Student-Data-Privacy News Roundup

By Benjamin Herold — September 17, 2014 1 min read
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Gosh, it’s been seven whole weeks since I’ve written about student-data privacy. That’s almost a full 12 months in dog and Digital Education years.

In the interim, my counterparts at the New York Times, American Public Media’s Marketplace, and elsewhere have been doing some fine work on the subject. Here are some of the highlights:

California has been in the spotlight, with state legislators recently passing two significant bills. Natasha Singer of the Times has the details:

Legislators in the state passed a law last month prohibiting educational sites, apps and cloud services used by schools from selling or disclosing personal information about students from kindergarten through high school; from using the children’s data to market to them; and from compiling dossiers on them. The law is a response to growing parental concern that sensitive information about children—like data about learning disabilities, disciplinary problems or family trauma—might be disseminated and disclosed, potentially hampering college or career prospects. Although other states have enacted limited restrictions on such data, California’s law is the most wide-ranging. “It’s a landmark bill in that it’s the first of its kind in the country to put the onus on Internet companies to do the right thing,” said [state] Sen. Darrell Steinberg, a Democrat who wrote the bill. Gov. Jerry Brown has not taken a public position on the measure, or on a related student privacy bill regulating school contracts with education technology vendors. If he does not act, the bills will become law at the end of this month. Sen. Steinberg said the bills have broad bipartisan support and [are] likely to be enacted.

Other states have been active, too, as this nifty interactive map and summary from Tanya Roscorla of Government Technology demonstrate:

As the legislative session wraps up, student data privacy bills are headed to the books in 20 states. State policymakers introduced 110 bills on student data privacy in 36 states this session, with 30 of them passing both houses and 24 being signed into law, according to an analysis by the Data Quality Campaign. Four companion bills were not signed into law because they did the same thing that their counterparts did in the other house, and two bills in California are still on the governor’s desk for review. These bills tackled biometric, social and personal information, and they generally fall into two types of approaches: governance and prohibitive. Some bills included a mix of both types, but the ones that focused more on data governance tended to make it into law, said Rachel Anderson, associate for policy analysis and research at the Data Quality Campaign.

Be sure to check out the map—it’s a great resource for finding out what’s happened, where on the student-data privacy front.

And the third fine piece that caught our eye here at Digital Education was this multimedia look at a day in the life of a data-mined kid, by Adriene Hill of American Public Media’s Marketplace program.

The story begins at the bus stop. Your child swipes his ID card and climbs on the bus. The card may contain an RFID or radio frequency identification chip, which lets the school know when he gets on and off the bus. In some school districts, parents will get text alerts, letting them know their child arrived safely to school. The bus technology is presented as a way to keep children safer. “The data collection begins even before he steps into the school,” says Khaliah Barnes, director of the Student Privacy Project at the Electronic Privacy Information Center. And, says Barnes, in some schools it just keeps on going. RFID chips let schools track kids on school grounds. Administrators could know if a child leaves the building, or if he visits the school counselor. “The issue is that this reveals specifically sensitive information,” says Barnes. Location information is just one small part of a child’s data file. In the classroom, teachers gather data on routine things like attendance, tardiness, test scores and grades. The kinds of records that used to be kept on paper.

Check out the infographic and radio piece, too.

Interactive map of state student-data-privacy legislation courtesy of Government Technology.

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