As parents have raised their voices to complain about public school systems misusing and abusing their children’s private information, state lawmakers have begun to respond with bills that aim to update 1970s-era laws for the digital age.
Those who support giving governments access to and the ability to share freely a wide variety of private information about children say this will improve instruction by giving researchers the data they need to do more experiments that can reveal what is effective in classrooms. They also hope to discover more links between certain teachers and kinds of education and students’ later workforce success or failure.
Those who call for updated and stronger privacy rights say individuals should be allowed to give consent to who can access their personal information, and for what purposes. Appropriating and using a person’s property without his or her consent violates that person’s rights, they say. It is tyrannical and exploitative to take advantage of children and parents simply because their personal information is more available to schools than to other entities. Organizations such as hospitals deal with similarly sensitive information and are bound by many related laws and codes of ethics, and schools should behave similarly, privacy advocates argue.
The following documents offer further information about giving individuals control over private information compiled by schools.
State Deal to Give Media Organizations Student Data Alarms Privacy Experts
Washington state has agreed to turn over all its student data to the Seattle Times, prompting alarm from parents and data privacy experts, reports KUOW. The state will redact student names and Social Security numbers, but data experts say that does not guarantee anonymity, given the extent of information the state has about children. Nevertheless, the action is legal under federal privacy law.
‘Novel’ Student Data Bill Goes to Oklahoma Governor
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin signed a student privacy bill Oklahoma lawmakers passed by large margins in July. Its state-level protections are the first of their kind in the nation, said John Kraman, executive director of student information at the Oklahoma Department of Education, and may provide a model for other states as privacy concerns rise. HB 1989 requires the state Board of Education to inventory and publicly post what student-specific data the state collects, create a detailed data security plan and student privacy policies, and send no student-specific information outside the state except for specific circumstances such as out-of-state student transfers or contracts with testing companies. And it requires the board to get legislative approval for any new data it wants to collect.
ALEC's Student Privacy Bill and the Hydra-Headed Data Predators
Parent activist Leonie Haimson points out several flaws in model legislation related to student data. The biggest flaw in most data bills is that they do not require agencies to get parent consent before transferring data about. They also often do not bar schools from releasing sensitive information such as psychological test results or behavior records.
Richard Innes: Schools, Data-Mining, and Invasions of Privacy (podcast)
Are schools collecting too much personal information about kids? The world has become an intensive data-tracking place, with grocery stores tracking your eating habits and Google tracking your Internet history and search terms. Schools are no exception. Bluegrass Institute education analyst Richard Innes, an old hand at the inner workings of student data collection, spoke with The Heartland Institute about how even “anonymous” information on a child is no longer anonymous to any researcher with a decent database. He also outlines how the federal government is moving towards creating a comprehensive cradle-through-career database on each child, and what this means for privacy, government, and education.
Abuse and Misuse of Personal Information
The American Legislative Exchange Council provides an overview of how the Internet age has changed privacy rights, and the legal basis for privacy rights. The report discusses the benefits and drawbacks of biometric data collection, outlines recent bills that have addressed such data collection, and recommends policies that give individuals power over their own personal information.
Privacy and Cloud Computing in Public Schools
Although 95 percent of school districts put student information online in the cloud, only 25 percent tell parents they do this and only 25 percent specify parameters for disclosing this personal information, according to a national study by Fordham Law School. Fewer than 7 percent of districts’ cloud computing contracts restrict the sale or marketing of student information by vendors. School district cloud service agreements generally do not provide for data security, and an alarming number of them even allow vendors to retain student information in perpetuity, the study says.
Oklahoma House Bill 1989, 2013 Session
This Oklahoma bill, which became law in 2013, requires the state board of education to inventory what student information the state collects and develop privacy policies in conjunction with the legislature and public after that inventory, prohibits the transfer of personally identifiable student information out of state, requires the board to develop a data security plan, requires school districts to include privacy and security provisions in contracts with vendors that deal with student data, requires the board to annually notify the governor and legislature what new datapoints the state collects, and declares a legal emergency so the law can go into effect immediately.
House Bill 2783, Washington State
This bill would require the Washington legislature to do the following: Conduct a detailed analysis of documents and agreements by the state and school districts related to collection, sharing, storage, security, dissemination, and access to student-level data; analyze 2011 amendments to regulations implementing the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act to determine how much sharing of student-level data they permit; and submit its analysis to the legislature for review and, if necessary, direct the withdrawal of Washington from any multistate assessment consortium that disseminates personally identifiable student data without written consent.
Model Legislation: Student Data Accessibility, Transparency, and Accountability Act
This bill would require the state to make publicly available an inventory and index of all data elements with definitions of individual student data fields currently in the statewide longitudinal data system. The state would be required to create a data security plan, ensuring compliance with federal and state data privacy laws and policies. Certain contracts would be required to include privacy and security provisions. A Chief Privacy Officer would be created within the State Department of Education, whose primary mission includes ensuring department-wide compliance with all privacy laws and regulations. This bill would add new annual security and privacy reporting requirements to the governor and legislature.
Model Student Data Privacy and Common Core Repeal Bill
This model bill presents a policy to fully repeal Common Core national standards and tests and related policies that increase student data collection. The bill represents a comprehensive repeal of Common Core, which includes provisions in grant agreements between states and the federal government and between states and Common Core testing organizations that increase data collection about students and the dissemination of that information to entities outside parent and state control.
Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this and other topics, visit the School Reform News Web site at http://news.heartland.org/education, The Heartland Institute’s Web site at http://www.heartland.org, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database, at www.policybot.org.
If you have any questions about this issue or The Heartland Institute, contact Heartland education policy research fellow Joy Pullmann, at 312/377-4000 or firstname.lastname@example.org.