Education Department Urge Schools to Protect Online Student Data

Association of Educators
February 27, 2014 — 699 views  

The Education Department has urged school districts to exercise more scrutiny to protect the privacy of students when they use educational services offered over the internet.

Online companies offer services like websites that allows students to view educational video demonstrations, and the collection of money for the purpose of providing school lunches.  Many companies have set up portals which help in homework assignments. Anxieties have risen over the possibility that the private information gathered by these companies can be publicly shared or utilized to market services and products to students. The private information can be used as a marketing tool to target the students'  families as well.

Background

School districts frequently sign contracts with companies, but services provided over the internet can be taken even without the direct knowledge of the district. To give an example, a teacher may guide students to a particular website where the assignments given for homework can be retrieved without the school administrators being notified.

A few laws exist which explains how the data obtained from students can be utilized, but the problem is that the laws can be extremely difficult to interpret. A few privacy advocates are of the opinion that the present laws are woefully out of date. Recently, a number of activities have started at the federal and state level to solve the issue.

Guidance by the Educational Department

The Education Department, in its guidance, has urged the districts to carefully scrutinize the range of online services already being used in schools. According to the guidelines, the districts are required to develop procedures relating to approval and evaluation of educational services. The guidelines also recommended that, if it is possible, to use a legal contract or a written agreement. The recommendations also points out the federal laws which are applicable in this case.

According to Douglas Levin, Executive Director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association, the newly introduced guidance is not deep enough to provide the districts with concrete advice. As per Levin, districts are contending with complex questions, like whether to take the advantage of zero cost online educational programs or taking the decision on the programs to be downloaded on tablets and other functionally similar devices in schools.James Steyer, Chief Officer, Common Sense Media, an advocacy group, publicly hailed the recommendations and noted that they have arrived at an important time when schools search for methods to increase learning via the use of technology.

Association of Educators