The Student Privacy Pledge

As digital technologies and a strong online presence become more integrated in the educational strategies used by teachers everywhere, there is increasing reason for concern regarding student privacy. It seems like nearly every day the news features a story of some corporation or organization having data stolen by external parties. This threat also applies to our schools. In order to create a high-efficiency educational environment, we need to rely on technological innovation and data storage yet many feel that not nearly enough has been done to ensure the safety of this information. That's where the Student Privacy Pledge comes in. Introduced by the Future of Privacy Forum (FPF) and the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA), the pledge is targeted at making sure our students and their families can enjoy the educational benefits of new technology without falling victim to the loss or theft of personal information.

The pledge
Essentially, the Student Privacy Pledge has been designed to govern the way that both schools and the external service providers handle sensitive student information. It requires that all service providers not only offer a degree of transparency about their processes when it comes to information storage, but also that they enforce limits on data retention, never sell information and, refrain from using online behavior to target advertising. Furthermore, the pledge asks that these service providers only use their data for authorized education purposes, support and encourage the ability of parents and guardians to access and edit (as applicable) student information, and never alter privacy policies or terms of use of software without comprehensive notification to all involved.

While it's still in a relatively early phase of existence, the pledge has already gained the support of a number of high-profile individuals and institutions. According to the initiative's website, it has earned the backing of several groups highly involved in public education. For example, the National Parent Teacher Association, the Foundation for Excellence in Education, the Consortium for School Networking, the Council of Chief State School Officers, the National School Boards Association, and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy have all indicated their strong support for the pledge. In addition to this, congressman Luke Messer from Indiana and congressman Jared Polis from Colorado are also outspoken advocates. In a statement on the pledge website, Polis indicated that he believes the initiative will be able to enforce the benefits of student data collection while quelling parents' fears regarding privacy.

"The potential of using student data to drive effective instruction and personalize education is promising. While there can be tremendous benefits from this data, we must ensure that there are appropriate safeguards to protect student privacy. I am pleased that these companies have taken an important step in making a commitment to parents, educators and communities. This voluntary pledge can help address parents' legitimate concerns and help keep us on track towards new and exciting educational developments for all students." 

Corporate backing
According to the Future of Privacy Forum, there's also been a substantial amount of support from corporate institutions involved in the data collection the pledge is aimed at protecting. On its website, the FPF lists the signatories backing the idea. Ultimately, gathering enough corporate support for this pledge will create an environment in which schools are able to choose exclusively from companies committed to student privacy when selecting providers for their technological needs.

"At Mentoring Minds, protecting the privacy of student information is a long-term high priority and signing the Pledge is an opportunity to re-articulate that commitment along with other education leaders," said Robert Bush, CEO of Mentoring Minds.