When Education Data Takes a Dystopian Turn
You expect the teachers at school to know a lot about your child. After all, teachers are with their students for 6 to 7 hours a day, five days a week. During that time, they come to know who’ve their students are and how they learn. Teachers know how every child performs on every formative and summative assessment.
But that’s not the only information that schools collect on the students in their buildings. Schools routinely collect data like the following:
- Address, date of birth, and social security number or state issued ID
- Race, ethnicity, and gender
- Participation in special programs such as bilingual or special education, ESL, gifted and talented, career and technical education
- Identification for being at-risk, migrant, or low socioeconomic status
- Immunizations updates
- Parent income
- Military-connected families
- Counseling and social work needed
- Previous schools
- Health assessments, such as scoliosis and diabetes
- Prior health services required
- Discipline infractions and actions
- Unaccompanied youth or unschooled refugee/asylum-seeker
After reading the list, you may have noticed that most of the items seem unrelated to school. In fact, academic data, such as grades, promotion/retention, dual course credit, and graduation haven’t been included.
The point is that schools today collect an unprecedented amount of data on their students. That alone should make you wonder who has access to this date how safe your child’s identity is.
Taking care of the data
The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) has previously recognized the need for quality academic data. NES does not recommend the types of data that should be collected, but does instead determine what constitutes quality data, including instrument design, minimization of errors, sampling sizes, and more.
Data privacy was not a concern because student data that could identify individual students has been masked, or hidden.
The concern today is that private information about students must be protected. Schools must shield students according to FERPA and HIIPA requirements. No one other than an educator who needs the information to provide instructional, health-related, or social services for a child may view the data.
That should have you breathing a sigh of relief, until you realize that edtech companies also collect similar student data.
Sloppy data collectors
Edtech software relies on amassing student data. Every instructional program in which your child is enrolled collects information similar to that being collected by schools, especially regarding name, date of birth and instructional program. Many apps collect additional as well.
While what is being collected is important, it’s more important to find out what happens to the data after the program has ended or the student moves on to another grade or school. Edtech brings with it certain privacy concerns such as:
- What exactly is being collected?
- How long is the data stored?
- Will the data be sold?
How to prevent a data dystopia
Most people rail against the thought of using data to create an Orwellian society like the one in 1984. A big brother state that quietly collects an arsenal of data is a scary thought, especially because data analysis could be used to make assumptions about students before they become adults.
Wise parents and educators must ask about data collection. Who gets it? For how long? What happens to the data once it’s collected?
If you don’t get satisfying answers, walk away from any edtech company that refuses to protect the identity of your child.