Privacy & Security

New Seal of Approval for Districts Protecting Student Data

By Benjamin Herold — April 05, 2016 3 min read
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Washington, D.C.

In yet another sign that the student-data-privacy turmoil of recent years is shifting from boil to simmer, school systems can now apply for a “Trusted Learning Environment” Seal, intended to demonstrate to parents and the community at large that they are taking appropriate steps to protect the privacy and security of sensitive student information.

The seal will be issued by the Consortium for School Networking, a membership group for school technology leaders, which is hosting its annual conference here this week. Also supporting the initiative are AASA-The School Superintendents Association, the Association of School Business Officials International, and the Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development.

“We see it as a fundamental shift in helping school systems change the conversation from privacy to one of trust,” CoSN CEO Keith Krueger said in an interview. “This is about setting expectations that are ambitious, but not so ambitious they can’t be achieved.”

Numerous statements of principle, guidance documents, industry pledges, and toolkits related to the hot-button issue of student data privacy have been released in recent years, as policymakers and educators have scrambled to catch up to the legislative and technical challenges presented by rapid advances in educational technology.

The new TLE Seal is different, Krueger said, because it is meant both as a comprehensive guide for what school systems should be doing, and as a framework for how they can move beyond compliance with state and federal laws and begin implementing a set of “aspirational” practices.

The TLE Seal will cover a set of approximately 40 specific practices across five domains: district and school leadership, classroom procedures and processes, data security, business operations, and professional development. The criteria have not yet been released in full. In an interview, Linette Attai, the president of PlayWell LLC and the project director of CoSN’s privacy initiative, said that examples include:

  • Having up-to-date policies and rules related to data privacy and security.
  • Ensuring that members of school system governing bodies are aware of relevant laws and requirements.
  • Implementing a privacy and security vetting process to guide the acquisition of online services.
  • Implementing clear policies regarding retention of student records, allowable data transmission protocols, and access to electronic data.
  • Creating up-to-date, easily accessible training resources and templates related to data security and privacy.
  • Ensuring that teachers are using classroom instructional strategies that protect students’ information.

School systems will be able to earn the TLE Seal through written submissions that include documentation of such practices and resources, usually from their chief technology officer or equivalent, Attai said. No on-site audits or observations of district practices will take place.

The first 100 school districts who apply for the seal will be able to do so for free, Krueger said. After that, CoSN will charge a fee of a couple hundred dollars, depending on the district’s size. The seal will be considered active for two years after it is awarded, with a small renewal fee for the second year.

Criteria for the seal were developed with the input of 28 school system leaders, including Robert J. Moore, the chief technology officer for the Dallas Independent School District and the project director for CoSN’s Trusted Learning Environment Seal initiative.

Despite the attention that data privacy and security have received in recent years, Moore said in an interview, attaining the seal will likely require “a leap” for many districts, which he said have lacked clear guidance and expectations beyond what it takes to comply with existing state and federal laws.

“Now, [districts] know for the first time what they should be prioritizing,” he said. “But I would be surprised if a large number of districts were able to achieve the seal immediately.”

And as for what it will mean for those districts that do earn the seal?

“It should give parents a sense of trust and confidence that their children’s data are being handled correctly,” Moore said.

This post has been updated to specify that Robert Moore is the project director for CoSN’s Trusted Learning Environment Seal initiative.

See also:

for live coverage from #CoSN2016.

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