NASBE Executive Director Kristen Amundson pens an op-ed in The Washington Post about finding the right balance in legislating student data privacy.

From the Op-ed:

Educators struggle with inherent contradictions in education data. On the one hand, they produce very real benefits. When teachers can identify precisely what students know, they can focus their teaching on areas students still need to master. Today’s educational technology can tell teachers why students are getting the wrong answer, enabling them to provide even more personalized instruction.

At the same time, parents and teachers have real concerns about student information getting into the hands of those who would use it for commercial or nefarious purposes. They want to ensure that education data are used for education only.

Finding a balance is difficult. Because it involves our children, the issue is emotionally charged. And the issue is complicated. Public education is diverse and decentralized. Technologies change more rapidly than policies or practices, so policymakers are always playing catch-up.

That’s why Virginia’s recent action was so significant. Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) and the General Assembly have agreed on four data privacy bills. The bills provide parents with valuable information about how they can find out which data are being collected about their children and how they can access them. They also require that parents be notified if a data breach occurs; allow school service providers to collect or share personal information only if their contract with the school says they can or if parents agree; ban using personal data for advertisements to kids; prohibit retaining student data without the consent of the student or the parent; and make explicit that service providers can work with the school to use data to create adaptive learning or customized education.

This approach seems to get the balance about right. But there is no question Virginia lawmakers will need to address the issue again in coming sessions as technology evolves.

Federal legislation on data privacy is expected to establish limits on the ways technology companies can use the data they collect on students, but some privacy advocates have said it does not go far enough.

Any federal bill should be a floor, not a ceiling. Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), a former member of his state board of education, supports state innovation“so we can find the right balance between harnessing the promise of education technology and protecting student privacy.”

States are working to find that balance. In the first three months of 2015, more than 160 bills were introduced in 41 state legislatures to address education data privacy.

Frankly, states in a rush to protect data privacy aren’t always getting it right. In Louisiana, a data privacy bill led to administrative headaches and potential inequities by requiring parent permission for students’ data to leave the district even for purposes such as determining college financial aid and scholarships. Other state legislation would prohibit the use of education software because it collects information on what and how students are learning.

School districts are also playing a role. In Fairfax County, all staff members must be trained each year on the safe use of data. Students, too, learn about the appropriate ways they can share personal information online.

Technology will continue offering schools better tools to help students learn and continue presenting challenges to protecting student privacy. Intelligent policymaking can hold on to both ideas at the same time. Other states can look to Virginia to see how it can be done.

This op-ed was originally published in The Washington Post on April 17, 2015.