Parental choice…

As parents we are constantly making decisions on behalf of our children. We act in what we believe are the best interests of our children and, for the most part, make the decision quickly because we understand the ramifications of our choices and nobody knows our children as well as we do. Making choices involves weighing multiple options and selecting what we think is best. Sometimes we even make those choices without enough caffeine in our system and well, then we can debate the merits of our decisions….but I digress…..

An article from EdWeek discussing the new California law SOPIPA came across my desk and, of course, it caught my attention. What I found particularly interesting was the mention of parental choice exemptions and the passing of the bill without the controversial parental consent exemption. As it currently stands, SOPIPA doesn’t allow a parent to authorize sharing their children’s information to additional 3rd parties beyond the parties expressly identified in the law, for example colleges and future employers. However, if I wanted to allow my children’s information to be shared with a third party, like a reading tutoring service, I am not allowed to do so. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that my child is struggling with reading comprehension and the school is using a particular reading program that is capturing valuable information on how my child is learning and progressing. If I decided I wanted to supplement the support by using a reading tutor after school, I could not legally give consent to have that data shared with my child’s tutor. While I do have access to my child’s data I cannot authorize the information to be released. I would have to pull it myself either by downloading the information and providing it to the tutor. An argument against these exemptions is that parents cannot be allowed to have these choices because they get convinced, even coerced, to give away all of their children’s information in exchange for a service. I’d argue that parents need to be given more credit than that. Parents should be the ones to decide what is in the best interest of their children.  And thus the problem, if we cannot build a complementary support system for a struggling child, at the parent’s own choosing, then we are limiting the availability of information to third parties that could help our students. If we, as parents, cannot make the choice to have this data disclosed to a third party of our choosing, then we are not being allowed to make the decisions that we believe are in the best interest of our children. Further, if parents are not allowed to provide consent to disclose this information to a third party, the burden of figuring out what information to get and how to go about obtaining it is squarely placed on the parents. It should be relatively simple for a parent to create a connection between their school’s vendor and the additional 3rd party helping that student.

And this is why student data privacy is difficult. There are no absolutes when it comes to discussing student privacy and we need to be cognizant of the ramifications, not only of our choices, but of the decisions we make when enacting laws. However, as much as I am advocating for allowing parents to be able to decide if their children’s information can be shared with a third party, we also need to be careful that we do not shift the burden of protecting student data entirely on parents. The task needs to be equally shared among parents, schools, Ed-tech vendors and even the students. Rather than enacting absolutes as the only way to protect student data, I strongly believe that we need to encourage trust. Trust between schools, parents and students is essential for all of us to understand how data is used so that we can work together to enhance a students’ learning experience. Though there are instances where the value of data collected for education is not diminished by prohibiting disclosure, there are times when comprehensive data sets gives us the ability to provide the best learning experience for these young, developing minds.