Testimony by Laura Bowman to the VA Board of Education about the need to protect student data privacy

Laura Bowman, Parents Across America privacy advocate

Cross-posted from the Parents Across America website.  Laura is a Virginia parent leader and a PAA board member.  At these July hearings,  Laura also gave the VA Board of Education a copy of our Parent Toolkit for Student Privacy.   Others should feel free to share our toolkit with their state education officials as well! 

My name is Laura Bowman and I’m the leader of Parents Across America-Roanoke Valley, a chapter of the national child and public school advocacy organization.

I believe we need stronger protections for our children’s personal data. We’ve seen the number of student data breeches double so far this year. EdTech Strategies reports that, “U.S… public schools were reported to have experienced at least 147 separate cyber security-related incidents” in the last 18 months.

Breeches of personal information by federal agencies has increased by 164% over five years.

Children don’t have negative credit histories, so their data is valuable to hackers who want to steal their identities.

It used to be that student data was kept within the school system. Now, there’s great concern that our children’s personal data is shared with outside entities, many with a profit motive, and without the informed consent of parents.

Parents should be worried. Their children’s sensitive student data, including their disciplinary records and information about their behavior, immigration status, and home life could be used for unethical purposes. We must be mindful of the consequences of relaxing privacy laws and allowing our children’s data to be shared with corporations and organizations with no vested interest in their health, safety, education, and well-being.

The vast majority of parents are unaware that their child’s electronic personal data is being shared with private educational companies to develop products and services. We should be able to know exactly who has access to our children’s data and for what purpose, and how it’s being stored and protected.

With the increase in EdTech and so-called “Personalized” Learning, and a focus on Social Emotional Learning, more and more of our children’s personal data is being collected online and mined for profit. Their personal information is being used in ways that aren’t transparent to parents and make it vulnerable to breaches.

While I believe technology in education, when used as a tool for research, creativity, and communication, is valuable, I’m increasingly concerned that every mouse click my child makes at school will be tracked, and that’s not okay with me.

Parents are worried that, due to the push for Social Emotional curriculum, there will be attempts to standardize and assess their children’s highly subjective emotional health. This is problematic on several fronts. Are our children’s teachers trained psychologists? No. Is it possible to standardize emotions? No. Should we grade a child’s emotional health? No. And if attempts are made to assess a child’s emotional quotient, where will that data go?

When it comes to character building and social emotional learning in K-12, I’d encourage our school systems to address it, don’t assess it. We must be mindful of unintended consequences and the dangers of once again, as with standardized testing, attempting to fit children into neat little boxes, and we mustn’t allow our children’s emotional quotient data to be given to corporate entities who value profits over the well-being of children.

The amount and types of data collected on our children is staggering. The CEO of Knewton is infamously known for stating that 5-10 million pieces of actionable data is collected on our children every day. He also boasts that, the world in 30 years is going to be unrecognizably data-mined, and education is the most data mine-able industry.

There’s a lot at stake and it’s my hope that your department holds itself and school systems across the Commonwealth responsible for protecting our children’s personal information from hackers and marketers.

I have a copy of the newly released Parent Toolkit for Student Privacy for you. It was created by the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy and the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and can be accessed on their websites. It’s a wealth of information and includes helpful advocacy tools for parents and educators alike.

Thank you for your time.