When I became a parent 12 years ago, I was overwhelmed with the responsibility of taking care of this little person who so completely depended on me. As I settled into parenting (and had more kids) I had time to think about what I wanted for them. Besides health, inordinate amounts of happiness and similar things, I wanted them to have a good education, and this led to my involvement in their schools. I volunteered in my kid’s schools as that was a way for me to know what was happening during their day. It also allowed me a say in the big academic decisions. As my kids got older I wanted more information specifically on how they were doing in school and how their school was doing compared to other schools. Because, once the little moppets are out of kindergarten, a hand print on poster board is not enough to show their academic progress…….and thus the need for data, good data. But the issue was that at the time I wanted data, my kid’s school district had a portal with very basic information that did not provide granular details about my child’s progress or the school’s effectiveness.
Two years ago, the student data privacy debate became a hot topic of conversation, not only on social media, but in schools between parents, teachers and administrators and there was a dire need for clear and pragmatic information on what student data is, how it’s used, who has access to it and how long it’s kept in the system. The controversy surrounding inBloom grew and so did the debates surrounding student privacy and whether data should be kept in “the cloud” (which is, by the way, a computer in another room). Thus, this blog. Parents had been left out of the conversation surrounding student data and the purpose of my blog was not only to inform parents and clarify concepts but help all of us become active participants in a topic that involved our children.
Over the past two years, we have discussed everything from what is a State Longitudinal Database to opting out of directory information as well as debating inequity created by incomplete data sets. The conversations (and heated debates) around student privacy have evolved from trying to understand and address parental concerns, to measured conversations that focus on collecting adequate data that can enable parents, teachers and schools to make informed decisions about students education. The focus has shifted from anxiety about data collection to thoughtful discussions on adequate privacy protections and security. We had the Student Privacy Pledge (now almost 300 signatories strong), the student data principles and a plethora of privacy panels at conferences that wouldn’t typically address these issues (SXSWEdu anyone)???? Hey, the topic is so important that even President Obama endorsed the Student Privacy Pledge and reminded us of the importance of protecting our privacy.
Privacy and education technology can and should co-exist. This is palpable as we see more reports and research published that give us great insight into student outcomes and the effectiveness of different educational programs. On the other hand, there is a great downside in not using the information collected on students in responsible and ethical ways to improve our education system, a system that at its core is flawed and inequitable. Big data sets tell important stories, incomplete data sets can leave those most vulnerable behind. The question is not whether we should collect any data at all, I firmly believe that the question should be – what data should we collect, who is going to analyze it and how are we securing it while protecting all students’ privacy and enabling students’ ownership of their data so they can craft their own educational history.
So as this blog comes to a close, for the time being, I am encouraged by how the conversation has evolved. How we are focusing on addressing those important questions surrounding educational outcomes and responsible use of student data. Let’s not forget that privacy is the respect of one’s personal data. That we must focus on students and empowering them to decide what they want to keep private and what will compose their data trail. It is our responsibility to help our kids become good digital citizens. It is also our responsibility to safeguard their data. I urge all of you to continue the conversations on what is privacy, how do we protect it and how can we effectively use it. Let’s have constructive conversations on this topic so we can ultimately achieve our goal of helping kids, all the kids.
The blog will take a break but the conversation shouldn’t stop. I will certainly keep discussing this topic, I ask that you do the same. Thanks for reading these past two years. I have enjoyed every minute of it and have learned a tremendous amount. And as a friend very near and dear to my heart said to me – we don’t say goodbye, we say we will talk soon!