Feds push student data standards

Federal officials are pushing the education tech industry to heighten privacy and security standards for student data.

Speaking at a Common Sense event on Monday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said that his department would be on Tuesday releasing guidance for companies that contract with schools to handle student data.

ADVERTISEMENT
The guidance released Tuesday will be followed by “more coming in the weeks ahead,” Duncan said. “Our administration takes these issues very, very seriously.”

Tuesday’s guidance will build on the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, a 1974 statute that establishes privacy protections for students’ academic records.

Duncan called on school districts and the tech companies handling student data to make privacy and security a priority and said the questions being asked parents and privacy advocates about the security and use of student data “vitally, vitally important.”

Data about student performance should be secure and used to improve the educational experience, “not to sell students snack foods and video games,” he said.

“Our children’s privacy is not for sale and must not be put at risk.”

The educational tech industry should self-regulate and “have appropriate policies for how they handle all that data,” Duncan said. 

“It’s in your best interest to police yourself before others take in upon themselves,” he said.

Duncan said his Department would be “stepping up the pace at which we provide guidance” in this area. “We have to do a far better job of helping teachers and administrators understand technology” and the privacy risks it imposes, he said.

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) also spoke at the Common Sense event, pushing his student data bill, which has not yet been introduced.

Markey’s bill — which surfaced last month — would place limitations on the way educational tech companies and other third parties can handle and use the student data they receive.

“There is no more important priority than protecting our most important resource, the children of America,” Markey said Monday. “They’re 26 percent of the population. They’re 100 percent of our future.”

According to a Markey aide, the Senator will be introducing the bill “soon.” 

Julie Brill, a Democrat on the Federal Trade Commission, echoed the policymakers’ calls on the educational tech industry to “step up to the plate” on student privacy and data security.

The industry should “really engage the schools, engage parents and be upfront and transparent about their data collection and use,” she said. “They are where the buck should be stopping.”

Brill and Jim Shelton, acting deputy director of the Department of Education, said they are open to having their two agencies work together on student privacy and data security issues.