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Protect your children's right to privacy in school April 15th, 2015

Source:  Denver Post | By Rachael Stickland

In California, the home to hundreds of education technology firms, companies that collect billions of bits of information on California school children can't sell that information.

In Colorado, they can.

In California, companies cannot create a student profile based on the data they collect in order to do targeted advertising. If a child is researching a paper on Brazil while using a California school account, online companies cannot send an airline ad for a deal on fares to Rio. But they can in Colorado.

In California, a school district can tell companies under contract to delete certain data collected on students. In Colorado, districts can ask, but the companies don't have to.

When it comes to the profitable world of student data mining, Colorado lives up to its Wild West reputation. In this case, nanny-state California is doing the right thing.

As an example, here's a job description for a position with an education curriculum provider who does business in Colorado:

"The Marketing Data Scientist is responsible for providing statistical analysis, forecasting, predictive modeling, and optimization. This role will leverage Big Data mining and analysis strategies to understand customer needs, provide business insights, improve targeting, maximize return on investment, and optimize marketing efforts."

This company wants to do a lot of stuff with data not related to education purposes, which is why Senate Bill 173 is so important. 

The School District Data Protection and Transparency bill comes before the House Education Committee soon. The bill earned a unanimous vote in the Senate.

SB 173 is endorsed by the Colorado Association of School Boards, the Colorado Association of School Executives, the Colorado Education Association, the American Civil Liberties Union, Colorado Department of Education, and parents who want their kids' data protected.

The bill takes care of selling data and targeted advertising. Colorado school districts will be able to require companies to delete student data.

Colorado's bill adds some much needed transparency to student data collection, following privacy and transparency guidance from both the U.S. Department of Education and the Colorado Department of Education. The bill requires companies that collect personally identifiable information (PII) on students to post their school district contracts. Non-rural districts will provide annual notice to parents of any contracts that allow the transfer of PII to companies.

School districts will be encouraged to train staff on the importance of student data privacy and protection so educators can make informed decisions about the apps they choose to use.

According to its ad, "ClassDojo saves teachers valuable class time — and it's completely free!" ClassDojo is a classroom management app, or behavior modification tool, depending on your perspective. Districts don't contract for ClassDojo's services; teachers simply sign up. ClassDojo collects information on how kids behave in class.

It's easy to imagine the quantity and type of information collected at a student level that's highly personal.

SB 173 won't prevent teachers from using these apps, but it will require ClassDojo to list the types of PII student data it collects, with whom they share the data, and how long they hold on to the information before deleting it. This transparency will help districts, teachers, students and parents understand the student privacy concerns connected to the apps.

SB 173, sponsored by Sen. Chris Holbert, R-Highlands Ranch, and Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver, gives important rights to parents and kids over their own information. It's an important step. Let's take it.

Rachael Stickland is on the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy. Also contributing to this essay were fellow members Cheri Kiesecker and Paula Noonan.

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