JSON file.  It contains descriptions about the data the Department collected as part of program and grant activities as well as statistical data collections.

Richer information about the Department’s data makes it more accessible and understandable to researchers, developers and entrepreneurs. Our hope is that users will be able to put this freely available government data alongside other sources of data to advance new studies, products, services and apps. The tools and advances in knowledge and best practices can help American students, parents and educators and continue to improve America’s schools. Empowered with more relevant, timely information, students and families will be able to make more informed decisions about education and preparation for college and career.

The ED Data Inventory is a work in progress. The Department’s Data Strategy Team sponsored a working group that did the heavy lifting on this project under the leadership of Marilyn Seastrom, Chief Statistician for the National Center for Education Statistics. The inventory so far covers 33 data series with a total of 223 component studies or data collections. For each data collection, the inventory includes information on the specific data elements used and their definitions. The descriptions link to accessible, online copies of the datasets and systems. The inventory work is ongoing – the team is still at work adding descriptions of more data series and studies. 

The release of the ED Data Inventory is part of the Department’s response to the President’s Executive Order, Making Open and Machine Readable the New Default for Government Information, and the Open Data Policy. The content from the ED Data Inventory’s JSON file will soon feed the Department’s content on Data.gov. We have been working with the OMB Office of Science and Technology Policy to make open government data easier for the public and entrepreneurs to find, understand, and use. Check out the new Next.Data.gov, a design prototype of the next generation of Data.gov, and the education community on Next.Data.gov.  We provide a list of the 35 datasets accessible via API (application programming interface) at ed.gov/developer.

Learn more and connect with us at ed.gov/data. We look forward to your feedback, questions and suggestions.

Jill James is web director at the U.S. Department of Education and a member of the Department’s Data Strategy Team.

 

Cloudy With a Chance of Data

Recently, a lot of people have been talking about cloud computing and asking what it means to store student information in the cloud.  Unfortunately, confusion and misunderstanding can sometimes cloud the issue (pun intended).  In order to understand the potential risks and opportunities, we should take a minute to understand what it actually means to put data “in the cloud”.

Online systems are powered by computers called servers.  In the past, servers were generally located in the same physical vicinity as the people using them. Email servers were stored somewhere near the office where the users worked; student information system servers were stored somewhere in the school or district where the students attended. As demand for online tools increased and tolerance for “down time” decreased, the requirements for storing (or hosting) web servers became increasingly complex.

Row of web servers

Row of web servers in a large data center.

Fortunately, as network speeds have increased, data can travel faster and web servers no longer need to be stored in close physical proximity to the users in order to have access to the data. This allows the creation of remote hosting centers that can be designed specifically to meet the requirements of storing web servers for schools and districts. Since servers for multiple schools and districts can be stored in the same data center, the cost to each district could be reduced even while adding features (cooling, power, backups, physical security, etc.).  The concept of hosting web servers in shared data centers became known as “cloud storage”. Server rooms needed special cooling systems, backup generators, and redundant internet connections. In addition as more and more data began to be stored digitally, increased physical security was needed to guard against unauthorized access to the server room.  Meeting these demands added an enormous burden to district IT budgets – not to mention increased space requirements in buildings that were already overcrowded.

It is important to note that the co-location of servers for multiple schools in a single data center is not the same as comingling the student information into a single database. This may be the most widely misunderstood concept about storing student data in the cloud. Think about how email works. An email account is hosted in a remote “cloud” data center along with thousands of other email accounts. But just because our email accounts “live” in the same data center does not mean that I can read someone else’s email or vice versa.  Along the same lines, organizations that provide cloud data solutions for schools would not be able to amass a single database of student data or allow unauthorized individuals to access that data without violating privacy laws and the terms of contracts with school districts on which they depend.

Whenever student data is being stored—whether on paper, on servers in the back room of a school building, or “in the cloud”—security, privacy and other legal and operational issues must always be addressed. While specially–built data centers can offer additional physical and digital protections for student data, appropriate credentialing requirements, audit trails, and access controls must always be in place. In addition, state or federal laws, such as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) may apply. Check out this blog post by our Chief Privacy Officer for answers to common questions about privacy in the cloud.

We encourage parents and students who want more information on how their schools employ cloud computing to contact their schools directly. It’s important for everyone to stay informed about how data is being protected and how student data is being used to improve the learning experience.

Richard Culatta is the Deputy Director of the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education. 

Education Datapalooza: Unleashing the Power of Open Data to Help Students, Parents, and Teachers

Imagine new tools to help students choose a college that is right for them and their family.  Or imagine an easy-to-read virtual dashboard for parents to track the academic performance of their children.  Or imagine a digital file that makes it easier for children of active military and for foster youth to make the transition to a new school.

These are the kinds of advances that were on display at the White House last fall, as more than 150 of America’s entrepreneurs, software developers, education experts, and policy makers come together for an Education Datapalooza. The gathering was a chance to celebrate new products, services, and apps—all built with freely available data from the government and other sources—that have the potential to help American students succeed and that empower students and their families to make informed educational decisions. Notable among the day’s many impressive announcements:

  • Over 78 million people are now able to download their own Federal student loan and grant data from the Department of Education via the NSLDS Student Access system.
  • On the K-12 level, pioneering school districts and states—including York County and New York State—are committing to give students the ability to access and download their own academic data.
  • A new state-led effort will make it easier to transfer academic information digitally and securely when moving between schools, an especially valuable service for children of active military and foster children.
  • A new Department of Education and higher education institution collaboration to work on a data standard for postsecondary course catalogs, degree requirements, and related information. As more postsecondary institutions provide their course and awards data in the same format, students will benefit with new options to shorten college completion time and costs.

Watch our playlist of the day’s presenters, including Secretary Duncan and US CTO Todd Park, or view them here.

Many of the announcements of the day build off a simple principle: in an increasingly digital educational system, students should have easy access to their own data.  Moreover, these data should be secure, yet mobile; too often, students can see their data online but can’t take it with them.

One of the core projects talked about is the MyData Initiative—a collaboration between the U.S. Department of Education and software developers to help students securely export or download their own educational data in open, machine-readable, human-readable formats, on any system. A number of vendors that already provide schools with software systems have committed to offer this functionality.

Giving students their own data can be potentially game-changing. For example, with access to their own data, students are able to create personal learning profiles—educational portfolios of their own records. They can then choose to safely share pieces of those learning profiles with an ever-growing network of applications being built by private-sector entrepreneurs to help inform choices about which classes to take, which colleges to apply to, and how to pay for tuition.

Open data standards can also solve problems inherent in the antiquated paper-based student record system. For example, many teachers and principals across the country deal with new students who show up at their classrooms with virtually no paper trail. This forces educators to make important decisions with no student records, no data, and no points of reference. If every student information system can import and export student academic records in the same standardized format, it makes it easier for schools to transfer information internally and with other schools. Moreover, this problem disproportionately affects low-income students, who are often more likely to be transient and are most dependent on support from their schools.

Smart use of open data will help improve college access and affordability for students, and help us meet the President’s challenge to regain our place as world leader in our proportion of college graduates by 2020.

Other open data initiatives such as the Blue Button and Green Button—which are empowering citizens with their own health information and household energy usage information—have proven that liberating data from government vaults can fuel new products and services, grow new businesses, and help create jobs. The Education Datapalooza demonstrated that this model of openness and entrepreneurship can help us achieve similar gains for American education.

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Data, Evidence and Digital Learning

Have you noticed lately that MOOCs are all over the news? It’s hard to imagine that just a year ago, most people had never heard of Massive Open Online Courses—courses that hundreds of thousands of people all over the world take online, free of charge and that are rapidly growing in number. With this kind of opportunity comes the responsibility to ensure that these and other learning resources are quickly and continuously improved based on the best data available. Luckily, more and better data is emerging as digital learning becomes commonplace.

Change happens big in technology and it happens fast. And when public money is being spent and students’ futures are at stake, it is crucial that changes also happen smart. Our new report, Expanding Evidence Approaches for Learning in a Digital World, calls for smart change by presenting educators, policymakers, and funders with an expanded view of evidence approaches and sources of data that can help them with decision-making about learning resources.

The report discusses the promise of sophisticated digital learning systems for collecting and analyzing very large amounts of fine-grained data (“big data”) as users interact with the systems. It proposes that this data can be used by developers and researchers to improve these learning systems and strive to discover more about how people learn. It discusses the potential of developing more sophisticated ways of measuring what learners know and adaptive systems that can personalize learners’ experiences.

The report describes an iterative R&D process, with rapid design cycles and built-in feedback loops—one familiar in industry but less so in education (however, the report provides numerous examples of applications in education). An iterative R&D process enables early-stage innovations to be rapidly deployed, widely adopted, and—through continuous improvement processes—refined and enhanced over time. This means that data collection and analysis can occur continuously and that users are integral to the improvement process.

The report encourages learning technology developers, researchers, and educators to collaborate with and learn from one another as a means of accelerating progress and ensuring innovation in education.

In the spirit of an iterative development process, we are posting this report for public comment. Does the report resonate with your view of the emerging digital learning landscape and the data? Do you have examples of evidence gathering methods that use emerging data? Are the recommendations the right ones for enabling progress? Do you have other thoughts and ideas on the topic of data, evidence and digital learning? We would like to hear from you!

Karen Cator is director of the Office of Educational Technology.

Thanks to our Technical Working Group and Expert Advisors

This report was developed collaboratively, in partnership with a Technical Working Group of learning technologies experts. We wish to thank Eva L. Baker (University of California, Los Angeles), Allan Collins (Northwestern University), Chris Dede (Harvard University), Adam Gamoran (University of Wisconsin), Kenji Hakuta (StanfordUniversity), Anthony E. Kelly (George Mason University), Kenneth R. Koedinger (Carnegie Mellon University), David Niemi (Kaplan, Inc. ), James Pellegrino(University of Illinois, Chicago), William R. Penuel (University of Colorado, Boulder), Zoran Popović (University of Washington), Steve Ritter (Carnegie Learning), Russell W. Rumberger (University of California, Santa Barbara), Russell Shilling (Department of Defense, United States Navy), Marshall S. Smith (The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching) and Phoenix Wang (William Penn Foundation).

How do U.S. Students Compare with their Peers around the World?

New international assessments of student performance in reading, math, and science provide both encouraging news about American students’ progress and some sobering cautionary notes.

The encouraging news is that U.S. fourth grade students have made significant progress in reading and mathematics in the last five years. In fact, our fourth graders now rank among the world’s leaders in reading literacy, and U.S. student achievement in math is now only surpassed, on average, in four countries.

EducationUnfortunately, these signs of real progress are counterbalanced by the fact that learning gains in fourth grade are not being sustained through eighth grade–where mathematics and science achievement failed to measurably improve between 2007 and 2011.

Still, the progress of fourth graders is especially noteworthy because we see it on rigorous, internationally-benchmarked assessments that students take without any special test preparation, the TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) and PIRLS (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study).

And unlike previous PISA assessments–the other major international assessment, which U.S. 15-year olds take–nine U.S. states voluntarily participated in TIMSS in 2011. For the first time, policymakers and parents now have data to gauge how academic performance in a significant subset of states compares with the U.S. as a whole, and with international competitors.

In 2006, the last time the PIRLS reading assessments were administered, a slew of countries and regions equaled or surpassed U.S. fourth graders in reading. Students in Hungary, Italy, Sweden, and the Canadian province of Alberta had higher levels of literacy than U.S. students.

Yet five years later, U.S. students are out-performing students in all of those nations and provinces. Education systems where students were on a par with U.S. fourth graders in reading literacy in 2006–Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, the Netherlands, and the Quebec region of Canada–have all been surpassed in the last five years by U.S. students.

Just as encouraging, students in highly-diverse states like Florida, Massachusetts, and North Carolina excelled internationally in a number of subject areas, suggesting that demography is not destiny in America’s schools.

State and local policy turn out to matter a great deal–and can have a powerful influence in advancing or slowing educational progress. It is state and local leaders and educators who are providing the commitment, courage, collaboration, and capacity at the state and local level to accelerate achievement. It’s no surprise that Florida, Massachusetts, and North Carolina all won competitive Race to the Top grants from the federal government.

Finally, the new TIMSS and PIRLS results put to rest, once and for all, the myth that America’s schools cannot be among the world’s top-performing school systems. In fact, eighth graders in Massachusetts performed below only one country in the world in science, Singapore.

In Florida, the math skills of students are on a par with those of their Finnish peers, who have a record of being among the top-performing students in the world. And the reading skills of Florida’s fourth-graders are on a par with those of the top-performing education systems in the world, too, including Finland and Singapore.

For all of the good news, the new TIMSS and PIRLS assessments also underscore the urgency of accelerating achievement in middle school and the pressing need to close large and persistent achievement gaps.

To take one example, in 2011, white eighth graders scored 83 points higher in science on TIMSS than black students and 60 points higher than Hispanic students.

To put those numbers in perspective, white eighth graders in the U.S. did about as well in science as Finland’s and Japan’s students, and were only surpassed by students in Singapore, Chinese Taipei, and Korea.

By contrast, Hispanic eight graders’ science scores were on a par with students from Norway and Kazakhstan. And black eighth graders’ science scores were roughly equivalent to those of students from Iran, Romania, and the United Arab Emirates.

If education is to fulfill its essential role in America as the great equalizer, big achievement gaps and opportunity gaps must close–and all students must receive a world-class education that genuinely prepares them for colleges and careers in the 21st century. In America, educational opportunity cannot depend on the color of your skin, your zip code, or the size of your bank account.

Given the vital role that science, technology, engineering, and math play in stimulating innovation and economic growth, it is particularly troubling that eighth-grade science achievement has barely budged in the U.S. since 2007. Students in Singapore and Korea are far more likely today to perform at advanced levels in science than U.S. students.

In a knowledge-based economy, education is the new key to individual success and national prosperity. The results of the TIMSS and PIRLS assessments show both that our students are on the path to progress–and that we still have a long journey to go before all of America’s children get an excellent education.

–Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education

This article originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

A New, Single Home for ED Data

Starting today, the data sets and content you’re used to seeing on data.ed.gov can be found on education.data.gov.

(Developers: Please note that the 16 available education data APIs were already hosted by data.gov. These URLs did not change and existing applications using these APIs should not be affected.)

Digital Strategy LogoWhy the move?

In addition to saving the costs associated with hosting and maintaining a separate education data website, merging the information on data.ed.gov into the existing Data.gov Education Community will allow researchers, developers, and interested members of the public to meet all their education data needs in one central location.

Originally, we created the separate data.ed.gov portal because we wanted to provide the public with advanced features and visualization tools that were not yet available on Data.gov. Today, the Data.gov Education Community not only fully supports visualization and mapping technologies, but it benefits from the continual addition of new enhancements, tools, and features. A key new tool is an API “wizard” that will make it faster and easier to create APIs for existing and upcoming open datasets, increasing the ways developers can interact with this data.

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