House Hearing Addresses Student Data Privacy Issues

Following up on a speech given by President Obama in January, the House Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education held a hearing on February 12 to explore the use of new technology in the classroom and examine the need to modernize the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

Pointing out that FERPA has not been “significantly updated” since its introduction in 1974, Subcommittee Chairman Todd Rokita (R-IN) said that recent efforts to address student privacy issues have not addressed the rules under which schools must operate as the “guardians” of student data. Ranking Member Marcia Fudge (D-OH) said that Congress must ensure that student data is only used for defined educational purposes. She also pointed out that teachers and school leaders need to know how to properly protect student data.

Shannon Sevier from the National PTA said that the organization opposes “collecting, compiling, selling or using” student data without notifying parents or giving them a choice concerning whether and how their children’s personal information is collected and used. She also noted that federal policy should address who owns the data and who is responsible for management of the data.

“Technology in the classroom has resulted in the creation and collection of much more data than ever before,” said Microsoft Director of Education Policy and Programs Allyson Knox. She argued that FERPA needed to be updated to keep pace with new technologies such as cloud email and storage, limit how third parties can use protected student information, and include penalties that will provide an incentive for third parties to improve data privacy practices.

Sheryl Abshire, a former principal and now Chief Technology Officer of Calcasieu Parish Public Schools in Louisiana, says that technology and data use play a central role in her district’s strategy for supporting teaching and learning. She argued that data sharing “must be complemented by well-designed strategies and practices to protect student privacy and ensure confidentiality.” She also said that teachers and school leaders must be educated to know how to use and protect student data and expressed support for the Enhancing Education Through Technology program.

Fordham University law professor Joel Reidenberg outlined four steps Congress should take to restore and assure the privacy of student information:

  • Modernize FERPA to include a prohibition on non-educational uses of student information and graduated enforcement remedies such as private rights of action;
  • Require specific information about data use and disposal in written contracts with third party vendors;
  • Require states to adopt an oversight mechanism for the collection and use of student data by local and state educational agencies;
  • Encourage the U.S. Department of Education to compile and disseminate best practices for schools and third party vendors.

The NASSP Board of Directors will finalize its position statement on Student Data Privacy at its meeting next week. We’ll continue to follow this issue closely and work with Congress to ensure that educators have the tools they need to use data appropriately and ensure the privacy of student data.

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