Tools That Use Student Data Show Promise, but Concerns About Student Privacy Remain Hotly Debated

New legislation to set guidelines for digital privacy was announced Monday in Washington, D.C.

On Monday, two Representatives, one a Democrat, the other a Republican, were putting final touches on a proposed new Student Digital Privacy and Parental Rights Act, thus joining the White House in efforts to update federal data privacy law. Almost immediately after a draft of the legislation began to circulate Monday, some people said it did not alleviate all of the concerns.

Generally speaking, the proposal would limit the ability of companies to tailor marketing or advertisements to students based on profiles created in school, according to a story Monday in The New York Times. The legislation is co-sponsored by Rep. Jared Polis, a Democrat from Colorado, and Rep. Luke Messer, a Republican from Indiana; it is expected to be introduced in the House of Representatives this week.

Separately, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, is also expected to propose legislation on this topic. His spokesman told me Monday that it has not been introduced yet.

The proposed bills arrive as more states legislators are proposing laws to set parameters for digital learning platforms that make use of student data. As I reported last week, more than 30 organizations partnered to publish new “Student Data Principles,” which advocates say explain the way student information can be used responsibly, to help improve student outcomes.

Some say technology and the effective use of data are keys to improving academic outcomes. To see an example, read “A tiny school in the Ozarks powered a nationally acclaimed turnaround with a mix of technology and trust,” a column published recently at The Hechinger Report. And in my travels I’ve talked to many school leaders and teachers who say they figured out how to use the new tools in ways that protect student information. Kerry Gallagher, a history teacher at Reading Memorial High School in Reading, Massachusetts, told me in an interview earlier this month about an easy solution others might replicate. Students do not use their real names to log in to online programs. They use a pseudonym known to their teacher.

[Cross-posted at The Hechinger Report]

Nichole Dobo

Nichole Dobo writes about blended learning. Most of her 10-year career as a reporter has focused on education. She has also covered stories about government, courts, business and religion. She was a staff writer at The News Journal in Wilmington, Del., The York Daily Record/Sunday News in York, Pa., The Times-Tribune in Scranton, Pa. and The Citizens' Voice in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. and has been published in The Atlantic's online edition. She won first prize and best of show for education writing in 2011 from the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association. She earned a B.A. in journalism at the Pennsylvania State University.