Education Framework Blog

Focused on the Future of Education in America

What Is Student Data Privacy?


School and district leaders know they need to protect student data, but effectively adopting and implementing a student privacy plan that includes parent, educator, administrator and policymaker input and approval, is a lot easier said than done. Efforts like this require dedicated time, commitment, clearly defined roles, a concrete understanding of what student data privacy actually is, and if you're lucky, tools to help you get the job done right.


While there are a myriad of checklists, to-dos and best practice recommendations available to help educators and administrators up their game, there is still much uncertainty surrounding this issue. But it's no surprise considering that there is, ironically, no set definition for student data privacy. And despite it being a relatively self-explanatory term, it is still complex and more-often-than-not, fraught with confusion. 


To put it simply, student data privacy is the idea of safely, securely and privately introducing online technologies into the classroom - in the form of apps, websites, surveys, assessments, etc. - without risk of compromising personally identifiable student information (PII). But it also so much more than that. 


Student data is protected under federal law (COPPA, FERPA, PPRA) and requires thorough knowledge and understanding of data collection, data use, data retention, data deletion and data integrity for all online technologies used in a school or district. It means reading endless privacy policies to know precisely who has access to student data, for what purposes and for how long. And it demands ongoing maintenance and monitoring to ensure there haven’t been any changes to the privacy policies that could compromise PII.   

Knowledge is Power

Protecting student data privacy starts with knowing precisely what technologies are being used in the classroom. Conducting a comprehensive audit of the technologies currently in use is a necessary first step towards establishing a baseline understanding and gaining a big picture view of the technology usage in a school or district.

Once there is an understanding of what technology is being used in the classroom, the next step is to conduct a thorough privacy assessment for each and every online technology to ensure student data privacy is indeed private and protected. 

For many, this step can be quite daunting, especially when considering the sheer volume of online technologies available to schools today. But with the right tools, this process can be relatively straight-forward, simple and streamlined.

Education Framework Inc. tackles student data privacy with the goal of protecting student PII while providing a great resource for industry leaders to connect with parents and their communities.

The Rise of Student Data Privacy 

Student data privacy has been a rapidly growing administrative pain point over the past few years. The massive push for 1:1 and other digital learning initiatives are major factors in this, but the equally explosive growth of new learning technologies created by third party vendors has changed the way we view student privacy. No longer can we assume that student privacy is safe, secure and protected, especially when it can be accessed by so many different entities, at different capacities, for different periods of time. Because of this, it is imperative that education leaders establish user controls that determine precisely who has access to what student data, for what purposes and for how long.


Besides the exponential growth of technology in schools, it's worth noting that there are a few contributing factors that have led to the rise of student data privacy as an immediate and necessary need, all of which are tied to the increased usage of digital media and online technologies:


1. Parents are technologically savvy. Parents are technology users themselves, so naturally they’re becoming better acquainted with security and privacy issues, especially when it comes to online technologies and services they use every day.

Many parents, especially those that are actively involved in their child’s online usage at home, want to know precisely what technologies they are using in school. More importantly, they need reassurance that they’re child’s privacy is being considered and respected.

Parents want a window into their child’s technology usage in school. Providing a way to communicate this information in a clear and concise manner helps connect the dots and bring parents into the loop, engaging them in the privacy conversation. This approach goes a long way towards building trust, as it conveys that their point-of-view is valued.

2. Technology forces transparency. One of the most unique ways the Internet has affected our society is the quick transmission of information. Education leaders have never been more powerful or in a better position to make informed decisions than they are today. 

With the right tools and approach, educators and administrators can discover safe learning technologies for students, measure growth, use actionable data to make classroom, school or district-wide improvements, and communicate with parents and communities in a way for all to understand. 

Student data privacy is about accurately and authentically conveying what technologies are being used so that stakeholders, community leaders, and parents can easily understand the health, safety and vitality of a school or districts' student privacy efforts. It is also about providing reassurance that students, schools and districts are safe from risk.

Transparency engages all interested parties and allows everyone to work together towards a greater good. Automated student privacy protection is one way for school and district leaders to adopt transparency measures and gain greater control of student privacy efforts, without heavily increasing the administrative workload. Utilizing tools that do much of the work for you - in an open and transparent way - are helpful in saving time and ensuring student privacy is, in fact, protected.

3. The right tools make things a whole lot easier. Knowledge is one of the most powerful benefits of the Internet age. Twenty-five years ago, when there was no Internet, student privacy was hardly a consideration. When technology usage started to go mainstream, particularly in schools across the country and around the globe, we simply couldn’t fathom where we’d be today. But with all this technological growth and opportunity has come an overwhelming need to increase privacy protections.

Educational development is no longer only about exploring and discovering the best learning solutions for students, but it’s also about finding technologies that are safe for use in the classroom. 

Automated solutions are the best way to capitalize on this theory, which is why Education Framework Inc. exists. We help position school and district leaders as experts in managing student data privacy by providing services that produce information at the ready. With over 1100 (and counting) online technologies assessed to date, we’re able to help educators, administrators and IT leaders make quick, yet safe and informed technology decisions for the classroom. All while minimizing the risk of exposing student information.

Food for Thought 

While there are plenty of factors that have led to student privacy’s rising value, these macro elements are the key reasons why protecting student data privacy is more relevant and important than ever before. 

Educators, administrators and IT leaders who establish themselves as pioneers in this space are positioning themselves to be helpful resources for their communities and models for other education leaders to follow. More importantly, those that take the necessary steps to ensure privacy is protected will be education leaders that parents will appreciate and trust.

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.