05/07/2014 02:35 pm ET Updated Jul 07, 2014

All Parents Need Access to Education Data Now

How do we get parents the most timely and accurate information about how their children are doing in the classroom? How can we show the public whether its tax dollars are being used effectively to improve the schools in all communities? Anecdotes can paint a picture, but the most useful information comes when parents, educators, and others with a stake in education have access to data that help them understand how well our kids are doing and empower them to make better decisions that improve student achievement.

Over the past several years, every state has put in place education data systems that follow the progress of students over time and collect things like grades, student and teacher attendance, services students receive, postsecondary success and remediation rates, and more. Data that are easy to understand and tailored to individual students can help parents work in partnership with teachers to improve their children's learning. But only 14 states can be sure that parents have access to that rich information.

Failing to ensure this key information is in the hands of educators and families means most states are not seeing the real value of the education data they're collecting.

New York was on the cusp of providing that crucial parent access, but the state's decision to end its relationship with inBloom, a nonprofit developed to provide a technical data solution to states looking to improve access to data, and the organization's subsequent announcement that it would wind down operations, means more delays in making this access a reality. Regardless of which technical solution New York or any state chooses to use, it has a responsibility to move swiftly to get data into the hands of teachers and families in a timely and useful manner that leads to better decision making and improved student achievement.

The conversation about inBloom in New York and elsewhere shows that we must do more to help the public, and especially parents, understand how increased appropriate access to secure data helps their children succeed. All parents, regardless of where they live, deserve access to their child's educational data and information to help them succeed. We know that data can help parents and educators build on students' strengths and support their needs more quickly. It is critical we work to ensure all parents have access to this quality, timely education data.

Conversations about the access to, and the use of, student data have brought to light legitimate concerns about who has access to data and whether student data are being protected. We must make every effort to ensure this valuable information is secure. Safeguarding student privacy and using data effectively to improve teaching and learning aren't mutually exclusive actions; in fact, ensuring the privacy, security, and confidentiality of our children's data is integral to building an education culture that values, trusts, and uses data. If people don't trust the data and have confidence privacy is being protected, they will not use it.

We must keep working hard to protect the security and confidentiality of every student's data, and federal, state, and local leaders need to be engaged in productive conversations to ensure this is the case. But let's make protecting student privacy an essential component of providing kids with a top-notch education and improving our nation's education system. With the right information that parents can trust, we can ensure our children are on a path to success. Let's redouble our efforts to provide parents and educators better access to the crucial information they need to help our children today. We can't afford to wait.