Education Secretary Arne Duncan  at the School Security Zone Summit in Washington (Jonathan Palmer/Medill News Service)

Education Secretary Arne Duncan at the School Security Zone Summit in Washington (Jonathan Palmer/Medill News Service)

WASHINGTON — The Department of Education will release new guidelines Tuesday that will help protect student privacy, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Monday.

“We must provide our schools, teacher and students with cutting edge learning tools,” Duncan said at a conference sponsored by Common Sense Media.  “We must increase access and close that digital divide with a greater sense of urgency.”

Duncan stressed the importance of the new technology to improving U.S. education, but also emphasized the need to protect student information.

“We cannot ask our schools to choose between privacy and progress,” Duncan said. “School systems owe families the highest standard of security.”

But that students’ private information is at risk of being used commercially as schools gather more digital data and work closely with outside companies, technology experts said during the conference.

Schools collect and store their students’ private information, making it vulnerable to being accessed by private companies, such as lunch providers, said Joel Klein, CEO of Amplify, a company that aids schools in their transition to wireless learning. He recommended transparency about what information is being given away as well as setting appropriate restrictions on how third parties may use it.

“School districts increasingly … should be saying these are the boundaries of what we do together,” Klein said.

A study commissioned by Common Sense Media, an organization that studies childhood media consumption and activity, found that 32 percent of parents surveyed knew nothing about how their children’s information is collected and stored. Additionally, 90 percent of parents were concerned about their children’s information being accessed by private companies.

The information is often stored to be used for evaluation of school programs by hired contractors.

Under the Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act, schools are allowed to give student information to third parties for evaluation purposes without notifying parents. Also school officials with an educational interest and financial aid providers have access to student information.