- As calls for enhancing K-12 cybersecurity guidance continue, parents are increasingly concerned about student privacy and security protection, according to a report released Monday by the Center for Democracy and Technology. In July, 69% of parents surveyed said they were worried about student tech privacy, up from 60% of parents echoing that same concern in February.
- On top of that, 93% of the 1,663 K-12 parents surveyed said it is very or somewhat important for districts to inform them about how schools will use student data. Despite this increased interest in engagement, only 44% of parents reported their school or district had asked for input regarding the use of student data and technology.
- One way to increase engagement between schools and parents is to continue providing teacher training on student data and privacy, said Elizabeth Laird, director of equity in civic technology at CDT. In fact, 66% of teachers said they’ve had substantial training in 2021, compared to 56% of teachers in 2020, the CDT report said.
The recent spike in parent concern over student data privacy could be tied to the COVID-19 pandemic placing more school technology in the home for remote learning, said Linnette Attai, a privacy education consultant for the Consortium for School Networking.
It’s also possible the increased activism among parents on education issues overall could be driving concerns, Laird said.
The report did reveal parents are most concerned about data breaches in schools, Laird said. Overall, 2020 was also a “record-breaking” year for cyber attacks against U.S. schools, partially because of the shift to remote learning during the pandemic, according to the K-12 Cybersecurity Resource Center.
“I think that [parent concern] is related to the record number of cyber attacks. Not just in education, but in the private sector. It’s on the news a lot,” Laird said.
Keith Krueger, CEO of CoSN, added cybersecurity and data privacy are two sides of the same coin. Krueger said cybersecurity ensures a network is protected, while privacy is often defined and managed through policy.
“Unfortunately while we’ve been working on privacy policies for many decades in schools, cybersecurity is underfunded and underprotected,” Krueger said. “Part of that is fundamental. It’s not a core competency at most school districts.”
A key to improving parent trust over student privacy is starting the community engagement process transparently, he said. Laird and Attai agreed.
When schools begin to consider deploying a new technology or sharing student data, they should engage with students and parents for input before implementing changes, Laird said.
“You don’t want to engage them after you’ve already made a decision. That’s not engagement,” Laird said.
The CDT report also found teachers who have received training on data privacy were more likely to feel comfortable engaging with students and parents over privacy policies and procedures. Since more teachers reported receiving training within the past year, Laird advised districts to continue educating teachers on data privacy to improve community engagement.
Attai said implementing technology in schools is a balancing act, especially considering the concerns parents have over school surveillance related to student discipline cases. According to the report, 61% of parents expressed concern about schools sharing student data with law enforcement.
It’s important to approach technology in education with diligence, thoughtfulness and care, she said. There should also be a specific goal in mind and plan in place when implementing new technology, Attai said. The CDT report, she said, is a reminder for districts to take a step back and reassess where they stand.
“There are boundaries. There are lines between what is monitoring and what is surveillance and what is looking out for safety and what is targeting,” Attai said. “You need to take some care to make sure you don’t cross those lines.”