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Commentary: Blocking student data gathering harms research

LA School Report | June 15, 2015

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By Susan Dynarski

There is widespread concern over threats to privacy posed by the extensive personal data collected by private companies and public agencies.

Some of the potential danger comes from the government: The National Security Agency has swept up the telephone records of millions of people, in what it describes as a search for terrorists. Other threats are posed by hackers, who have exploited security gaps to steal data from retail giants like Target and from the federal Office of Personnel Management.

Resistance to data collection was inevitable — and it has been particularly intense in education.

Privacy laws have already been strengthened in some states, and multiple bills now pending in state legislatures and in Congress would tighten the security and privacy of student data. Some of this proposed legislation is so broadly written, however, that it could unintentionally choke off the use of student data for its original purpose: assessing and improving education. This data has already exposed inequities, allowing researchers and advocates to pinpoint where poor, nonwhite and non-English-speaking children have been educated inadequately by their schools.

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