Let's Use Data to Help Our Kids, Not Lock It Up and Throw Away the Key

Data is transforming our lives -- how we communicate, shop, do business and even socialize. In education, we are just starting to see the benefits of using data to improve student achievement.
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Locks, keys, vaults: these images are omnipresent as the nation recognizes Data Privacy Day. Protecting the privacy of our children's personal information is absolutely essential. But as we consider this crucial issue, let's do so in the broader context of how data is unlocking richer, more robust information to inform decisionmaking, personalize learning and help families chart out pathways to success for their children. Data -- used effectively and appropriately -- is one vital key to unlocking the power of an excellent education.

Data is transforming our lives -- how we communicate, shop, do business and even socialize. In education, we are just starting to see the benefits of using data to improve student achievement. From statehouses to kitchen tables, education decisions are starting to be informed by data rather than hunch or anecdote. Policymakers and administrators are able to determine where resources are best spent thanks to research on what works to support student learning. Teachers can tailor learning to the unique needs of each child. And parents are more informed partners in the education process and champions of their children.

The effective use of data in education is starting to unlock results: Chicago schools used data to identify students who were at risk of dropping out, intervene with proven practices and tailor learning to each child's needs. As a result, the city increased its rate of students on track to high school graduation from 57 to 84 percent between 2007 and 2014.

Data is uniquely powerful in helping our nation achieve its education goals, and we must reject the false choice between protecting our children's personal information and using data to help students excel. But people won't use data if they don't find value in it, and if they don't trust it. A key action will be to build transparency and trust with the American people about what data is being collected on our children, how it is being used and how it is being protected.

Data Privacy Day is an opportunity to celebrate the growing efforts to do just this. Over the past two years, 33 states have passed 57 new student data privacy laws. They provide greater transparency around what data is collected on students and for what purpose. The laws create more robust governance structures, including the creation of chief privacy officers to identify specific responsibilities around protecting data. And they require state and local education agencies to put in place best practices around data security and privacy.

While these are vital steps, we can't legislate trust. That is why it is just as important to ensure schools are communicating with parents about how data is being protected and how data is being used to help their children grow and learn. We must also ensure that teachers and administrators who work with student data understand their role in keeping information safe.

As policymakers return to their new legislative sessions -- in state capitals and in Washington -- there will be calls for more regulation, greater limits on what data is collected, and more restrictions on who has access to that information. These conversations are important -- they help articulate the value of data to improving education, build public understanding of this value, and find the best ways to both protect and effectively use this data. While the rhetoric around "locking up data" may sound more compelling, it is important to not hobble the potential for improving children's lives in the name of fear.

Protecting data doesn't mean locking it up and throwing away the key. We can't afford to not use the richest information available to help every child in this country be challenged and stimulated, to grow and excel academically. Instead of locking up the data, we must use it responsibly to unlock the potential of every child. Our American Dream depends on it.

Aimee Rogstad Guidera is President and CEO of the Data Quality Campaign, the nation's leading voice on education data policy and use.

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