Don’t fear the data

This video got e-mailed to me earlier today perpetrating the fear of data collection. The video depicts a man calling to order a pizza in the year 2012 from the fictitious Pizza Palace. The video shows the Pizza Palace’s computer screen as he is ordering. Sounds innocent enough, right?

Well, the scary part is what is on the Pizza Palace’s screen. Not only does it show the customer’s address and phone number, but it also displays the customer’s voting record, health information, and employment history among others. Information nobody would want the Pizza Palace, or anybody else, to have.

Thankfully, there are laws in place to prevent such an invasion of privacy. Could they be better? Of course. But that shouldn’t prevent us from collecting data so people can make informed decisions.

Unfortunately, many people fear data collection for a variety of reasons. It wasn’t very long ago that most in K-12 education were adamantly opposed to collecting data on individual students. However, over the past decade educators and policymakers have recognized the importance of having such powerful data at their disposal. They have seen how such data can be used to determine what is working and what isn’t in schools. Just as important, this increase in data collection and use has not been at the expense of student privacy. Laws have been put in place dictating how the data could be used and by whom.

Of course there is still more work to be done to effectively use data to improve our nation’s schools. For their part, the Center for Public Education and NSBA, with a grant from the Gates Foundation, are working on a pilot project to help school boards better understand and use academic data for decision making. Furthermore, educators across the country are continuing to find ways to use data to improve the performance of their students, while policy makers try to get them the data they need in a format they can easily use.

It is probably fair to say that many of these educators and policymakers once feared the collection of data they are now using, and now they probably couldn’t imagine life without it. It turns out data isn’t so scary after all. –Jim Hull

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.