Education Community Stands Up for Safe, Effective Data Use

Where student data are concerned, privacy and security are paramount. Information is power, and we need to keep private, personal information out of the wrong hands. But what about getting the right information into the right hands?

We know that when educators and families have the right information to guide their actions, students achieve their best. Parents can make better informed decisions about their kids' learning, and teachers can better tailor their practice to what individual students need. Students themselves should have access to rich, timely information so they can better manage their own progress toward their college and career goals. But all of these good uses of student data are impossible if we don't have confidence that the information is safe and secure.

That's why we must be sure that data are safeguarded and used only appropriately--because what it all comes down to is trust.

Trust is absolutely essential when it comes to our personal information. In no part of our lives would we use data that don't help us--or that hurt us. When we allow institutions like banks and doctor's offices to have personal information about us and our families, it's because we know sharing that information will have a direct benefit to us--and because we trust them to keep that information private and secure. We need to share some data so that trained professionals--like doctors or bankers--can play their part in getting us what we need--like the right medicine or a new house.

The same is true of our students' educational information. It's so powerful when used effectively and appropriately--we can't let that power be undermined by isolated bad actors. While every industry, from healthcare to finance, unfortunately has individuals who may attempt to use data unethically, it's no reason to stop your doctor or banker from having any information about you. It is, however, a reason to set high ethical principles, processes, and safeguards to protect against those who violate those standards.

While laws are absolutely essential, you can't legislate trust. That's why the education community has come together to outline 10 principles to guide the use and protection of our students' personal information. Safeguarding the personal information of our students requires leadership from the education community to build this culture of trust that is so essential to getting the right information to the people who need it. The organizations supporting these principles believe adamantly in the power of data to help students achieve their best. We need to stand up for this critical work, committing ourselves to a culture of transparency and trust so that data will be used not just effectively, but responsibly. And that is what signing onto the Student Data Principles means.

It's not a coincidence that the first principle says, "Student data should be used to further and support student learning and success." Data should be used to shine a light on what's working, open doors to new opportunities for students, and catch those students falling behind and put them back on track. To ensure this dream of great data use, anyone who has access to students' personal information must do everything in their power to ensure this information is protected. Using these 10 principles as a guide, the education community is on the best path to do that.

Thirty-eight national education organizations have signed onto the Student Data Principles. This is a crucial step in creating a culture of trust around education data use at every kitchen table, in every teacher's lounge, and at every statehouse. I encourage everyone--parents especially--to go check out the full set of principles and use them as a starting point for conversations in your community about what needs to be done to support the effective and safe use of data to help every child succeed.