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Solving how schools and high-tech companies manage student data sets the stage for a broader debate about the use of that data.

A new company, Clever, is taking on the complex world of student data management, paving the way for public schools to share student data with new high-tech firms that offer new learning tools and tailored assessments.

Schools are increasingly sharing their students’ data with private technology firms. These firms may look like Mathletics, a browser-based, K-12 learning platform that gamifies algebra or geometry lessons, to Permission Click, which handles digital permission slips and payment collection for teachers. Some tools may only use very basic data points, like a student’s name, their address, and a class ID. Others, like adaptive learning tools, may use more data about a student, including their behavior, schedule, and performance.

Clever is not a education application. Rather, it’s a middleman, providing the pipes that connect a school’s information systems — databases of school demographics, attendance records, and enrollment statistics — to the private learning applications. Clever is already used by a surprisingly large number of schools: “More than 44,000 elementary and secondary schools — about one-third of the kindergarten through 12th-grade schools in the United States — now work with [Clever],” notes Natasha Singer in The New York Times.

Last year, a well-funded non-profit venture called inBloom tried to offer a similar service, but ultimately shut down. Clever seems to have learned from inBloom’s woes. Where inBloom stored student information in a single, central database, Clever only collects and sends student data that schools choose to send to third-party learning applications. As The New York Times profile observes, “[school] administrators can select which specific details about a student to transfer. They can also decide whether to share that information for students in an entire district or, for example, the entire eighth grade or a particular elementary school.” And Clever has given careful thought to its privacy policies.

Solving the problem of how to share student data sets up the debate for how to use that data.

In short, Clever may offer a easy and relatively secure ways for schools to choose to share data with private companies. But this is only the beginning of the story. Ultimately, other companies, each of which has its own privacy policy and security measures, will use that data. And schools must keep a careful eye on how that data is actually used and assessed.

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