THE BLOG
01/20/2015 04:05 pm ET Updated Mar 22, 2015

The Nation Should Follow California's Lead on Student Privacy

Tetra Images via Getty Images

California has a long, well-deserved reputation as a center for public policy innovation. Long before Washington decided to increase fuel-efficiency standards in cars, California passed its own tougher rules. While Congress remains deadlocked over hiking the federal minimum wage, California has led the way, boosting the minimum pay to $10 by 2016.

California is driving the national discussion in another important policy area, as President Obama showed this week -- protecting the privacy of our students.

Last week, the president called for tough new legislation to protect student privacy, asking Congress to consider a series of common sense restrictions on companies that operate websites, apps and cloud-computing services aimed at the K-12 market.

The new rules urged by the President are based on a law passed in California that was pushed by Common Sense Media and others, and enjoyed wide bipartisan support.

That law, the Student Online Personal Information Protection Act (SOPIPA), authored by former Sen. Darrell Steinberg, prohibits education technology companies from selling student data or using that data to create profiles of students or to target them with advertising.

Educational software greatly enhances student learning and helps prepare students to be competitive in this global, 21st Century economy. But these new tools should not come at the expense of students' privacy.

Students who use apps and online services for education should be able to focus on learning, without their activity being mined for advertising purposes. This is not a partisan issue. This is common sense.

Educational software is big business. But these companies are not just competing in an $8 billion marketplace. They are being trusted with information about our children, and should be held to the highest standards to ensure our children's privacy and safety.

Of course, the industry is saying what most industries say when faced with being asked to change their behavior -- we can handle it ourselves.

A spokesman for the industry told Politico that federal mandates coupled with state actions would exacerbate "an inconsistent and conflicting patchwork of laws" and that"would be a problem not only for the industry, but for students, teachers and schools trying to do good things with education."

Nothing could be further from the truth. Having a strong federal standard would give the industry, educators and parents the consistency the industry desires with the safeguards for our children that parents demand.

While there have been a few moves from the software industry in recent months to change practices, those have only come after extensive lobbying from parents and privacy advocates or demands from lawmakers or judges.

Federal protections of student privacy make sense, and are necessary to ensure the industry does the right thing.

California's leaders deserve credit for prodding national leaders to take action to protect our children, and President Obama deserves credit for making this a national issue. Democrats and Republicans in Congress should work together and quickly to put these safeguards for our children in place.