Data has always been an inherent part of the educational process – a child’s age, correlated with her grade level, tracked to specific reading or math skills that align with that grade, measured by grades and tests which rank her according to her peers. Today this data is ever more critical. Education professionals seek understanding from what the data reflect on the teacher’s role and influence, evaluating student outcomes across classrooms. Parents seek similar measures on individual K-12 schools and districts, and desperately seek insight into the value of education at individual colleges and universities to justify the cost or debt incurred.
In the last two years, there has been a perfect storm on the topic of student data privacy. The role of technology within schools expanded at an unprecedented rate, general awareness of consumer data security and breaches increased, and student databases at the state or national level were established or proposed, which drew great public scrutiny and fear. This maelstrom yielded a tremendous output of legislative activity targeted at education technology companies, that was overwhelmingly focused on protecting and limiting the sharing and use of student data—in rare instances, to the point of forbidding research uses almost completely. There are signs that this wave of fear-driven response has finally crested, and that more measured conversations are occurring; conversations that prioritize the fundamental requirement for appropriate privacy and security, but with a clear focus on the invaluable role of research and analysis and the need to enable it.