Parents at Ease With Use of Student Data, But Not for Commercial Purposes

By Sean Cavanagh — September 21, 2015 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Parents purport to be knowledgeable about and comfortable with schools’ collection of student data, but they are skeptical about companies harvesting that information for commercial reasons, a new poll says.

Overwhelming majorities of parents support schools’ right to collect and use student data when those mothers and fathers believe it is tied to educational purposes, according to the survey, released today by the Future of Privacy Forum.

Ninety-four percent of parents, for instance, back collecting and using information on student attendance records, and 91 percent support that process for taking in data on special-needs status, the poll shows.

The survey and accompanying report, called “Beyond the Fear Factor,” also found 88 percent voiced support for schools taking and using data related to standardized test scores. Eighty-six percent feel the same way about the collection and use of students’ disciplinary records.

Parents’ support plummets, however, when it comes to collecting information about students’ backgrounds, such as parents’ marital status (37 percent), Social Security numbers (24 percent), and race/ethnicity (39 percent).

And while big majorities of parents are OK with school officials, and colleges, having access to their children’s educational records, just 42 percent favor giving various ed-tech companies that access.

Similarly, just 34 percent are comfortable giving nonprofit organizations access to students’ educational records. See the full breakdown below:

“Unsurprisingly, the closer the use is to the individual classroom and to their own child, the more strongly parents support, and in fact, desire the benefits of student-data collection and use,” the report states.

But when it comes to data being fed to vendors, “parents may believe this research does not benefit the student but simply benefits the vendors, marketers, or others who do not have the direct interests of a student’s educational experience as their primary goal.”

The Future of Privacy Forum, based in Washington, is a think tank that advocates for responsible data policies. It often seeks to bridge divides and encourage discussions among privacy advocates, industry, policymakers, regulators, and others.

Among the other survey findings:

  • The biggest majorities of parents, 84 percent, see identifying and helping struggling students as a convincing reason to use individual student information. Far fewer, 57 percent, say that helping schools build profiles for individual students—the poll identifies data used to predict good fits for future vocations as an example—is a good reason for that data collection.
  • More than 70 percent of parents are comfortable with a well-protected electronic record being created for their child. Yet big majorities of parents, 87 percent, said they have security and privacy concerns about their children’s educational record being hacked or stolen.
  • Just 23 percent of parents are aware there are federal laws protecting student-data privacy and understand the restrictions on how schools can use student information.

The survey was conducted online earlier this year of 1,002 parents ages 18 and older, who have children up to the age of 17 in their households. It was conducted by the Harris Poll.

The Harris Poll said that respondents for the survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in polls conducted by the organization. The data are weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population.

Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated, Harris Poll officials said in an e-mail to Education Week.

See also:

A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.