SIIA Supports FY15 Funding for ConnectEDucators

Our K-12 education system continues its embrace of technology and digital learning to improve school operations and student learning. According to SIIA’s Vision K-20 educator survey, 81% of responding K-12 educators report technology integration as highly important to them. While educator support is strong, teacher knowledge and skills continue to slow progress. The same SIIA survey found that only 20% say their institution currently has a high level of technology integration. To that end, SIIA supports President Obama’s 2015 budget proposal for ConnectEDucators, which would provide $200-$500 million in funding “to help educators leverage technology and data to provide high-quality college- and career-ready instruction that meets the needs of all students.”

Support for teachers, principals and other educators is critical to the effective use of technology in education, which in turn is necessary to ensure student success in the digital age and global economy. Educators need support not only in how to use the technology, but as importantly, in how to redesign their curriculum and instruction to a more engaging, student-centered model. This means using data systems to better understand the performance and needs of each student on a regular basis, and using the Internet, creativity and communication tools, and digital learning repositories to mix and match resources that best meet each student’s unique needs.

The budget proposal is one element of President Obama’s ConnectEd initiative announced last year, which centers around ensuring student highspeed broadband connectivity. The proposed ConnectEDucators program, would provide: (1) formula-based State Leadership Grants to help enhance state and local capacity to support the transition to digital learning; and (2) competitive, 3-year grants to school districts to support the implementation of comprehensive plans to ensure that educators have the skills and supports needed to dramatically improve student access to high-quality instruction through technology and digital learning.  Among the envisioned uses of funds are support for educators to: deliver high-quality digital learning resources and content, use a wide range of devices and digital tools, use real-time data to personalize learning, use technology to increase engagement with families and other teachers, and access online professional learning.

SIIA calls on the U.S. Congress to respond to the needs of our teachers and students and appropriate at least $200 million in FY15 funding for the ConnectEDucators program.

Mark SchneidermanMark Schneiderman is Senior Director of Education Policy at SIIA.


Innovative Policies, Developer Content and Data Tools are Key, According to Education Officials at SIIA Mobile Learning Forum

SIIA this week hosted a successful meeting with education policy makers to enhance dialogue with developers of moble learning and other educational technologies. Discussions helped SIIA members better understand how public policies, funding and regulations are impacting their K-20 education customers, and provided education and government officials with an better understanding of the industry’s role, questions and concerns. Among the clear conclusions from SIIA’s Education Government Forum on Mobile Learning: Educators and students are looking increasingly to deveopers and service providers for adaptive, mobile content as well as data analytics as the engines of instruction and the platform for student learning.

The conference agenda included:

  • Keynote presentations from Rich Crandall (Chief, Wyoming Department of Education), Robbie Melton (Tennessee Board of Regents) and Kathleen Styles (CPO, U.S. Department of Education);
  • Review of federal and state K-20 policy trends from both analysts and officials;
  • Discussions about the migration to mobile learning; and
  • Updates on pending regulations and funding shaping the market, includingthe E-rate, student privacy and Common Core State Standards and assessments.

Among the takeaways:

  • Leading educators are turning increasingly to mobile devices to personalize learning and meet student needs anytime/everywere — They are looking to developers for interoperable, adapative and aligned content and tools; and they are looking for flexible public policies to support that innovation including the E-rate.
  • Safeguarding student data privacy and data security are critical — A regulatory framework is now in place, and policy must not get too far ahead of the problem and unintentionally restrict data-driven learning.
  • Common Core State Standards and assessments are moving forward — Implementation is hard work, but educator and public support remains strong as does their need for aligned instructional resources, assssments and data-driven professional development.
  • Costs and quality remain primary concerns in higher education — Public policies are pushing toward an outcomes-based model built around transparency and flexibility, while entrenched interests and undefined competency metrics stand as barriers to reform.


Mark SchneidermanMark Schneiderman is Senior Director of Education Policy at SIIA.

Georgia Student Privacy Act Would be a Barrier to Student Learning

Senate Bill 167 is receiving much debate in Georgia, centered largely on its primary task of pulling the state back off  of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). But also included in the controversial bill is a Part II, the so-called “Student Right to Privacy Act.” The Georgia House Education Committee met yesterday to consider SB167, and heard from more than 60 passionate educators, parents and business leaders. While the focus was on the CCSS provisions, SIIA (see 2:16:50 of the March 5 video) and a chorus of eduction (e.g., at 1:27:25), social welfare and business leaders spoke up against the privacy regulations. None cited a problem that needed fixing, while all raised concern with the unintended consequences of restrictive regulations that undermine necessary decision making by local administrators and school boards.

SIIA agrees with the need to safeguard student privacy and data security. A strong network of laws and business practices now does so. SIIA agrees with those concerned that Senate Bill 167 may inappropriately and unnecessarily inhibit core educational functions necessary to serve Georgia’s students.

Schools and service providers have policies and procedures in place to limit the use student personal information to legitimate educational purposes, and safeguard student privacy. For example, the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) requires that: (1) personal student information shared with service providers be limited to uses otherwise performed by the school’s own employees; (2) the provider be under direct control of the school; and (3) the information can only be used for educational purposes. And FERPA and COPPA require parental consent if the service provider wants to use or disclose the information for its own commercial purposes. Responding to the calls for additional industry self-regulation, SIIA has released Industry Best Practices as another step to ensure safeguarding of student information.  This network of laws and practices is safeguarding student privacy and data security.

With regard to Senate Bill 167, the scope, scale, complexity and lack of clarity of the bill’s procedural and technical requirements are significant and challenging to address. The bill creates barriers and disincentives to local school systems to enhance their use of modern technologies and data systems for educational innovation and improvement, just at a time when the state is making continued investments in technology infrastructure and digital learning access.  The bill will have a chilling effect.

  1. While providers are working with schools to help them support the personalization of learning, the very broad restrictions on use of all student information for so-called commercial purposes may interfere with desired educational activities. SIIA does not defend the sale of personal student data, and such sale is already prohibited by federal law. But the bill would inhibit the use of student data to improve product efficacy, and to support recommendation engines and other analytics aimed at addressing the unique needs of each student.
  2. The bill is inconsistent in the types of student information regulated and includes narrow, one-size-fits all restrictions on the educational use and sharing of student information, whether personally identifiable or not, including duplicative requirements around testing and cloud computing. This will create barriers to use of information appropriate and necessary for educational purposes, including with subcontractors and school directed partners.
  3. Many breach notification requirements are inconsistent with standard best practices. For example, required notification of all ‘suspected’ breaches could create false-positive user fatigue, diminishing attention to actual breaches. The bill also excludes standard criteria around actual harm such as in the case of encrypted data or inadvertent exposure by educators. And, ironically, the bill would inappropriately require third parties to notify parents of a breach, thus giving them access to personal parental information to which they would/should not otherwise have access.
  4. The bill puts in place a series of escalating and potentially very large financial penalties for violations of sometimes vague requirements, not distinguishing based upon harm, negligence or intent. There appears no opportunity to first correct the violation, or for appeal. This all will provide a disincentive for outside parties to conduct business in Georgia.
  5. The prohibition on student biometric data will restrict appropriate and important educational activities, including for: (1) student identity verification for online learning or device security, and (2) embedded voice and visual diagnostics for language learning and reading comprehension. Some of these require personally identifiable information, while many do not. In all cases, broader practices and laws already ensure student privacy and data security.
  6. Lastly, while these concerns have focused on those directly impacting school service providers, SIIA notes that there are many burdensome requirements on local school systems and institutions.

In short, SIIA is concerned that SB167, while well-intentioned, is overly inclusive and restrictive. Transparency is critical, but one-size-fits-all requirements will detrimentally limit innovation, appropriate local school decisions, and appropriate educational services that benefit Georgia students. For service providers, there are significant risks and costs that may discourage doing business in Georgia.

While many of these issues are now best handled by existing federal law, state agency guidance, and local school boards, SIIA will continue to work with policy makers in Georgia and across the country on any identified needs to further ensure privacy protections for all Georgia students.

Fordham CLIP Study of Student Data Privacy Does Not Account for Protections in Federal Regulations and Business Practices

A new report out of Fordham Law School on privacy and web services in public schools made a splash in education circles after its release late last week. The report by the Center on Law and Information Policy (CLIP), “Privacy and Cloud Computing in Public Schools,” raises questions about privacy protections for K12 student data based on review of contractual agreements between schools and web service providers.

However, student privacy protections are more dynamic than what is studied in the report. In fact, student data is governed by multilayered federal regulations, such as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), and by business best practices that work in conjunction with contractual agreements to protect student information.

A recent Education Week blog post quoted several points made in SIIA’s statement on the study:

“…the study fell short because it focused too much on the language within contracts between vendors and districts, rather than on the actual practices of companies, and the expectation that they will behave responsibly.

Federal law restricts the transfer of student information, and private companies do not want to stray from the legal limits, the industry organization said.”

A related Slate story quoted SIIA’s point that:

“School service providers know that if they do not protect student information entrusted to them, they will lose their customers and face legal repercussions.”

There is opportunity for continued review as technologies evolve to better meet student and school needs. While school districts should continue to review their relationships and agreements with third parties, as indicated in a Slate article Monday,  fears are unsubstantiated.

As reported in Education Week, Data Quality Campaign’s executive director Aimee Rogstad Guidera issued a statement that, “The gaps identified in the report are not the result of incompetence or deliberate malfeasance by school leaders . . . but rather they reflect the challenge of implementing new policies and safeguards in a rapidly changing world with limited resources and many challenges to improving student achievement.”

For example, SIIA’s recently released FAQ responded to the question of whether school service providers can commercialize personal student information by selling it for a profit, such as to insurance companies. The Answer: No. Service providers help manage student data as directed by the school, and under strict federal law. School service providers are operating under contracts and other agreements, along with federal regulations under FERPA, that dictate what data is collected, how it is used and with whom it is shared.

In a New York Times article on the report, U.S. Department of Education chief privacy officer Kathleen Styles said:

“Although the agency had no evidence of such abuses, she said, it is developing best practices for schools to use in ‘contracting out for web services and for transparency with parents.”

Read SIIA’s responses to FAQs on Student Information Privacy and Security in Schools to detangle these fears from fact.

Mark SchneidermanMark Schneiderman is Senior Director of Education Policy at SIIA.

Frequently Asked Questions about Student Data Privacy

The enhanced use of technology and data to serve students, teachers and schools has raised many important questions about student data privacy and security. While eduational practices and technologies continue to evolve, there is a strong network of policies and business practices that answer these questions.

Schools have long employed technology and data to carry out many important functions. Educator interest in effectively using data is strong. Schools have long worked effectively with school service providers to use student information to deliver technologies and services that are critical to student learning and to meeting a school’s enterprise management needs. In their use of student information, school sevice providers act exclusively for the schools or other educational authorities for whom they work.

As student personal information is used to improve learning, schools and service providers have a shared responsibility to protect the privacy and security of student information. One way they do this is by limiting the collection and uses of student personal information to legitimate educational purposes. They have policies and procedures in place to prevent unauthorized use. Importantly, this commitment is enforced by strong existing federal law.  Student information may not be transferred to outside school service providers except under strict U.S. Department of Education regulations.  These regulations, under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), mandate that the use of this data by a provider is essential, entirely under the control of the school, and that it won’t be abused in any way.

The enforcement of this law has generated a culture of business practices that respects student privacy beyond basic compliance. School service providers know that if they do not protect student information entrusted to them, they will lose their customers and face legal repercussions.

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) requires that a school service provider:

  1. Must be performing a function for which the school would otherwise use its own employees;
  2. Must be under the direct control of the school with respect to the use and maintenance of educational records; and
  3. Is subject to strict rules governing the use and redisclosure of student information.

If a service provider wants to do anything with student information outside these rules, it must obtain the affirmative written consent of the student or parent.

SIIA released answers to a set of frequently asked questions (FAQs) that describes how these regulations and business practices act as a national network of rules that protect student privacy.

Mark SchneidermanMark Schneiderman is Senior Director of Education Policy at SIIA.

U.S. PISA Student Performance Correlated to Digital Learning

Recently released results from the 2012 OECD Programme for International Student Assessment’s (PISA) global exam once again show disappointing U.S. performance. Every three years, PISA tests 15-year-olds students in reading, mathematics and science. The 2012 results represent the 5th survey, and U.S. 15-year-olds demonstrated no significant improvement in scores. From PISA’s report “United States: Key Findings” it is clear that U.S. results are substandard compared to other countries, particularly in mathematics:

“Among the 34 OECD countries, the United States performed below average in mathematics in 2012 and is ranked 26th (this is the best estimate, although the rank could be between 23 and 29 due to sampling and measurement error). Performance in reading and science are both close to the OECD average. The United States ranks 17 in reading, (range of ranks: 14 to 20) and 21 in science (range of ranks: 17 to 25). There has been no significant change in these performances over time.”

At a time when high tech companies need knowledgeable, skilled workers more than ever, these results are concerning for the future employability of U.S. youth and the strength of the U.S. economy. While numerous factors contribute to poor U.S. performance, the importance of improved technology in schools, and digital learning cannot be overlooked. In the OECD report there is indication that some portion of the U.S. lag in performance may be attributed to the lack of technology and digital resources:

“After accounting for per capita GDP, 33% of the variation in mathematics performance across OECD countries can be explained by differences in principals’ responses to questions about the adequacy of science laboratory equipment, instructional materials (e.g. textbooks), computers for instruction, Internet connectivity, computer software for instruction, and library materials (OECD 2013d, Table IV.1.2).”

Technology and digital learning are important means for enhancing student engagement, teacher professional development, and support for disadvantaged schools and students. Technology enables the analysis of data to inform instruction, multimedia and adaptive content to help students master complex concepts, and collaboration and creativity tools to support student exploration.

In SIIA’s 2013 Vision K-20 Survey Results, U.S. schools and university educators expressed the desire to expand use of technology. The message from educators is explicit, they need more access to technology:

“While a majority (81%) of K-12 participants reports technology integration as highly important to them and their ideal level of technology integration as high (75%), only 20% say their institution currently has a high level of technology integration.”

Responding to this need is an ongoing, multi-faceted national imperative. Updated public policies and increased investments are critical. For example, SIIA believes that enhancing the E-rate program, which provides schools and libraries with discounts off advanced telecommunications and information services to ensure affordable access, is an important way to help ensure that all students — no matter their socio-economic status — are given access to the best educational resources. In comments submitted to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in September, SIIA outlined specific recommendations viewed as necessary for the successful modernization of the E-rate program.

Technology has permeated all realms and sectors of the workforce, and student success in the workplace will require their digital skills. Embedding digital learning in U.S. schools is a necessary step, though certainly not sufficient, to meet the diversity of students and educational needs in the U.S. so that our students will be better prepared to compete with students around the world in the next round of PISA tests.

Sabrina Eyob is the communications and public policy intern at SIIA. She is a recent graduate of Michigan State University, where she studied Comparative Cultures and Politics, and International Relations.

SIIA Echoes President Obama’s Support for Connected Educator Champions of Change

I had the honor of being at the White House today as President Obama recognized 10 Connected Educators as Champions of Change. These educators are successfully engaging students, personalizing learning and improving student achievement through the use of technology and digital learning. They demonstrate that education is first and foremost about teachers, but that good teachers can become great teachers when they use powerful digital tools that put students at the center, empower them to create, and differentiate the curriculum to meet their individual needs and preferences.

As the President stated: “. . . it’s about changing students’ lives. It’s about using technology to give students a chance to learn at their own pace, whether they’re catching up on a subject or moving ahead to the next level. It’s about giving teachers a better data set so they can see exactly what’s working and what isn’t for particular students.”

As SIIA collaborates with educators, policy makers and other officials to realize the benefits of technology in our education system, the importance of educator capacity and support is always at the top of the agenda. Teacher professional development, technical support and a continuous improvement process that responds to teacher needs must be central to any efforts to modernize instruction and curriculum through technology.

SIIA joins President Obama in congratulating and thanking the 10 White House Connected Educator Champions of Change. We encourage others to learn from and follow their example to best serve the needs of their students.


Mark SchneidermanMark Schneiderman is Senior Director of Education Policy at SIIA.