Posts Tagged ‘schools and privacy’

Schools, Students, and Privacy

Electronic Privacy Information Center 2015 Word Cloud

Electronic Privacy Information Center 2015 Word Cloud.
By Electronic Privacy Information Center (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Data gathering in schools goes beyond the collection of grades, test scores, and attendance. It even goes beyond recording what computer programs students use or what Web sites they visit.

Student “data” now encompasses students’ sleeping habits, health, fitness regimens, alcohol use, prescription drug use, financial situations, feelings, peer groups, interests…the list goes on.

Backlash against this increasing encroachment into students’ lives reached the House of Representatives in late April in the form of the Student Digital Privacy and Parental Rights Act of 2015. The legislation would prohibit certain invasions of student privacy.

As with most social issues, this one is complicated and complex. And as with most laws considered by U.S. politicians, the Student Digital Privacy and Parental Rights Act of 2015 has stirred controversy. There seem to be possible benefits and detriments to the stipulations of the bill, if passed. Further, some think that the proposed legislation is too strict; others, too lenient.

Many parents of students have voiced discomfort, and even alarm, about the sharing of their children’s information with third parties. According to current law, schools can share collected data strictly for the benefit of assessing and improving education. At its best, this procedure allows legitimate researchers and social scientists to study the results of the collected data and make suggestions for improvements. School districts then enact changes, and the education system improves.

This type of collaboration greatly benefitted the Chicago public-school system, and offers great promise to a current partnership between the Boston public-school district and early-childhood experts at Harvard University. Had the proposed legislation been in place, these collaborations would have been too costly for the schools. Specialized expertise in the field of education would be beyond most districts’ budgets.

The new legislation would stiffen the rules and regulations around such collaboration. Imagine the cost (in both time and resources) of requiring that schools request permission from each parent (or student, depending on his or her age) for the use of certain personal data in studies aspiring for educational improvements. This law would deter financially struggling schools or school districts from participating in valuable collaborative efforts.

This discussion–embodied within the issue of student privacy itself–is simply a small part of the much larger debate of privacy rights in the United States. Join SKS and its July Spotlight of the Month in delving into the 2015-2016 National High School Debate Topic: Surveillance: Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially curtail its domestic surveillance. Consider issues such as personal violations and national security; read what political commentator David Frum and journalist Julian Assange have to say about domestic surveillance; and quiz yourself on the country’s use of drones are unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVS).