Data Analytics in Education Promotes Social and Economic Opportunity

The recent FTC workshop “Big Data: A Tool for Inclusion or Exclusion?” posed important questions on whether and how analytics could be used to restrict life chances for people rather than create economic and social opportunity.  The answer lies in the hands of the user of the technology, not in the technology itself.  The critical question is how people use, implement or otherwise act on the discoveries – the indicators, insights and evidence – that data analytics can uncover or reveal.

As with all knowledge, the value of the insights made possible by research and science depend in large part on the purposes they are used to advance and the environment in which they are deployed.  Data analytics in education is a good example.

A study by Johns Hopkins University research professor Robert Balfanz shows that most students who eventually drop out can be identified as early as the sixth grade by their attendance, behavior and course performance. Using those indicators, it is possible to identify by the middle of ninth grade virtually everyone who will drop out. As Professor Balfanz put it recently, “These young men are waving their hands early and often to say they need help, but our educational and student-support systems aren’t organized to recognize and respond to their distress signals.”

What should be done with this knowledge?  While one could worry that some might take an exclusionary path to perhaps stop wasting resources on students who are predicted to fail, the popular consensus created by recent educational innovators, such as Joel Klein, CEO of Amplify and former Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, is to use these potential drop-out indicator as discoveries to develop a path of inclusion to take corrective actions early for these students, thereby promoting social and economic opportunity in education:

“Using data to help identify these students and give them meaningful supports and interventions as early as possible would have a significant impact on the number of students that graduate ready for success in either college or career. This isn’t the stuff of science fiction. These are actionable steps we can take right now, thanks to the power of technology.”

Which path is chosen is a matter for educators, not a matter of data analytics.  It would be disheartening, to say the least, if policymakers, fearful of data analytics used as a possible tool of exclusion, were to, in essence, call for educators to put their heads in the sand – not to see, and worse, not to use for good, the indicators that data analytics discovers.  Would anyone really argue that schools around the country would be better off not knowing the determinants of student failure, since it is possible that such knowledge might be used to discriminate against at-risk students?

In fact, many schools throughout the country are raising their heads, and hands, to apply data analytics to help their students succeed.

  • Research shows that attendance, behavior and course performance can assess dropout risk in a way that allows schools to design early intervention systems to support students. Miami Carol City Senior High in Florida designed an intervention system based on this kind of data. In 2013, one-third of students flagged for missing school got back on track to graduation. Two-thirds of the students who were having behavioral problems made a turnaround.
  • In Hamilton County Board of Education in Tennessee, early student interventions led to increased graduation rates by more than 8 percentage points and standardized test scores in math and reading by more than 10 percent thanks to applying predictive analytics.
  • In Mobile County, Alabama the dropout rate has been nudged downward by three percent since the application of data analytics on a broad range of factors including demographic variable to identify at risk students.

As J. Alvin Wilbanks, CEO and superintendent of Gwinnett County Public Schools, the 14th largest school district in the U.S., put it, “data analytics can help us both identify the child and create a better picture of who they are, what areas they’re deficient in, and point to things we can do differently. As we perfect our use of analytics, I think we can even get to the point where it’ll suggest, this student is weak in fractions; here are some activities that can help improve that.”

These examples and countless more show that educators are putting discoveries from data analytics to use for the good of all students, using indicators not to exclude students but rather to develop personalized courses of study for each one to succeed.


Mark MacCarthy, Vice President, Public Policy at SIIA, directs SIIA’s public policy initiatives in the areas of intellectual property enforcement, information privacy, cybersecurity, cloud computing and the promotion of educational technology.

New Markey-Hatch Federal Student Privacy Legislation is Unnecessary

SIIA today issued a press release on the introduction of the “Protecting Student Privacy Act” by Sens. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Orin Hatch (R-Utah).

The current framework of robust federal regulations, industry best practices and binding contracts provides strong student privacy protections.  With these three layers of protection, we can give students access to revolutionary learning technology while ensuring that their information is used only for educational purposes. New federal student privacy legislation is not needed at this time.

The Markey-Hatch legislation is well-intended, but it contains provisions, such as a prohibition against the use of student information for targeted advertising, that already exist in current law and regulation. Other provisions, such as those related to data destruction, might not be workable in practice.

We share the privacy protection goals of Senators Markey and Hatch, but it’s critical to ensure that any new rules do not inadvertently create obstacles to the effective use of information. Innovative education technology is essential to improving education for all students and to ensuring U.S. economic strength in an increasingly competitive global environment.


Mark MacCarthy, Vice President, Public Policy at SIIA, directs SIIA’s public policy initiatives in the areas of intellectual property enforcement, information privacy, cybersecurity, cloud computing and the promotion of educational technology.

Digital Policy Roundup

SIIA Testifies at Joint Congressional Subcommittee Hearing on Student Privacy

SIIA’s Mark MacCarthy delivered testimony on the issue of student data privacy in a joint hearing Wednesday before subcommittees of the Committee on Education and the Workforce and the Committee on Homeland Security. The hearing titled “How Data Mining Threatens Student Privacy” featured three witnesses in addition to SIIA: Fordham University’s Professor Joel R. Reidenberg, Idaho Department of Education CIO Joyce Popp, and Alliance for Excellent Education’s Digital Learning Director Thomas Murray. SIIA advised committee members that “no new federal legislation is necessary at this time,” citing a three part system of protection – federal law (FERPA, COPPA), contracts, and industry best practices.

Alice Corp v. CLS Bank Ruling

On June 19th, the Supreme Court decided the business method patent case of Alice Corp v. CLS Bank Corp, unanimously holding that implementing an abstract idea through a general purpose computer is Ineligible for patent protection under section 101 if the Patent Act. The case involved a method for reducing the risk that the parties to a transaction will not pay what they owe. The Court has long held that abstract ideas are not patentable subject matter. Writing for the Court, Justice Thomas said that “merely requiring generic computer implementation… fails to transform the abstract idea into a patent-eligible invention.” The decision would seem to have limited applicability to software patents as the term “software” does not appear in the decision and Justice Thomas acknowledges in the decision that “many computer-implemented claims are formally addressed to patent-eligible subject matter.”

OECD Committee for Digital Economy Policy (CDEP) Meets June 16-20 in Paris

CDEP is of interest because its work on digital economy issues is influential. For instance, the OECD’s 2011 Internet Policymaking Principles (IPP) and the revised 2013 OECD Privacy Guidelines are documents that are often consulted in other fora and are considered generally helpful by industry, including SIIA. The CDEP also works on Internet governance, big data, measuring the digital economy, the relationship between technology and jobs, and intellectual property. The work on intellectual property is often considered more controversial, and SIIA works to make it balanced.

Last week’s meeting focused particularly on the 2016 OECD Ministerial which will be held in April or May of 2016 in Cancun, Mexico. The Ministerial is important to the head of the organization, Angel Gurria, who is Mexican and reportedly interested in seeking a third term as Secretary-General of the OECD. The CDEP is currently considering “Digital Innovation Transforming our Societies” as the title for the Ministerial. The OECD has ambitious plans for the Ministerial and hopes to attract ministers responsible for labor and education, as well as ministers responsible for the ICT sector. The OECD has five themes for the Ministerial:

  1. Fostering new sources of growth spurred by converging networks, services and data analytics.
  2. Analyzing the effects of the digital economy on growth, jobs and skills.
  3. Developing recommendations and building evidence for Internet policy and governance.
  4. Managing the digital risks and enabling trust for continued prosperity.
  5. Looking to the future.

SIIA will be engaged in advocacy with a view to influencing work documents and the 2016 Ministerial, especially in the areas of growth, jobs and skills: Internet governance; privacy; and data analytics.


David LeDuc is Senior Director, Public Policy at SIIA. He focuses on e-commerce, privacy, cyber security, cloud computing, open standards, e-government and information policy. Follow the SIIA public policy team on Twitter at @SIIAPolicy.

SIIA Testifies Before Congress on Effective Use of Student Data; Warns that New Federal Privacy Mandates Could Put Student Learning at Risk

SIIA, today delivered testimony on the issue of student data privacy in a joint hearing before subcommittees of the Committee on Education and the Workforce and the
Committee on Homeland Security. In his prepared testimony, Mark MacCarthy, SIIA’s
Vice President of Public Policy, commented:

“From adaptive learning software to class scheduling applications to online learning, technologies are enhancing student access and opportunity…The result of advanced data management and analysis tools is the ability for school systems to better identify students at risk of failure, identify the lessons that best meet each and every student’s unique needs, inform decision making, and enhance operations.

“SIIA agrees that the obligation to safeguard student data privacy and security means that continued review and enhancements are needed in the framework of our policies, practices and technologies…However, we do not think that new federal legislation is needed at this time.

“The current legal framework and industry practices adequately protect student privacy. Moreover, new legislation creates substantial risks of harm to the innovative use of information that is essential to improving education for all students and ensuring U.S. economic strength in an increasingly competitive global environment.”

MacCarthy’s full testimony is available here.


Sabrina Eyob is the Public Policy Coordinator at SIIA. Follow the Policy team on Twitter @SIIAPolicy.

Aspen Institute Helps Light the Digital Path to Student Centered Learning in Trusted Environments

SIIA has long championed the personalization of learning, recognizing that the factory model does not adequately address student needs and that we are not leveraging the transformative power of technology. This summer is the fourth anniversary of the joint SIIA-CCSSO-ASCD summit and report Innovate to Educate: System Redesign for Personalized Learning, which provided both a vision and roadmap for the shift to a student-centered model. Yet, while the vision is strong, challenges remain. To that end, SIIA is pleased that The Aspen Institute Task Force on Learning and the Internet has responded and released a series of recommendations in its new report, “Learner at the Center of a Networked World.”

According to Task Force Honorary co-chairs Jeb Bush and Rosario Dawson: “This report sets forth a vision that stems from the premise that the learner needs to be at the center of novel approaches and innovative learning networks. It argues that we need to embrace innovation to create a diverse system of educational opportunities that can help each and every child reach his or her full potential.”

To achieve that goal, the Task force describes several conditions to be collectively achieved:

  • “everyone needs affordable access to sufficiently robust networks and the opportunities they offer;”
  • “the system needs to be interoperable so that learners can seamlessly move among learning platforms, providers and networks, and have credentials that follow them;”
  • “learners need digital literacy skills to navigate these networks;”
  • “[learners] need to learn in ‘trusted environments’ that will protect children’s safety and privacy online without compromising their ability to learn;” and
  • “the myriad of institutions . . . from schools to . . .museums to . . . online course providers . . . need to adapt to be part of these learning networks . . .”

With increased attention on safeguarding student privacy and data security, SIIA especially commends the Aspen Task Force call to: “Foster collaborative efforts at all levels to establish principles of a Trusted Environment for Learning” so that “Parents should be able to trust that their children’s personally identifiable information is safe, secure and won’t be used in ways other than to help their academic progress.”

SIIA agrees with the Task Force that:

  • “To confidently pursue their learning goals, students need an environment where their safety and privacy are protected.”
  • “Data collection and use are crucial to fulfilling the vision of personalized learning, yet for some there is a lack of trust around the security and privacy of student data.”
  • “Approaches to providing safety online that are defensive and fear-based are often ineffective and can have the unintended consequence of significantly restricting learning opportunities for young people.”
  • “There is a need to explore alternative approaches that create trusted environments that protect learners’ safety, privacy and security without compromising their ability to pursue their interests.“
  • “Although technology is partly responsible for creating fear, it can be part of the solution by helping create trusted environments. But equally important is equipping learners, parents and educators with the skills to function online safely and effectively.”

SIIA is working to address many of these challenges and recommendations. [Read more...]

Digital Policy Roundup

Student Privacy: SIIA Releases Policy Guidelines at CA Testimony; Markey-Hatch Discussion Draft

It’s been another busy week for student privacy. SIIA took the opportunity of its invited testimony before a joint hearing of the California Assembly Education and Select Privacy Committees to release its new “Policy Guidelines for Building a Student Privacy Trust Framework.” The SIIA guidelines outline principles and considerations to ensure policies are appropriately targeted to enhance student confidentiality while limiting unintended or unnecessary barriers to school operations or digital learning opportunities. The guidelines address the definition of student information; transparency/governance/capacity; use of information; deletion; and access and correction, among other areas. SIIA intends for the guidelines to inform not only state legislatures, but also federal efforts such as the discussion draft introduced by U.S. Senators Markey (MA) and Hatch (UT) to amend FERPA.

Petrella v. MGM Copyright Case Ruling

On Monday, in a 6-3 majority opinion, the U.S. Supreme Court decided the Petrella v. MGM copyright case, ruling that the equitable defense of laches cannot be invoked as a bar to the plaintiff’s claim for damages brought within the Copyright Act’s three-year statute of limitations. The doctrine of laches is an equitable doctrine used by courts to prevent and/or limit claims when the plaintiff has waited an unreasonable length of time to file the suit, and the delay has caused prejudice to the defendant. The case involved a dispute over the 1980 Oscar-winning movie “Raging Bull” and whether the screenwriter’s daughter waited too long (18 years) to sue the defendants, MGM and Fox, over the renewal of copyright under the equitable doctrine of laches.

The case will now go back to the lower court where Petrella will seek damages back to 2006 (three years before the filing of her lawsuit). Although Petrella’s delay did not bar her suit, the Supreme Court did specify that the district court take into account Petrella’s delay in commencing the suit when determining what damages should be awarded as well as determining the appropriate injunctive relief. SIIA had joined an amicus brief drafted by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) in support of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. and Twentieth Century Fox unsuccessfully arguing that laches should be a defense to a copyright claim even when it is brought within the statute of limitations.

FCC Proposal for Open Internet Invites Comment, Draws Broad Criticism

[Read more...]

SIIA Releases Student Privacy Policy Guidelines & Recommendations During Testimony before the CA State Assembly

The safeguarding of student privacy and data security remains on the agenda for many state (and federal) policymakers. SIIA took the opportunity of its invited testimony before the California state legislature to release its new “Policy Guidelines for Building a Student Privacy Trust Framework.”

The SIIA guidelines outline principles and considerations to ensure policies are appropriately targeted to enhance student confidentiality while limiting unintended or unnecessary barriers to school operations or digital learning opportunities. SIIA shared many of these before the California State Assembly hearing  (see video starting at 33 minutes) on “Ensuring Student Privacy in the Digital Age,” hosted jointly by the Education and Select Privacy Committees.

Today, new technologies like cloud computing are enhancing school capacity, providing: adaptive and personalized learning, anytime, anywhere data access, enhanced data management functionality, powerful data analytics, and improved security. These tools and techniques allow educators to manage more data in more cost effective and sophisticated ways to inform instruction and enhance school productivity.

While a framework of laws and practices has been highly effective in safeguarding student confidentiality, we recognize the need to continually review policies and improve practices to enhance the trust framework between parents, schools and service providers.

We are pleased that stakeholders are doing just that in response to recent questions and concerns:

SIIA is working to inform legislators across the country as they develop and debate new regulation, but we are concerned some of the policy solutions may be ahead of and over-correct the actualized problems. It is important that new legislative requirements provide sufficient local flexibility, are not overly restrictive or impractical so as to discourage and stifle innovation, and are consistent with existing federal protections to avoid regulatory conflicts and stakeholder confusion.

We touched on several of our newly released policy guidelines at the California hearing:

First, new policies should limit the scope to student personally identifiable information as defined under federal law.

Second, new policies should focus on the need to educate, equip, and empower schools and educators to make informed decisions that safeguard student data and serve student learning. This can be accomplished through transparency by schools and service providers, by instituting local and state governance around data use policies, and by building capacity through investment in professional development, data security technology tools, and student digital literacy. These are important alternatives, or at least complements, to policy prohibitions that may not account for unique local and evolving circumstances.

Third, new policies should provide schools and agencies with the flexibility around the use of student information to meet their goals as determined locally within the existing framework of federal protections. SIIA agrees student personal information should not be used for non-educational purposes such as selling data to insurance companies or targeting insurance advertising. SIIA agrees it should be used only for the educational purposes for which it was entrusted. The challenge is translating these principles into statute in a manner future-proofed for the wave of digital learning transformation at home and at school. Use policies should distinguish between inappropriate commercial use of personal data for non-educational purposes and the appropriate actions of a for-profit (or non-profit) school service provider to use that information for educational uses authorized by its customers and federal law, for educational product evaluation, improvement, and development and to drive adaptive and customized learning at school and home.

Fourth, while SIIA agrees with the general practice to delete data when no longer needed for the purpose for which it was collected is the appropriate general practice, policies must differentiate around data type, use and control. For example, deletion decisions are most often under the direct control of the school (not the service provider), while new models provide for parent-consented and owned personal student accounts (and their data, apps and student-created resources). Further, absolute destruction is not appropriate where aggregated, de-identified and other anonymous data is often needed for ongoing educational purposes such as to power software algorithms or where personal information is needed for accountability systems or future transcript services.

Fifth, new policies governing local contract requirements must allow for flexibility between local schools and their service providers. Any state requirements should provide a template identifying what issues should be addressed rather than prescribing the specific terms for how.

SIIA agrees with the need to safeguard student data privacy and security. Further policy protections must be carefully crafted so that privacy protection floors do not inadvertently and unnecessarily lead to educational ceilings. SIIA instead encourages new policies to be focused on transparency, governance and capacity to empower parents and school officials to make sound and safe use of student information that advance student learning.


Mark SchneidermanMark Schneiderman is Senior Director of Education Policy at SIIA.

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