Leveraging Data and the Cloud While Protecting Student Data Privacy

Oct 28, 2019

After spending time in the classroom and then as a building principal at both the secondary and elementary levels, I spent time as a Technology Director in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. In reflecting on my three years in that role before moving to the Alliance for Excellent Education, only one thing remained the same, and that was the increased speed of change that was occurring in our department and the way in which we served both our students and staff.

Today’s technology departments have a tremendous amount on their plates. On one end, most places have better connectivity than they’ve ever had before. Our Future Ready partners, Education Superhighway, share how 98% of schools in the United States now have the bandwidth needed for digital learning to occur in their classrooms. Through the support of programs such as e-rate and through district funding priorities on the whole, the investment of technology in schools has been vast. On the other hand, what can provide students with the needed learning opportunities, can be a challenge for those that oversee and manage it. From connectivity and devices to ensuring student data privacy, there’s a lot to consider, with little to no room for error in the process.

In a recent, Future Ready SchoolsⓇ hosted a webinar featuring Linnette Attai from CoSN, and Rachel Johnson and Vince Scheivert from Loudoun County Public Schools in Virginia. The webinar focused on developments in new technologies and how district leaders grapple with economies of scale; as well as how to maximize the use of the cloud, data governance, and instructional opportunities, all while simultaneously minimizing risk. Loudoun County, VA, is home to many of the data centers that web traffic from the United States passes through, so the topics of efficiency, security, cost, data analytics, and governance are always on the front burner.

During my time as a technology director, we began altering our strategy around data storage and governance from managing servers on-site to the cloud. During those years, our main goals focused on the need for redundancy and the back-up of our most critical systems. Yet over the past 3-5 years, drastic improvements and opportunities have developed in this area. Today, many (and in my opinion, soon to be most) districts are considering the move to the cloud for additional reasons which include increased cost savings and privacy. Loudoun County Public Schools, like many others, have teamed up with companies such as Future Ready partner Amazon Web Services (AWS) to provide a more reliable, more secure, and better-protected infrastructure — the foundation of both digital learning and digital equity — all while lowering costs and increasing security in the process.

Soon after coming to the Alliance for Excellent Education, in June of 2014, I testified before Congress on the topic of Student Data Privacy. Some members of Congress began asking a good question; If billion-dollar companies can be breached, what about school districts that often have minimal funds, maintain much of the infrastructure on their own, and have highly confidential information about our nation’s kids? Although the notion of privacy had been on the radar of most technology departments in the years prior, the more digital resources are used, the more privacy, security, and transparency become a priority.

Fast forward a few years, and districts like Loudoun County are making these areas, not simply add ons, but core to its work. In Loudoun, leveraging the cloud has propelled three innovative initiative areas forward:

Data Analytics and Visualization, with the goals of;

  • Providing accurate and timely data on a consistent platform;
  • Supporting inquiry-based data analytics using natural language; and
  • Supporting the implementation of Loudoun’s Data Governance Framework;
  • Data Integration; through single sign-on, rostering, and Ed-Fi Standards; and;
  • Data Privacy; to demonstrate transparency to the community in data collection.

Loudoun is also one of many school districts that have earned Future Ready Partner CoSN’s distinguished Trusted Learning Environment Seal, which focuses on leadership, business, data security, professional development, and classroom practices. As shared in the webinar, Loudoun’s ultimate purpose in the work is being able to meet students’ needs in a timely manner, without burdening teachers needing to use a myriad of systems and platforms; slowing down the learning process.

Also shared in the webinar were an array of incredible tools and resources to support your work, some of which include:

  • Parent Coalition for Student Privacy – Parent guide to privacy.
    SDPC Resource Registry – See the registry of applications and the contract language for vendors for data privacy agreements.
  • CoSN’s Protecting Privacy Toolkit – Download the Protecting Privacy Toolkit for guidance on the laws, vetting technologies, understanding privacy policies and more.
  • Ferpa|Sherpa – Privacy resources for education agencies, educators, parents, and students.
  • U.S. ED’s Protecting Privacy – Protecting Student Privacy from the US Department of Education – the source for guidance on the laws, with great training videos and related resources.We also encourage you to check out the work of our other Future Ready partners in this area, the Future of Privacy Forum (FPF), and Data Quality Campaign, who both are also incredible leaders in the field.
  • Case Study – Loudoun County Public Schools in Virginia digitally transforms with AWS

We truly live in exciting times. As the possibilities continue to evolve, and as platforms become more efficient and cost-effective, innovative practices and the benefits that can be seen in the classroom will continue to escalate.

Tom Murray is Director of Innovation for Future Ready SchoolsⓇ. He serves as a regular conference keynote, was named one of “20 to Watch” by NSBA, the “National/Global EdTEch Leader of the Year” in 2018, the “Education Thought Leader of the Year” in 2017 and the “Education Policy Person of the Year” by the Academy of the Arts and Sciences in 2015. His book Learning Transformed is an ASCD best-seller and his latest book, Personal & Authentic learning was just released.

The AWS Cloud frees schools and districts from the distractions of managing infrastructure reducing risk, and improving digital equity so they can focus on students. With the AWS Cloud, schools and districts can access industry-shaping technology at an affordable cost, no matter the scale. From back-end data management to virtual desktops, AWS offers tools so that every student gets the attention they need to thrive. To learn more about AWS, visit aws.amazon.com and to learn more about AWS in K12 and Primary School Education, visit aws.amazon.com/education/K12-primary-ed/.

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