American Public Uncomfortable With Private Use Of Student Data

A nationally representative survey conducted by the Benenson Strategy Group on behalf of Common Sense Media, an advocacy group for children and their families, found that 89% of Americans reported that they are “very” or “somewhat” concerned about advertisers accessing and using personal data about children to market to them. This personal data consists of students’ personal information such as their age, weight and grades that is collected and stored by schools.

Joy Resmovits of The Huffington Post writes that a large number of respondents reported being concerned about data collection, although only 37 percent of the public interviewed reported having “seen, read or heard” “some” or “a great deal” about the data schools collect, store and share and the policies or lack thereof to regulate this practice.

Currently, 95% percent of school districts in the U.S. rely on cloud computing, storing data on remote servers connected to the Internet, according a to recent report from the Fordham University School of Law. The data collection of millions of personal records is done so with the intention to aid teachers, to show them the skills students are missing and what motivates learning. The information gathered is meant to be used by schools to create personalized learning plans for individual students.

The Fordham paper found that only one-fourth of districts tell parents about these services and one-fifth of districts don’t have policies explicitly governing their use. Many contracts between districts and technology vendors don’t have privacy policies, and less than 7 percent of the contracts restrict vendors from selling student information. The agreements rarely address security, according to the Fordham research.

Common Sense Media, the San Francisco based non-profit organization that sponsored the survey, helps families navigate the world of technology.The group sent a letter to 16 educational technology vendors in October to restrict the use of student data for instructional purposes and not commercial ones.

This privacy issue the group is working to address has scared parents of the potential misuses of their children’s information. Already a few states such as West Virginia, Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma and New York have proposed privacy legislation to some degree to curtail outside access to student data.

According to the survey, 91 percent of voters would support laws that would require schools to notify parents before turning over student data, 89 percent support requiring “tighter security standards” for cloud data, and 77 percent support prohibiting the sale of student data to advertisers.

“The survey points to the need for states, districts and schools to not only follow existing laws and regulations that govern the appropriate use of student data, and to make every effort to safeguard student privacy,” said Dakarai Aarons, director of communications and external affairs for the Data Quality Campaign “It’s imperative that transparency exist so parents know what data is collected, who has access and for what purpose.”

The survey asked questions of 800 registered voters, including 227 parents by phone earlier this month and has a 3.5 percent margin of error.