Data privacy report shows parents need education in school technology use


Technology use in schools around the country has increased dramatically, but many parents remain in the dark about how it is being used to collect information, according to a new survey released Thursday by the Future of Privacy Forum.

The report, titled “Beyond One Classroom: Parental Support for Technology and Data Use in Schools,” shows that the rates of technology use in schools by both students and parents went up by 20 percent since last year.

Nearly 80 percent of parents, for instance, have used digital tools this year to keep track of their child’s assignments or check grades and schedules, up from 58 percent of parents who did so in 2015, according to the Future of Privacy Forum survey.

But while nearly 70 percent of parents said their school has “clear policies” for the online collection and use of student data, fewer parents — 62 percent — said they understand how the school collects information about students.

The study noted that only about 1 in 5 parents (21 percent) claim to know there are federal laws that restrict what public schools can do with their child’s information.

The report suggests schools need to do a better job training teachers and staff, and communicating their policies on electronic data gathering and record keeping. It also makes a number of recommendations, urging schools, for example, to include parents in establishing data governance policies.

“Parents are the strongest advocates for their children’s educational success, and all other stakeholders in the educational system should embrace the opportunity to communicate and work with parents as partners in addressing these issues,” said Amelia Vance, FPF’s new policy counsel.

The survey found that a majority of parents are OK with schools using their child’s information to identify students who are struggling and to personalize learning by targeting who is doing well and who is falling behind. It also found broad support for using that information to help schools build profiles for their own internal needs to predict best fits for possible colleges and careers.

“Communicating and demonstrating these additional benefits to parents is key to establishing and maintaining trust in an ongoing relationship between parents, their communities and the schools and vendors that serve them,” Vance said.

Perhaps a surprising part of the findings was that more parents seemed willing for schools to take in personally identifiable information like marital status, family income and Social Security numbers. More than half also said that data about race and ethnicity can be used by schools.

Vance said that this type of research — when it is appropriately collected and safeguarded — can be used to pinpoint potentially discriminatory practices in schools.

“It is heartening to see that parents appreciate the value that this data can provide when it is used responsibly,” she said.

The results of the survey are meant to inform policy in local, state and national initiatives and laws that concern K-12 education and data use.

The survey also included statistics on teachers who are using video recordings in their classroom interactions with students, mainly to model teaching and learning strategies, but the results revealed inconsistent responses among parents.

Nearly 90 percent of parents said they think it is fine for their students and classroom activities to be recorded if they have the chance to opt out. Nearly 80 percent of parents said these recordings are OK for internal teacher and school use, but they should never be posted online; but more than half of parents said posting the video online is OK as long as access is restricted to authorized viewers.

“Overall, 2016 showed the increasing prevalence of technology use by both parents and students, increasing levels of support by parents of the appropriate collection and use of data by schools, and continued strong belief in the possibilities of technology to improve their child’s educational opportunities,” said Brenda Leong, FPF’s senior counsel and director of operations.

“The goals for educators, advocates, and policymakers remain to communicate policies clearly; establish transparent practices; and work with parents as key partners in the educational system to achieve the best learning outcomes for our children.”

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