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Kline Statement: Hearing on “Strengthening Education Research and Privacy Protections to Better Serve Students”

Education research has long played an important role in our nation’s classrooms. States and school districts use research to identify teaching and learning strategies that improve classroom instruction and those that don’t. Education research also provides parents, teachers, school leaders, and policymakers with the information they need to determine if federal programs are delivering real results for students and taxpayers.
For more than 40 years, the federal government has partnered with the private sector and state and local leaders to help facilitate this research. The partnership was reaffirmed in 2002 when Congress passed the Education Sciences Reform Act. The law established the Institute of Education Sciences to take the lead on gathering information about educational progress, conducting research on teaching practices, and evaluating the quality of federal programs. The institute has helped provide greater transparency and accountability and has helped implement successful education practices in countless schools.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t areas for improvement. In fact, the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office has cited several weaknesses Congress needs to address, including duplicative research and a failure to disseminate key information in a timely manner. Fortunately, because of the work of this committee, we are well on our way to reforming the law. In the spring of 2014, the committee passed – and the House later adopted by voice vote – the bipartisan Strengthening Education through Research Act.
The legislation included a number of important reforms, such as streamlining the federal education research system, requiring regular evaluations of research programs, and strengthening the autonomy of federal researchers to ensure they are not subject to political bias and interference. Many of us were disappointed the Senate was unable to push the bill across the finish line in the last Congress. However, we’re pleased the Senate has taken action on nearly identical legislation this Congress, and it’s my hope we can complete this work this year.
Now, any effort to improve education research should also strengthen student privacy protections. New technology has made it easier to analyze student information and develop new ways to improve learning, but it has also left parents and students more vulnerable to the misuse of student information. To make matters worse, student privacy protections are woefully outdated.
Long before online learning tools and cloud-based computing systems were the norm, Congress passed the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA. The intent of the law was to safeguard student privacy and give parents the peace of mind that their children’s academic records and personal information were safe and secure. But that was 1974, and a lot has changed since then. More student information is being collected and shared than ever before, often without the knowledge of parents and school officials.
A proposal introduced by Republicans and Democrats will bring the law into the twenty-first century. Among other reforms, the Student Privacy Protection Act will provide greater clarity and transparency over what information schools can use, collect, and share for educational purposes. The legislation will also strengthen the right of parents to prevent the sharing of their children’s information and enhance communication between parents and school leaders.
Both proposals – the Strengthening Education through Research Act and the Student Privacy Protection Act – reflect the hard work of members from both sides of the aisle, particularly the ranking member of the K-12 subcommittee, Congresswoman Fudge, our former colleague from New York, Carolyn McCarthy, and last but certainly not least, Congressman Todd Rokita, the chairman of the K-12 subcommittee, who remains a strong leader on these vital issues.
Improving education remains a leading priority for our committee, and it’s my hope we can take additional steps to improve education by enhancing education research and strengthening student privacy protections.