Trust and Privacy in Education


It’s been a busy month for data privacy. We had Data Privacy Day, President Obama announced new privacy protections for students and the Department of Education is working on a National Education Technology Plan. Inherent in all these initiatives is trust. Learning to trust is probably one of the most difficult things we need to learn in life. Choosing to trust an organization with personal information is probably not as important as the decision we must make when we trust someone to educate our children. So if we trust our schools to educate our kids why can’t we trust schools and service providers with our children’s data?

Fears about the misuse of student data have become a central part of the debate in education. And the data breaches at Target & Sony only instill greater concern among parents regarding the security of their children’s data. Further, it is difficult to dismiss concerns when we read privacy policies in which companies might be able to classify student data as an asset to be transferred to a third party purchaser in case of bankruptcy. It is clear to me that we need to build trust amongst service providers, schools, parents and students. Trust is more than just being compliant with the law. Trust is about building relationships so that we all understand the sensitivities around data. Trust is about designing an ecosystem that enables learning to take place but protects student privacy.

Data privacy is difficult, it takes work, it’s complicated, it’s emotional. It seems that as much as we want to simplify the use of technology we inherently complicate it. We need to think about what is “right” and “what works.” We can’t continue to look at privacy as a right or wrong alternative. We have to be able to discuss the implication of the use of student data and what we are willing to do to reach out and trust each other to do the right thing. Trust is about transparency and transparency enables trust.

If parents and schools assume that technology service providers are “preying” on student data we are getting off to the wrong start. Everyone is on the defensive. Parents don’t trust technology, technology doesn’t trust parents and so it goes. How does technology mistrust parents? By not being fully transparent of their practices because of fear of being shut down. On the other hand, service providers are not going to gain our trust just by changing privacy policies. It is important that privacy policies align with protecting student data. We cannot accept a privacy policy that complies with legal technicalities just because they were called out on a blog or newspaper article. Why not have adequate policies from the beginning? Why must we feel, as parents, that we need to scrutinize these policies because if we don’t we are leaving our children vulnerable?

We need to work on creating opportunities to educate different stakeholders in education. We must recognize that students are central but their data is critical if we are to create opportunities that service them in the best way possible. We can’t get this wrong. We have an opportunity to work together to develop a thoughtful and comprehensive student data privacy plan. Our students, our kids, have too much at stake. If we do not build trust, work on it, and maintain it we stand to lose. Once trust is lost, it is almost impossible to get back.



Balancing Equity and Privacy in Education


We are celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King this week. Dr. King, who led the Civil Rights movement in the United States from the mid-1950’s until his death by assassination in 1968. Much has been said that education is the “civil rights issue of our time,” but when hasn’t education been a civil rights issue? You see, many minority groups have always seen education as the way (sometimes the only way) to fight discrimination. Unfortunately, discrimination and bias is present in schools today. Black students are expelled at a higher rate than white children. English Language Learners are more likely to be disciplined and discriminated against because of their and their parent’s lack of English proficiency. And although education is the surest way to fight discrimination, students of color are more likely to be in underfunded schools. But we would not know this if we didn’t have the data to back it up.

It has only been 60 years since Black and White children could legally sit side-by-side in public schools in much of this country. Studies have shown that student and teacher diversity is essential to optimize teaching and learning. Practices enacted to correct some of this have become policies that support educational goals that help students of all ethnic and racial backgrounds. We would not be able to determine this if we didn’t have hard data to identify the problem and measure the success of programs intending to address it. Sound policy requires that we have a comprehensive picture of what happens in schools.

But this doesn’t mean the students who we are trying to help forfeit their privacy. Students must feel safe in making mistakes, confident their learning shall not be used against them in the future. They ought not worry that a learning disability will restrict the opportunities available to them because of what their record shows. Privacy allows students to fearlessly take risks, make mistakes and grow as learners. But if they are not offered protection, they may choose to opt out, limiting the available data, invalidating the conclusions to be drawn. If we are concerned about their future, isn’t it our job to set our students up for success?

As we advocate for student privacy we need to acknowledge that bias and discrimination are real in schools today. We need to make sure that as we address issues of privacy in education, we are cognizant of the learners that will miss out on educational opportunities because we cannot ensure that their privacy will be protected and their information will not be used against them in school.

I encourage all of us to seriously address these issues but we cannot do so without reliable studies, data sets, and trends that are studied over time. Otherwise, what is our argument? Because I “think” this is happening? We can’t ignore the entrenched bias in education but we can only address it with effective data. So as we continue this debate, let’s not forget that high quality education and privacy is not only the right of the few but of all students.


The President talks Student Privacy…wait! What??

  Student Data Privacy has become such an important topic that even the President is talking about it. Earlier this week, President Barack Obama outlined his privacy and security agenda at the FTC in advance to his State of the Union Address. Why is this important for students and parents? Because, the Administration is taking notice. The President called for companies

A student data privacy wish list


The New Year is here and a couple of weeks ago the kids wrote what they wished for in 2015. It was interesting to read what they hoped for in the New Year (good grades, help people and can my little brother leave me alone). We all have our wish lists for the New Year, so I stepped back and started to think what my wish list for student data privacy would look like.

It is hard to name one issue I would like addressed in the education technology sector when it comes to student data privacy, my list is much longer than my kids wrote but here are my top picks. With the ed-tech industry stating it is all good (somewhat) and some privacy advocates saying it is all bad (some of it, but not all), it is difficult for parents and schools to know what concrete steps shall ensure the privacy of student data.

For starters, I would like to define who owns student data. We need to take a close look at the definition of ownership and acknowledge students, so our conversation shifts from one in which privacy (and education) sometimes happens to a conversation in which students are telling us what is important to them when it comes to their education and privacy. As I have more and more conversations with students of all ages, I realize they are increasingly aware of how they contribute data about themselves to a system that does not give them much attention. 2015 should be the year we learn to listen.

Parents need to be informed. And I don’t mean just by issuing boilerplate press releases in which companies tell parents they care about privacy. Or School Districts sending home flyers that say student data is safe. We must invest in workshops and informational sessions in which parents can have a genuine conversation about what is important, why it matters and what we can do about it. The conversation about data collection has to turn from one of what data should and should not be collected to one in which we discuss the best ways to use the data to help our students.

Which brings me to the value of data. The phrase “data is the new oil” can certainly be true. There is arguably, great profit to be made with data in many different sectors. But I hope that in 2015, the value of data for parents and students is not strictly a monetary one; for the value lies in its impact on improving our children’s education. Parents ought to be shown the direct benefit for their kids. Unless they see these benefits, the conversations about Big Data sets in education will remain irrelevant.

With the different data breaches that occurred in 2014 in the education sector, we need not only ask the companies and schools holding student data to be responsible. We must be able to hold them accountable for misuse of student data.

My list could go on and on but if I had to pick the one thing that I think is the most important it’s  – data privacy training. Training for parents, teachers, schools and students. We need to understand the system better. I want education sessions that inform students on their data, how it is used and how to be responsible owners of their data, empowering them to be responsible digital citizens.

Last year was an interesting one (to say the least). My focus is on taking advantage of the lessons learned and moving the conversation forward. If 2015 is anything like last year, we are in for an interesting debate. How will new platforms use student data? What new studies and research shall be funded to “improve” educational outcomes? Can data truly be de-identified? What biases are being unintentionally created when some students opt out of data collection? What learners are being left behind when there are opt outs in data sets? Are we being sensitive to other cultures and addressing their concerns when it comes to their privacy? How does privacy or lack thereof affect a student’s experience?

I don’t think we will be able to answer all of these questions in one year but I am sure we will be discussing them. All of them. In the meantime, I wish you all a most wonderful 2015! What’s on your wish list?