“We need to safeguard student data.” But how do we do this and what does it mean to use student data? The Ed-Fi Alliance, an organization dedicated to advancing the education technology sector and advocating for the responsible use of data to improve student achievement and teacher satisfaction, is publishing a series of posts on its website on strong data privacy practices. What is appealing in this series is that they are providing real-world examples and practical situations we can learn from.
There is nothing simple about student data privacy. The issue is so multifaceted and complex we continue to struggle with determining what is the ultimate student data privacy protection. However, this latest Ed-Fi blog’s post features Lenny Schad, Chief Technology Information Officer for the Houston Independent School District. He is an advocate for data-driven learning environments but more importantly, he is well aware of the importance of student data privacy protections and implementing a robust technology infrastructure to protect such data.
The conversations about student data privacy are important but reading about real life experiences implementing data privacy and security protections provides an entire new perspective to the topic.
Mr. Schad shared five essential best practices for district leaders to adopt:
- Build awareness among educators
- Strengthen technical solutions by consolidating and securing resources
- Strengthen educators’ role in the student data security chain through formal training and resources
- Enlist vendors as data protection partners
- Get started now— and keep going
It’s a good read for anyone involved in student data but particularly for school districts.
You can read the entire post here – http://www.ed-fi.org/blog/2015/07/key-advice-on-the-new-frontiers-of-student-data-protection/
It might be summer, but things are certainly not slowing down in education and student privacy. Last week the Senate, following the House’s vote, passed a rewrite of the ESEA by a pretty big 81-17 margin. This is significant in the fact that the ESEA reauthorization gives us an opportunity to purposely use student data to help us all (parents, students, schools, policymakers) make informed decisions about our children’s education. I find it particularly interesting that lawmakers are taking such a keen interest in student data and privacy but I do hope that the intent is to promote the effective use of data and not hinder its use.
In addition to the ESEA, there are several other bills from both House and Senate about student privacy, and what caught my attention is that for the most part, the focus is on protecting student data while at the same time allowing for the use of data and technology. For example, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn) and Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont) introduced the SAFE KIDS Act. What this Act would do is prohibit ed-tech companies from selling student data, using the information for targeted advertising or disclosing information to unapproved third parties. Noteworthy in this bill is that it requires providers of services to publicly disclose their privacy policies and provide notice before making material changes to such policies. What I would very much like is a provision asking for such privacy policies to be written concisely and in plain simple language so that we can all understand them but….wishful thinking….
In short, the SAFE KIDS Act would provide student data protections without discouraging service providers from creating innovative educational products that could help improve student learning and teaching. But while all these protections and collaborative efforts are important, we fall short if we continue to fail to include student voices in the process. We must acknowledge that the use of data in education is not only for apps and ed-tech products to be developed and used. Student voices need to be heard when groups of learners are being discriminated against because of the lack of student data. You see, educational data is not only about one student or a group of students and their educational achievements or use of technology. Educational data can help us identify students that need help in different areas and help facilitate the diversion of services to them, for example how are homeless children or those in foster care doing in school? Are we providing adequate support services for them to increase the graduation rates in this vulnerable group? What can we, as a society, do to support children who need additional resources so that we can provide to them the best education possible and the opportunity of success in their future? How are we analyzing the outcomes of different groups of students, and are we providing the services they require? All of these would not be possible without student data.
I encourage lawmakers to continue to work on protecting student privacy as it will only help further the debate and encourage others to follow suit. I appreciate the trend different bills are promoting in encouraging tech companies to voluntarily agree to a pledge to protect student information. They are all important efforts but we cannot forget that there is a greater purpose in protecting student data – and that is helping all students not just a few.
As the summer continues and the new school year approaches, I couldn’t think of better summer reading than the different bills proposed to protect student privacy. All children deserve the right to reach their full potential, but we can only help do so with complete information at our disposal. It can be done, we just need to be smart about it.
For the first time since 2001, the U.S. House of Representatives debated and passed the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. As a parent who is looking to have more robust information on my children’s education I find the reauthorization particularly interesting. Mostly because the ESEA requirement of 2002 was to provide disaggregate data to the public so that we could have better insights into schools’ academic performance. And we can argue the merits of standardized testing and whether the data collected is being used in the most effective way, but what I believe is critical is that parents have access to this data, a comprehensive set of information of their children’s education. Something that is still not possible in many states. All states have a state longitudinal data system but few (a handful maybe) can provide this information to parents and students so that we can all make informed decisions.
I think we can all agree that an updated law is necessary to provide students in America with opportunities for growth. But we cannot do so without the right information in our hands. For example, the Colorado Growth Model provides both student specific sets to parents and teachers to guide their decision making and to the public at large in an aggregate form so we can get an accurate picture of school performance. The information these data sets provide has tremendous potential. It can identify groups of vulnerable learners that are being left behind as well as provide parents with information to help their children in areas in which they may be struggling.
As the debates over ESEA continue, we must recognize that we cannot effectively help students without the correct information. We should not reduce the amount of information at our disposal. Big data sets are helpful and can identify how well certain groups of students are doing, or not. They can help us understand the impact that different policies have on schools and allow us to correct course. Robust information empowers students and parents to advocate for themselves. None of this would be possible without data.
Rather than advocating for less data collected, lets advocate for good data sets. Data that is collected purposely and kept safe and private but that is given back to students, parents and the community at large to make informed decisions about our educational system. We cannot afford to know less about student learning.
I am looking forward to following how the debate over ESEA continues but I do hope everyone recognizes the importance of data and how useful it can be in helping student learning.
And seriously, we should all be demanding evidence that all our students are learning. Isn’t that what matters at the end of the day?