NPR’s All Tech Considered reports on the issue of student privacy:
Today, getting a hold of the transcript of a VIP — or any student — would require less in-person skulduggery and more clever computer searching. That’s because student data have largely moved online in just the past few years. Information is being collected and distributed at unprecedented scale, from the time that toddlers enter preschool all the way into the workforce.
And that shift is forcing policymakers and legal experts to improvise new policies and procedures aimed at protecting the privacy of young people. Critics fear the misuse of student data by hackers, marketers and, most worryingly, by the government authorities who themselves are collecting it. […]
Student data used to be the pet cause of a small group of lawyers and activists. Now, in part because of the InBloom controversy, the issue is gaining broader attention. This year, 82 bills in 32 states have been introduced that somehow address student privacy. […]
In 2005, things changed. The federal government began awarding grants for the creation of Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems, or SLDS. That marked the entrance of big data into education, enabled by the leaps forward in the ability to store and process information on remote servers “in the cloud.” States and schools for the first time could centralize, organize, search and analyze information on millions of students, in the ways that corporations have been doing for decades. And many for-profit companies, like Google, have rushed in to help them do this, providing software to collect and crunch this information.
As the name implies, Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems create unique numbers to identify students and track them from the day they enter kindergarten, or even preschool. In other words, a wealth of information, contained in a single record, can follow a student for 20 years or more. (For a list of exactly what states are tracking, see the interactive graphic on the left.)
In some states these systems are being extended and shared across state lines, to private and for-profit colleges, and with employers. They’re also being used in at least 17 states to track teachers from their grades in teachers’ college, to their students’ performance in the classroom.
So, you can see why privacy advocates have concerns. “My younger son’s records were breached when he was in college,” says Sheila Kaplan, a New York student privacy activist who was involved in drafting the legislation creating a chief privacy officer. “I was amazed. Why would you collect records that you can’t protect? As more parents become aware of this, they are freaked out.”