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New Toolkit to Help Schools, Vendors Test Ed Tech for Privacy, Security

Common Sense Education has launched a new initiative to help K-12 schools evaluate the privacy and security practices of education technology tools.

Forty districts participated in the development of the group's new "Information Security Primer for Evaluating Educational Software," published earlier this week.

The goals of the Common Sense Privacy Evaluation Initiative are twofold, according to the release, originally issued at the SXSWedu conference in Austin, Texas earlier this month: "To help districts review and apply a common set of privacy standards to the applications they use," and to "help the K-12 educational software industry simplify and standardize privacy policies according to legal statute and FTC guidelines, as well as data handling best practices."

The project began in 2014, with an initial group of districts that included the Houston Independent schools and the Fairfax, Va. county schools. According to a blog post by Bill Fitzgerald, the director of Common Sense Media's Privacy Evaluation Initiative, the primary audiences for the new primer are district staff and ed-tech vendors.

The hope is to provide those groups with guidelines for a basic level of security testing that can be done as districts consider whether to adopt new ed-tech products and services. 

The primer focuses on a variety of security-testing scenarios, including technical documentation for running such tests, as well as advice on how to responsibly disclose security issues when they are found.

"The expertise of our partner districts, and their day-to-day experience evaluating software and working with vendors, grounds this work in the realities faced by students and teachers using technology," Fitzgerald said in a statement.

Student-data privacy has been a hot-button issue in K-12 for over two years, as both lawmakers and district contracts have struggled to keep up with the rapidly changing technologies adopted by teachers and schools.

A published version of the new security primer is available on Common Sense Media's Graphite website. The document is intended to evolve with continued feedback, however; a working version is also available on Github.

Along with Fitzgerald, the document's primary authors are Tony Porterfield, a software engineer and parent who has been vocal around ed-tech security practices, and Jim Siegl, the technology architect for the Fairfax, Va. school district.

The project is funded by the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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