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.