U.S. schools’ approach to student data threatens privacy – study

By Molly Hensley-Clancy, Reuters, Dec 13, 2013

Dec 13 (Reuters) – School districts across the United States are failing to properly protect troves of sensitive student data as they rush to adopt new online systems pitched by private companies, a report released on Friday found.

Most of the 23 school districts studied had inadequate privacy protections and poorly defined contracts with outside vendors that left student data vulnerable, said the Center on Law and Information Policy at Fordham Law School, which conducted the review.

In most of districts studied, parents did not have to consent to the outside use of their child’s information, and many agreements did not place clear limits on how vendors who provide online services to track student health or assignments could use the data they collected.

In the cloud-based model – a broad term for companies that provide software which users can access remotely rather than install and manage on their own computers – vendors sometimes offer their services at a low cost in the hope of making money off the data they collect.

Almost none of the districts looked at specifically restricted the marketing of student information by the vendors, the study found.

It also noted that such practices were often in violation of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, a U.S. law that sets forth strict guidelines requiring that students and parents control access to and amend student records.

“Schools right now are unable to deal effectively with privacy issues,” said Joel Reidenberg, the lead author of the study. “They’re not in a position to understand the implications of some of the services they’re contracting.”

The study examined policies in a wide swath of districts across the country, ranging from the 204,000-student Houston Independent School District to Echo School District, in Oregon, which has just 264 students.

Cloud computing now plays a role in everything from homework and testing to college counseling.

That can mean handing over huge and diverse amounts of data to third-party vendors….

read more at Reuters

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