By Barbara Roos
With America’s kids back in school, the debate around student data collection and privacy is heating back up again. And parents, schools and commercial service providers all have an important role to play in working together to protect student privacy.
The best thing you can do to protect your kids’ privacy is to be aware and involved. Ask if your school district uses third-party services to store student data, and if so, make sure they have a contract in place that prohibits selling or reusing student data for other purposes. Also, find out how much “directory information” your school shares (e.g. name, address, date of birth), and with whom – and if you’re not happy with the answer, notify the school district in writing that you do not want your school district to disclose your child’s directory information without your prior written consent.
Parents are increasingly concerned about what’s happening with their children’s school records, so school districts should be proactive in communicating with parents about what information is stored about their kids, and how it’s used. Give interested parents the opportunity to get involved in shaping school privacy policies, and they can become your allies instead of your critics.
Commercial service providers who are gathering student data may want to take a tip out of President Obama’s playbook. As the New York Times reported earlier this year, the Obama campaign hired a third party to “anonymize” their data about persuadable voters, so that all identifying information was stripped away before the campaign used it. Education service providers could take a similar approach by establishing an independent intermediary to strip out student names and other identifiable data points before student records are transmitted outside of school systems, so commercial providers see only an anonymized version of each student’s record.
It’s no surprise that privacy is getting a lot of attention these days, and rightly so. But there are steps we can all take to protect student data while continuing to use it – safely and effectively – for the betterment of education.