Protecting Student Data Privacy – Everyone Plays a Role

Current legislation does not take into consideration the high-tech revolution that has occurred in EdTech. As beneficial as innovations like internet access, affordable devices, and e-learning tools can be for students, protecting the private information that schools possess can be challenging. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) does protect families and their children to some extent; however, student data is often required to effectively provision cloud-hosted EdTech solutions.

Parents as Advocates

While there are certain bits of student data, such as directory information, that do not require a consent form to be shared by third-party vendors, parents do have the right to know what information is being used and why. A child’s education record can hold everything from their date of birth and home address to physical descriptors and school activities. When schools are managing multiple EdTech vendors, parents must have the ability to play a key advocacy role in ensuring privacy and data protection.

Schools as Trustees

It’s not uncommon for schools to contract with 25 or more different EdTech vendors, many requiring access to student information. Schools must develop and enforce strict data protection policies with their EdTech vendors as well as require an option for parents to opt-out of providing identifying information. Many programs, despite being school-related, do not fall under FERPA and are not automatically guaranteed the same data protections, so schools are forced to provide the additional necessary data security.

EdTech Community Working Together

Protecting student data is everyone’s responsibility, from the schools who store the data to the EdTech vendors who access it, to the corporations who demand highly-qualified candidates and drive the need for EdTech, to the communities that benefit from a well-educated population. Proper oversight is pivotal in the protection of sensitive student data, which has become more important as technology advances. Mobile portals and other third-party EdTech services are convenient, but they can pose a considerable privacy risk. We can all do more to help protect data.

Global Grid for Learning (GG4L) is committed to promoting data security in schools, and protecting the data of every user is a top priority. GG4L’s Connect platform makes integrating and deploying education technology safe, easy, and inexpensive. It’s free for schools to use, less expensive for EdTech vendors, and safer for students. As a Public Benefit Corporation, GG4L welcomes collaboration and support from corporate social responsibility (CSR) and philanthropic foundations. Help us keep K-12 data interoperability costs low for schools, while maintaining the security and privacy of student data.  Contact us today to learn more about becoming a GG4L Corporate Sponsor.

Eliminating the Data Exchange Tax with GG4L

Typically, when a school needs to deploy a newly purchased data-driven EdTech solution, the vendor will have a large team of data analysts who reach out to the school and request the data files. Their contacts at the school must then work with the school’s IT coordinator, whose time is often split among several schools and whose responsibilities are already overwhelming without adding EdTech to the mix. The school on-boarding process may take anywhere from two to ten weeks to complete, depending on the time of the year and the IT coordinator’s capacity.

Meanwhile, the vendor’s data analyst must make a few follow-up phone calls, be patient, and wait his or her turn. The EdTech vendor’s in-house data on-boarding process can be highly inefficient, time consuming, expensive, and prone to errors.  This usually adds to the cost of doing business with schools, and most vendors factor at least 20% of their price to schools as sunk costs, or cost-of-sales as they refer to it, in their accounting terms.

In the past few years, a new set of open standards has emerged to make it easier to format the data and simplify the data extraction and upload processes for most applications. IMS Global’s OneRoster® and A4L’s xPress Roster are two such standards. Also, more extensive standards-based data models have emerged, such as Ed-Fi and SIF, that promote an improved application-to-application interoperability and can assist schools in data reporting to their government agencies, to meet required reporting compliance. These emerging standards are very promising, yet it is still an operational nightmare for most schools because most SIS systems and many of the vendors will take time to embrace and perfect their data integration tools, and there will still be the need for manual labor to setup the data integration infrastructure across these systems.

The Cost of Intermediary Data Exchange Services

There are some commercial companies who have been successful in playing the middleman with the medium to large school districts and have created easy-to-share data exchange platforms in the cloud. However, these companies still charge each of the vendors on a per-school, per-year basis, upwards of $250 a year, to solve their data on-boarding problems. This means that a vendor will pay an additional annual fee for every one of their school customers, in most cases more than 20% of the price of their product, as a cost of sale. The solution vendors in some cases are obligated by some school districts to use such an expensive data intermediary because the districts do not have sufficient resources and have no other choice.

Typically, a district has a minimum of 20 solutions using such a third-party data exchange intermediary, and at a cost of $250 a year per school, the district may be indirectly paying upwards of $5,000 annually per campus to outsource this function. Some large districts in Florida, with as many as 100 schools, have mandated that their solution vendors use such intermediary companies, costing their district at least $500,000 annually through this indirect cost model that is unwillingly absorbed by their EdTech vendors as a cost of doing business. These same districts will profess that they never have enough money to afford new innovative solutions, which is true! But what if they were to get that $500,000 back every year? Would that help them afford more innovative solutions? We think so.

Secure Data Exchange for Schools

By offering every school the possibility of providing the data exchange infrastructure in a more secure, more controlled, and more affordable environment, it creates a high-impact and very scalable gift to the EdTech community. And if each school has its own data exchange platform under its own control as a managed service, where the solution is financially subsidized by an external source of funding and is absorbed by neither the vendors nor the schools themselves, it is game-changing. If we then also give back to each school the $5,000-$500,000 annually they indirectly spend today on data exchange, so they could spend it on new innovative solutions that could solve other critical needs, it becomes transformative for the entire community.

The members and sponsors of the Global Grid for Learning are democratizing access to K-12 data and applications. We’re making EdTech easier to deploy, more effective for teachers and students, and more affordable for districts and vendors. Connect to the Grid. Take part in an Impact Initiative. Be a sponsor. Let’s make EdTech better together! Learn more.

Eliminating Data Security Risks in EdTech

Data security in the school enterprise world is an enormous challenge. Typically, the basic data needed by any EdTech solution vendor will consist of what is referred to as the roster data, which consists of the names and course affiliations of students and teachers within every school building.  Without these names and corresponding data, the application vendors could not create accounts for the end users of their systems. This process usually requires a bulk upload of the data using an extracted report from a Student Information System (SIS) that the school or the district office uses. The roster data changes frequently, so it is important for these files to be updated and uploaded daily through an automated data extraction and upload process, which is labor intensive to set up and maintain.

Managing Multiple EdTech Vendors Is Costly and Time-Consuming

If we assume that a typical school uses a minimum of 25 enterprise applications from 25 different vendors, then the data upload process needs to be set up in 25 discrete instances. That is a lot of work for any school with limited resources, and all schools have limited resources.  Complicating the process further, many vendors require other forms of data that go beyond the roster data, which means that there may be more than one source of data that is needed by a vendor and needs to be extracted (e.g. food, transportation, and gradebooks, to name a few).  Imagine the challenge! Some vendors bypass this process and take shortcuts that involve using the teachers in the classroom as a source of data, yet we all know that this is not a good utilization of teachers’ time and skills, and in many cases, schools create policies forbidding teachers from providing student or parent personal data to vendors, to minimize risks of data and privacy breach.

Protecting End Users Must Be a Priority

Most innovative consumer-oriented solutions today are accessed and used by end users through mobile applications that run on one of many forms of web-connected devices. This means that each user, regardless of age or the role they serve in the school, will most likely have to set up a personal account, agree to the vendor’s data privacy terms, and provide their profile data to the third-party vendor, to be able to use the product effectively. Some vendors, not all, do a great job taking data security and consumer privacy seriously, protecting the personal data of their end users and being transparent about what they do with the data. But you’re still asking students to interact with third-party platforms and provide personal information that may or may not be adequately protected.

GG4L Connect is designed to address the issue of data security so that schools can take advantage of multiple EdTech solutions without worrying about data security. GG4L Connect is consent-based, requiring the school data administrator to be 100% in control of inviting or approving a vendor to access a data subset or all the school’s stored SIS data. GG4L Connect is a global infrastructure with the ability to on-board any school’s data from any location in the world. We offer our EdTech vendors the option to invite an unlimited number of their school customers to join GG4L for free.

The members and sponsors of the Global Grid for Learning are democratizing access to K-12 data and applications. We’re making EdTech easier to deploy, more effective for teachers and students, and more affordable for districts and vendors. Connect to the Grid. Take part in an Impact Initiative. Be a sponsor. Let’s make EdTech better together! Learn more.

Healthy Schools = Healthy Community

Schools are the heart of each community. One out of two families in any neighborhood has at least one child who attends school. We trust schools with our children’s safety and well-being, and count on our schools to assist us as parents in educating our children and preparing them for their lifelong journey. Accordingly, local schools are critical to all of us and can greatly influence the overall socio-economic well-being of our communities.

When Schools Flourish, the Whole Community Excels

A highly rated public-school district is an important factor in creating demand for people to live in nearby homes, thus creating an increased demand for real estate properties. The ensuing surge in the average selling price of homes can provide a nice economic gain to the home owners of such a fortunate community.  Businesses also flourish around great schools. The better the economic security of the families in the community, the higher their spending power on consumer goods and services. So why should we all care about the health of our local schools? Because there is enough evidence that proves healthy schools lead to healthy surrounding communities.

Improving School Health through EdTech

Having great technology infrastructure in schools is no longer a nice-to-have – it is a must-have. Without technology, schools are unable to leverage the innovation that offers a positive impact not just inside the classroom but also in other critical components that affect our children’s safety.  A well-architected, resourced, and executed technology roadmap is mission critical to embracing innovative solutions that will ultimately improve the prosperity of each school.  But that technology must be not only accessible and affordable for schools but also protect the data of every user.

So how do we deliver the innovation, technology, and data security that schools need? It is the mission of Global Grid for Learning (GG4L), a Public Benefit Corporation, to accomplish exactly that! GG4L will create a sustainable impact in the world by helping schools solve the problem of secure and private data interoperability while reducing direct and indirect costs, by leveraging impact investments made by philanthropic foundations, CSRs, and local school communities.

This is a new era of giving where the money will be directly invested to affect the bottom line of every school, making hundreds of thousands of schools around the globe healthier, ultimately improving the lives of every citizen. GG4L is an ambitious global endeavor.  It will take years to be able to benefit every school around the world, but we intend to stay focused on our mission of improving the life of every citizen by focusing on schools, and their well-being, one school at a time.

Whether you are a school district, an EdTech vendor, or a potential sponsor, joining GG4L’s collaborative is easy. For further details about GG4L, how to join GG4L, or how to participate in an upcoming Impact Initiative, simply visit: or contact us at