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Center for Data Innovation-Dear Parents: Your Concerns About Student Privacy Are Being Exploited

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Parents understandably value the privacy of their children and thus are sensitive to programs that collect and analyze student data. On the other hand, nonprofits, education researchers, and education technology firms rely on data collected inside and outside the classroom to develop and improve educational products and services, enable teachers to personalize lessons, help school administrators make more informed decisions, and increase student achievement. All too often, many education stakeholders falsely portray these two objectives as mutually exclusive and insinuate that if the education system is going to explore data-driven innovation, it will sacrifice student privacy.

In 2015, the Connecticut Education Association (CEA)—the state’s largest teachers’ union— accused the Hamden school district of irresponsibly sharing student data with the Connected Council for Education Reform (CCER), a nonprofit working to reduce achievement gaps between schools in wealthy and poor districts. CCER’s work, which it offered to the school district at no cost despite being valued at $100,000, focused on analyzing budgeting data to identify inefficient administrative practices so the school district could devote a greater share of its resources to educating its students. The data CCER was legally provided with by the school district was both anonymous and subject to a confidentiality agreement, preventing CCER from sharing this information. Despite this, CEA falsely insisted that CCER was covertly accessing personally identifiable data without parental consent and insinuated that CCER would sell this data. While student privacy was never in jeopardy here, CEA levied these accusations to garner support for state legislation that would greatly restrict the ability of well-meaning groups like CCER to access and analyze education data and in theory, prevent third parties from uncovering inefficient allocation of resources that benefited CEA members.

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