The Next Big Thing: Student Data Privacy

Throughout the spring and summer a flurry of legislation was introduced concerning student data privacy. As representatives of principals across the nation, NASSP and the National Association of Elementary School Princpals (NAESP) agree that any legislation should ensure student data remains private but available for use to improve learning and instruction without placing undue burden on school principals.

The variety of bills introduced present a range of options that could result in big changes to how schools are asked to store and use student data. With the increasing use of education technology in classrooms using student data to enhance and personalize the student learning experience, lawmakers must carefully consider how to protect the right to privacy for students and their families. Moreover, legislators should rely on the voices of those working in school buildings to ensure policies have no unintended consequences.

NASSP and NAESP will continue to work together to review all legislation and meet with congressional staff to ensure they include our shared vision. Now that the House and Senate is on recess we have outlined here what has happened on Capitol Hill surrounding student data privacy since the beginning of the 114th Congress in January.

Here is a summary of all the relevant bills, presented in their chronological order:

  • At a House Education and Workforce Subcommittee hearing in February chaired by Congressman Todd Rokita (R-IN) witnesses discussed updates needed to FERPA. FERPA is the 1974 law protecting the privacy of student records, particularly records with personal identifying information. The law is in need of updating for the digital age to ensure security for students, faculty, and administrators who use computers and smartphones on a daily basis to access information and school records.
  • An updated version of the Student Digital Privacy and Parental Rights Act of 2015 (SDPPRA), originally introduced in the 113th Congress, was sponsored by Representatives Polis (D-CO) and Messer (R-IN) on April 29. NASSP and NAESP, alongside a number of other education organizations, endorsed SDPPRA when it was introduced. The bill emphasizes security requirements for education technology vendors and prevents them from selling data or information that could be used to advertise to students. Unlike the Student Privacy Protection Act (H.R. 3157), the Federal Trade Commission would be given enforcement authority and the right to impose penalties on violators.
  • The Protecting Student Privacy Act of 2015 (S. 1322) is a reintroduced version of a 2014 bill by Senators Markey and Hatch. Introduced on May 13, it updates FERPA by establishing new data security standards and restricting companies’ use of student data. It grants greater access to—and transparency of—data to encourage innovation in the classroom.
  • The Student Privacy Protection Act (S. 1341), introduced by Senator Vitter (R-LA) on May 14, has no House companion or additional co-sponsors. Its FERPA update focuses on parental consent for data uses. This measure imposes the strongest restrictions on data use of all the proposed bills and would present significant challenges for implementation, stifling use of data for innovation in schools.
  • Senators Blumenthal (D-CT) and Daines (R-MT) introduced the Safeguarding American Families from Exposure by Keeping Information and Data Secure or SAFE KIDS Act on July 16, primarily aimed at regulating online service providers, giving the Federal Trade Commission enforcement authority.
  • The Student Privacy Protection Act (H.R. 3157) was introduced on July 22 in rare bipartisan form for the House Education and Workforce Committee with original co-sponsorship by Representatives Kline (R-MN), Scott (D-VA), Fudge (D-OH), and Rokita (R-IN). The bill completely rewrites FERPA for the digital age with particular focus on technology vendor use of student records and parents’ rights to opt out of student directory information being shared.

With the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reauthorization headed to conference, federal education advocates are looking toward the next major K-12 issues that may be taken up in Congress. Student data privacy is among those issues, and it’s an issue NASSP has discussed in previous blog posts here and here and NAESP discussed in a May 2015 advocacy update. Stay tuned for more updates as the bills move through Congress.

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