We use information to make decisions in most areas of our lives. I always filter my Amazon search results to only include products with customer ratings of four stars or up, and I never choose a date-night restaurant without checking multiple sources for expert and customer reviews (and still feel the pressure from my foodie husband). However, when it comes to deciding where I want to send my daughter for elementary school, my information options are limited. And when information is available, states often present these data in a way that is not easy to understand or use. I know this firsthand after sifting through a giant PDF of school profiles trying to pull out relevant information.
Of course, public reporting (i.e., making aggregate-level data about schools and districts—including enrollment, student performance, teacher effectiveness, and more—available to the public) serves a purpose beyond parents choosing schools for their children. Policymakers can demonstrate the progress of reforms to ensure continued support for ideas that are effective. Administrators can effectively allocate scarce resources. Researchers can use de-identified data (i.e., information about individual students but with any identifying information removed) to answer systematic questions. And then there’s public de-identified data inspiring innovation in Virginia.
This is why DQC, in partnership with multiple other organizations, is tackling the issue of public reporting. We identify four characteristics of quality public reporting: useful, trustworthy, timely, and easy to find. There will be more detailed resources available next month, but for now know that most school report cards (and public reporting more broadly) do not meet these standards. For example, this blog shows what a struggle it was to find each state’s school report card.
The good news is that there are some leading states (DC, Illinois, and Ohio, to name a few) and organizations doing great work to advance the field of public reporting. The most recent effort launched two weeks ago by the Foundation for Excellence in Education is the My School Information Design Challenge. This is a national competition (with prizes) encouraging designers to reimagine the appearance, presentation, and usability of school report cards, and DQC’s own Founder and Executive Director Aimee Rogstad Guidera will serve as a judge. All designers are encouraged to submit ideas by October 17, and the competition winners’ ideas will be open source and usable by states nationwide.
So don’t let the current state of public reporting keep you in the dark. Be on the lookout this October for DQC’s upcoming resources to help you (parents, administrators, state and federal policymakers, and local school board members) take action to ensure you’re able to use, trust, and find the information you need to make informed decisions.
This week the Center for Democracy and Technology and DQC convened representatives from education, privacy, and education technology to talk about ensuring student privacy. The participants at “Always On: The Digital Student” discussed many components of privacy including legal guidance, technological safeguards, and personnel considerations. The diversity of the participants and of the topics they discussed are reminders about the importance of collaboration in safeguarding privacy.
To ensure that student data are safeguarded as they are used to support student success, states must meet legal, technical, and personnel-based responsibilities. And no one actor or agency has the expertise to meet all of these responsibilities alone. Collaboration among experts in different areas is critical to ensuring the state has the right policies, practices, and supports in place to protect privacy.
Here are a few key collaborative activities and relationships that are integral to safeguarding student privacy:
Cross-Agency Data Governance
Robust data governance ensures that the state’s decisions about collecting and using student data are made carefully, transparently, and consistently. A defined governance body with representatives from all of the agencies that submit data about students can work together to make these important data decisions in accordance with the state’s priorities and laws.
Privacy Leaders and Information Technology (IT)
Collaboration between those with privacy expertise and those with technical expertise is vital to creating data systems that protect student privacy. By creating opportunities for these two to communicate and work together, states can be sure their data systems are built around industry-leading security measures and are reflective of the ways appropriate stakeholders actually need to use data to help students. Some states ensure that IT is represented on their governance body, while others find different ways to support collaboration between these two expert groups.
States, districts, and even schools must also collaborate with parents and other members of the public to ensure data are safeguarded and trusted. When everyone with a stake in education is engaged in making decisions about the appropriate uses of data and how those data are accessed and protected, everyone can trust the data and benefit from their use.
The above are just a few ways different groups can work together to safeguard student data privacy. When states, districts, and schools focus on making student privacy an ongoing, shared priority, they ensure that education data are helpful, trusted, valued, and ultimately used to help students succeed.