Jason Nicewicz is an intern with the Data Quality Campaign’s Federal Policy team.
A group of seven research centers recently released a joint report indicating areas of potential improvement for the My Brother’s Keeper initiative (MBK), a program organized by President Obama to address the achievement gap among minority students. The report highlights recommendations to address inequity across the education pipeline. Many of the recommendations emphasize data as a way to improve overall program initiatives:
Implement a National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) dataset that would track students from pre-K through their postsecondary education. NCES would then be able to use these data to provide insight into enrollment, retention, and graduation trends. This documentation is crucial, as it would help identify emerging trends in the education process as well as recognize challenges and opportunities related to educational achievement.
Create a data-tracking system to identify schools with disproportionately high suspension and special education rates. With this implemented system, districts could investigate whether or not schools are creating what is called a “student push out,” where minority students are more likely to be suspended over extended periods of time. This plan would also include the implementation of an equity score card program, recognizing schools with comprehensive programs that kept minority students in the classroom.
Create an institutional-level early warning system." This would allow for students to recognize areas of weakness early in the academic term. Students would then be able to meet with teachers or a specialist to take proactive steps to improve learning techniques in advance of final grades.
Other notable recommendations include disaggregating college graduation and completion rates by race/ethnicity within gender categories so that young men of color can make better informed decisions about where to attend college, as well as mandating that institutions conduct a self-study of student experiences. Colleges are currently required to report graduation and completion rates by the federal Student Right-to-Know and Campus Security Act.
Often data are collected and not used to their full potential. A major purpose of data is to help learn which programs are working and which are lacking. From there new plans can be implemented to further student achievement. These recommendations for the MBK program will only succeed if the data are not only collected, but analyzed to make permanent improvements to practice.
This week, education technology experts and innovators gathered at The Atlantic’s “Technologies in Education” event to talk about how to best develop, implement, and use education technologies to improve student learning. Event panelists talked about the importance of using education technology as a tool that amplifies teachers’ reach and engages students in new ways, not a burden for teachers that simply puts paper worksheets on a computer screen and makes it more difficult for students and teachers to meaningfully interact. As US Department of Education Office of Educational Technology Director and panelistRichard Culatta explained, the goal of blended learning (i.e., mixing online and in-person learning) isn’t to take a boring lecture out of the classroom and put it online instead! Participants also talked about how education technology can help teachers use data to understand their students and personalize learning.
Among meeting participants the consensus was clear: education technology is here to stay and can play an important role in supporting the individual growth of each student. But what do all these new educational technologies and data opportunities mean for student privacy? Well, with comprehensive policies, data governance, training, and supports, we can harness the power of education technology while safeguarding student privacy.
Many states began to develop this data use infrastructure for education technology through legislation this past session. Of 2014’s 28 new state laws addressing student data privacy, 12 explicitly describe the permissible activities of certain online service providers, and 12 cover the contracts that govern these providers. The new laws describe requirements for state or district contracts with service providers ranging from general privacy and security acknowledgments to specific criteria around data encryption, audits, and breach notification. Some laws even require the state to provide model contract language to districts, who often engage in their own service arrangements with online providers and data managers.
States can also make sure they’re embracing the potential of education technology and safeguarding student privacy by striving to be transparent about their work with technology services and making sure educators, parents, and students and seeing the value of the data these services can provide.
At its best, education technology can give educators and families great information about their student’s learning and provide new ways to engage with school lessons. Under policies and laws, paired with communication and transparency, these successes can happen without compromising student privacy.