Ask many public school parents about student data use and privacy, and you’ll likely end up with a heated debate about protecting sensitive, personal information. But what do parents really understand about school technology use and student data privacy?

The Future of Privacy Forum set out to do just that in 2015 and 2016, and surveys revealed that while parents understood the technologies used in their children’s schools, they were less informed about specific laws and practices that pertain to protecting student information.

As technology becomes more prevalent in classrooms, parents say they support technology’s increasing prevalence in classrooms, as long as they are informed about how their children’s information is gathered and used.

FPF’s report indicates parents are the most comfortable with student information use when it is used to directly improve teaching and learning.

Parents said they believe the most convincing reasons to use individual student information are to identify students who are struggling and who would benefit from earlier additional support (85 percent), to personalize learning according to each student’s strengths and weaknesses (82 percent), and to help schools build profiles on individual students for predictions such as best vocations or professions (57 percent).

(Next page: Student data recommendations for educators and policymakers)

Parents also said they are open to having electronic education records for their children, but they still express concern over security and privacy.

Seventy-one percent of parents are comfortable with a properly-protected electronic education record being created for their children, and 77 percent of parents believe that this kind of record would be a valuable tool for improving their children’s educational opportunities.

Parents are more likely to support data collection and use in an electronic education record if they know a school or educational service provider is required to ensure security (82 percent) and if the school or educational service provider is required to use the record only for educational purposes (84 percent). Parents worry that their child’s record could be hacked (84 percent) or used against their child by a college or an employer (68 percent).

Educators and policymakers would do well to help parents understand the laws around student data use and privacy–21 percent of parents said they know there are federal laws restricting what public schools can do with students’ information, and another 21 percent said they think there are laws, but they don’t know what those laws entail. Fifty-five percent said they do not know about federal laws related to student data use and privacy.

When it comes to expanded use of technologies in schools, school leaders should:
1. Seek resources to adequately train and support teachers and administrators.
2. Communicate with parents throughout various stages of implementing new technologies.
3. Ensure that new services and products clearly enhance the educational process.

As data is accessed and used, school leaders and educators should:
1. Understand and address parental concerns about which companies receive access to data for product development (e.g., those in partnerships with schools).
2. Work with schools to create and establish clear policies governing disclosure of student data, using existing laws as the baseline.
3. Include parents in the discussion, and communicate regularly to address concerns and build trust among parents, schools, and other partner organizations.

About the Author:

Laura Ascione

Laura Ascione 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