One of the most important sections of the Administration’s recent report on Big Data concerns was focused on education technology and privacy. The report noted the need to ensure that innovations in educational technology, including new approaches and business models, have ample opportunity to flourish.
Many of these benefits include robust tools to improve teaching and instructional methods; diagnose students’ strengths and weaknesses and adjust materials and approaches for individual learners; identify at-risk students so teachers and counselors can intervene early; and rationalize resource allocation and procurement decisions. Today, students can access materials, collaborate with each other, and complete homework all online.
Some of these new technologies and uses of data raise privacy concerns. Schools may not have the proper contracts in place to protect data and restrict uses of information by third parties. Many school officials may not even have an understanding of all the data they hold. As privacy expert Daniel Solove has noted, privacy infrastructure in K-12 schools is lacking. Without this support, some schools and vendors may not understand their obligations under student privacy laws such as COPPA, FERPA, and PPRA.
The Future of Privacy Forum believes it is critical that schools are provided with the help needed to build the capacity for data governance, training of essential personnel, and basic auditing. Schools must ensure additional data transparency to engender trust, tapping into innovative solutions such as digital backpacks, and providing parent friendly communications that explain how technology and data are used in schools.
Representatives Jared Polis and Luke Messer have called for bipartisan action on student data privacy, and the Future of Privacy Forum looks forward to working with them on their efforts.
Without measures to help parents see clearly how data are used to help their children succeed, the debate about data in education will remain polarized. With such measures in place, ed tech can be further harnessed to bridge educational inequalities, better tailor solutions for individual student needs, and provide objective metrics for measurement and improvement.
Striking a nuanced and thoughtful balance between harnessing digital innovation in education, while taking into account the need to protect student privacy, will help ensure trust, transparency, and progress in our education paradigm for years to come.
-Jules Polonetsky, Executive Director