Room for Board Action on Student Data Privacy

By William Tucker

A handful of states addressed issues related to student data privacy and education data generally since the beginning of 2016, according to a search of NASBE’s State Board Insight. During that period, six states heard presentations on digital learning, state plans and grant funding for education technology, performance assessments for technology education, or computer science standards. From January 2016 through February 2017, education technology ranked low in the popularity of topics for state boards to put on their agendas: 29 out of 35.

Even fewer agenda items in this same period touch on privacy. In February 2017, Colorado included a statement of support for student data protection as part of a list of legislative priorities for the year, and in March it heard from the state education agency on Colorado’s Student Data Transparency and Security Act. Connecticut’s board heard a presentation on safeguards to student data collection and heard a report on data privacy from a subcommittee. Utah approved funding for ongoing work on student data privacy.

The relative quiet on these issues stands in clear contrast to the legislative frenzy to pass student data privacy bills in 2015 and 2016. Legislatures in 38 states considered student data privacy in 2016 alone, and several gave state boards of education specific new authorities in these bills. Fifty-four bills considered in 2016 mentioned state boards, with many requiring state boards to ensure compliance with privacy rules and address violations. Nineteen of those bills passed.

These new laws and the policies and regulations that put them into effect—create an environment ripe for boards to develop significant guidance and policy impact. Are state boards ready to shoulder these requirements?

There are opportunities for state boards to adopt policies that fill in gaps in legislation. While several new laws promote greater protection of student data, few mention the need for staff training to support the proper use and protection of student data. Moreover, most states are noticeably lacking in the resources and capital—human and otherwise—to build the capacity to carry out the spirit and letter of the new laws. Finally, the merit of policies created even in the last few years should be reconsidered and evaluated for effectiveness. Not all are likely to remain appropriate in the fast-paced legislative and technical landscape of student data privacy.

William Tucker is a former NASBE project manager who worked on student data privacy issues.