Our nation’s schools have always been responsible for providing a safe educational environment for our children. Today, technology in the classroom is making our schools face challenges meeting that responsibility.
But some believe schools must choose between privacy and technology. This is a false choice. Parents, schools, students, and lawmakers can have both – it’s just a matter of crafting the right policy.
There is no debate that when schools use online services for educational purposes, those services should not use student data for targeted advertising. In fact, 200 companies have signed the Student Privacy Pledge promising exactly that.
While we all agree on the objectives, it’s been hard to develop legislation that protects student privacy while maximizing educational effectiveness and encouraging innovation.
This fall, we saw the introduction of the Student Privacy Protection Act (SPPA) in the U.S. House of Representatives. The goal is to update the forty-year-old Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) to better address the needs of 21st century students. But in an attempt to protect student privacy, the SPPA overreaches with proposals that inhibit educational technology innovation and discourage businesses from making services available to students.
This is not the first time a privacy bill created unintended consequences that take technology out of the classroom and diminish the benefits of learning tools.
Recently, Louisiana passed a law so restrictive that schools can’t post football players’ names on a big screen during the game. Schools can’t announce honor roll students over the public address system or report sports results in the local newspapers. One superintendent even worried about publishing the school’s yearbook since the law prohibits schools from displaying names and photos without parental consent.
Louisiana is not alone. States across the country, with the greatest of intentions, are proposing and passing legislation that will hinder, not help students.
Usually these bills take a blunt approach to protecting student privacy through overly broad approaches to limiting student data. But broad legislation breeds unintended consequences. Broad bans on marketing products and services could stop reading programs from recommending books, or math programs from suggesting supplementary lessons. These bans could even stop schools from enrolling students in scholarship programs and prevent parents from giving their child’s information to a tutor.
But, it doesn’t have to be this way. We don’t have to lock our children away from the world to protect them. We are at a crossroads and cannot miss this opportunity to create a national standard for 21st century education. Such a standard can both protect students and provide clear guidance to enable online services to operate and encourage new investment in the ed-tech space.
This standard can set fixed parameters for how the data can be used to improve the effectiveness of ed-tech products and measure student success.
There is a national understanding of the value technology can provide in a child’s education -- just different suggested paths to realize that value. We have a tremendous opportunity to improve how we teach our children. But as we move forward, any legislation that restricts education must do so with a scalpel and not a sledgehammer.
Szabo is policy counsel for NetChoice, a trade association working to make the Internet more accessible and ubiquitous. NetChoice members include AOL, Facebook, Google and Yahoo.