The Power of Data and Transparency


“It’s a massive database and why do they need so much information?” That was what someone said to me the other day when talking about student data. When we think of databases, we most likely think of enormous files that contain every piece of information whether it’s needed or not. Some databases could potentially include information we don’t even know is collected about us. But I have learned not all data is created equal when it comes to education data. I often get asked how I got involved in the student data privacy debate. It’s not a simple answer but I can try – I am a parent of three children, children that are students in a system that increasingly collects data on them. I am concerned about the information collected on my kids but more importantly on the security and privacy protections that surround it. I have worked for over 15 years in an industry that handles tremendous amounts of financial information and I wanted to understand the differences and sensitivities around the different types of data. My friends would probably say the biggest reason I am involved is because “she can’t keep quiet and tries to get involved to understand what is going on.”

And who wouldn’t be concerned when we read about State Longitudinal Databases (SLDS.) According to the US Department of Education, the program provides grants to states to design, develop, and implement statewide P-20 longitudinal data systems to capture, analyze, and use student data from preschool to high school, college, and the workforce. But the reality is that these databases provide valuable information as to how students are being served (or not) by the educational system. For example, an SLDS can provide information on when students enroll, transfer or drop out of school. It can also provide graduation rates for particular schools. This information is valuable when deciding how to allocate resources. Further, the stories these data sets can tell are significant. For example, Melinda Anderson’s article in The Atlantic poignantly explains that the need for a diverse teaching body is essential for an equitable learning experience for all children, in particular students of color because studies have shown that students of color are disproportionally discriminated against – “One study in 2007 found that youth aged 10 through 19 had just as much “implicit racial bias” as older generations did—and compared to some age groups, even more of it.” Further, Statewide reports can provide information on equity and reports that can help close achievement gaps. But none of this discussion could take place without big data sets so that analysis could be done

I would like for all of us be aware that in our effort to protect student data we might inadvertently prevent the collection and proper analysis of these important stories. We must be careful that in our effort to protect some students we are leaving others vulnerable and we just cannot afford to do so. The Data Quality Campaign has great information, in particular this one “separating Fact from Fiction” that illustrates clearly what information is collected and why. It also references an article by Elana Zeide regarding the so called “Permanent Record” and it’s virtual non existence in the k-12 space.

So the next time we talk about collecting information about our children let’s take a good look at what information is being provided and how it will be used. Because without educational databases we will not be able to determine who is getting a good education and who is unfairly being targeted.

So the next time we think about “massive databases” let’s acknowledge that there is a good side to them and we must take advantage. And this nifty graphic from Data Quality Campaign illustrates who can access student data and how it can be used. And no, I am not saying that more information than we need should be collected. Nor am I making the claim that the system is perfect. But we cannot perfect the educational system (or any system for that matter) without this valuable information.


Google, surveillance and student privacy


Having technology in our new schools has been an adventure. It’s exciting to watch the kids have access to technology and integrate it into their education. Even more interesting is how the technology has not taken over instruction but is a compliment to the teacher’s toolkit. And so it goes in middle school with the latest announcement “all students will use Google apps for education and will have an email account. They can upload their homework etc etc etc”

Very exciting, I guess. So naturally I asked my middle school son what he thought of the use of Google apps in school. His response “I hate it.” Yep, he hates it. I asked him why and the answer had nothing to do with functionality, purpose, ease of use, or anything else. He hates it because he said “teachers and the principal can see everything we do. We have no privacy. We can’t send an email to a friend in school because we know teachers can read our stuff.” His statement made me stop and think, and not because he is frustrated that a teacher will read something intended for a friend but I was taken aback when he expressed the feeling of being observed all the time. And so goes their privacy. We talk about listening to students and acknowledging their voices when it comes to privacy discussions but the sentiment “on the ground” so to speak, is very different. And it could be that teachers are conveying the message in a manner that make kids feel under observation the whole time. I am not saying that there shouldn’t be a degree of monitoring school accounts and that teachers should make their students aware of this, but there is a big difference between knowing your emails are being scanned for appropriateness and feeling under surveillance.

However, I do feel that we can take advantage of this situation and use it as a teaching moment for our students. The same constraints they feel in school are actually the same constraints we all operate under at work with our employer’s email. And I think that to make this a true teachable moment, we need to acknowledge that students can understand more than we give them credit for. At work, most of us sign an understanding that our work email is the property of the employer, can be monitored and should not be used for personal correspondence. For students, their school email is their “work” email and maybe we should convey that clearly to them. There is a difference between their online “school environment” and their online “personal environment”. Personal messages to friends should not be sent through school email but notes to a friend on a class project are fine. This takes me back to when email first started to be used at work (and yes, I am dating myself here but bear with me) and the CEO of the company I worked with at the time sent out a memo on the company’s email and internet use policy. He wrote “never write anything on an email that you would not be comfortable printed on the front page of a national newspaper”, and that message has stayed with me through the years. Maybe we need to explain this to students so they understand the difference between monitoring and surveillance and we should be cognizant of the message we are conveying and how it is perceived by students.

There is so much reading material on student privacy and debates on what should and shouldn’t be collected for educational purposes when it comes to student data but I didn’t find many materials on adequate teacher and school staff training, particularly helping adults convey the message to students. So I turned to a few blogs I frequently read and found this one by tech teacher extraordinaire Rafranz Davis and she, of course, had written something that related to my kid’s statement “When we decided to move forward with creating our student Google Apps accounts, I started to hear all about monitoring of teacher and student accounts.”

Rafranz explains why we need to provide teachers with the tools to implement tech effectively in the classroom and not only to use tech for tech’s sake but with purpose. Tech in the classroom cannot be effective if we only use it to “test prep” or because the kids are entertained. It needs purpose. And there has to be monitoring of students because they are being used in the school system but we have to convey the correct message to students or they will literally shut the system out. There is a big difference between monitoring student accounts for appropriateness and conveying a feeling of surveillance to kids. So much so that they decide to not use their Google accounts in school and would rather text each other. So a tool that could be very effective in communicating and helping students in their day to day classes is not being used because we, adults, have not communicated correctly with students.

Rafranz Davis’s post details some of the challenges in implementing tech in schools. More importantly, it highlights the need for adequate teacher and student education on the appropriate use of tech and how to respect student privacy while monitoring school accounts without the school becoming a surveillance state.

If you want to read the entire post you can do so here at Confessions of a Digital Leader

And let’s not forget to listen to the kids!


Reader friendly privacy policies are possible



This school year has certainly been an adventure for my family on some many levels, and I am tickled every time my kids come home with a new school letter informing me of the new app/software/technology they are using. Of course, everything that comes home is received with a healthy dose of skepticism from me. I read the flyer, peruse the app website, read the privacy policy and then get mildly annoyed at the incomprehensible language on privacy policies and sometimes give up when I can’t, for the life of me, find such information.

So when my third grader came home with a teacher’s letter that stated she had been signed up for a new app in school meant to “excite and encourage kids to read” I was less than enthused. I took a deep breath and went to the website to see what this was all about. And I was pleasantly surprised.

For starters, the privacy policy link is easy to find. That makes a big difference because every little thing matters, and it makes for a much better user experience. Once I pulled up their privacy policy I began to read it.

Of course, I was bracing myself for pages and pages of legal terms and complicated policies but that was not the case here! This app has one of the most user friendly privacy policies documents that I have seen in a long time.

I was encouraged when I began to read their privacy policies. The first three paragraphs help build my confidence as a user / parent and clearly explain what the company does and what their approach to privacy is. Not wasting time, in the second paragraph, the company laid out why they take extra precautions when signing up kids for their software. They explain that because the platform is meant for children 13 and younger they need to make sure that appropriate security and privacy practices are in place. They continue and explain that they need to comply with COPPA and include a link to the COPPA website. Further, it reminds us, parents, that we need to talk with our children about online safety and to stay involved in the kid’s online activity.

I really like how easy the document is laid out, it has short and easy to read paragraphs. All the sections have a heading in bold from what they are using cookies to through IP information and other information they collect. They clearly state how the student information is stored and they clarify that they encrypt all PII whenever it is transmitted.

Most of us have legitimate concerns of how our data is transferred to an unknown party in the case of a sale, merger or bankruptcy situation and most privacy policies do not explain clearly how data is handled in these cases. However, in this case, the company clarifies that even though the data may be transferred or sold they will notify you about this change before transferring any information and states that you may decide to continue or discontinue the service at that time. They do note that it is our own responsibility to check back regularly in case the privacy policies change (and that is fair) but they also state that if any material changes to the policy are made, they will seek consent via email before the changes become effective.

Is this the perfect privacy policy? No, not at all. But it is a marked improvement from many others I have read. What strikes me every time I read a privacy policy is that the language is so difficult and the document is so long that no one reads them. This privacy policy is 5 pages long (I printed it) and it’s in pretty decent font! It is easy to understand and follow and answers most of the main questions I have as a parent. More importantly, as I read through the policy, I felt that student and parental concerns are addressed and acknowledged. A much better place to be than dismissing parents and students.

I would like for more companies to adopt a similar format. It would be a welcome change by all of us, but more importantly I believe that a tone friendly privacy policy bridges the gap of communication that is currently abysmal between parents and software companies. Let’s keep it going. Reader friendly and effective privacy policies can exist.



Whose Data is it Anyway???


A year ago I had the honor to participate in a panel at SXSWedu called “Whose Data is it Anyway”, it was an engaging conversation in which we addressed, head on the issue of student ownership of data. The tension in the debate between acknowledging student ownership and privacy was interesting in that there are still many parties that do not recognize the need for bringing students and parents into the conversation.

Last week EdSurge hosted a panel on this very same topic. The panel included diverse voices from the EdTech, legal and education fields. They discussed how Edtech leaders should address privacy issues while still advancing opportunities. And while the debate is complex and worthy of a much bigger time slot than a podcast the panelists raised good points such as – how are investors, entrepreneurs and educators responding to privacy and security concerns, do companies need to comply with all the demands of privacy critics or should they decide how much they can comply with? Finally, can all stakeholders somehow reach an understanding and a midpoint in which we can agree that concerns are being addressed.

I still feel we need to get student voice included in the conversation and I think these panels would have greater depth as it would make us aware of privacy “blind spots” we cannot see unless we bring other participants into the conversation.

You can listen to the EdSurge podcast here



Student “surveillance” and their right to privacy


When I was in school (yes, dinosaurs still roamed the earth), we used to cover our notebooks or tests with our hands because we didn’t want others to see our work. We wanted to keep our school work private. When we ask our kids what they did in school we get the timeless classic “nothing” or “stuff.” So is there anything wrong when a teacher gives us the opportunity to take a look at what happens in our child’s classroom? A couple of weeks ago I saw a Tweet about a teacher using Periscope (the social media app that lets you see the world through someone else’s eyes) and his statement of how much parents appreciated “the ability to watch their kids while they were in school.”

At first glance that might seem like an interesting and exciting proposition but there is something that doesn’t sit right with me. Where do parent’s rights over their children become too overreaching that they supersede student rights? Or should they supersede student rights? The question becomes more complex when we discuss student ownership and acknowledging that students are owners not only of their data but of their education. So humor me for a second and let’s say we finally agree to give students agency and ownership of their education. If we do, would we feel that it was ok to look into their classroom through an app everyday? Maybe not.

I think it’s worthwhile to ask students how they feel about being observed through an app. An app that their parents use to observe their behaviors in the classroom. Which leads me to a proposed state law in Wyoming that would make it illegal for school districts to demand access to student’s social media accounts. In this proposal, the bill would make it a misdemeanor for school officials to request information from a non-school account. In addition, school officials cannot access or view the student’s account unless they get parental permission. This bill is making the argument that it is not ok to feel we can access all of the student’s information because as Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, said “if you look through someone’s tablet and go through it, it’s like going through the kid’s house.” But we obviously need to be careful we do not make any law so restrictive that it impedes either school’s ability to function or be able to help students in need. Students can no longer simply cover their work with their hands so that no one can see it. Students are vulnerable to parents having total access to their school day through the use of technology, schools can access student work through school provided hardware and schools could potentially monitor students through their social media activity and we need to ensure that we do not blur the line between a student’s school life and life outside school. Because when we do, we risk taking away any sense of ownership from students. Ownership that can empower them to make decisions about their own education as well as how and what they disclose on social media. If we disavow their right to ownership, we risk on enacting laws so restrictive schools can’t conduct their day to day operations as well as neglecting a student’s education and their right to build their data trail in the way they feel represents them the best.

The more people looking at student data privacy laws the better, the more people advocate for increased protections for student privacy the better, the more voices that are brought into the conversations the better. But we cannot and must not go from protecting student data privacy to surveillance.



The Parent survey – what does it mean, really…..



The Future of Privacy Forum released a parent survey appropriately called “Beyond the Fear Factor” that asked parents how they really feel about data. I didn’t participate in the survey so I don’t get to skew the results but I can certainly report on it. What the survey tells us is that most parents understand the technology used in their child’s school but don’t really understand the laws protecting student data and have, understandably so, concerns about the security and privacy of their children’s data.

One could argue that the survey is saying that parents are fine with the indiscriminate use of student data and that even though they are concerned about privacy and security, well, we just go with it because the school is going to use technology anyway. But that really is not what the survey is saying. Rather, parents are telling us that they do care how student data is used and that they care how technology is used in the classroom but that they are concerned that the information is not being protected adequately. This is a fair concern, I would say. Particularly when most of us don’t fully understand the laws protecting student privacy and what our rights as parents are.

As I have stated before, my kids are going through new school experiences and so am I. And I am really fascinated by the amount of technology that is deployed in their schools. But more importantly, I am even more fascinated by the amount of paperwork and electronic communications that come home regarding the use of technology in their schools. While impressive, some things definitely could have been done better. For example, nobody told me my kid’s information was being uploaded onto an online portal, the directory information opt out is an all or nothing option and there is a lot more technology being used in school than I am aware of. But on the positive side, I have received communications that are informing me of some of the technology used in my kid’s school and that matters. It matters because now I know that if I wanted to dig and make a decision whether I want my kid using a certain app I can at least find out what it’s about. But something came home this past week that caught my eye. It was a notice asking for permission to setup a student email account for my kids, through Google Apps for Edu (of course). We can argue the merits of GAFE but what is interesting is that the school sent home a notice explaining what it was doing, how the emails were going to be setup and what the purpose is. Further, there is a section on the rules and responsibilities that students have when using this email and they are surprisingly close to what we would ask of an Ed-tech company – students will respect the privacy of others by not using someone else’s files without permission or posting pictures, apps and computers will only be used for educational purposes, respect their privacy and that of others by not disclosing personal information on the computer system etc. I really appreciated this section, not only because it is explaining to us what is expected of the kids but they are working on teaching the kids good digital citizenship, and that is very important. If we instill in kids from an early age how to use technology appropriately and what their responsibilities are we are already moving our conversations forward as these kids increasingly use technological devices at school and home. This school district form had to be signed by parents (giving permission) and students (acknowledging the rules around receiving school email). So when I asked my kid to sign the permission form he looked at me surprised. I asked him to read what he was signing and he rightfully said “if I sign this that means I can’t do all these things but the companies I use in school can’t do the things listed here, right?” Yes, happy dance moment! But I really hope that just as we are asking our kids to be responsible, tech companies are in turn being responsible to kids. So much so, that kids can hold them accountable if they don’t “follow the rules” so to speak.

At the end of the day, what parents want is what we all want when it comes to anyone accessing our information. We want a clear understanding of how data is collected, used and protected. We want transparency of how data is used through the educational system. Parents are willing to be active participants and collaborate with schools on how data and technology can be used to improve the educational process. Don’t ignore parental concerns, let’s address them, discuss them and present to them, to us, with the information we need to trust and in turn collaborate with everyone in the educational system. A top down approach doesn’t work. Parents need to be brought into the conversation in a meaningful way. There is a great opportunity for everyone in the educational system to open the lines of communication now and build trust with parents. If there is one thing the survey clearly states is parents want the data used in a way that can help their kids but make sure we are using the data ethically and protecting it. And I think that is a fair ask. Let’s not dismiss it.



The National Student Privacy Symposium


In 8 hours of intense debate about student data privacy, we heard panelists use the words sexy, naked, sex ed class and constipation. This coming from researchers, education policy leaders, privacy advocates, IT experts, teachers and parents, all in one room. And besides making us aware that anyone working in privacy has a pretty good sense of humor, it brought into focus that privacy is an everyday event.

There are a few points I want to highlight from the day. One of the things that struck me the most was that we need to discuss privacy concerns from two different sides – students and parents. Because privacy to a student is not the same as keeping one’s own children’s data private. We can’t forget that the purpose of student data is for students to learn better and not for our research teams to have more data to study learning. And well, if we can improve our research while at it, then so be it. There was also discussion of the implications of opting out of more data sharing. I would argue that the more data we can share, in more useful ways, is a step in the right direction. It can foster trust between students and the adults in the student’s life. Lets make parents partners not only in education but in privacy matters.

The Future of Privacy Forum released the results of the parent survey and it wasn’t surprising to me that parents are in favor of data collection as long as it is not used for commercial purposes. One statistic that jumped out at me was the fact that most parents want to opt out of data collection for racial and socioeconomic concerns. I’d argue that in a world where we see racial profiling happening every day, and increasingly in schools, the concerns about the collection of biased data are real. But I feel we need to start asking the question to parents and students on what they feel a student profile should contain, what it should be, and who should get access to it. Further, when looking at these results, we need to be aware that if only certain demographics opt out of sharing information they would significantly alter the results of big data sets and inadvertently divert much needed funds away from high need districts and schools. We also need to constantly remind ourselves that not all parents have access to the technology we discussed at the symposium, and as Rafranz Davis pointed out “anyone who things BYOD is equitable doesn’t know what school in many places is like.” All kids should have access to their own devices to learn, and it’s easier said than done. How do we help districts with limited resources achieve this?

One of the things I struggle with when discussing the results of the survey is that even though collecting data is valuable and using the information to improve teaching practices is the purpose, I find the all or nothing approach of my children’s school district regarding FERPA opting out problematic. For example, what if I want my kids information on the school directory so that we can meet other families and communicate about activities, homework etc. but I don’t want my child’s information released to a third party that will use it to try to sell me something? I can either opt in all the way or opt out completely. So we need to discuss these issues and come to a happy medium where parents have control over the information schools share about their child.

I think we can all agree that the consensus is that we need to discuss what types of data we really need? Are we collecting the right data that will help disadvantaged students and help create a more equitable educational environment? Are we finally recognizing that student data belongs to students? Kathleen Styles made an excellent point and reminded us that teachers need to be trained not only in protecting student data but in learning how to use it effectively.

We can’t place the burden on students to understand policy and law but at the same time, privacy and security need to happen every day in schools. At the end of the day, we need to get this right. I certainly walked away with many lessons learned and points to think about and debate in the future. Student privacy is complicated, that’s for sure, but everyone in that room is trying to work it out so we can do good by the kids. We can’t afford to not do right by kids, and if that means talking FERPish (as Kathleen Styles said) then we should be knowledgeable about it…..

And if you want to read a play by play of the day’s conversations check out the #NSPS2015 hashtag on Twitter. It was fun!




A privacy maze


We moved. We left our beloved Brooklyn for a new State to call home. Moving means not just a new house but new routines, new friends and new schools! And as excited and anxious as the kids were to start in new schools, well, so was I. The schools are great, we’re slowly making new friends and we’re getting to know the school system. It’s vastly different than New York City, that’s for sure. Technology is more accessible and all schools have online portals for parents. There is an integrated platform that allows me to login and look at my children’s personal information, grades, attendance, homework assignments and teachers’ notes about my kids. Mind you, they are in two different schools. I log in to one system. This is so much more than we had in NYC so I should have been happy, ecstatic actually. But I wasn’t.

For starters, no one asked if I wanted to partake in this online system. A few weeks before school started I began receiving emails about the schools. I am glad to be receiving important information, but felt rather uneasy by the fact that my email and my children’s information was provided to a third party without my knowledge. Further, this application connects to other platforms that collect my children’s information. For example, there is an online school lunch system, school garb shopping portal, bus routes and of course, the school’s directory. All of these collect, at a minimum, parent names, student names and school they are enrolled in. And I do want to be clear, I am not so concerned about the information collected as the way it was released. I was surprised when I received a FERPA notice to opt out of directory information. I received an email from the school district, clicked on the link, logged on to the portal and opted out. But here is the issue, the login for the portal was already populated with my children’s information and had been done without my knowledge. This lack of disclosure is not optimal to build trust between schools, parents and third party vendors. An email informing me would have been enough. And that is why communication is key to building trust when it comes to student data and privacy. Trust can’t be built if a school district can’t be bothered with informing families that this information is collected and placed in an online portal for third parties to use, and then sends a link to the FERPA notice. After I logged in, I diligently looked for the portal’s privacy policies. I am still looking for them. If they are published, they are in such an obscure link on their website that I had to give up after three days of searching.

But it doesn’t have to be that difficult. There are a few simple things that schools and vendors can do to build trust with parents and students. They ought to list all the vendors that work with the schools, list the data that is provided to these vendors, and a clear and easy to link to their privacy policies. I looked at both the online portal and the district’s website and couldn’t find this information. I understand that schools have many things to work on and that the beginning of the school year is particularly hectic, but these lists are basic and should not be a heavy lift for any school district. Transparency builds trust and accurate information can help dispel many fears parents have when it comes to student data and their privacy.

With the attention being given to student privacy and technology I hope that schools shift their focus a bit and realize that this is important information to make accessible to parents. I would also hope that the tech companies providing this service have clear and easy to understand privacy policies so that parents can make informed decisions.

We like to put the responsibility of student data privacy on school districts and tech companies, but it is also our responsibility to look for privacy policies and understand how data is being used in schools. If we can’t get the information easily we should reach out to the school and ask for the information. So as I am now buying school supplies, the question arises – should I go to a store and physically buy the school supplies, or order them online through a school portal that will collect my credit card information in addition to the other data previously gathered.

We are in a privacy maze, it seems, but it is up to us to call out school districts, tech vendors and demand they make their privacy policies transparent so parents can understand what they’re signing up for.




What do parents think about student data privacy?


I know that nobody asked me what I thought about student data privacy when I began inquiring about my children’s education records and how their privacy was protected, but now the Future of Privacy Forum conducted a survey that showed that the majority of parents with children in the K-12 environment are concerned about the privacy and security of their children’s information. With privacy being discussed more and more in education circles and by parents, I find that a survey that addresses parents is worthwhile, as parents (and more so students) are often left out of the conversations surrounding student data.

The results came in AND….not surprisingly, 85% of parents said they are willing to support the use of student data and technology in education but that it must be coupled with clear efforts to ensure its security. I would add that once parents are assured that their child’s data is safeguarded, they are more willing to give access to third parties as long as there is a clear educational intent. Once I am assured that my kids’ information is protected and only visible to appropriate entities, I am ready to have data sets that include my child’s information. And that is what matters, because there are so many ways of linking information that datasets can generate new insights – is my school addressing my child’s needs? Is the data showing that certain groups of students are being discriminated against? What is the graduation rate? For parents to have confidence that their child’s data is being protected, they must see first hand that collecting student data is valuable. Only then will they trust the process.

So I conducted my unscientific, most likely biased, survey amongst a few parents I know. Their responses were similar to those in the survey. My group of surveyed parents expressed that they are more willing to use student data for individual students when they can see the clear benefit of this data collection. For example, can the data help identify a struggling student so that schools can provide adequate support services? Another important result was that they are all encouraged by the use of personalized learning tools if they were able to see the results and trends of their children’s performance. But what we all came back to in our conversation was the trust factor. They all agreed that if we can trust the institutions that work with our children’s data we would all be more comfortable with it. And the only way I see how trust can be built is by schools, districts, States and the Federal government is by communicating with parents on a regular basis, to listen to their concerns and together come up with a plan that can be supported by the school’s organizations, such as the PTA.

So there you have it. A very reliable survey from the Future of Privacy Forum and my very own homegrown survey both agree that data is important and that parents are willing to allow for such data collection as long as we have adequate safeguards in place to protect student privacy.

I do wonder what a group of 6th graders would think of this debate and what they want to see protected in their records. We need to revise the methodology and compile results from students and how they would like their data protected. Maybe I will ask them soon…..

In the meantime, the entire survey will be released at the National Student Privacy Symposium on Monday, September 21st and if you haven’t registered I hope you do! The conversation promises to be engaging and I can’t wait for the debate amongst different panelists since we all have various perspectives on this issue. I’ll be there so please come by and say hello!




Should we all opt out?


A new school year is just around the corner and my kids will be attending new schools. Not only am I excited about the school year ahead and the experiences of being in a new school, I am also curious to see what kind of Directory Information opt out forms we receive. Should we all opt out of Directory Information? This is certainly an opt out I would consider. It is a clear way for parents to control their children’s data and prevent Directory Information from being shared with third parties.

Opting out of directory information is probably the most misunderstood of opt outs. Directory Information can be anything from student’s name, address, telephone, and email address to weight and height of students, grade level and photographs. Directory Information opt out prevents your child’s personal information from being shared, for example the team roster with student names, a playbill for the school play or the Honor Roll listing in a newspaper. There are other ways opting out prevents Directory Information from being shared with third parties unknown to parents that could legally request this information, such as marketers. It’s important to keep in mind that a school can’t just decide to share this information. Schools have to officially declare which information they consider to be directory information and then they have to notify parents of their right to opt out of sharing this information.

However, as with any privacy and or legal discussion there is the other side of the argument. If you opt out your child’s information, there could be certain opportunities forgone, outside school program opportunities or in the case of High School kids, scholarship opportunities or other university or college correspondence they will not receive when opting out of Directory Information. Further, student’s information will not be listed in the school directory and other families will not have access to phone numbers or emails, for example, unless you provide them directly to whomever is interested in connecting. So the decision to opt out needs to be done based on what works best for each family. Also worth noting is what opting out of Directory Information doesn’t do – it doesn’t prevent students from participating in testing or other education mandated activities. This opt out only applies to schools providing information to other parties outside the school.

How did this option of opting out come into being? Well, FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, was enacted in 1974 to ensure parents had access to their children’s educational records and to protect the privacy of this sensitive information. As a parent or guardian, you have the right to inspect your children’s records, request corrections be made and opt out of your school sharing Directory Information with third parties. Under FERPA, parents and students have the right to tell schools they cannot share their directory information with a third party.

It’s relatively simple to opt out (although finding the opt out forms on a school website can be nearly impossible). You can request a Directory Information opt out form from your child’s school, fill it out and return it to the school. And the best time to request the opt out form is at the beginning of the school year before schools begin to share information with third party providers.

If your school doesn’t have a FERPA form, you can download one here

The World Privacy Forum recently released a great video explaining why it’s important to #optout. Check it out here!

There are many other resources for FERPA Opt out information such as the National Opt-Out Campaign and of course our own FERPA|Sherpa (more shameless plugs)!

Wishing all the students going back to school all the best for a most fantastic (and private) school year!