Aspirational Data Practices for Student Privacy

By Keith R. Krueger/School Administrator, September 2015


Privacy is often a contentious issue that raises deeply held fears. Concerns around privacy have been rising in the U.S. since the revelations of electronic monitoring by the National Security Agency, the hack of Target credit card data and the shuttering of the education data platform inBloom.

Privacy debates often are divisive, putting superintendents and other educators on the defensive. Parents believe too much data is collected about their children, that it’s left unsecured and is inappropriately used by companies for commercial gain.

Trust is at the heart of this privacy debate. As author Stephen Covey said, “Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.”

Shared Guidance

The best example of the evolving context around the privacy of student data is a recently released set of student privacy principles (

Last fall, CoSN – the Consortium for School Networking and the Data Quality Campaign convened representatives from diverse national education groups to find consensus on how student data should best be handled and protected. Our audacious goal was to create a set of common guiding beliefs from the education community.

Thirty eight of the most prominent education nonprofits have endorsed the principles since the effort went public in March, including AASA and professional associations representing school boards, state education officials, teacher unions and the National PTA. The “10 Foundational Principles for Using and Safeguarding Students’ Personal Information” are grounded in the following:

  • High-quality education data are essential for improving students’ achievement and preparing them for success in life;
  • Data can empower educators, students and families with the information they need to make decisions to help all learners succeed;
  • Everyone who uses student information has a responsibility to maintain students’ privacy and the security of their data;
  • This starts with limiting the data that are collected, stored, shared and used to support student learning and success; and
  • Whenever possible, aggregated data that do not identify individual students should be used to inform key policy decisions and help improve services and systems that benefit students.

Desperate Measures

For some time now, educational leaders have been saying that we need to move beyond compliance toward aspirational practices. The student data principles do just that.

While policymakers at the federal and state levels continue to pursue legislation intended to codify into law a wide variety of privacy protections, the education technology community has worked intensely to comply with existing laws, understand growing privacy concerns and identify aspirational practices in K-12 education.

This issue of trust is critical to keep in mind as education leaders talk with parents and school staff about privacy. It’s too easy to shrug off the concerns as “conspiracy theories” run amok, but they are often genuine. And with parents feeling increasingly like they have lost control over much of their lives, it makes sense that they are trying desperately to protect the personal identity of their children.

A wealth of new resources on privacy compliance and other smart practices are included in a free CoSN toolkit, “Protecting Privacy in Connected Learning.” Also, a significant step by K-12 online service providers has been signing the Student Privacy Pledge developed by the Future of Privacy Forum and the Software & Information Industry Association. Endorsed by President Obama, nearly 150 of the most prominent education technology companies have signed the industry pledge.

So how can you create more trust in your community? Define what these new aspirational principles look like at the school and district level. Be more transparent in your communications about why schools need data and how you protect it. Start the trust conversation today.


Keith Krueger is CEO of CoSN – the Consortium for School Networking in Washington, D.C. E-mail: Twitter: @keithkrueger. Contributing to this column was Bob Moore, CEO of RJM Strategies in Overland Park, Kan., and director of privacy initiatives for CoSN.