Educators who stepped into the superintendent’s role 20 years ago probably didn’t devote much brainpower to student data privacy. But these days, it’s as much a part of the job as puzzling over state standards or overseeing school budgets.
Enter the Public Interest Privacy Center, a new nonprofit formed late last year. For now, it will be housed at AASA, the School Superintendents Association, which serves districts around the country.
Heading up the center’s three-person team is Amelia Vance, who has spent roughly a decade as a self-described “privacy geek.” Most recently, she was the vice-president of youth and education privacy at the Future of Privacy Forum, a nonprofit organization.
The new center has a clear niche to fill: Over the past decade, technology—and the student data collection that comes with it—has become a central part of everything from how school districts teach math and manage behavior to how they collect homework and pay teachers.
Vance and her team can now directly help superintendents and other district leaders respond to the myriad of privacy considerations and questions spurred by all this data collection and the often cumbersome and confusing data privacy agreements crafted by education companies.
Data privacy questions from parents
Vance pointed out that district leaders now hear things from parents like: “I looked over my child’s shoulder and they were using 10 different apps. Why are they using 10 apps? How is [their data] protected?”
Or, she said, parents will ask these kinds of questions: “My kids took a survey asking about how they are emotionally, and where is that data going? How is it going to be used? Are we making sure that data really is being used to help kids and not to put them into a box?”
Part of her organization’s work will be helping district leaders explain the particulars of privacy and technology to parents and teachers. It will also connect district leaders with resources for vetting new technologies. And it will share the best solutions districts around the country have found for their data privacy headaches.
The organization will also serve as a resource for school district leaders and their state lobbyists in understanding how new or proposed privacy legislation at the state level could impact the work of schools. One of Vance’s roles will be to provide similar analysis to AASA’s federal relations team, as Congress appears increasingly interested in this issue.
With the expansion of online learning spurred in part by the pandemic and the continued use of more technology in teaching and learning, “we started to see this massive growth in kid privacy protections,” Vance said.
She wants to make sure district leaders and their advocates have the information they need to be part of those conversations around what those protections should look like. “Kids spend the majority of their waking hours in schools, but nobody was actually talking to schools when it came to pulling together these child privacy protections.”
The nonprofit center has already received more than $500,000 in grants, including one from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. (Education Week receives sustaining support from the foundation. The media organization retains sole editorial control over its articles.)