Apr 03 2024
Data Analytics

Data Governance Policies Are a Must for Schools

School districts in states such as Colorado and Washington have data governance that dictates the roles and responsibilities for data management. Privacy and security are paramount.

Data privacy is a necessity for K–12 schools, especially when managing student records around academic performance, attendance and health information. But data governance is also an essential component of that strategy.

Data governance and privacy are clearly intertwined. Both data access and data sharing must be limited to the appropriate people, says Gwen Thomas, founder of the Data Governance Institute.

“You really cannot look at privacy without also considering data governance, because privacy is based on principles,” Thomas says.

Effective data governance policies allow schools to maintain high-quality data and protect it from misuse and cybersecurity threats. Tools such as IBM Cloud Pak for Data help schools manage data policies and rules and improve data discovery.

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What Is Data Governance in K–12?

Data governance encompasses the procedures of managing and accessing data. It includes setting policies on how data must be controlled from multiple perspectives, including security and privacy, Thomas says.

“Generically, data governance is a framework that organizations use to ensure that data is handled effectively, securely and transparently, benefiting all stakeholders associated with the organizational ecosystem,” says Jill Ibeck, CIO at Jeffco Public Schools, the second-largest school district in Colorado.

“Specifically, K–12 focuses on the stakeholder groups of teachers, parents, superintendents and other senior executives, school boards, legislature and compliance, and community,” she says.

The Data Governance Institute’s Data Governance Framework covers what data must be controlled and from what angle, as well as how the data will be controlled. Thomas believes many school districts do have data governance policies in place.

Jill Ibeck, CIO, Jeffco Public Schools
Data governance is a framework that organizations use to ensure that data is handled effectively, securely and transparently, benefiting all stakeholders associated with the organizational ecosystem.”

Jill Ibeck CIO, Jeffco (Colo.) Public Schools

Government Policies for K–12 Data Governance

Washington, D.C.’s Office of the State Superintendent of Education breaks up its data governance policies, grouping them around responsibilities under federal privacy laws, student privacy and data suppression, educational workforce privacy and data suppression, data incident response, and secure data transfer. D.C.’s student privacy policy states that OSSE has a responsibility to suppress and remove information that could identify students.

Meanwhile, Washington State’s data governance policy states, “An effective data governance strategy clearly defines the roles, responsibilities, authority and associated activities of individuals and groups that come in contact with K–12 data.”

With this data governance document, Washington State aims to create a “culture of data quality” to integrate data use throughout the organization and ensure that proper data use and management are priorities.

At the Nebraska Department of Education, key governance activities include maintaining confidentiality of all school records, storing data securely, developing Memoranda of Understanding around data sharing and reviewing the MOUs quarterly.

Data Governance vs. Data Stewardship in Education

While data governance involves making rules about data, data stewardship involves defining and interpreting those rules and creating accountability for working with the data.

“Within K–12, a data owner would play a large role in establishing a data governance framework, and a data steward would be concerned with the day-to-day care and management of data assets,” Ibeck says.

Whenever an organization such as a school migrates data to a new environment like the cloud, that involves new governance rules and stewardship responsibilities, Thomas says.

DISCOVER: Ask these three questions before migrating data to the cloud.

Ibeck explains that a data governance framework should establish roles and responsibilities for managing data throughout a school district. These roles include data owner and data steward.

At Jeffco Public Schools, data stewards decide how the school district gets access to data, who can access it, how to keep data clean and who has literacy around data, according to Ibeck.

“We’re attempting to formalize that with roles and responsibilities across the board,” she says.

K–12 Data Governance Best Practices

Technologists must translate the lingo of data governance policies to school staff and administrators in plain language. Data governance teams are “universal translators between the teams that use data and steward data,” Thomas says. “Educators should not be expected to be technicians.”

She explains that communication is 80 percent of a data governance team’s work.

As schools continue to develop and refine data governance strategies, they should consider decision rights, which dictate who can interpret, override and ignore rules, Thomas says. “Schools need a clear understanding of who is empowered to make decisions about data.”

READ MORE: Student data privacy pioneer says K–12 schools must do better.

When a school nurse must consult the school’s database to determine who can pick up a student, for example, data governance dictates who has the right to make decisions on who can pick up a child, Thomas says.

“Maybe you have a process in place with a type of control that says you can propose an override, but someone else from administration has to sign off on it,” she says.

If a request comes in to change a student’s grade, schools must be able to justify their actions to protect their credibility, Thomas says.

How Can Schools Manage Data Governance Policies?

K–12 data privacy policy is more complex than in higher education because some K–12 students are too young to articulate how they feel about their privacy, Ibeck explains. She suggests that schools prioritize a review cycle for data governance policies and procedures that concern data. They must also seek buy-in from the superintendent and senior executives. Stakeholders such as the board of education and external community representatives should be in a “consult and inform role,” Ibeck says.

Jeffco Public Schools aims to have a full-time program manager of data governance, which Ibeck says school districts should budget for. In addition, she says, schools must have support from senior leadership for data governance programs.

As school districts develop their data governance programs, they should continue to tweak and improve them.

“It’s like a muscle that you work out every day,” Ibeck says. “It’s not something that we set up, call it done and watch it run right from afar. It has to continue to mature with things that change in the policy, data privacy and information security space. It’s going to be crucial for school districts to have that commitment.”

DIVE DEEPER: Explore data governance strategies for artificial intelligence success.

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