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Transparency and the Art of Protecting Student Privacy | SEEN Magazine

I have written a thought leadership piece for SEEN Magazine that discusses the importance of transparency in protecting student privacy. For sake of brevity, I have posted an edited version below that hits on the finer points.


School improvement efforts have driven data collection to new and alarming heights in recent years. Many argue that data is essential for improving students’ achievement in schools and preparing them for success in life, while others feel this holds true only if privacy, safety and security considerations are integrated from the start and implemented throughout.

Data, when collected and used correctly, brings value to schools and students; when amassed in a cloak of secrecy, without clear and discernible goals, screams trouble. Transparency plays an important role in protecting student privacy. For schools, focusing on areas of safety, security and trust are key to implementing effective student privacy initiatives.

Data Collection And Privacy

Schools today collect and use student data for various purposes. The general understanding is that data helps teachers and administrators make informed decisions based on empirical evidence. In a nutshell, data helps educators determine what is working and what is not.

Safeguarding student information starts with establishing clear lines of communication and employing transparency measures from the get-go. In order to eliminate confusion and foster greater support for the overall effort, it is vital that school and district leaders share what they are doing in a way that’s upfront, open and honest. Additionally, providing the proper services, support and training gives students, parents, and educators the tools, knowledge and skills they need to confidently handle this new responsibility.

Transparency And Accountability

Parental backlash is a real and pressing issue that educators are grappling with these days. Widespread concerns over the extensive amounts of data being collected in schools by private and public agencies have prompted many parents to speak out in opposition. While some are demanding to know what information is being collected from students, others are seeking a clearer understanding of the intent, its safety, and its security.

As parents press for greater transparency, and lawmakers push for greater accountability, school and district administrators, IT directors and school board members are finding themselves uncomfortably caught in the crosshairs. This is forcing education leaders across the nation to quickly and seriously reconsider their current approach to managing student privacy.

Safety and security

The conversation surrounding student privacy often comes down to safety. Parents need assurance that their children are safe while at school, both physically and virtually. They want a greater understanding of what is going on in the classroom, what digital tools are being used, what information is being collected from them, for what purposes and for how long.

Schools are no exception. Focus on physical protection of students has come to include digital security protection against cyber threats and intrusions. In response, schools and districts are reallocating resources to ensure adequate safety and security systems are in place.

Trust And Understanding

Trust plays a key role in managing student privacy because it is the proverbial glue that binds everyone and everything together. When supported by trust, successful privacy initiatives are engaging, empowering and effective.

Building trust starts with providing clearly defined goals and objectives that serve as a guide to understanding. In order to believe in the vision, participants need a comprehensive understanding of the big picture. Providing this offers a sense of ownership and some semblance of control.

Takeaways

Protecting student data is an ongoing and continual effort that demands attention, communication, collaboration, cooperation and understanding on broad and comprehensive levels. Taking precautionary steps in advance, openly communicating privacy plans and employing transparency and accountability measures from the start will help ensure privacy is protected and students are safe.