Jeffco Interrupted

U.S. ed department issues new guidance to schools on student privacy

In an apparent response to growing concern from parents about student data collection, the U.S. Education Department this morning announced new “user-friendly” student data and privacy guidance for schools and districts.

The new guidance makes several recommendations including schools and districts share with parents what information they are collecting about students, how is the information protected, and if they share personal information with third parties.

The department also launched a new website that includes resources and information for parents regarding the federal student privacy laws.

“Now more than ever, schools need data to monitor academic progress and develop successful teaching strategies,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “At the same time, parents need assurance that their children’s personal information is being used responsibly. This guidance helps schools strike a balance between the two.”

Parents across the county — and in Colorado — have become increasingly anxious about student privacy as more schools are collecting more data points.

Locally, parents in Jefferson County have raised concern about student privacy in two separate matters: inBloom, a now expired project of the Gates Foundation that would have created a super-dashboard for teachers to find student information with just a few clicks, and TS Gold, a school readiness assessment. Earlier this year, the Jeffco Public Schools Board of Education dropped the district’s use of Gold in kindergarten but kept the tool in its preschools in order to continue to receive funding from the state’s preschool program.

Full release from U.S. Education Department

The U.S. Department of Education today announced new guidance for schools and districts on how to keep parents and students better informed about what student data is collected and how it is used.

In the guidance issued by the Department’s Privacy Technical Assistance Center, schools and districts are urged to be proactive in communicating how they use student data. Information should be available to answer common questions before they are asked.

“Now more than ever, schools need data to monitor academic progress and develop successful teaching strategies,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “At the same time, parents need assurance that their children’s personal information is being used responsibly. This guidance helps schools strike a balance between the two.”

The Department’s Family Policy Compliance Office (FPCO) also announced a new companion website that includes a variety of resources and information regarding the federal laws FPCO administers, and to help keep the public informed about the privacy and use of student records.

The new site, http://familypolicy.ed.gov, is aimed at being more user-friendly to help school officials, parents and students find the information they are seeking. In the coming months, the Department will post decision letters from prior complaints handled by FPCO, which administers the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). The website will also feature an online “community of practice” for school officials to share best practices, information, templates and other resources.

The new guidance recommends that schools and districts provide parents with information, such as:

· What information are you collecting about students?
· Why are you collecting this information?
· How is the information protected?
· Do you share any personal information with third parties? If so, with whom and for what purpose(s)?
· Who should parents contact if they have questions about your data practices?

To respond to parental inquiries, the guidance recommends that schools :

· Keep the lines of communication open.
· Review parental questions, concerns and suggestions in a thoughtful and careful manner.
· Respond to parental or student requests in a timely manner.
· Periodically review old inquiries and resolutions to evaluate and improve communication and transparency efforts.

The guidance also advises schools to make information about their student data policies clear, consistent and easy to find on their public website. Members of the community should periodically review the site for ease of use, comprehension and completeness.

Today’s announcement addresses the increasing need for schools and districts across the country to collect data about students, including their test scores, grades, credits earned, and other related information, such as demographics, enrollment, discipline, and special education status.

Education agencies use this information to identify student talents and special requirements, check academic progress and develop successful learning plans. The guidance encourages schools and districts to take a hands-on approach in communicating with parents to help alleviate confusion and misunderstandings about the use of student records.

The Department’s Privacy Technical Assistance Center is a one-stop resource for education stakeholders to learn about data privacy, confidentiality and security practices related to student data. The center provides information and updated guidance on privacy, confidentiality and security practices through a variety of resources, including training materials and technical assistance.

Besides FERPA which protects the privacy of student education records, FPCO also administers another law related to the use of student personal information. Known as the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA), the statute addresses, among other matters, the use of personal information collected from students for marketing purposes and the administration of certain surveys and evaluations to students.

For more information on the work of the Family Policy Compliance Office, see its website here.

Idea pitch

Despite concerns, Jeffco school board agrees to spend $1 million to start funding school innovations

Students at Lumberg Elementary School in Jeffco Public Schools work on their assigned iPads during a class project. (Photo by Nicholas Garcia, Chalkbeat)

Jeffco school employees can apply for a piece of a $1 million fund that will pay for an innovative idea for improving education in the district.

The school board for Jeffco Public Schools on Thursday approved shifting $1 million from the district’s rainy day fund to an innovation pool that will be used to provide grants to launch the new ideas.

The district will be open for applications as soon as Friday.

The board had reservations about the plan, which was proposed by the new schools superintendent, Jason Glass, in November, as part of a discussion about ways to encourage innovation and choice in the district. The board was concerned about how quickly the process was set to start, whether there was better use of the money, and how they might play a role in the process.

Glass conceded that the idea was an experiment and that pushing ahead so quickly might create some initial problems.

“This effort is going to be imperfect because it’s the first time that we’ve done it and we don’t really know how it’s going to turn out,” Glass said. “There are going to be problems and there are going to be things we learn from this. It’s sort of a micro experiment. We’re going to learn a lot about how to do this.”

During the November discussion, Glass had suggested one use for the innovation money: a new arts school to open in the fall to attract students to the district. He said that the money could also be used to help start up other choice schools. School board members balked, saying they were concerned that a new arts school would compete with existing arts programs in Jeffco schools. The board, which is supported by the teachers union, has been reluctant to open additional choice schools in the district, instead throwing most of their support behind the district-run schools.

Board members also expressed concerns about what they said was a rushed process for starting the fund.

The plan calls for teachers, school leaders and other district employees to apply for the money by pitching their idea and explaining its benefit to education in the district. A committee will then consider the proposals and recommend those that should be funded out of the $1 million.

Board members said they felt it was too soon to start the application process on Friday. They also questioned why the money could not also help existing district programs.

“I think a great deal of innovation is happening,” said board member Amanda Stevens.

Some board members also suggested that one of them should serve on the committee, at least to monitor the process. But Glass was adamant.

“Do you want me to run the district and be the superintendent or not?” Glass asked the board. “I can set this up and execute it, but what you’re talking about is really stepping over into management, so I caution you about that.”

Glass later said he might be open to finding another way for board members to be involved as observers, but the board president, Ron Mitchell, said he would rather have the superintendent provide thorough reports about the process. The discussion is expected to resume at a later time.

Stevens said many of the board’s questions about details and the kind of ideas that will come forth will, presumably, be answered as the process unfolds.

“Trying is the only way we get any of that information,” Stevens said.

year in review

A new superintendent and a new vision for Jeffco schools in 2017

PHOTO: Denver Post file

Jeffco Public Schools started the year making big news when its board of education decided to open a search for a new superintendent. Former Superintendent Dan McMinimee left the role in March before a new leader had been hired.

Just before he left, McMinimee proposed to the Jeffco school board a plan to close five schools as a way to save money so the district could raise staff salaries as the board had directed.

The schools recommended for closure served a disproportionate number of low-income students and housed several centers for students with special needs. They also included a high-performing school. Officials said they did not consider academic achievement in selecting the schools.

In addition to closing five schools, the proposal suggested cuts to other programs, including one for helping students develop social and emotional skills and one that helped students struggling with reading.

But in a last-minute move, the superintendent altered the proposal during a school board meeting just before the board was set to vote. In the end, the board voted to close one elementary school and spare four others as well as the programs.

A few months later, the school board selected Jason Glass as the district’s new superintendent. Glass, who was a superintendent in Eagle County at the time, had a history as a reformer helping create pay-for-performance systems. But he changed his support of some reforms after learning about education systems around the world.

One of the first changes Glass announced in Jeffco was a timeout on any school closure recommendations while district officials review and create a new process for deciding if school closures are necessary and if so, which schools to close.

Glass also published his vision for Jeffco, which will have the district take a closer look at inequities and outside factors that affect students, such as poverty. At least one school was already experimenting with that work by moving to a community school model. And the district was already considering outside factors as they were rolling out restorative practices, which change how school leaders respond to student discipline issues.

More recently, Glass asked the board, which will remain the same after the November election, to consider an expansion of school choice in Jeffco with proposals to create new options schools such as an arts school to help attract new students to the district. District officials may release more information about that plan and other changes, like a study on high school start times, in the coming months.