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Stronger Data-Privacy Protections for Students and Teachers Needed, Report Argues

Advice for schools on how to do a better job protecting the data privacy of students and teachers is outlined in a report released today by the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy and The Badass Teachers Association.

The "Educator Toolkit for Teacher and Student Privacy: A Practical Guide for Protecting Personal Data" explains federal student privacy laws and informs educators why teacher and student data are "at risk." It also recommends limiting social media use in school, advocating for stronger privacy protections, and evaluating the data privacy features of ed-tech products or services thoroughly before adopting them.

"It is critically important that educators learn how to safeguard their students' sensitive information from breach and misuse, yet up to now, most teachers have felt unprepared to do so," said Leonie Haimson, co-chair of the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, in a press release.

The advocacy organizations conducted an online survey and focus groups, and found that most teachers feel "forced" to implement ed-tech products that gather and use data in ways they don't understand, according to the press release. More than half the teachers surveyed also said they had insufficient training in data privacy.

As educational technology becomes ubiquitous, several organizations and federal agencies have voiced concerns about how companies collect students' data. Last month, the Federal Bureau of Investigation warned that the rapid proliferation of ed tech in U.S. schools poses privacy and safety risks for children, a development reported by Education Week's Ben Herold.

This resource is just the latest in a number of privacy-related toolkits and guides released in recent years.

Last month, the Future of Privacy Forum released a guide for parents that outlines seven key questions that parents should be asking their children's schools about student-data privacy. Last year, the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy released a student data privacy toolkit for parents, and the Consortium for School Networking produced an updated version of its data privacy toolkit.

Many concerns focus on student information, but the new educator toolkit addresses the fact that teachers are also being asked to share more of their own data, which makes them vulnerable to privacy threats too.

Education Week reported on schools' struggles to keep pace with hackings and other cyber threats that could make teacher and student information vulnerable. A 2017 survey by CoSN and the Education Week Research Center also found that K-12 information-technology leaders are failing to take basic steps to secure their networks and data.

The two advocacy organizations hope the toolkit will be used in trainings to help educators develop a better understanding of how to protect data privacy.

Among their suggested "best practices" are:

  • Do your homework and become familiar with the different privacy laws;
  • Resist the urge to use social media for school-related activities or any apps or online program that haven't been vetted by your district's technology department; and
  • Practice discretion when accessing student data.

"Our hope is that this toolkit gives teachers easy access to the resources they need every day to make the best possible decisions to keep personal data at school safe," Rachael Stickland, co-chair of the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, said in the press release.

The toolkit was funded by grants from the Rose Foundation for Communities and the Environment, the American Federation of Teachers, and the National Education Association Foundation.


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