Ask Arne: Procuring Privacy

When I think of privacy a few images pop into my head:  a “do not disturb” sign, the settings on my social media accounts, or me locking the bathroom door so that my kids can’t come barging in after me.

But the term “privacy” has taken on new meaning in the digital age, and is now accompanied by terms like big data, devices, and the cloud.

As I lead from the classroom, I struggle with one question, “How do I create and innovate while protecting my students’ privacy?”

And I am not the only one asking this question.

Throughout the past few months, I have had the privilege of attending several educational technology events in my capacity as a Teaching Ambassador Fellow with the U.S. Department of Education and I have heard this question on repeat, along with a few others. What data is collected from students? Who has access to it? How is it used? I recently sat down with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to ask him about student data privacy. Watch the video below:

Personally, I love technology and I love data. I use data every day in my classroom as a method of measuring my effectiveness and my students’ progress. On a typical day, within the first seven minutes of my class, students will enter my room, grab their iPads, sign into our class website, and take a diagnostic survey or poll that builds upon prior knowledge, as well as introduces new concepts for that day’s lesson. These types of formative checks occur roughly five times within one block period and provide real-time data, real-time feedback, and allow me to personalize lessons based on students’ individual needs.  Consequently, the data collected from one class period serves as the foundation for the next class period.

According to the Fordham Institute, 95 percent of districts rely on cloud services for several purposes, such as monitoring student performance, supporting instruction, student guidance, as well as special services such as cafeteria payments and transportation.  While cloud storage is a common practice of school districts, the present concern is that districts are taking appropriate measures for safeguarding this data.

Currently, three keystone federal laws protect student privacy: The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, The Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment, and the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.  More recently, the Department of Education announced the Privacy Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) to help educators interpret laws and gain access to best practices around student data and privacy. Furthermore, groups like Common Sense Media launched the School Privacy Zone Campaign in an attempt to support connected classrooms that protect and safeguard student privacy.

Today, I feel an even greater pressure to utilize data in rigorous ways that ensure my students are college-and-career-ready. The one way that I know how to meet the diverse needs of every student is to use technology. While I believe in the power of technology and its ability to transform learning, I also know that my students’ safety comes first. My hope is that schools, districts, states, and the federal government will continue working to create the right policies to support the needs of educators so that they may create and innovate in their classrooms, and protect their students.

Emily Davis is a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education.

New Guidance: Tech and Protecting Student Data

Today, more than ever, schools and districts are managing a lot of digital data. Some of that has to do with teaching and learning, but there’s plenty more: from bus routes, to food service records, to enrollment and attendance information. Districts and schools are working to be more efficient and smarter about storing and using data. Many have chosen to move data “in the cloud,” meaning off-site data centers that securely store information.

PTAC VideoThis advancement in data storage has created some important and reasonable questions about what steps are being taken to insure that student data is kept secure and private. In a speech yesterday at the Common Sense Media Privacy Zone Conference, in Washington, D.C., Secretary of Education Arne Duncan reaffirmed that school systems “owe families the highest standard of security and privacy.”

What I want to say to you today is that the benefits for students of technological advancement can’t be a trade-off with the security and privacy of our children.

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.

Duncan noted that many school systems are showing leadership on the privacy front, such as the Kansas State Department of Education, which has developed an innovative data quality certification program to train staff on data quality practices and techniques, including privacy and security.

Read Secretary Duncan’s speech – Technology in Education: Privacy and Progress

In a panel following the speech, Acting Deputy Education Sec. Jim Shelton talked with Julie Brill of the Federal Trade Commission about further actions the federal government can take to protect student privacy in education, floating the possibility of joint efforts between the two agencies.

Earlier today, the U.S. Department of Education’s Privacy Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) released new guidance to help school systems and educators interpret and understand the major laws and best practices protecting student privacy while using online educational services. The guidance addresses a range of concerns regarding the security and privacy of student data.

Click here to read the new guidance.

Cameron Brenchley is director of digital strategy at the U.S. Department of Education