White House Report Places Priority on Student Big Data

A review of the big data landscape brings student data use to the president's attention.

by / May 1, 2014 0
A big data report commissioned by U.S. President Barack Obama includes student data use as one of its six recommendations in this field. 
Led by presidential counselor John Podesta, a working group of senior administration officials spent 90 days studying the landscape of big data in the United States in order to inform federal decisions. Their study included conducting surveys; sending out a public request for information; co-hosting university conferences at MIT, NYU and U.C. Berkeley; and meeting with academic researchers, privacy advocates, regulators, technology industry members, advertisers and civil rights groups.  
In the report released on Thursday, May 1, they recommended that the federal government should make sure that data collection in schools is used for educational purposes and supports innovation to help students learn. The government should also consider revamping existing privacy regulations including the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act because they were enacted before current technology came into play. 
"Today's report is a major statement from the White House that the privacy and security of our nation's students is a national priority," said Joni Lupovitz, senior vice president of policy for Common Sense Media, which hosted a nationwide summit on school privacy earlier this year. 
The report's authors recommended updating privacy laws so that students' data will be protected against inappropriate sharing or use, while at the same time encouraging innovation in education technology that uses data to improve student learning.  
But it's not going to be easy to actually follow these recommendations. As schools continue integrating technology into learning, more student data can be collected and potentially used in unanticipated ways, Lupovitz said. For example, the report mentioned the possibility of someone building a profile of students' strengths and weaknesses, and using them against students down the road. 

"I think the challenge is to ensure that as more and more data is collected from students in the education context, we can learn how to harness the potential of that information to enhance and personalize student learning without creating risks to students' privacy or their security," Lupovitz said. 

Tanya Roscorla Former Managing Editor

Tanya Roscorla covered ed tech from 2009-2017.