Is Your Child’s Personal Information Safe at School?

The Parent Coalition for Student Privacy and the Badass Teachers Association have put together a document called the “Educator Toolkit for Teacher and Student Privacy” that you can download now.

A couple of weeks ago, my email was hacked or it had a virus or hacked up a hairball or something. I don’t know, but, for whatever reason, someone on Peachtree Lane in Atlanta, Georgia, was sending out hundreds of email messages to people in my electronic address book. So, if you received an odd email from me, and it didn’t appear to be my usual odd self, it was probably from my new friends on Peachtree Lane.

It was a minor nuisance, but losing control of my email made me wonder about losing control of my information, which led me to wonder about how we may be allowing companies to capture our minor children’s information – even at school.

Most of us adults are either comfortable with, or in denial of, the fact that we are turning over our personal information online every day. Our personal information based on what we do online is used to hone carefully crafted messages and advertising delivered directly to us.

School children are using technology in the classroom every day for everything from doing research to taking tests. Classroom technology can truly enhance learning, but, as with any tool, it depends on the skill of the user, and, in the case of teaching, the experience of the teacher to guide meaningful use. Some parents and teachers are concerned not only about the pedagogical value of online edutech programs, but about how student data is gathered and possibly being used by them.

Forbes writer and education blogger Peter Green writes, that “….schools provide a rich opportunity to trade educational programs and assistance for a rich deposit of data on students (and teachers) who may not even be aware that Big Data is gathering data points by the bushel from their simplest activities. Industry leading Summit Learning, a charter school group that has placed their software and material in over 300 public schools, has admitted that they share the data they gather with 18 ‘partners.’”

To help teachers, parents and administrators understand data privacy in schools, two groups, the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy and the Badass Teachers Association have put together a document called the “Educator Toolkit for Teacher and Student Privacy”

In putting the toolkit together, the organizations found that teachers and parents had little understanding of data privacy, and many had no training or professional development in the subject. One teacher in the survey noted, “Always a concern, as it is in our private lives. We are all over Google Classroom and Chromebooks and I don’t know what legal guarantees we have from them to not use or sell student use information.”

The report also shows a lack of understanding about districts using online programs “to track student behavior.” Nearly half of respondents said that their district did use online programs to track behavior, 43 percent said “no,” and nine percent “didn’t know.” In addition, “12 percent said their districts used online programs for social-emotional learning, while 62 percent said they did not, and 26 percent didn’t know.”

The toolkit is a lengthy 55 pages, but, even if you feel confident about Federal Student Privacy laws, I encourage you to download it, take to your school, introduce it at PTA and get to know the risks of data-mining, and how to advocate for student privacy. You’ll find sections on “Why is student data at risk?”; “Best practices and practical tips to protect teacher and student privacy”; “How to advocate for stronger teacher and student privacy protections” and more.

As the introduction states: “If your school employs data dashboards, online grading books, web-based instructional systems, or classroom apps, or if your school assigns students to use laptops, digital devices, or social media networks, information about you and your students my be sent every minute to vendors and other third parties with insufficient oversight given to how the data will be used and secured.”

Raised by Screens

Besides unwittingly turning over personal information, screen use in classrooms may not be the best, most effective way to educate children and teens.

The tech wizards in Silicon Valley know this (because they’re doing it to us) and, according to “The Digital Gap Between Rich and Poor Kids Is Not What We Expected” by Nellie Bowles (Oct. 26, 2018),  Silicon Valley parents as well as parents in other affluent areas are pushing back at the overuse of screens at home and in school.

“It could happen that the children of poorer and middle-class parents will be raised by screens, while the children of Silicon Valley’s elite will be going back to wooden toys and the luxury of human interaction,” writes Bowles.

There are even edtech businesses that are pushing online preschools. Despite the American Academy of Pediatrics warning to drastically limit, or even eliminate, screen time for young children, Utah is implementing a “state-funded online-only preschool.” The grant has been expanded to five other states.

While the wealthier toddlers get playtime, those who are poor get screen-based preschool.

I was surprised to learn that lower-income teens actually spend more time in front of screens than their wealthier peers, and that black and Hispanic children spend more time using screens for entertainment than white children.

The article closes with a quote from Richard Freed, a psychologist “who wrote a book about the dangers of screen-time for children and how to connect the back to real world experiences.”

Dr. Freed said, “I go from speaking to a group in Palo Alto who have read my book to Antioch, where I am the first person to mention any of these risks.”

Often, whether it’s the latest edutech product or a brush off  (“Trust me, a school wouldn’t allow your child’s data to be used without permission”), we all know that personal data gathering is big business. So, before we accept technology without questioning why or how our children will be using it, maybe we should step back first and ask some hard questions: How are children benefitting from this technology? Who has created it? Has it been vetted and studied by a third party? How much did it cost? How will the data, personal/academic/social-emotional, be used to help my child? Is this the best way for my child to learn or is it merely benefiting a tech company?

Categories: Editor’s Blog