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Parents Welcome More Technology in K-12 Education – Especially in Response to COVID-19 – But Worry about Children’s Digital Safety

Center for Democracy and Technology Study Finds Parents Feel Limited by Their Knowledge, Ability to Monitor Their Kids’ Data Privacy

For many families nationwide, technology is making “back to school” possible this fall. New research from the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) finds the vast majority of parents support the use of education technology – three quarters (76%) say they are likely to support more online learning at home even after the pandemic. However, parents are generally concerned about protecting their children’s digital privacy and become increasingly concerned as they learn more about their children’s potential vulnerability to data breaches and other safety risks (from 62% to 69%).

“Parents see a clear role for technology when it comes to educating their children, both during the pandemic and beyond,” said CDT President and CEO Alexandra Givens. “Yet, many feel ill-equipped to safeguard their children from data breaches and other safety risks. And far too many children are unable to utilize education technology at all due to internet access inequalities. As we bring more students online, we need to make sure families are supported and their data is protected.”

Parents say they place themselves at the top of the list of those responsible, along with school administrators, for protecting their children’s data privacy and security. Sixty-seven percent of parents say they have “some” or “a great deal” of say over how data and information are collected and used by their schools. However, they report low awareness of and involvement in their school’s data privacy plan. Only four in 10 parents say their school has explained to parents how it protects student data. Many parents report that neither they nor the schools are likely to start this important conversation.

“Parents’ initial level of concern about student data privacy is limited by awareness – they know digital safety is important, but their understanding of the issue is generally low,” said CDT Senior Fellow of Student Privacy Elizabeth Laird. “Fortunately, there are resources for schools and parents on how to take precautions and mitigate risk, so everyone can be informed and empowered when it comes to protecting students.”

The online survey was conducted by Edge Research on behalf of CDT in May-June 2020. It consisted of a representative sample of more than 1,200 U.S. parents.

Other findings of note from the research include:

  • Underscoring the impact of the digital divide, low-income parents reported significantly fewer online student-teacher interactions (email, videoconferencing, apps, etc.). Forty-eight percent of high-income households report 5 or more types of remote interaction during virtual schooling, compared to just 28% of households with an income below $50,000.
  • African American parents reported higher levels of concern on issues of unauthorized access of student online activity or communication online (43% “very concerned,” compared to 35% overall) and scenarios where student data could be shared with law enforcement (61% “very” or “somewhat concerned,” compared to 56% overall). 
  • The survey found that while elementary school parents are concerned about student data privacy and security, they have significantly higher trust in institutions like schools and the government to protect student data.

An upcoming report from CDT will provide additional findings and insights on parent, teacher, and student knowledge, perceptions, and concerns about student digital safety. Read more of CDT’s resources for families and school officials navigating online remote learning at: