Momentum growing to protect student data

Who owns a schoolchild’s data? Everything from where they live to their test scores? Schools collect it and the federal government explicitly allow schools to share this data with outside contractors, such as a data storage company or an educational software vendor, without getting parental permission first. But it’s unclear what schools and outside vendors can do with this data. Surely many would be outraged if student data were used to market products to students the way that online advertisers do on Facebook.

The New York Times reported yesterday that a children’s advocacy group is calling for major education software vendors to set limits on what the private sector can do with student data and come up with some national standards. The group, Common Sense Media, is better known for its ratings of children’s videos and games. But its plea is getting some quick traction.  The State Educational Technology Directors Association, an influential trade association, sent out an email, saying that it supports Common Sense Media’s call for action.  “This is a big deal,”  wrote Doug Levin, SEDTA’s executive director. “Industry needs to understand the rules of the road in handling data about students and a way to distinguish good actors from bad.”

The threat to industry is that Washington will set the standards for them. The New York Times piece quoted Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., saying that the government should issue new regulations “It’s clear to me that parents, not schools, have the right to control their children’s information, even if it’s in the hands of private companies,” Mr. Markey said in a phone interview on Friday. “I am going to ask the Department of Education to lay out specific guidelines to protect students from having their records compromised.”

I’m curious how Republicans will react to this one. Will they oppose new regulations on businesses? Or will they hew to the Tea Party line of protecting individual privacy?

POSTED BY Jill Barshay ON October 15, 2013

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