Reframing the data debate

Lauren Williams's picture
Monday, June 2, 2014

The uses and misuses of student data have become the focus of an increasingly bitter debate in the education community and the nation. Fears about misuses of student data feed into larger narratives about dangers to privacy and the security of data fueled by revelations about the NSA, Target, etc., and their fervor makes it impossible to dismiss them as ill-informed rants. Related concerns about large, impersonal entities threatening the independence and integrity of our system of education--inBloom being the most recent culprit--are fraught with emotion because they resonate with fears about threats to local control of education.

The education industry has become a target as well. The hundreds of companies that make the products and services upon which our system of public education depends have at times been painted collectively as a rapacious “education industrial complex” bent on seeking profit at any cost. These rather nebulous attacks on our industry are not new, but fears about threats to privacy and the security of student data--both real and perceived--have provided critics with an issue they have used effectively to crystalize attacks into a more focused campaign.

How has the education industry responded? Insufficiently. We have allowed vociferous opponents of the use of “big data” in schools to frame the debate in terms of threats to privacy and the security of student data, and we react by focusing on legislative, regulatory, and other means of addressing those potential threats. The latter remedies are terribly important--no one disputes their need--and our industry must play an active role in shaping them, but we must do more than react defensively to an agenda that is defined and driven by opponents of the use of data in education.

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