Across industries, data and advanced analytics are being used to personalize products and services, generate more impact at lower cost, and improve the user experience. Education is another field that stands to benefit from this trend: there is much evidence that data-fueled learning tools can dramatically improve student outcomes. The effective use of student data in K–12 schools—in fact, in most of the education system—is nascent, however. Schools, and in particular public schools, have limited budgets and may find it difficult to prioritize investment in data-driven tools and technologies. School systems are enormously complex, which can make it challenging to implement new programs. And the use of student data raises questions about issues such as privacy, the possibility that personal information could be accessed by or sold to unauthorized third parties, and, more broadly, the ways in which data will be collected and used both inside and outside the school system.
In fact, the risks involved with data-driven instructional methods—and the perceptions surrounding those risks—are among the biggest challenges to helping students gain the benefits of large-scale adoption of data and analytics in schools. But we believe these challenges can be overcome. Organizations in many industries are grappling with similar concerns, and in turn they have begun to design processes and safeguards that enable the productive use of personal information while also addressing concerns about its collection and use. In important ways, schools differ from private-sector companies like retailers and banks, and even from more public-minded organizations like hospitals. Nevertheless, we believe that stakeholders across the education system—policy makers, school administrators, teachers, parents, and organizations that are responsible for collecting and protecting data—can learn from other industries that use data to improve and personalize the user experience, and that they can embrace the transparent use of data as a path to improved educational achievement for students.