School Climate & Safety

Group Calls on Companies to Safeguard Student Data

By Ben Kamisar — October 22, 2013 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Common Sense Media, an organization known for rating media and educational technology for use by children, announced a new initiative last week to encourage the educational technology industry to safeguard student data from falling into the hands of corporate interests.

In a letter sent to 11 companies that offer ed-tech products and services, Jim Steyer, the CEO and founder of Common Sense Media, called on the companies to start a conversation about the appropriate use of students’ personal information.

“Through online platforms, mobile applications, and cloud computing, schools and ed-tech providers collect massive amounts of data that contain sensitive information about students—information that needs to be kept out of the hands of noneducational, commercial interests and other third parties,” he said.

The growing use of technology in the classroom, and the data collection that comes with it, is a double-edged sword for both parents and educators, according to experts. States, districts, and schools have become increasingly reliant on the collection of large amounts of student data for a variety of purposes—not just for the monitoring of academic performance, but also to gauge attendance and overall trends across populations.

But the wave of data collection has stirred concerns among school officials, parents, and privacy advocates, who say there are far too few safeguards on what information is being gathered, who has access to it, and how it is being used. The concerns have focused not only on data gathered by schools, but also by ed-tech companies capable of culling data—which, in some cases, have been shared with advertisers or other third parties.

Stimulating Discussion

“While certainly we appreciate the great promise that [technology] holds when used wisely and its great potential for learning, we wanted to be sure that everybody was thinking about student privacy as well,” said Joni Lupovitz, the vice president of policy for the San Francisco-based Common Sense Media. “Everybody’s read press reports about things that have gone well and things that haven’t. What we want to do is start a conversation.”

Ms. Lupovitz did not elaborate on the group’s plans outside of its intention to hold a summit early next year. But she said that Common Sense Media will roll out programs in the near future for its new “School Privacy Zone” initiative, which aims to stimulate discussion about the use of student data.

Douglas Levin, the executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association, based in Glen Burnie, Md., applauded the effort as an important step to stimulate discussion. He said that the loudest voices in the debate have been those with extreme views, who are looking to stop either what they see as the creeping privatization of education or federally imposed data-sharing that could lead to more state surveillance.

“This is a centrist and, I think, a moderate and responsible way to address this issue that has been driven by very emotional and heated exchanges that I think have not been well-grounded in fact,” he said.

State Policy Actions

In May, Mr. Levin’s organization released a report that, among other suggestions, recommended the creation of a comprehensive and universal infrastructure to standardize how educators and private companies secure the personally identifiable information of students. While Mr. Levin said that he believed the laws protecting children’s data are clear, some school districts lack complete understanding of those policies and the ability to balance the need for privacy with the ability to use technology to provide a better service to students.

“There’s a need for a broader view and a more forward-looking view as new technologies come out,” he said. “I think having 50 states with 50 sets of rules would be crippling to our schools’ improvement efforts.”

Some states have decided to take actions to bolster or clarify existing local and federal privacy laws.

For instance, the New York state Assembly passed a bill in June that would prohibit the release of identifiable information without parental consent, but the bill must wait until the Senate is back in session to approve it, most likely at the beginning of 2014.

An executive order by Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal in May, meanwhile, said that no personally identifiable data on students or their families could be given to the federal government or used commercially.

The Common Sense Media initiative aims to promote a conversation between all of the stakeholders on this issue, especially the educational technology companies themselves. Scholastic Inc., which produces a number of technology-based education programs, said in a statement that the company looks forward to the conversation Common Sense Media started, and that all the data collected by its programs are the property of the participating school. The statement added that Scholastic only analyzes non-personally-identifiable data to learn how to improve its software.

Kyle Good, a senior vice president of corporate communications forScholastic, said the company takes data privacy very seriously, and added that she believes that technology’s benefits to both teachers and students should not get lost in the conversation.

Associate Editor Sean Cavanagh contributed to this article.

A version of this article appeared in the October 09, 2013 edition of Education Week as Media Group Calls on Companies To Protect Students’ Personal Data

Events

Recruitment & Retention Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Chronic Teacher Shortage: Where Do We Go From Here?  
Join Peter DeWitt, Michael Fullan, and guests for expert insights into finding solutions for the teacher shortage.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Science Webinar
Close the Gender Gap: Getting Girls Excited about STEM
Join female STEM leaders as they discuss the importance of early cheerleaders, real life role models, and female networks of support.
Content provided by Logitech
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Achievement Webinar
Mission Possible: Saving Time While Improving Student Outcomes
Learn how district leaders are maximizing instructional time and finding the best resources for student success through their MTSS framework.
Content provided by Panorama Education

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School Climate & Safety How a Superintendent Urged Parents to Discuss Gun Violence With Their Kids
The leader of the school district that serves Monterey Park, Calif., encouraged parents not to "let the TV do the talking."
5 min read
A woman comforts her son while visiting a makeshift memorial outside Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park, Calif., Monday, Jan. 23, 2023. Authorities searched for a motive for the gunman who killed multiple people at the ballroom dance studio during Lunar New Year celebrations.
A woman comforts her son while visiting a memorial outside the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park, Calif., two days after a gunman killed 11 people and injured several others as they celebrated Lunar New Year.
Jae C. Hong/AP
School Climate & Safety Guidance on Responding to Students' Questions About Shootings
A guide for educators on ways to foster a sense of safety and security among students at a time when gun violence seems widespread.
4 min read
People gather for a vigil honoring the victims of a shooting several days earlier at Star Ballroom Dance Studio, Monday, Jan. 23, 2023, in Monterey Park, Calif. A gunman killed multiple people late Saturday amid Lunar New Year's celebrations in the predominantly Asian American community.
Two days after a mass shooting that killed 11 people, people gather for a vigil outside the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park, Calif. In the aftermath of shootings and other community violence, educators are called on to help students process their emotions and help them feel safe.
Ashley Landis/AP
School Climate & Safety Many Schools Don't Have Carbon Monoxide Detectors. Are They Overlooking the Risk?
Less than a quarter of states have laws requiring carbon monoxide detectors in school buildings.
5 min read
Image of a carbon monoxide detector with a blurred blueprint in the background.
iStock/Getty
School Climate & Safety Students of Color Disproportionately Suffer From Police Assaults at School, Says Report
A new report tallies up assaults by school-based police officers on students of color.
6 min read
Deputy Carroll walks the hall of Rice Elementary School with an administrator on Wednesday.
A school police officer walks the halls of Rice Elementary School in Greenwood, S.C., with an administrator on April 6, 2022.
Lindsey Hodges/The Index-Journal via AP