Reframing the Data Debate

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[Commentary] 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.

First, we must recognize that what motivates many of our opponents is not only legitimate concerns about the potential for unintended negative consequences, such as data breaches and other threats to privacy and the security of student data, but also a profound mistrust of the intentions of companies in the education industry, decrying “data-mining vendors...eager to make money off of student information in the name of ‘big data’ and ‘personalized’ learning.”

Then, we must reframe the debate, broaden the conversation so that it is not focused chiefly on concerns about privacy and the security of student data. To do that, we must develop another narrative, one that explains why data have been and always will be central to the mission of public education.

Reframing the Data Debate