CoSN’s 'Trust Learning Environment' Seal Awarded to Seven School Systems Nationwide

School districts that receive the Consortium for School Networking's Trusted Learning Environment seal have demonstrated their commitment to safeguarding the digital privacy of student data.

by Jessica Renee Napier / September 7, 2016

In a tech-based era in which 21st-century classrooms are on the rise, student data privacy and security are becoming increasingly valuable to parents, administrators and state decision-makers.

In that vein, the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) recently developed a Trusted Learning Environment (TLE) seal for school districts that demonstrate their commitment to safeguarding the digital privacy of student data.

“As schools are bringing new applications and websites into their buildings, they have to constantly be working on their governance programs to make sure they are complying with regulations and community norms,” said Linnette Attai, project director for the TLE program and CoSN’s privacy initiative. “There are a lot of fears about what might be at stake: loss of data, theft of data and stepping afoul of regulatory requirements. As schools are embracing the 21st-century classroom, along with that comes responsibility.”

In July 2015, CoSN collaborated with 28 school systems — along with the School Superintendents Association, the Association of School Business Officials and Professional Learning & Community for Educators — to define the characteristics of a trusted learning environment.

After announcing the seal at its national conference earlier this year and then hosting various webinars on the topic, CoSN opened the application process in May to K-12 schools nationwide. Applicants had until the end of June to complete submissions. Of the 90 applicants, seven received the designation:

  • Butler County Schools, Ala.
  • Cambridge Public Schools, Mass.
  • Denver Public Schools, Colo.
  • Fulton County Schools, Ga.
  • Lewisville Independent School District, Texas
  • Miami-Dade County Public Schools, Fla.
  • Raytown Quality Schools, Mo.

In Texas, Lewisville Independent School District's Executive Director of Technology Bryon Kolbeck said that working through the TLE framework was a reflective process to encourage improvement of current practices.

“The district is committed to using technology to enhance the learning process, and this includes the use of many digital instructional materials,” he said. “In doing so, we want to display to our school community that the district is also committed to protecting student and staff data privacy and security.”

School systems were asked to provide supporting documents that demonstrate evidence in 25 TLE practices across five different areas. These included:

  1. Leadership practices
  2. Business practices
  3. Data security
  4. Professional development practices
  5. Classroom practices

“We fundamentally believe that educational leaders need to be more transparent and clear about why they collect data and how they protect it,” said CoSN CEO Keith Krueger. “And, while compliance with federal, state and local laws is required, that alone will not create trust.”

Thus, to be awarded the seal, school systems are asked to provide via links, PDFs or images specific details about behaviors within their organization. This may include submitting items such as organizational charts, audit results, communications to parents, curriculum, board meeting minutes and/or clauses within contracts from third-party vendors. After submission, a team of CTOs reviewed the applications.

In Missouri's Raytown Quality Schools, Director of Instructional Technology Melissa Tebbenkamp was among the group of 28 district representatives who helped to establish the TLE seal practices. 

“As technology becomes an essential tool for instruction, more of our resources are now online and hosted by other companies,” Tebbenkamp said. “These vendors are provided access to student data, and it is our responsibility to ensure that our data remains private and secure. We can only accomplish this through a dedicated data governance program.”

In Colorado, Denver Public Schools established an online academic technology menu as a resource to inform teachers and leaders about software, websites, apps and other technology solutions that have been reviewed by district.

“Denver Public Schools understands that classrooms today have many choices when using online resources and applications,” said Josh Allen, director of technology architecture and strategy. “Often our classrooms use applications and resources that are outside of the ones that are centrally provided. With this flexibility, we have set up the Academic Technology Menu to help guide this process.”

CoSN begins the next TLE application period this fall, and school systems can re-apply for the TLE seal every two years.

“They can’t be one and done and forget,” said CoSN's Attai. “It’s constant evolution of the practices.”