Trusting parents to make smart choices on student data

At tens of thousands of schools across the country, parents can now log in to a Web portal to see their child’s attendance, grades, home assignments and other class information. School guidance counselors use digital tools to help students review details of colleges and scholarship information and help manage the application process. Students submit their homework online and get teacher feedback as soon as homework is reviewed.

In so many ways, technology is dramatically changing the academic experience and empowering parents, teachers and students as never before.

{mosads}Every parent knows the stress of racing from room to room on parent-teacher night to get a few minutes of rushed feedback from their child’s teachers. Once they arrive, teachers spend precious minutes handing back key assignments and catching parents up on months of activity while the next group of parents hovers outside.

Although the pace is still hectic, parents at schools with effective parent portals show up already aware of the detailed feedback their kids have been getting on an almost daily basis, by reviewing the information available to them all year.

With all of these benefits come risks. Some worry that the vendors providing these new technologies could use the detailed student data they hold for marketing purposes. Others worry the data could be sold. Although more than 150 companies have signed a Student Privacy Pledge, legally committing to not sell student data, federal and state lawmakers continue to seek ways to expand student privacy laws to more effectively protect student data.

One key issue has emerged as a point of contention among many of the proposed bills. Should parents have the right to tell a company holding their child’s data to enable additional services, such as sending homework information to a tutoring service or sending a transcript to a college or for a scholarship application? Should a parent be able to use the school’s network to share their child’s art portfolio with relatives or even online? Or, what if a child, with parental permission, wants to continue to maintain their school email account or use an educational app to practice test questions? Oddly, the leading state privacy law passed in California does not make allowances for parents to expressly enable new services, and the drafters of federal legislation have largely followed suit.

Certainly, there will be some schools that do not want parents approving additional services. They might worry about parents being asked to pay a fee, or about parents making poor decisions to share data a vendor could use for marketing. But federal or state law should allow schools and parents to make these decisions, instead of creating laws that ban parental choices.

Some proposed bills have struck a middle ground by allowing parents to approve very limited services, like sending a high school transcript or scholarship information. But it can be hard to anticipate the many emerging ways parents will want to use the new digital student data they are now able to access.

We should trust schools and parents to make smart decisions about the education of their children, rather than banning new educational opportunities and options. Some states have wisely recognized that the explicit requests of schools and parents should be accommodated by new student privacy laws. In Maryland, for example, state legislators have wisely provided options for parents who expressly approve new uses of student data.

Unfortunately, some federal legislative proposals take approaches that limit parents’ options, while others leave it open to parents’ discretion. To ensure their legislation empowers parents, these bills should provide parents with a clear option to take opportunities to use their child’s data as they see fit.

Back-to-school time is just around the corner, and these important and timely challenges are only going to become more important as emerging technologies continue to expand. We support the commission proposed by U.S. Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) as an opportunity for lawmakers to do their homework to ensure teachers, students and parents are empowered by educational technologies.

Polonetsky is executive director and co-chair of the Future of Privacy Forum. Leong is senior counsel and operations manager at the Future of Privacy Forum.

Tags Ed Markey Orrin Hatch student data Student Privacy Pledge Web portal

The Hill has removed its comment section, as there are many other forums for readers to participate in the conversation. We invite you to join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter.

See all Hill.TV See all Video

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video