Viewpoint

Student Data Privacy: Building Trust Through Collaboration

A community of trust encourages a healthy conversation between school systems and community members that moves from fear-based to fact-based about the school practices and educational progress of students.  

In our technology-driven world, any conversation about data invariably leads to questions about how that information is protected and used. That curiosity extends into school systems, which strive to create robust, engaging, personalized learning environments while ensuring that they implement mature governance practices to protect the privacy and security of student data — information stored in the classroom and by district technology providers on behalf of their school system clients. 

In particular, school systems need to stay current with federal and state privacy laws, meet the expectations of their parents and other community stakeholders, build partnerships with a variety of vendors and manage complex networks capable of supporting hundreds of student devices. In addition, school systems need to translate that work into clear and comprehensible guidance to inform parents about school policies for technology and how student data are protected.

It's no wonder that school systems are increasingly seeking out trusted guidance to create and improve their governance programs and build trust within the communities that they serve. A community of trust encourages a healthy conversation between school systems and community members that moves from fear-based to fact-based about the school practices and educational progress of students. 

CoSN's (the Consortium for School Networking's) Trusted Learning Environment (TLE) Seal Program was specifically designed to support these needs. Developed with 28 school system leaders, along with lead partners — the Association of School Business Officials (ASBO), the School Superintendents Association (AASA) and ASCD — the TLE Program helps school systems assess their privacy and security programs, identify the specific areas that require improvement and provide resources to support that work.

To date, 13 U.S. school systems — from small, large, urban and rural communities — have already earned the TLE Seal by carrying out robust data protection programs across the entire school organization, including leadership, business relationships with technology providers, data security and education for employees and community members, as well as for students in the classroom. In taking the tangible, measurable steps that help to ensure the privacy and security of student data, these Seal recipients demonstrate their commitment to student data privacy in a way that builds trust.

And the momentum is building. Today, school systems — from Montana to Connecticut to Ohio to Texas — are coming together to crowdsource their efforts and support each other statewide in building and improving their governance programs.  

CoSN is supporting these cohorts by connecting each group with a TLE Seal Recipient to serve as a mentor, providing access to an online peer community dedicated to questions about data privacy, as well as providing free guidance on implementation of the laws, vetting technologies, writing contracts, understanding privacy policies and more. The cohort leaders are able to share with districts in need how to leverage the TLE framework and improve their efforts so they, too, can become leaders of tomorrow.

This 21st-century challenge for school systems has presented them with an opportunity to unite to build stronger practices, stronger connections and embark on a journey of continuous improvement for all. Together they are making a difference in the rigor with which they are protecting student data — and the trust they are building within their communities. 

For more information on the TLE program or to build a collaborative TLE cohort in your state, visit trustedlearning.org. For more information on CoSN's privacy resources, visit cosn.org/privacy.

About the Author

Linnette Attai is project director for the CoSN Protecting Privacy in Connected Learning Initiative and the Trusted Learning Environment Seal Program. She is also president of PlayWell, LLC compliance consulting.

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