Parental choice…



As parents we are constantly making decisions on behalf of our children. We act in what we believe are the best interests of our children and, for the most part, make the decision quickly because we understand the ramifications of our choices and nobody knows our children as well as we do. Making choices involves weighing multiple options and selecting what we think is best. Sometimes we even make those choices without enough caffeine in our system and well, then we can debate the merits of our decisions….but I digress…..

An article from EdWeek discussing the new California law SOPIPA came across my desk and, of course, it caught my attention. What I found particularly interesting was the mention of parental choice exemptions and the passing of the bill without the controversial parental consent exemption. As it currently stands, SOPIPA doesn’t allow a parent to authorize sharing their children’s information to additional 3rd parties beyond the parties expressly identified in the law, for example colleges and future employers. However, if I wanted to allow my children’s information to be shared with a third party, like a reading tutoring service, I am not allowed to do so. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that my child is struggling with reading comprehension and the school is using a particular reading program that is capturing valuable information on how my child is learning and progressing. If I decided I wanted to supplement the support by using a reading tutor after school, I could not legally give consent to have that data shared with my child’s tutor. While I do have access to my child’s data I cannot authorize the information to be released. I would have to pull it myself either by downloading the information and providing it to the tutor. An argument against these exemptions is that parents cannot be allowed to have these choices because they get convinced, even coerced, to give away all of their children’s information in exchange for a service. I’d argue that parents need to be given more credit than that. Parents should be the ones to decide what is in the best interest of their children.  And thus the problem, if we cannot build a complementary support system for a struggling child, at the parent’s own choosing, then we are limiting the availability of information to third parties that could help our students. If we, as parents, cannot make the choice to have this data disclosed to a third party of our choosing, then we are not being allowed to make the decisions that we believe are in the best interest of our children. Further, if parents are not allowed to provide consent to disclose this information to a third party, the burden of figuring out what information to get and how to go about obtaining it is squarely placed on the parents. It should be relatively simple for a parent to create a connection between their school’s vendor and the additional 3rd party helping that student.

And this is why student data privacy is difficult. There are no absolutes when it comes to discussing student privacy and we need to be cognizant of the ramifications, not only of our choices, but of the decisions we make when enacting laws. However, as much as I am advocating for allowing parents to be able to decide if their children’s information can be shared with a third party, we also need to be careful that we do not shift the burden of protecting student data entirely on parents. The task needs to be equally shared among parents, schools, Ed-tech vendors and even the students. Rather than enacting absolutes as the only way to protect student data, I strongly believe that we need to encourage trust. Trust between schools, parents and students is essential for all of us to understand how data is used so that we can work together to enhance a students’ learning experience. Though there are instances where the value of data collected for education is not diminished by prohibiting disclosure, there are times when comprehensive data sets gives us the ability to provide the best learning experience for these young, developing minds.





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  1. Christopher Ball

    January 20, 2016 - Reply

    SOPIPA restricts the disclosure by the operator of data that it gathers from others. The operator could disclose to a tutoring service, provided the tutoring service not re-disclose outside the enumerated provisions (see b(4)A of the law), if that tutoring furthers the K-12 purpose of the operator. It cannot, however, sell the info to the tutoring service.

    SOPIPA neither forbids nor entitles a parent either to access the operator’s output of the data or to order that it be sent to the tutoring service.

  2. Kris Alman

    January 21, 2016 - Reply

    Unless there is a Roe v Wade challenge to data ownership, “parental choice” is an illusion.

    The ACLU recently concluded that school personnel fail to protect student privacy.

    We unknowingly produce data when consuming it on the Internet. Information inequality manifests as unknown unknowns (credit to Donald Rumsfeld). The business model for digital consumption puts data custodians in charge of data.

    Because of FERPA deregulations, data custodians are much more than glorified janitors. As “school officials”/”authorized representatives,” they own the keys to the front door and can “free data” in ways we cannot control. In this dystopian relationship, we don’t even own a remote control to access our own data!

    Data custodians are supposed to clean up platforms so they are secure. They are supposed to lock software backdoors so that malware cannot be introduced.

    And we’re just supposed to trust self-regulation and privacy pledges! That’s like asking kindergarteners to peer-grade for spelling errors. How do we know whether data custodians really play by their rules?

    Then there’s this little caveat in the privacy pledge:
    Nothing in this pledge is intended to prohibit the use of student personal information for purposes of adaptive learning or customized education.

    With artificial intelligence, a computer adaptively learns. Whether kids learn with algorithmic “customized” education (aka “teaching machines”/”robot teachers”) is another question. It may be possible algorithmic education rewires the brain and dismantles the capacity to apply and synthesize knowledge—especially for young, developing minds.

    Are we prepared for the unknown unknowns of algorithmic education?

    FERPA deregulations in 2008 and 2011 created a “free data” ecosystem with “free market” enterprise as the outcome. Where SOPIPA and its clones (including the Oregon Student Information Protection Act) fail is they are unenforceable.

    Consider the conditional language:
    “An operator shall (or may) not knowingly engage in any of the following activities…”

    Switch that to: “An operator shall (or may) unknowingly engage in any of the following activities…”

    Consider what I call the Google exemption clause:
    “This section does not apply to general audience Internet websites, general audience online services, general audience online applications or general audience mobile applications, even if login credentials created for an operator’s site, service or application may be used to access those general audience sites, services or applications.”

    Do we just trust software app developers and companies like Google? The Electronic Frontier Foundation maintains that Google violates its privacy pledge in an FTC complaint. SIIA says this is just “misunderstandings.”

    The stakes are too high when EdTech data miners stake a claim on minors’ personal data. We have secrets. Are we entitled to a right to privacy? Should we © our identity to keep them private?

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