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On the Block: Student Data and Privacy in the Digital Age

Computer technology has made it possible to aggregate, collate, analyze, and store massive amounts of information about students. School districts and private companies that sell their services to the education market now regularly collect such information, raising significant issues about the privacy rights of students.

Most school districts lack the resources to manage all of the student data that federal and state laws now require that they collect and report. As a result, they are likely to hire private vendors to identify, collect, manage, and analyze student data. This has opened up opportunities for private vendors to access student information and to share it with others. Further, the computerization of student work offers opportunities for companies that provide education technology and educational applications to obtain and pass on to third parties information about students.

Which information may be appropriately collected, who has a right to see it, how long the information may be held, and how errors and inaccuracies are to be corrected have become critical policy issues. Important in this mix is that student information, even information in the form of “anonymized” meta-data (or massive amounts of data reported without linking specific information and individuals), is valuable to marketers interested in selling products and services to students and their families.

Because of these critical concerns, this year’s report on school commercializing trends reviews the policy landscape related to student data and assesses the dangers associated with the dearth of policies to protect students and their families from third parties who wish to profit from access to information collected through schools.