Protecting Student Privacy By Promoting Student Data Collection?

Photo credit: Nick Youngson (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Gates-funded Data Quality Campaign is going to Congress to weigh in on the Student Privacy Protection Act (H.R. 3157 – 114th Congress) that will be reintroduced this session of Congress.

What could possibly go wrong?

Morgan Polikoff, who they are helping send to DC, is an Associate Professor of K-12 Policy at the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California. In a blog post, he made the following suggestions to “strengthen” the bill.

  • Enable states and districts to procure the research they need. The Every Student Succeeds Act’s evidence tiers provide new opportunities for states and districts to use data to better understand their students’ needs and improve teaching and learning. FERPA must continue to permit the research and research-practice partnerships that states and districts rely on to generate and act on this evidence. Section 5(c)(6)(C), should be amended to read “the purpose of the study is limited to improving student outcomes.” Without this change, states and districts would be severely limited in the research they can conduct.
  • Invest in state and local research and privacy capacity. States and districts need help to build their educators’ capacities to protect student privacy, including partnering effectively with researchers and other allies with legitimate educational reasons for handling student data. In many instances, new laws and regulations are not required to enhance privacy. Instead, education entities need help with complying with existing privacy laws, which are often complex. FERPA should provide privacy protection focused technical assistance, including through the invaluable Privacy and Technical Assistance Center, to improve stakeholders’ understanding of the law’s requirements and related privacy best practices.
  • Support community data and research efforts. In order to understand whether and how programs beyond school are successful, schools and community-based organizations like tutoring and afterschool programs need to securely share information about the students they serve. Harnessing education data’s power to improve student outcomes, as envisioned by the Every Student Succeeds Act, will require improvements to FERPA that permit schools and their community partners to better collaborate, including sharing data for legitimate educational purposes including conducting joint research.
  • Support evidence-use across the education and workforce pipeline. We recommend adding workforce programs to Section 5(c)(5)(A)(ii) and to the studies exception in Section 5(c)(6)(C), . Just as leaders need to evaluate the efficacy of education programs based on workforce data, the country also needs to better understand the efficacy of workforce programs. FERPA should recognize the inherent connectivity between these areas to better meet student and worker needs.

Strengthen the bill for who? Not parents, certainly not students. The only groups that stand to gain are those who promote Big Data. What a nightmare if they are successful.

Collecting Student Data Is OK As Long As It’s Shared?

I wrote earlier about the Data Quality Campaign’s report on data, but I wanted to follow that up with a piece from the Hechinger Report:

But the data is of little use if it remains hidden in virtual filing cabinets in school administrative offices. Many teachers and parents still don’t get access to that information – only 38 percent of parents say they had “easy” access to all the information they need. And a full 67 percent of teachers say they do not have full confidence in data and the tools used to make sense it.

Using data and sharing it takes on renewed urgency due to new federal regulations under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Among the changes are requirements that states track and publish information on specific kinds of students, such as those in foster care, by next year. At this point, just one state (Washington) publishes data on those students – although undoubtedly many more states are collecting that information. And Alaska is the only state that publishes data on students who come from military families.

So according to this article (and the report), the problem isn’t with the collection of student data is not that it is being collected, but that it is hard to access.

The answer to addressing the problem of student data mining is not to make it more accessible, but to do less, preferably none at all.

The Status of the Big Student Data Grab in the States

The Data Quality Campaign released its annual report on how states are doing at accomplishing their policy agenda for student data collection.

Their four policy “promises” are:

  • Measure what matters.
  • Make data use possible.
  • Be transparent and earn trust.
  • Guarantee access and protect privacy.

Talk of transparency and protecting privacy when student data is being collected without parental permission and knowledge is absolute hogwash.

This report is a call for more data mongering in every state. States need to scale back (better yet stop) the data collection they are doing and ignore the advice given in this report.

You can read their report below:

Data Quality Campaign Wants to “Make Data Work for Students”


The Data Quality Campaign just released a report entitled Time to Act: Making Data Work for Students.

They describe the report this way:

When information about students is provided in a timely, useful manner, every adult working with a child is able to support that student’s learning more effectively. This vision can and must become a reality for every student. States have a unique and critical role to play in bringing it to life. In partnership with leaders from across the education field, the Data Quality Campaign has developed Time to Act: Making Data Work for Students—a set of recommendations to help states enact policies that are critical to ensuring that data is used to support student learning.

In the executive summary they list their four priorities:

In partnership with leaders from across the education field, the Data Quality Campaign has developed a set of recommendations to help states enact policies that are critical to ensuring that data is used to support student learning. The Four Policy Priorities to Make Data Work for Students presented in this paper are the following:

  • Measure What Matters: Be clear about what students must achieve and have the data to ensure that all students are on track to succeed.
  • Make Data Use Possible: Provide teachers and leaders the flexibility, training, and support they need to answer their questions and take action.
  • Be Transparent and Earn Trust: Ensure that every community understands how its schools and students are doing, why data is valuable, and how it is protected and used.
  • Guarantee Access and Protect Privacy: Provide teachers and parents timely information on their students and make sure it is kept safe.

Data has the potential to transform education from a model of mass production to a personalized experience that meets the needs of individuals and ensures that no student is lost along the way. But for this transformation to happen, the focus needs to pivot from collecting data to prioritizing the e ective use of data at all levels, from kitchen tables to school boards to state houses.

Leading states and districts are already making data work for students to some degree—and they are beginning to see results in student outcomes. The country has made great progress building systems, improving data quality, and encouraging data use. But without a focus on the needs of the people who are going to use the information, the impact on student achievement will be minimal. It is time to make data work for students.

The talk of privacy is simply laughable, on page 9 they write, “Link and govern data across all agencies critical to student success, from early childhood and K–12 to postsecondary and the workforce, including other state agencies that support students (e.g., child welfare).”

Oh yeah, that isn’t creepy at all.

They also write, “The public also deserves to know what data is collected, how it is used to support students, and how it is protected.”

That’s nice, we’ve yet to see that kind of transparency.

The thing that I see missing in this discussion is the idea of getting permission. States and local school districts should have to not just “help parents understand,” but they should be required to have parental consent before ANY data is collected on their child beyond what is absolutely necessary for their local school to have.

Anyway, if you want to see what Big Data is up to take time to read the report.