5 critical student data questions for schools

U.S. Department of Education issues guidance on student data privacy, use

student-dataStudent security and data privacy are top concerns for today’s students, and now federal guidelines are helping to shed light on the often confusing issue of data security.

Speaking at the Common Sense Media Privacy Zone Conference on Feb. 24, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said keeping student data secure and using it for its intended purposes are top priorities.

To that end, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) on Feb. 25 released guidance for vendors that work with schools to store student data. Part of ED’s efforts will involve helping educators understand how technology and data interact and how privacy issues surround data issues.

(Next page: Important data questions every school district must ask)

Resources address data sharing and dissemination, disclosure avoidance, data security, data governance, and legal references.

Its latest resource, “Protecting Student Privacy While Using Online Educational Services,” offers a number of best practices when it comes to legal issues and policy concerns and student data.

“The new normal embraces a stunning variety of tools and connectedness,” Duncan said in prepared remarks. “In schools, like everywhere else, these new tools and connections have offered extraordinary learning opportunities.”

But these new opportunities have given rise to new concerns and cautions about personal data security.

“The benefits for students of technological advancement can’t be a trade-off with the security and privacy of our children,” Duncan said. “We must provide our schools, teachers and students cutting-edge learning tools. And we must protect our children’s privacy. We can and must accomplish both goals–but we will have to get smarter to do it.”

Schools and districts shouldn’t hesitate to ask hard-hitting questions in an attempt to align policy with evolving technologies and make privacy a priority, Duncan said.

Those questions include:

  1. Do you know what online services your schools and teachers are using?
  2. Are you offering teachers timely approval of technology they want to use?
  3. Do your contracts explicitly lay out the ownership and appropriately limit the use of any data collected?
  4. Are you transparent with parents about how your district uses data?
  5. Do your schools allow students to bring their own devices as tools for learning, and do your policies protect them?

“Technology…can help us increase both equity and excellence–if everyone works together to produce solutions that serve students well,” Duncan said. “Smart policies will support–not impede–educators who want to put technology to work for kids.”

Schools and districts are changing their practices to use data in smarter ways to drive improvement at all levels, he said.

“Schools and districts need to develop policies that allow rapid adoption of technologies that meet privacy and security standards–and rejection of those that do not.”

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Laura Ascione
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