Student data provide important insight that empowers educators to identify learning needs, hone instruction and support children’s development.

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AMERICANS today share a lot of information. With more platforms to post personal data, and more services that require it, the line between private and public information — and exactly how that should be used — has become an increasingly gray area.

In many ways, data sharing has helped improve our quality of life. It informs public policy, empowers research and development, and helps to expand services of every kind. Yet at the same time, we can all agree there are limits to how personal information should be collected and used.

Nowhere is this balance more delicate than in our schools. Student data provide important insight that empowers educators to identify learning needs, hone instruction and support children’s development. They should never be used to single out students or predetermine their success, and parents and policymakers have a responsibility in ensuring classroom information is not used in harmful ways.

That responsibility requires an honest dialogue about exactly how schools generate and use data. Sadly, parents have been bombarded with the opposite — false claims meant to turn public opinion against reforms happening in our schools.

Over the past two years, critics of Common Core State Standards have claimed these new learning goals will subject students to “cradle-to-the-grave” government surveillance. Common Core, they say, will do everything from creating databases with sensitive information, such as religious and political affiliation, to monitoring facial expressions and eye movement.

Rob McKenna served two terms as state attorney general. He currently is chairman of the board of Data Quality Campaign, a national nonprofit organization working on student achievement.
Rob McKenna served two terms as state attorney general. He currently is chairman of the board of Data Quality Campaign, a national nonprofit organization working on student achievement.

While such Orwellian predictions are effective in raising alarm, they simply aren’t true.

As a father and as a state attorney general who fought hard to protect consumer privacy, I took very seriously claims that Common Core requires new and more obtrusive data collection on our kids. That’s why I read the standards for myself. I encourage parents to read them as well. They will find no mention of data-collection mandates.

That’s because, in reality, Common Core has no impact on how states and schools collect and use student data. If a state were to repeal Common Core tomorrow, no changes would be made to schools’ data-privacy protocols. What’s more, four federal laws prohibit the creation of a federal database with students’ personally identifiable information.

If it were true that Common Core State Standards require state and federal authorities to effectively spy on our kids, there is no way I would support it. But, in fact, that’s not the aim of Common Core at all. The standards do nothing more than establish rigorous learning goals at each grade level that ensure all public-school children are held to levels that prepare them for higher levels of learning and ultimately for college or a career.

Considering the many recent examples where federal authorities have intruded on personal liberties, from domestic wiretapping to Internal Revenue Service targeting, it’s easy to understand why parents bristle at the mention of data collection in our schools. Big government has a propensity for overstepping its bounds. That’s why parents and policymakers must remain vigilant to ensure education policies don’t encroach on our children’s rights. That’s why we should elect leaders who seek to limit the role of the executive branch, not expand it.

Common Core State Standards keep control where it belongs: at the state and local level.”

In that regard, Common Core State Standards keep control where it belongs: at the state and local level. By setting high, comparable learning goals and letting teachers and school boards decide how to achieve them, Common Core ensures what is taught in our schools remains in the hands of those closest to the classroom.

When student data are used appropriately, they serve to improve education and close achievement gaps. It is our responsibility as parents to constantly weigh education policies and ensure such balance.

Let’s put aside the rhetoric and alarm over Common Core State Standards so that we can have an honest conversation.