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PROTECTING STUDENT DATA IN A DIGITAL WORLD: Increasing Use of Student Data Could Boost Global Economic Value by $1.2 Trillion, New McKinsey Report Finds

" The risks are real, but they can be managed, leading to real rewards in the form of better student learning and achievement,” the report notes.

Increasing the use of student data in education could unlock between $900 billion and $1.2 trillion in global economic value, with $300 billion of that total coming from improved instruction, according to a new report from McKinsey & Company. The report, Protecting Student Data in a Digital World, outlines several data and privacy challenges for schools in unlocking this value, but it offers lessons from other industries as a guide for how to do so.

“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 … can embrace the transparent use of data as a path to improved educational achievement for students,” the report notes.

The report notes that the effective use of data in K–12 schools is “nascent” due to several issues, including constrained school budgets that limit investments in data-driven tools and technologies, complex systems that make it difficult to implement new programs, and questions about student privacy, data collection, and data usage, both inside and outside the school system.

To “reap” the benefits of data-enabled tools, the report says that schools must understand parents’ concerns about increased data collection, such as direct harm to students, companies “profiteering” from student data, and compromises to students’ privacy. To address these concerns, schools should look to companies that have “learned how to manage similar risks” and “made consumers more comfortable with the collection and analysis of personal information for specific purposes.” The report offers three lessons that schools could learn.

Using the example of Netflix, which offers personalized suggestions on what customers should watch based on their viewing habits, the report says schools should make clear the tangible benefits of sharing data. It notes that a school district in the western United States adopted learning modules that adapt to student needs in real time and dashboards that track student progress toward learning objections. At first, some parents opted their children out of the program, but nearly all parents changed their minds within six months of seeing how the tools were helping students progress.

“Such an illustration of the benefits of using data to improve student learning—and in particular how it can actually enhance the effectiveness of the teacher—can be a powerful tool in overcoming concerns that data-enabled tools might lower the quality of education that students receive,” the report notes.

Second, schools should be transparent about what data will be collected and how it will be used, similar to how smartphone-application builders ask individuals if it is okay to track their location information. The report also urges schools to give families access to the data being collected about their children and make sure that parents know exactly who has permission to view and edit student data.

Finally, schools must earn the trust of parents, teachers, and students. The report cites banks, which have access to a great deal of sensitive personal data but have gone to great lengths to build trust, including spending heavily on cybersecurity and submitting to rigorous regulations and oversight. It suggests that schools also engage qualified cybersecurity firms or “build trust on the front line.” For example, a California school district held a three-day learning summit where it invited its technology learning partner to speak with teachers, parents, and community members about its mission and motives.

“As the type and volume of student data increase, so do concerns about who exactly will have access to the information and how it will be used,” the report notes. “To get the benefits of data-enabled instruction, schools would need to collect and analyze more student data than they have in the past. They would also need to collect this information more often and more rigorously, and then make relevant portions of it available to more people and organizations. The risks are real, but they can be managed, leading to real rewards in the form of better student learning and achievement.”

Protecting Student Data in a Digital World is available at


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