A Parents’ Guide To Student Data Privacy
We live in an increasingly connected world where information flows between us and the organizations and companies we deal with every day. Historically that information was stored in filing cabinets, but today, most of it is stored on computers—sometimes accessible via the Internet.
Schools have always held a wide range of data about our children and families: name, address, names of parents or guardians, date of birth, grades, attendance, disciplinary records, eligibility for lunch programs, special needs, and more are all necessary for basic school administration and instruction. Teachers and school officials use this information for lots of reasons, including to assess how well students at a school are progressing, how effective teachers are at teaching, and how well your school performs compared to other schools. State departments of education collect data that is then aggregated (summarized) to help guide policy decisions and plan budgets.
Schools are also increasingly storing electronic data associated with “connected learning,” where online resources are used for instruction and evaluation. Online tools give students access to vast libraries of resources and allow them to collaborate with classmates or even peers around the world. Some of these online tools also give teachers and parents the ability to access and evaluate student work.
The Value Of Data
Schools have always held a wide range of data about our children and families: Name, address, names of parents or guardians, date of birth, grades, attendance, disciplinary records, eligibility for lunch programs, special needs and the like are all necessary for basic administration and instruction. Teachers and school officials use this information for lots of reasons, including to assess how well students at a school are progressing, how effective teachers are at teaching, and how well your school performs compared to other schools. State departments of education collect data that is then aggregated (summarized) to help guide policy decisions and plan budgets.
How Data Empowers Parents (Data Quality Campaign)
- Why Education Data? FAQs
- What Is Student Data? (Infographic)
- Who Uses Student Data? (Infographic)
- Data Can Help Every Student Excel (Infographic)
How Student Data Is Used
What Parents Need to Know About Their Children’s School Data (U.S. Department of Education PTAC)
|Type of Use||Examples|
|Administrative||Student registration, Course scheduling, Guidance counseling, Attendance, School lunch programs, Busing services|
|Instructional||Homework assignments, Learning apps, Working collaboratively online, Engaging with teachers and classmates, Tailored course curricula, Support services, and Instructional tools|
|Assessment and Measurement||Measuring the quality of education, Standardized tests, Course assessments, Reshaping Classroom materials, Measuring effectiveness of student learning|
|Optional and Non-Educational||School yearbooks, Class photos, PTA fundraising, School paraphernalia|
Questions To Ask Educators And Schools About Student Privacy
Do you want more information about student privacy? Here are some questions to ask your child’s teacher or school to see if they are adequately protecting student privacy.
Before you ask your child’s school or teacher about how they are protecting student privacy, it may help to do some homework:
- Does your school’s website have a section discussing student privacy?
- Does your school’s website have a section discussing what edtech is being used?
- Did your school send you a notice at the beginning of the year about your FERPA rights and what they define as “directory information”?
- Does your school send you a permission form to sign when your child is using technology that is not essential to the lesson or to classroom management?
Questions to ask your child’s teacher:
- What apps or websites are being used in my child’s classroom?
- How are you incorporating lessons about privacy in general lessons?
Questions to ask your child’s school:
- Who is in charge of student data in our district?
- Does the school or district have an approval system before teachers adopt new apps or software that collects student personal information?
- How does the school and/or district hold outside service providers accountable for maintaining the confidentiality of the student data they receive?
- What kind of data is collected about students?
- What kind of information is collected about parents?
- How is student data used?
- Who has access to data about my child?
- How can parents in our district opt out of sharing directory information? (if desired)
Parent And Student Privacy Rights
There are a number of important laws that touch upon privacy in the classroom. These laws give parents and students a number of important rights. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is the main federal law that governs student privacy, and the U.S. Department of Education has provided general FERPA guidance for parents.
Student Privacy 101 (U.S. Department of Education PTAC)
The ABC’s of Student Directory Information (U.S. Department of Education PTAC)
Issues Outside Of School
Children use various educational programs and e-games for both learning and fun. There are other rules that apply to children who access educational or non-educational web programs through personal computers, and through mobile apps on tablets and smartphones. Parents should be aware that data that is collected about their student, that is not a part of their educational record at school does not fall under the protection of FERPA.
However, for children under the age of 13, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) applies. COPPA’s purpose is to give parents control over the information collected from their children online. In a nutshell COPPA requires website operators to:
- Get parental consent before collecting private information about their children
- Provide parents access to the information collected on their children and allow them to withdraw permission on future collection of their children’s information
- Maintain the confidentiality of the information collected
- Minimize the retention period for children information for as long as is necessary, and delete the data responsibly
COPPA prohibits website operators from knowingly collecting “personally identifiable information” from children under 13 without parental consent. “Personally Identifiable Information” means any information that could identify your child, including their name, address, birth date, email address, telephone number, social security number, geolocation information, screen names, user names, photographs, and videos. COPPA applies to operators of websites directed at children under the age of 13 that collect personal information, and operators of websites with a general audience that knowingly collect personal information from children under the age of 13.
How to Keep Kids Safe Online (greatschools)
The Federal Trade Commission, the government agency that enforces the law, offers tips to parents about how to protect their children’s privacy online. Additionally, kidSAFE provides a quick one-pager on COPPA. More detailed information is available through the Center for Digital Democracy their COPPA parent guide, “The New Children’s Online Privacy Rules: What Parents Need to Know.” Moms with Apps has also provided a nice breakdown of 5 Things Moms Need to Know about Apps.
- StaySafeOnline provides a number of key resources to help parents teach their children about good digital citizenship.
- 6 Reasons Why Parents Should Care About Kids and Online Privacy
- Common Sense Media’s Privacy and Internet Safety Webpage
- Family Online Safety Institute’s (FOSI) Good Digital Parenting Webpage
- FPF report on “Kids & The Connected Home: Privacy in the Age of Connected Dolls, Talking Dinosaurs, and Battling Robots.”
Additional Resources For Parents
There are many great resources for parents seeking to learn more about student privacy. Some of our favorite resources are listed below, but you can access all the resources we have found for parents by clicking the “Resources” tab above and selecting “Parents” in the Resources sidebar.
Internet Safety Tips for Kids (Common Sense Media)
Work Smarter Not Harder: How New York Leveraged Existing Education Services Infrastructure to Comply with New Privacy LawsMar 20, 2023Bailey Sanchez and Lauren MerkLearn More
What Can States Learn From New York’s Approach to Student Privacy?New Future of Privacy Forum analysis highlights the benefits of New York’s regional, shared-s…
LGBTQ+ Student Views on School Technology and PrivacyFeb 21, 2023Learn More
PTA-Privacy Matters Correcting the RecordNov 16, 2022Learn More
National PTA and Future of Privacy Forum have launched resources to help parents and guardians learn more about the steps they can take to protect the privacy …