Safeguarding Student Data Is Everyone’s Business

This post also appears on the Public School Insights blog of the Learning First Alliance.

Last week, the White House announced a new push to protect students’ digital privacy, as ever-expanding data collection efforts heighten concerns from parents and advocacy groups about appropriate uses of the data. Institutions of higher education share the administration’s priority to protect elementary and secondary students and uphold diligent safety and privacy practices in preparing teachers for the classroom. Ultimately, safeguarding student data is everyone’s business.

In the teacher preparation field, we’ve gained quite a bit of experience in this realm, especially through our growing use of video recordings in clinical settings. Many programs deploy video cameras, or even just iPads, to capture student teaching segments that can be reviewed by supervisors or used for assessment purposes. These technological developments have improved feedback to candidates and given programs an invaluable window into their students’ practice—but they have to be used with care.

Indeed, our faculty, PK-12 partners, and teacher candidates all must understand and follow protocols designed to protect the privacy of the students with whom they interact. Like any other professional preparation program that includes a clinical component, teacher preparation programs have to educate their candidates on the privacy practices of the industry. Our field has taken great care to develop clear guidance for teacher candidates working on their edTPA videos, for example, protecting student identity, managing parental permission, and even positioning the camera strategically. Moreover, the final videos are not shared or used beyond their intended purposes of assessing the candidate’s teaching ability and conducting research on the validity and reliability of the assessment instrument.

Good federal legislation will support these efforts and help us strengthen these policies going forward. Absent clear rules, each district or preparation program has to define practices around student data, and much energy is spent addressing concerns about privacy issues. This is not a marginal or insignificant topic, especially when the answers are unclear.

The legislation proposed by the White House, the Student Digital Privacy Act, is modeled on a recently passed law in the state of California that takes effect next year. The state law bans data mining by private companies, targeting students with customized advertising, and more. Current federal privacy laws are much weaker and stand to benefit from more thorough protections.

As a board member of the Data Quality Campaign, I’ve been privileged to also serve on its working group developing principles around this very issue. President Obama’s move to advance the cause is a heartening advancement toward helping the field support learners with appropriate uses of technology and personal data. I would hope these policies would also apply to postsecondary students. We are all one profession facing this important issue together.

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Sharon Robinson

President and CEO, AACTE