Recently the Thomas B. Fordham Institute released a new tool demonstrating the actual expenditures of every school in Washington, DC, and the surrounding areas of Northern Virginia and Maryland. That may not sound like a big deal on first read, but it is. Rarely does the public have the opportunity to dive into financial information about schools beyond average per pupil expenditures calculated at the district, or even state level. The data presented by Fordham, thanks to public budget documents and Freedom of Information Act requests, incorporates actual teacher salaries at each school (teachers aren’t named, of course), providing a rare level of accuracy to the information.
As they should, the data raise more questions than anything. What conclusions do we hope parents and the public will draw? Are the schools with higher real spending levels somehow better? While this set of information provides us with a never-before-seen look at school-level financial data, it doesn’t put that information side by side with information about how students in that school are performing, how teachers spend their time, or what sort of supports they have. It doesn’t necessarily help parents know if this is the best school for their child.
It does, however, provide some insight into funding equity across schools. By comparing demographics, like rates of free and reduced-price lunch and student household income, against actual school funding, we do get a look at who is—and is not—getting short changed on at least one measure.
I am a big supporter of access to clear useful data, and this spending map is certainly that. But I would like to challenge leaders, states, districts, advocates, whomever, to go further—we need more information like this, and it needs to be side by side with other information about students and schools. Policy and practice must align to provide parents, the public, and policymakers with the whole picture about the places where students learn.
When people think of cyber security, futuristic scenes of monitor-filled rooms and computer experts may come to mind. Most people wouldn’t think of a classroom, let alone their own living room. But cybersecurity is a shared responsibility for everyone, particularly when it comes to creating a safe digital environment for students.
So what is security when it comes to student information? Security comprises the policies and practices implemented at the state, district, and school levels to ensure that student data are kept safe from corruption and that access is limited and appropriate. Data security helps ensure privacy and protect students’ personally identifiable information.
There are a variety of steps we take to ensure children and their information are safe—at home and in school. Taking cyber security precautions is just one more step that parents, teachers, and school officials must take to ensure student safety.
Keeping Students Safe in a Digital World: Houston Independent School District has tips for parents to talk about digital safety with students, including topics ranging from smart social media use to online security.
Keep parents in the loop. DQC recommends that schools clearly communicate with parents the service providers that they share student data with.
Know the rules of the road when it comes to securely sharing student data while protecting students’ privacy. DQC makes FERPA as simple as green, yellow, red in A Stoplight for Student Data Use.
Administrators: Ensure Infrastructure Is Secure
Security is everyone’s responsibility. Make sure all district staff members know best practices for protecting students when working with online education services. The US Department of Education’s Privacy and Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) provides guidance on Protecting Student Privacy While Using Online Educational Services.