This piece comes to us courtesy of Stateline, where it was originally published.
In Kentucky, parents, educators and policy makers can track how many students from a high school go to college, and once they are there, how many require remedial classes. Massachusetts is one of several states with an early warning indicator system, which flags school officials when students appear to be at risk for dropping out of high school. And in Georgia, teachers can easily access years of test scores, class grades and attendance rates for any student.
Student data evangelizers argue that used correctly, data, including student attendance, test scores and demographics, can enrich education. Teachers can better personalize instruction for students, principals can view the academic records of students who move across school districts and parents can determine whether a child is on track for college, to name just a few examples.
But that promise comes with threats to students’ privacy. Parents have expressed concerns that if teachers have easy access to students’ entire academic histories, they might write off those with poor records, or that student information might fall into the hands of sexual predators. Those concerns have led to heated debates about how much data schools should be collecting, how it should be stored and who should have access to it.
Over the past year, the Common Core State Standards have also sparked discussions about student data, although the standards do not call for the federal government to collect data.
“There’s no denying that education technology has the potential to transform learning if it’s used wisely,” said Joni Lupovitz, vice president of policy at Common Sense Media, which this fall launched a campaign to raise awareness about student privacy issues. “What we’re working to ensure is that as educators, parents and student embrace more and more education technology, (and) balance the equation by focusing on student privacy to help ensure that we’re creating an atmosphere where kids can learn and be engaged but thrive without putting their personal information at risk.”
Relying on a 1970s Law
Until recently, most states weighing privacy questions relied on the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), a 1974 law intended to protect student education records. But in recent years, the U.S. Department of Education has made regulatory changes to the law, creating many exceptions. For example, education records now may be shared with outside contractors, such as private companies that track grades or attendance on behalf of school systems. The changes have prompted some states to examine whether they should play a stronger role in protecting student data.
Paige Kowalski, director of state policy and advocacy for the Data Quality Campaign, a nonprofit that advocates for the effective use of data to improve student achievement, said states are starting to realize they need more sophisticated and comprehensive policies, regulations and practices around student privacy, and that they can’t just rely on FERPA.
“All states have privacy laws on the books, but a lot of them are old,” Kowalski said. “A lot of them just don’t have modern policies that were written acknowledging that data is even at the state level, let alone stored electronically and because of technology is able to move.”
Kowalski said states’ privacy policies might refer to outdated information practices, such as checking out paper documents, while failing to discuss modern needs like encryption.
Most school districts rely on cloud computing -- meaning data are stored on servers that can be accessed through the Internet -- for everything from cafeteria payments to attendance records. But a recent study by the Center on Law and Information Policy at Fordham Law School concluded that most cloud-based services are “poorly understood, nontransparent and weakly governed” by schools. Most school districts fail to inform parents that they are using cloud-based services, and many contracts with web-based vendors fail to address privacy issues, the study found.
Keeping Parents in the Dark
The Electronic Privacy Information Center, a nonprofit research group in Washington, D.C., filed a lawsuit in February 2012 against the U.S. Department of Education challenging its FERPA changes, but a federal court dismissed the lawsuit for lack of standing.
Khaliah Barnes, the center’s administrative law counsel, said many schools and states are doing a poor job of informing parents of the issues that can arise with technology. She said school districts should tell parents about the kinds of information they collect, to whom that information is disclosed and for what purposes. Parents should also have the right to opt out of disclosing certain types of information, she said, and should be informed how to access and change incorrect information.
Barnes said schools are using new technology to collect information that goes far beyond attendance records and test scores. Schools have used palm scanners to help students speed through cafeteria lines, and GPS or microchip technology to tell schools when students get on the right school buses or arrive at school, for example.
One state leading the conversation on student data privacy is Oklahoma, which in June adopted the Student Data Accessibility, Transparency and Accountability Act establishing rules for the collection and transfer of student data by the state.
“It was designed as a system of safeguards to protect student privacy,” said state Rep. David Brumbaugh, a Republican, who sponsored the legislation. “It stops the release of confidential data to organizations outside of Oklahoma without written consent of parents or guardians.”
The law prohibits the state from releasing any student-level data without state approval, which means the education department can release only data that is aggregated and cannot be tied to any individual student.
“To my knowledge, we’re the only state that doesn’t release student-level data,” said Kim Richey, general counsel for the Oklahoma Department of Education.
Brumbaugh said he’s heard from lawmakers around the country interested in proposing similar legislation for their states. The conservative American Legislative Exchange Council has also proposed model legislation similar to the Oklahoma bill.
Other states also have taken action on student data privacy this year:
- In New York, where a handful of bills related to student data privacy have been introduced in the legislature, the Senate Education Committee held a series of public hearings this fall on topics including student privacy around a planned data collection system. Last week, state Sen. John Flanagan called for a one-year delay in the launch of the data collection system. The Long Island Republican urged lawmakers to strengthen protections for data on the statewide data portal and set civil and criminal penalties for violations.
- Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, a Republican, signed an executive order in May prohibiting the state from collecting or sharing personally identifiable data on students and prohibiting student data from being collected for the development of commercial products or services.
- In October, the Alabama State Board of Education adopted a new policy on student data that allows the state to share student data with the federal government only in aggregate. The policy also calls on school districts to adopt their own policies on the collection and sharing of student data.
- Republican Gov. Terry Branstad of Iowa signed an executive order in October reaffirming that student data should be collected in accordance with state and federal privacy laws and that only aggregate student data would be provided to the federal government.
Earlier on HuffPost:
A <a href="http://thestir.cafemom.com/teen/136092/state_senate_declares_holding_hands" target="_hplink">bill passed in Tennessee earlier this year declared hand-holding</a> a 'gateway sexual activity,' with teachers facing firing for even demonstrating the action.
Surprisingly, the ban on hugging isn't a one-off rule at a select school, but a trend that seems to be spreading. Schools in <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/headlines/2012/03/new-jersey-school-bans-hugging/" target="_hplink">Portland and Florida started instituting these rules</a> in 2010, while administrations in New Jersey, Brooklyn and <a href="http://thedailyedge.thejournal.ie/new-zealand-school-bans-hugging-448032-May2012/" target="_hplink">New Zealand took it upon themselves in 2012</a>. For all, the reasoning appears to be the same: Respecting personal space and "unsuitable interactions" between students.
At <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/3964683/Marking-in-red-ink-banned-in-case-it-upsets-schoolchildren.html" target="_hplink">schools in both Australia and the U.K</a>., green ink has replaced red ink in marking children's paper because of its 'confrontational' nature.
Due to its "aggressive" nature, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2001/05/06/us/increasingly-schools-move-to-restrict-dodgeball.html" target="_hplink">dodgeball has been banned in schools across North America</a>, as it's frequently named the cause of injuries and fights. Adult dodgeball, on the other hand, <a href="http://www.thendl.com/" target="_hplink">has been enjoying a continued popularity</a>.
You'd think, with all the talk about childhood obesity these days, schools would be encouraging students to ride their bikes or skateboards to school. One New York <a href="http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,559460,00.html" target="_hplink">said it was illegal for kids to have bikes</a>, while another Orthodox school <a href="http://www.yourjewishnews.com/Pages/20640.aspx" target="_hplink">disagreed with the freedom afford by the two wheels</a>.
There's plenty of debate about the best possible bookbag for kids -- but one school in Michigan doesn't allow bags into the classroom at all. Citing safety concerns in lunchrooms and classes, <a href="http://www.mlive.com/news/jackson/index.ssf/2009/09/no-backpack_policy_challenged.html" target="_hplink">the high school asked students to keep returning to their lockers between classes</a> to retrieve the appropriate books.
There have been many toy bans in schools, but Pogs -- those tradeable metal disks -- made a huge splash when t<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/1995/03/22/us/to-end-pog-fights-schools-ban-game.html" target="_hplink">heir safety, and the competitive rush spurred by their very existence</a>, was called into question by schools around the world.
Though later overturned, a Massachusetts school attempted to <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/story/2012-05-11/Mass-schools-bake-sale-ban/54902332/1" target="_hplink">ban bake sales on the basis of their lack of nutrition</a>.
In Ohio earlier this year, a 13-year-old boy <a href="http://mitchieville.com/2012/03/27/goth-child-banned-from-wearing-make-up-to-school-goths-mom-to-sue/" target="_hplink">was sent home from school because of his black lipstick, eye makeup and nail polish</a> (boy is not shown here). The school claimed it had <a href="http://jezebel.com/5055243/boys-makeup-gets-him-banned-from-school-what-lesson-does-he-learn" target="_hplink">a rule against "extreme or distracting" makeup</a>.
An Ottawa school banned yoga pants last year -- <a href="http://news.nationalpost.com/2011/11/30/no-yoga-pants-unless-theyre-covred-up-ottawa-school-reminds-students/" target="_hplink">unless the tight bottoms were covered up with long shirts</a>.
Silly Bandz are fun! Silly Bandz are cute! Silly Bandz are, apparently, a distraction in the classroom and should not be permitted. <a href="http://theweek.com/article/index/203529/the-ridiculous-silly-bandz-ban" target="_hplink">Schools all over North America have banned these collectables from class</a>, but that sure doesn't keep them from getting trading at recess.
No more BFFs for you, British kids! At a few U.K. schools, <a href="http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/4203460/Schools-ban-children-making-best-friends.html" target="_hplink">teachers are preventing children from making "best friends"</a> in an attempt to save others' feelings.
Milk was always seen as part of a wholesome school lunch, but now a group of doctors wants it off the menu entirely. A vegan and physician group in the U.S. is pushing a petition to get rid of milk in schools, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/25/ban-milk-from-school-lunc_n_1703406.html" target="_hplink">due to it being "...high in sugar, high in fat and high in animal protein that is harmful to, rather than protective of, bone health</a>."
Well, not dinosaurs <i>exactly</i>, but the word dinosaur, in addition to other words like "poverty," "birthdays," "Halloween," and "dancing," which <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/26/new-york-city-bans-refere_n_1380991.html" target="_hplink">might elicit "unpleasant emotions" in students.</a>
It might get chilly in Pennsylvania, but students there won't be allowed to wear their sheepskin Ugg boots into class, <a href="http://ca.shine.yahoo.com/ugg-boots-banned-in-school--education-crisis-solved-.html" target="_hplink">thanks to the potential for storing contraband like cell phones in the roomy footwear.</a>
You may have thought baggy pants were more of a '90s thing, but schools today are continuing to push for bans on the sagging pants, with <a href="http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2020259/Saggy-pants-ban-Florida-school-board-plan-new-rules-pupils-dress-code.html" target="_hplink">some schools claiming it interferes with learning</a>, and <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/31/saggy-pants-ban-at-chicag_n_1559248.html" target="_hplink">others saying the style is related to gangs</a>.
And then there's the opposite end of the spectrum. Much like yoga pants, skinny jeans have been banned in schools all over the place, due to their lack of modesty and <a href="http://articles.nydailynews.com/2012-03-22/news/31227071_1_dress-code-skinny-jeans-tv-station" target="_hplink">distraction factor for the opposite sex</a>.
It's physical and emotional injury teachers are attempting to <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/14/education/14recess.html?_r=1&oref=slogin" target="_hplink">avoid by banning competitive games in schools and at recess</a>, goes the claim.
A Toronto school made headlines last year when it was announced it would ban hard balls from its premises, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2011/11/16/torontos-earl-beatty-school-ball-ban_n_1097594.html" target="_hplink">following a parent suffering a concussion after being hit by a ball</a>.
Grinch, much? We've all heard of holiday trees and all-encompassing December concerts, but <a href="http://news.ninemsn.com.au/national/8389344/sydney-school-accused-of-stealing-christmas" target="_hplink">some schools have gone as far as banning references to Santa and carols, among other Christmas-oriented terms</a>.