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Volume 30, Number 5
September/October 2014

Eight Ways to Protect Student Data


There’s a lot of data flying in and out of American classrooms these days. So-called “cloud-based” services help districts store and distribute student data less expensively, without having to acquire additional equipment (or devote facilities to housing it). Mobile apps give teachers engaging games and learning activities that kids can do in class or on the way home. Data integration services merge multiple databases into simple, easy-to-read “dashboards” that show how students, classes, or schools are doing.

But the heady days of unfettered use of these services appeared to come to a halt earlier this year, following the decision by a number of school districts to disassociate from one such data integration service called inBloom because of concerns over privacy and the security of sensitive student data. In April, inBloom announced that it was shutting down

Privacy advocates and some parents are worried about their children’s test scores, social security numbers, disciplinary reports, and medical information being gathered in one place, being shared among different schools and districts—and even marketing companies—and following kids along from kindergarten to college to adult life. The two main federal laws regulating student information and access (FERPA and COPPA) are widely considered to be unclear and outdated in the age of cloud-based computing and mobile apps. And some educators are concerned about how all the data being collected will be used to evaluate schools and classroom teachers.

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.