MADISON – The K-12 school district needs to reassess its terms with a data collection platform to ensure it is protecting the privacy of its students.
The district recently contracted with educational software company Panorama Education to help schools collect student data to monitor their progress and better meet the needs of at-risk students.
The district has yet to release student surveys using Panorama, but what data the company would collect and who it would share that information with is the question regarding local parents.
Borough resident Kara Hines told the Education Council on Tuesday, Oct. 12 that “data is the new currency” for big tech companies. Noting that the company is partially funded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Hines highlighted how Facebook uses data from young users to study their habits, and expressed concern that Panorama could share student information. with other platforms and companies.
“The policies of the companies with which Panorama shares information may vary,” she said. “This is direct and indirect exploitation and profit of MPS (Madison Public Schools) students.”
A statement on Panorama’s website that it does not share student data unless authorized by the school district has not allayed parents’ concerns.
As the district chooses what types of information the software will collect, Hines said she was concerned parents would not be notified if the dataset was expanded. In addition to concerns about the company’s potential data sharing, she noted that the vast majority of data breaches in K-12 school districts occur as a result of hacks by third-party vendors like Panorama.
She said the board should consider establishing policies and procedures to notify parents of the data companies that form student profiles, as well as take a closer look at its terms with Panorama.
“As a consumer, MPS needs to set higher standards to minimize and protect our student data because this impact is lifelong,” she said, saying the company’s ability to collect so much student data was “extremely powerful, disturbing and targeted. All data is currency.
Panorama has been in the news recently for several reasons, one being that it is associated with Zuckerberg, whose social network is once again under fire, in part, for its storage and retrieval of personal data. Separately, the company is owned by US Attorney General Merrick Garland, raising conflict of interest issues, and the conservative media has accused the company of promoting “critical race theory.”
Education board chairman John Regan addressed recent parents’ concerns on the subject at Tuesday’s board meeting.
“Last week there were reports about the ownership and financing of Panorama and our ability to protect the data of students at large companies and others who would want this information,” he said. “We will re-evaluate our conditions with Panorama and can assure everyone that the information is secure. As always, we encourage public participation and seek to provide clear lines of communication for all the work done in our schools. “
He thanked residents for helping to maintain a civil discourse around the topic and others over the past year, contrasting with the passionate discourse seen in surrounding neighborhoods during debates on burning issues.
In a virtual “Superintendent’s Coffee” session with parents the night before, Monday, October 11, Superintendent Mark Schwarz said the district would “slow things down” before using the software.
“We will make sure that we can make full statements to the community regarding the security and quality of the data, as well as the nature of Panorama, especially since there have been concerns about this,” a- he declared. “So there is no need to worry, but we also give ourselves our full attention so that we can maintain a high level of confidence while we proceed to use this tool if that is what is appropriate.” … “
He noted that the company and those like it provide a valuable service to the school district.
“We need to have a meaningful and robust data system so that we can say that we are meeting the needs of students and that we can actually meet the needs of students,” he said. “Without data, without proof of our performance, we cannot make our own claims and we cannot respond to the claims of others about the quality of our schools.”