IT Trends

Seal of Privacy: Building a 'Trusted Learning Environment'

trusted learning environments for student data privacy

If you take a peek into the classrooms of today, you will see a digital revolution in action. The growing use of technology is not only transforming learning — it is also extending and personalizing the student learning experience.  

While this e-learning shift holds the promise to accelerate student success, school system leaders are faced with increased responsibility. Chief among those challenges: managing student data and security — and doing so with limited time and resources.

Schools system leaders are faced with navigating this new digital age terrain at the same time they are working to maximize the potential of student data to personalize learning. In this new reality school system leaders need guidance to safeguard the privacy of student data. And they need it today.

CoSN's fourth annual 2016 K-12 IT Leadership Survey underscored the increased focus school systems are placing on the privacy and security of student data. Nearly two-thirds of IT leaders in the report revealed that student data privacy and security is a greater concern than it was at this time last year. For many school IT leaders, it has jumped to the front burner of their priorities — a big change from 2014, when it ranked among the bottom priorities in school systems.

This heightened challenge comes as no surprise. There are a variety of external and internal factors that have elevated privacy concerns, ranging from highly-reported data breaches to a significant amount of state and federal level policy activity. As technology becomes more an intractable part of our daily lives, the public is becoming increasingly aware of possible privacy threats that new technologies can bring.

Within educational walls, parents increasingly expect full transparency regarding not only what student data is being collected and how it is being used, but also what rules are in place to prevent adverse cyber incidents.  Existing and emerging regulation at the federal and state levels, including the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and a variety of state laws and district norms provide some guidance. Even with these increasing mandates, schools still lack practical guidance on a broad range of challenges they face in protecting the privacy of student data.

"While there is an abundance of guidance on meeting privacy compliance requirements, CTOs need a practical framework to help address the many privacy challenges that are not addressed by laws," said Bob Moore, the new chief technology officer for Dallas ISD.

For these reasons, CoSN, the professional association serving school system technology leaders, has developed the Trusted Learning Environment (TLE) Seal for all school systems,  and only for school systems.  

Collectively formed by national and local education leaders, including 28 school district technology leaders, the voluntary TLE Seal will be a mark of distinction for school systems, signaling to parents and communities that they have taken measurable steps to help protect the digital privacy of student data.

Building on the existing Student Data Principles, the TLE Seal is an all-encompassing national program focused on building transparency and trust. It is the only program to provide school system leaders with the guidance needed to take the meaningful steps to establish an environment of trust and secure student data. School systems that earn the Seal will demonstrate to everyone in and outside the educational community their adherence to effective privacy guidance.

"School systems that are going the extra mile when it comes to protecting student privacy need an objective way to demonstrate that, and parents want reassurance that student data are being protected," commented Moore.

School system leaders have an opportunity to earn the trust of their communities. The benefits of 21st century, personalized learning depend on their leadership, and we urge all school systems to apply for the TLE Seal at: cosn.org/tle.

About the Author

Keith R. Krueger is the CEO of the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN).

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