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New Common Sense tool shows how secure your ed-tech apps are

June 30th, 2016

New educator resource is intended to find accurate, up-to-date evaluations of privacy and security practices of ed-tech applications

Common Sense Education, in collaboration with over 70 schools and districts nationwide, launched its K-12 Ed-Tech Privacy Evaluation Platform to support educators in their effort to make informed decisions about the educational software being used on campuses throughout the country.

With schools and districts struggling to manage the challenge of evaluating the privacy and security practices of thousands of educational technology products on the market, Common Sense convened stakeholders to develop a platform that provides accurate and up-to-date evaluations of the security practices of the most commonly used ed-tech apps. The robust set of resources is available at https://privacy.graphite.org.

“Evaluating the privacy and security practices of educational software is a daunting task for most schools and districts, but it doesn’t have to be,” said James P. Steyer, founder and CEO of Common Sense. “By working together with educators, Common Sense has developed a comprehensive, centralized, and free resource to help an education community that is spread out across the country learn from each other and make more informed decisions about protecting student privacy.”

The robust set of resources for educators includes real use experiences provided by schools and districts as well as an analysis of the strengths and potential risks of each application. The evaluation process consists of four steps:

Transparency evaluation: Identify the thoroughness of the policy.

Qualitative evaluation: Clarify strengths and potential weaknesses in the policy.

Summary evaluation: Based on the qualitative evaluation, organize strengths and potential risks into four criteria: safety, privacy, security, and compliance.

App evaluation: A high-level summary of the strengths and potential risks of an application.

The Common Sense K-12 Ed-Tech Privacy Evaluation Platform was born out of an initiative that began in 2014 when a group of school districts, including Fairfax County Public Schools (Virginia) and Houston Independent School District, approached Common Sense to address the complex and varied privacy policies of technology used in K–12 classrooms. Today, with the involvement of over 70 schools and districts, the great work on the initiative has resulted in a platform that seeks not only to evaluate ed-tech but also to work with the K–12 educational software industry to simplify and standardize privacy policies.

Carl Sjogreen, co-founder of Seesaw, a K–12 digital portfolio platform, said, “We care deeply about student privacy, both as a company and as parents ourselves. Our company takes privacy considerations into account from the first day we start working on a new feature, and we strive to communicate our privacy policies clearly. Having a consistent set of industry privacy guidelines and a way to demonstrate our privacy commitments will make it easier for us and all ed-tech developers to build student privacy into the core of their products.”

A recent Fordham Law School report found that 95 percent of districts rely on cloud services for a diverse range of functions including data mining related to student performance, support for classroom activities, student guidance, data hosting, and special services such as cafeteria payments and transportation planning. According to the study, districts frequently surrender control of student information when using cloud services, as fewer than 25 percent of the agreements specify the purpose of disclosures of student information, fewer than 7 percent of the contracts restrict the sale or marketing of student information by vendors, and many agreements allow vendors to change the terms without notice.

“It is a challenge for educators to keep up with all of the new and exciting digital tools being developed for the classroom,” said L. Beatriz Arnillas, director of IT and education technology for Houston Independent School District. “The privacy evaluation tool is going to help us make quicker and more informed decisions, and, equally as important, it provides one central, collaborative platform for educators everywhere to share information so we are not duplicating efforts when it comes to analyzing the best approaches to protecting student privacy.”

“The expertise of our partner districts, and their day-to-day experience evaluating software and working with vendors, grounds this work in the realities faced by students and teachers using technology,” said Bill Fitzgerald, director of the Common Sense Privacy Evaluation Initiative. “We are working together to create accessible and straightforward criteria that district leaders, teachers, students, parents, and vendors can readily understand.”

Common Sense Education undertook this privacy initiative with the funding support of the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

About the Author:

Laura Devaney

Laura Ascione Devaney is the Managing Editor, Content Services at eSchool Media. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland's prestigious Philip Merrill College of Journalism. When she isn't wrangling her two children, Laura enjoys running, photography, home improvement, and rooting for the Terps. Find Laura on Twitter: @eSN_Laura http://twitter.com/eSN_Laura