Obama Announces New Student Data Privacy Act

This week, President Obama announced that he would be proposing legislation to increase protections on the data privacy of students. The actual legislation is expected to be submitted by the end of February.

There is an abundance of research that shows gathering and analyzing data on student performance can greatly enhance educational outcomes. As students engage with content digitally, they create more data, and often expect to access and analyze it themselves. Naturally, educational software is going to provide better and better tools for gathering and analyzing this data.

Teachers, schools, and parents all benefit from the data. However, data privacy is also a concern for parents and educators, and early efforts to streamline this process have run up against these concerns. One recent notable clash was over a program called inBloom, that would have managed student data for other educational software providers.

Though the program was provided by a non-profit company and included security and privacy provisions, the general public and some security advocates were not convinced. Large school districts pulled out of the project, and it folded up.

While the provisions of the new legislation are not known yet, the Whitehouse has announced that they will be modeled on a California law. That bill was described by California senator Tem Darrell Steinberg as:

“a reasonable but aggressive measure that makes clear that data collected by private companies needs to be used only to enhance and improve the education for young people.”

According to the Whitehouse, the federal law will:

prevent companies from selling student data to third parties for purposes unrelated to the educational mission and from engaging in targeted advertising to students based on data collected in school – while still permitting important research initiatives to improve student learning outcomes, and efforts by companies to continuously improve the effectiveness of their learning technology products.

Some concerns have been raised by The Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA)

“We are concerned that, unless a new federal law pre-empts all state laws, it risks adding another layer to the confusing patchwork of regulations now facing local schools and service providers.”

While these concerns may be legitimate, it could well be an advantage to the industry to have the predictability that legislation can provide.

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