It’s tragic that our country — home of Silicon Valley and countless technology innovations — lags in broadband penetration and speed. The new National Broadband Plan, released today, tries to offer solutions. Importantly, the plan focuses not just on technology, but the actual uses of that technology. It includes an entire section for education-related recommendations, with a nice set of ideas to improve the E-rate program. The plan’s big three recommendations:
- Expand access to broadband with common sense reforms (E-rate)
- Improve access to high-quality, online instruction
- Unlock the power of educational data
I’m particularly fond of this component of the data recommendations:
Privacy and data protection laws for students and their families need to be modernized to reap the full benefit of improved information flow about student performance while still fully protecting student data. For example, organizations offer tutoring and supplemental services to students, but the legal status of the data they collect is unclear. Issues include whether parents and regulators have the same rights to the data as they have with school records. A relatively small change in the law to allow parents to combine data from outside sources with school data would provide a richer picture of students’ learning needs so all providers can support them effectively. There may also be cases in which fine-grained levels of privacy control are appropriate. For example, students should be able to select and share their best work with other educational institutions, the military or future employers from within their digital portfolios or other materials linked to electronic educational records.
Privacy protections are essential. But if we are serious about serving highly mobile students and want a variety of school, afterschool, and community organizations to work together in an integrated, cohesive fashion to support student learning, we have to find a way for those closest to our students—teachers, parents, tutors, youth workers, etc.—to share information, insights, and align actions.