Education Dept. Issues New Guidance on Student Data Privacy

The U.S. Education Department on Tuesday issued guidance on student privacy. According to the agency's Privacy Technical Assistance Center (PTAC), the guidance aims to help school systems and educators interpret and understand the major laws and best practices protecting student privacy while using online educational services.

The guidelines highlight the rapidly evolving, often-murky world of educational technology and student data privacy. While recent advances in technology and telecommunications have dramatically changed the landscape of education, they also raise new questions about how best to protect student privacy.

"As an education community, we have to do a far better job of helping teachers and administrators understand technology and data issues so that they can appropriately protect privacy while ensuring teachers and students have access to effective and safe tools," said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. "We must provide our schools, teachers and students cutting-edge learning tools—and we must protect our children's privacy. We can accomplish both—but we will have to try harder to do it."

The document focuses on the major requirements of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA) that relate to educational services and urges schools and districts to go beyond compliance to follow best practices for outsourcing school functions using online educational services, including computer software, mobile applications and web-based tools.

Reaction to the document from key stakeholder groups was swift, reflecting the growing urgency around data-security issues, according to Education Week. A trade association for the software and digital content industries commended the department for an approach it said "affirms and reinforces the strong safeguards in current law," while a leading parent advocate said the guidance "completely misses the point when it comes to addressing parental concerns about their children's privacy and security."


Related Links

U.S. Education Department Press Release

Protecting Student Privacy While Using Online Educational Services: Requirements and Best Practices

Education Week