AFSA Attends School Privacy Zone Summit

On Monday, February 24, 2014 AFSA attended a one day School Privacy Zone Summit: Protecting Student Data from the Classroom

Moderator: Virginia B. Edwards, president, editorial projects in education; editor in chief, Education Week Dr. Terry Grier, superintendent, Houston Independent School District Jeff Mao, learning technology policy director, State of Maine Dalia Topelson, clinical instructor, Cyberlaw Clinic, Berkman Center for Internet & Society/Harvard Law

Moderator: Virginia B. Edwards, president, editorial projects in education; editor in chief, Education Week
Dr. Terry Grier, superintendent, Houston Independent School District
Jeff Mao, learning technology policy director, State of Maine
Dalia Topelson, clinical instructor, Cyberlaw Clinic, Berkman Center for Internet & Society/Harvard Law

to the Cloud, hosted by Common Sense Media and the Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands.

As more schools and students use education technology inside and outside of the classroom, there are massive amounts of personal student data that is collected. The summit was convened to discuss the need to ensure sensitive student data is protected and to explore ways in which this might be accomplished.

Common Sense Media has also launched a School Privacy Zone campaign to help generate a national dialogue on protecting student privacy, which was also discussed at the summit. The campaign is based on three fundamental principles:

  1. Students’ personal information shall be used solely for educational purposes;
  2. Students’ personal information or online activity shall not be used to target advertising to students or families; and
  3. Schools and education technology providers shall adopt appropriate data security, retention and destruction policies

The summit featured a variety of speakers, including IT experts, parents, educators, and other stakeholders:

Joel Benenson, president & CEO, Benenson Strategy Group, presented results from their public polling on this issue. The poll found that, while almost 90% of parents were concerned about their children’s privacy, most were largely unaware of what data was actually being collected. They are unaware that the data being collected could include the child’s weight, race, religion etc. This makes transparency vital, so parents are informed as to the particular types of data being collected.

Joel Reidenberg, visiting professor of IT policy, Princeton University, discussed a study of how school districts collect data. The study found that most are using some sort of cloud service, and there is a wide variety of vendors that school’s partner with. Many schools are relinquishing control of the data, often without restrictions on its use. School districts currently do not have the ability or knowledge to negotiate contract language with vendors to protect student data. And, fewer than 25% of schools notify parents of what data is being collected.

Dr. Terry Grier, superintendent, Houston Independent  School District said protecting student data will take more than local board policy, it will require state and federal level legislation. School districts need to use data to improve student achievement, and also to operate efficiently (i.e. how they run bus routes, the cafeterias etc.). The money you save in these areas by using technology and data can be repurposed for other critical areas.

Cameron Evans, chief technology officer, U.S. education, Microsoft Corp. said that students are not producers and therefore their data should not be used by companies for profit. He suggested that schools should strive to protect student data in the same way health care providers protect patient privacy via HIPAA.

Joel Klein, CEO, Amplify and former chancellor, NYC Department of Education said that the student data should only be used for educational purposes. Any third party who has access to it should only do so on a need to know basis. The school district should make sure an agreement with a vendor circumscribes the rules in place.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan delivered the keynote address at the summit. Secretary Duncan stressed that schools are responsible for keeping children safe and secure, and privacy is part of keeping them safe. He said that new technology is creating enourmous opportunities for schools to improve student learning, but that it brings new caveats with it. But he emphasized, “this cannot be a choice between privacy or technology. Schools need to use data to operate well, but we have a moral imperative here..children’s privacy is not for sale..education data should be used solely for educational purposes.” Secretary Duncan also stated the Department of Education will be releasing new guidance for schools in this area on February 25, 2014.

Senator Edward J. Markey (D-MA) also spoke at the summit and plans to introduce legislation supporting safeguards to protect student data. AFSA looks forward to reviewing Senator Markey’s bill

AFSA looks forward to reviewing the Department of Education’s new guidelines, and will continue to monitor this important issue closely.