1. Demonstrate honesty, integrity, and professionalism at all times
A parent had requested that the school not disclose his child's directory information to the public. Upon receiving a
series of advertisements from a local photographer—with his child's middle name misspelled in exactly the same
way as in school mailings—the parent asked a school board member whether the district shared contact information
with commercial organizations. The board member asserted that the district would never do such a thing, but
agreed that the identical misspelling was suspicious and decided to notify the superintendent. The superintendent's
investigation revealed that the wife of the district's database manager was a photographer who specialized in
children's photos. The database manager's employment was terminated after he admitted that he had shared the data
without following proper procedures for the release of student information.
While this example focused on a database manager, honesty, integrity, and
professionalism are critical requirements for any person whose job duties or volunteer
responsibilities include handling education data. We expect no less than absolute
honesty, integrity, and professionalism at all times from everyone trusted to work in
The people who handle data in our education system are expected to do many
things—and do them all well. Most of these individuals are trained educators who
provide instruction to students or supervise instruction at the school, district, or state
level. Other data handlers have non-instructional leadership or administrative support
roles. Still others provide highly skilled technical or data expertise that contributes to the
effective and efficient operation of the education enterprise. Regardless of an individual's
job title, working in an education environment demands unwavering adherence to codes
of appropriate conduct, operating expectations, and professional standards.
A "data handler" is defined in this document as anyone involved in the education
enterprise—employee, appointee, volunteer, or vendor—who has access to education
data or who contributes to the collection, management, use, or reporting of education
data. Data handlers who are honest can be trusted to maintain objectivity and uphold
an organization's data procedures and protocols even when it requires extra effort, is
not convenient, or otherwise runs counter to their own personal interests.
Integrity and Professionalism
People with integrity do not cheat, steal, or lie, even when they will not get caught.
They do not "borrow" data that they should not access; "cherry pick" data to
misrepresent meaning; or misuse information in conflict with legal norms, ethical
expectations, or common sense. Honesty and integrity are personal traits that are
expected of any person, regardless of job title, role, responsibility, or function within
"Professionalism," on the other hand, is commonly defined as the conduct,
aims, or qualities that characterize or mark a profession. Thus, "professional conduct"
complies with standards of behavior that apply to a specific role or position. Although
common use of the word "professional" implies a specialized knowledge and academic
preparation associated with certain types of skilled employment, "professionalism" as a
concept can be extended to all roles and positions in an organization that handle data,
regardless of job type. For example, superintendents behave "professionally" when they
accurately report data to the school board, no matter the consequences. School board
members demonstrate "professionalism" when they make sure that they understand
the meaning and context of data before making decisions. Similarly, data entry
clerks display "professionalism" when they take pride in their work and are careful to
minimize entry mistakes.1 Volunteers behave professionally when they respect that
certain things seen and heard in a school building are private and should not be shared
outside of their duties at the school.
Regardless of a data handler's role in an education organization, consistently and
continuously demonstrating honesty, integrity, and professionalism are of paramount
importance. These qualities, more than any other characteristic or trait, serve as the
foundation of ethical behavior.
Recommended Practices and Training
- Create an organizational culture that encourages honesty, integrity, and
professionalism by adopting and enforcing the following practices:
- Emphasize, through staff training, that the organization expects its employees
to be honest, have a sense of integrity, and behave professionally. Convey these
same expectations to vendors, consultants, volunteers, and anyone else who
performs paid or unpaid work for the organization.
- Explicitly require "honesty, integrity, and professionalism" in all job
descriptions, staff contracts, volunteer policies, performance evaluations, and
- Inform employees, contractors, and the general public of established policies,
procedures, and expectations regarding honesty, integrity, and professionalism.
- Commend and reinforce behavior that exemplifies high ethical expectations.
- Never tolerate dishonest, corrupt, or unprincipled behavior in the workplace,
regardless of job type or level of authority.
- Use data as they were intended.
- Say what you mean, and mean what you say. For example, deceiving
respondents by implying that you are collecting data for the district when it is
really for your master's thesis is ethically untenable under all but the rarest of
- Be very cautious about using data for purposes other than their original intent.
Be sure that doing so does not violate individuals' right to privacy or any
agreements of anonymity that you, or your agency, have made. Aggregations
of data may be published if personally identifiable information has not been
- Avoid at all costs any release of data that could lead to physical, mental, or
emotional harm to others. Establish and enforce security procedures and
mechanisms necessary for protecting all sensitive data (e.g., academic, behavioral,
health, employment, and financial information) from inappropriate release and use.
- Train all data handlers in the fundamental principles of data ethics—the "rights and
wrongs" that are not legal mandates but are critical to the appropriate management
and use of education data. Customize training efforts by job type as appropriate
for communicating concepts and translating instruction into practice. Data clerks,
teachers, and parent volunteers have different access to student data and face
different situations in which they must know how to "do the right thing."
- Use training activities that encourage learners to discuss and internalize the concepts
of honesty, integrity, and professionalism. For example, ask participants to develop
a statement describing the professionalism of their role in the organization; ask
them to list, as a group, the work situations that call for honesty, integrity, and
professionalism; develop a jobspecific
code of ethics, for example, "As a parent
volunteer, it is my ethical responsibility to___________________________;" create
and discuss scenarios in which these ethical qualities might be tested.
1 This is described more thoroughly in the Forum Guide to Building a Culture of Quality Data: A School and District
Resource (see appendix A).