A Necessary Framework

With data seemingly everywhere—is there a simple, streamlined student data privacy management process for school districts?

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

In an age of data overload and increased technology use among K-12 students, one might expect there’d be a large number of organizations providing solutions to schools for managing student data privacy—truth is, there are very few.

Enter entrepreneurial-minded parents Jim and Katie Onstad, who wanted a safe, secure, and private environment for their two elementary-aged daughters.

In 2013, they founded Education Framework, Inc., a student data privacy solution for K-12 leaders. They assembled a team of entrepreneurs, parents, and trusted partners committed to creating an environment of data privacy safety, security, efficiency, and collaboration.

The award-winning company now serves more than 400,000 students per year with more school districts beginning to take note. 

What prompted you to get involved in privacy issues in education—and when did you first start thinking about this area?

Katie: We developed the idea of Education Framework in late 2013 when our two children received their first school-issued iPads. With their iPads, they had access to applications and websites that could potentially collect their personal data. While we were excited about these new learning opportunities, we also were afraid of their safety online. We wondered who was ensuring the protection of their data and whether the district was actively looking out for their privacy. The answers to those questions helped establish and drive the foundation of our business.

Through research, we discovered three things:

1. There are local, state and federal laws in place to protect student personally identifiable information (Ex: COPPA, FERPA, SOPIPA…)

2. A third party online service provider, or any person or entity with access to student information, must abide by the laws that govern the protection of student data.

3. School districts are tasked with vetting online and digital resources for privacy prior to approving them for student use.

Jim: As we researched the details of student data privacy laws, we found that the process of vetting technology for student use is a challenging and time-consuming process that falls squarely on the district. And as we all know, district IT teams are already overtaxed. Properly vetting educational apps and digital resources requires time, critical thought, and attention to detail. It involves reading through endless privacy policies and end user license agreements, which can be burdensome and overwhelming. For many districts, this is often more than they can handle.

Katie: Since Jim has a background in software development, we decided to create an easier way for districts to manage the protection of student data privacy. The result is a comprehensive streamlined student data privacy management system that helps district leaders proactively handle their privacy efforts while engaging parents in the privacy conversation.

As we moved into an age of more pervasive technology in our culture, in schools, in the home, and woven into learning – what were your concerns regarding student privacy?

Katie: We are tech-savvy parents, so we have always been concerned about our kids’ personal privacy and safety online. At home we placed strict usage parameters on technology and had regular conversations about the importance of protecting their privacy online. So, we wanted to know how the district was looking out for their privacy.

When we first began developing EdPrivacy, educators were more interested in introducing students to the latest technology than with their data privacy. Over time, the conversation has expanded to include a greater awareness of student safety online and off. Now, educators are rethinking their approach to adopting new technology.

Jim: Privacy should not be treated as an afterthought. Schools need to change their approach to adopting online technologies and begin thinking about privacy first. And as important an issue as this is, there is a lack of funding to support the efforts, which often leaves districts and students vulnerable and exposed. We need to make sure that schools are properly vetting technologies for privacy up front and with thorough, dedicated protocols. We need to keep parents in the loop, letting them know that the district is actively working to protect student data. We need to adopt a privacy-first mentality. Establishing the fundamentals of privacy and security are basic good digital housekeeping measures.

Could you provide distinctions between data privacy and student data privacy—and any other important privacy distinctions that are vital to understanding the thrust of your mission, your purposes, what you are doing and who you serve?

Katie: There is often confusion due to the various terms: student privacy vs. student data privacy vs. data privacy. Student privacy involves the overall privacy of a student, online or off. Data privacy is privacy of your personal information online, whether you are connecting at home, at work, or via mobile device. Student data privacy pertains to any data that is used by students in a school setting, or data that is obtained through school-issued devices. Student data privacy protections typically apply to all students in K-20 and in the instance of COPPA, specifically apply to children under 13. In certain instances, schools can consent on behalf of the parents. We help districts proactively manage this process with EdPrivacy.

What is the state of education today?

Katie: Public education is still in a high state of change fueled by technology. Previously the focus was on getting devices into student hands and giving them access to as much technology as possible. But now, educators understand that curriculum should dictate the kind of technology that is used for learning and that student privacy trumps the bells and whistles of new apps and platforms.

What do you believe technology’s role in education should be? 

Jim: Technology is a catalyst for change. Technology integration is in full swing…  It’s important to prepare our kids for the future. Technology can help provide the learning opportunities students need for college and career success—even though most of the jobs they’ll be working at haven’t been invented yet. What better way to help students prepare for their futures then by keeping them engaged in problem solving assisted by technology.

With Education Framework and your EdPrivacy solution, you tout it as “proactive student data privacy protection” – are you targeting Directors of Instructional Technology and similar school district leaders involved with technology decision making? Also, could you describe the features and benefits provided, and what compelling reason there is for such leaders to pay close attention to this solution?

Katie: The intent of EdPrivacy, besides protecting student data, is to simplify and streamline the privacy management process. EdPrivacy eases the process of vetting online technologies. This task is most often the responsibility of the district IT Director, but may also fall under the purview of the Principal and/or Superintendent.  

Jim: EdPrivacy is designed for teachers, administrators and parents. It has roles-based functionality, so each user has a different experience. The intent of EdPrivacy is to help districts improve their privacy efforts and better understand the overall privacy health of the district.

EdPrivacy Benefits: 

Quickly find data privacy scores for over 9,000 vetted and most-used online resources. Easily search a database of data privacy scores by resource showing compliance with FERPA, COPPA, and state privacy requirements.

Keep your student data safe and secure. Reduce your privacy risk by maintaining and easily publishing an up-to-date district-wide list of safe-to-use applications for students, teachers, and parents.

Work with the trusted data privacy experts. Tap into a well-vetted, consistent data privacy scoring solution created by experts

Save time and money. No need to waste precious internal resources that do not have the time or expertise to stay abreast of complicated and continually changing data privacy laws

Where are we in the conversation surrounding the issues you raise and the solutions you provide? (By ‘we’ I mean your target audience; by ‘conversation’ I mean, the education conversation more generally). Are we in the nascent stages, middle stages?

Katie: The conversation around student data privacy has definitely evolved since we began, and it’s refreshing to see greater attention towards the issue, but we are a long way from “there” as a whole. Confusion and misunderstanding surround the issue, and many district efforts fall short. Many districts struggle to comply with privacy legislation and need help.

Your main message, in just a few words?

Katie: Privacy first. Privacy peace of mind. Proactive student data privacy.

Any words of wisdom to school districts and their leaders?

Jim: Be prepared. Be proactive. Be transparent. Or be vulnerable to a security breach, parental backlash, and/or governmental fines.

Any other thoughts regarding: education, technology, privacy, students, the future?

Katie: Many privacy solutions claim to protect student data privacy, but then fail to properly vet online technologies for privacy. Make sure that each and every online resource used in the district is thoroughly vetted and reviewed for privacy before being approved for student use.

EdPrivacy is the only privacy management solution available to schools today that actually does the privacy vetting for you—including working with vendor improvement requests and vendor management.

Jim: Collectively, schools still have a lot of work ahead to protect student privacy data, with few human resources to do the job. EdPrivacy provides a solution for districts to manage the entire process of student data protection.

Some of the things driving the national conversation on student data privacy are new legislation, greater scrutiny from parents, and the general understanding that students have a right to online privacy while learning and growing.

As a result, more districts are prioritizing privacy and are now engaged in proactive efforts to protect student data.

Victor Rivero is the Editor-in-Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: victor@edtechdigest.com

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