Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Transparency in Public Schools: A Public Policy Problem?

Note: Transparency is how the public holds public entities accountable. By law (the Freedom of Information Law), many documents produced by public entities, like schools, must be provided to the public when requested. Citizens in the US are given the right of oversight of their governmental agencies.

Do public schools have a public policy problem?  Dr. Joel Reidenberg, of Fordham Law School, thinks they do.

When Fordham Law School released its recent report on Privacy and Cloud Computing in Public Schools, problems with transparency in public schools were discovered. According to an article in The New York Times, 54 school districts across the US were asked for public information about how districts were handling the outsourcing of private student information. "...only 20 of 54 districts provided full documentation by the deadline... and "researchers said they encountered 'significant difficulty reaching any district personnel who were familiar with the district's outsourcing practices.'"

If district personnel are not familiar with their own outsourcing practices, how can they effectively protect student privacy in an era when so much private student information is being collected, shared, and stored? Well, the is answer is they can't. This problem exists across the country. NCPR recently aired an OnPoint segment on privacy. Potsdam resident and former Board of Education member Susie Rice called in to discuss the topic. She stated that data is the new currency. Data is valuable and data-mining is rampant. Thus, students must have their interests protected by the concerted efforts of parents, school officials, and lawmakers. 

The NY Times article noted that the South Orangetown Central School District in Blauvelt, NY "is conducting an audit to examine how its contracts cover the sharing and reuse of student data." Parents should ask their Board of Education to have such an audit conducted.

Transparency, by school districts, the State Education Dept., and vendors, about the use, reuse, and sharing of student data is vital if this public policy problem is to be addressed and students are to be protected.  

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