Addressing Privacy Issues Around Student Data

Are you concerned about student privacy? CoSN's new toolkit addresses this crucial issue.

It would be hard to argue that the issue of privacy of student data is not the hottest topic in ed-tech today. Unfortunately, there is not nearly enough rational dialogue on the issue. Some treat the issue with hand-wringing or alarmist fear. Some naively don’t understand it is a real issue or assume that schools and online service providers have it taken care of. Some see it as the stuff of corporate or government conspiracies. And still others are using the issue to make a buck.
Privacy of student data is a very real issue and there are very tangible, specific steps that school leaders (and online service providers) can take to better ensure that student data is handled appropriately.
That’s where the latest CoSN (Consortium for School Networking) toolkit comes in handy. While many organizations are talking about privacy, COSN is the first organization to release a practical guide for how school technology leaders can address FERPA (Family Education Rights & Privacy Act) and COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act) related issues. It’s not intended to be an exhaustive resource on all of the intricacies of the often confusing laws, but it is a phenomenal “how-to” for schools looking to adopt solutions from online service providers. You can download the toolkit at The toolkit is available free to CoSN members and non-members. You will be asked for contact information in order to download the toolkit, but you can certainly opt out of communications anytime at a later date.
Taken directly from the CoSN website: The toolkit is organized in the form of a decision tree, or flowchart, and addresses FERPA and COPPA compliance issues as well as smart, suggested practices that reach beyond compliance. Also included in the toolkit are definitions, checklists, examples, and key questions to ask. The Toolkit was created with the help of Harvard Law School’s Cyberlaw Clinic, which is based at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society. This Toolkit was sponsored by Microsoft Corporation and endorsed by The Association of School Business Officials International.
For full disclosure, I am proudly the co-chair of the group that developed this toolkit. Jim Siegl, Technical Architect at Fairfax County Public Schools (VA), is the other co-chair. Also, it would be difficult to exaggerate the importance of the contribution of individuals at Harvard’s Cyberlaw Clinic. The legal expertise they brought to the effort was invaluable. And kudos to Microsoft for agreeing to provide sponsorship so the toolkit could be delivered as a professionally packaged resource. While the development was done entirely by volunteers, graphic artists and editors are not free.
In the coming months we will be updating and adding resources to the toolkit, so that it stays current with this evolving issue and so it can be even more useful as you work to protect student privacy in your own school’s digital learning environment.

Bob Moore has worked in education technology for 25 years. His passion has been to help districts think strategically and practically about technology, meeting the needs of both instruction and IT, while respecting the public investment. His experience includes 20 years in K12 districts, several years as lead strategist for a large global technology company and leading his own consulting practice.


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