Sunday, December 21, 2014

Is Privatization of Educational Records a Good Idea?

         You may have already heard about about the bankruptcy sale of ConnectEDU. This company has collected and owns millions of student records.  Despite the promise of privacy, these records are being sold along with the other assets. ConnectEDU served students as young as 10 years old.   Ed week has an excellent article.  I have posted the link to it at the bottom of this page.
           The internet allows contact with people we might never meet in a non-connected classroom.  Sometimes this is wonderful.  We can bring other teachers, authors, experts and students from all over the globe into our learning environments.  There have been many times I have taken advantage of these opportunities for my students. With technology we can also give instant feedback on quizzes and assignments.  There are many benefits to best practices use of technology in the classroom.
            With that being said, there are pitfalls we haven't even discovered yet.  There are loop-holes companies can utilize our lawmakers have not yet addressed.  The judge in the ConnectEDU case attempted to protect the young students whose records were being held.  He stated that the company had to either: select an ombudsman to oversee the handling of records or alert the clients so they could opt to have the records destroyed.  The attorney told the judge there were no employees left to manage this situation.  The company was broken up and sold to various vendors along with sensitive student data.    The records were not held as a trade secret as ConnectEDU stated and they were not kept private as promised. As far as I can tell the judge does not have power to drive the management of this data by the purchasing companies.It gets worse.
             This company used teachers, administrators and other school officials to collect this information.  They used the trust our students placed in us to then turn around and betray them. The information collected was much more in depth than an email address or names.  In some cases this company had access to standardized test scores, grades and information related to physical or intellectual disabilities.  If  a school system purchased ConnectEDU's services they would have trained their employees in the use of this product and expected them to use it in the classroom.  Many wouldn't give a second thought to sharing their info with the school system approved vendor.  I am sitting here shaking my head and I'm so glad my system does not, to my knowledge, use this service.  This is a train wreck.
             Our students and their information must be protected. This will happen again.  If protections aren't put in place this generation of children will be harmed. As members of a school system we need to become savvy about information we tell our students to share.  As members of a governmental system we need to press for emergency legislation to force the hard deletion of all student records created while students were under the age of majority. We might also legislate the student records created prior to the age of majority with private companies can only be owned by the students.  As parents we need to talk to our kids about the digital footprints they create and safe practices related to internet use.
          Lets start some conversations in our community so we can create a hedge around our young people. 

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