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Equity in Civic Technology, Privacy & Data

The Three P’s of Supporting Military Children: Purple, Portability, and Privacy

The Month of the Military Child, April, is celebrated with “Purple Up Days,” during which people wear their best purple in support of these important members of the community. However, purple is not the only P that matters when it comes to supporting military-connected students. 

CDT’s Student Privacy team “Purples Up” for the Month of the Military Child. (Elizabeth Laird, Adarsh Mahesh, and Hannah Quay-de la Vallee)

You might be aware that military-connected students (students with a parent who is an active-duty member of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard or serves on full-time National Guard duty) move a lot, but you might not realize how much: approximately six to nine times between kindergarten and their high school graduation. According to a report from the Military Child Education Coalition, this is about three times more often than civilian children and can result in negative academic experiences and achievement.

One way to support this highly-mobile group of students is data portability between schools, which is a technical term that is used to refer to copying, downloading, exporting, or transferring data. Data portability can benefit these students in numerous ways. For example, the timely transfer of education records between the old school and the new school can speed up the enrollment process. Additionally, that same information can be used by counselors to place new students in the right classes.

At the same time, data portability can introduce privacy risks that must be mitigated. For example, a parent who is a member of special operations forces might be concerned about the physical safety of their child should that information fall into the wrong hands.l.

For this reason, CDT recently held a diverse, multi-stakeholder meeting during which participants discussed how to leverage the benefits of data portability while reducing potential privacy harms for students when they change schools. In particular, we are focused on students who are moving the most because they have the most to gain from better information sharing, but also the most to lose if their privacy is not protected.

Sharing quality data when students change schools can support timely enrollment, class placement, continuing services (e.g. special education services), and keep students safe. At the same time, there are real privacy risks around jeopardizing physical safety, creating social stigma, and making biased decisions if information lacks context and is misused. All of these risks are potentially exacerbated when information is breached on a large scale – a problem we unfortunately continue to experience in education (recent examples from higher education here and here).

CDT will be publishing more on this topic soon, including information on other highly-mobile student groups like students in foster care, students experiencing homelessness, and migrant students, but for now, please join me in celebrating military children and consider how we can help them realize their full academic potential!