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Committee Statements

Rokita Statement: Hearing on "How Emerging Technology Affects Student Privacy"

Good morning, and welcome to the first hearing of the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education in the 114th Congress. I’d like to thank our witnesses for joining us today. We appreciate the opportunity to learn from you about how emerging technology in the classroom affects student privacy.

Ms. Fudge, before we begin, I want to take a moment to congratulate you on being selected by your colleagues to serve as ranking member of this subcommittee.  I anticipate we will have many robust conversations on key issues, and I am looking forward to working together on policies that will help our children succeed in school and in life.

Forty years ago, Congress enacted the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA, to safeguard students’ educational records and ensure parents had access to their children’s information. The law established the circumstances under which the records could be shared, giving parents the peace of mind that, with few exceptions, their child’s academic performance and other personally identifiable information would be under the school’s lock and key.

As a father of two young boys, I can appreciate why parents may not have that same confidence today. Despite the advent of computers, the Internet, Wi-Fi, and cloud services, the law has not been significantly updated since its introduction in 1974. As a result, student privacy, the very information FERPA was intended to protect, may be at risk.

As administrators, teachers, and students use emerging technology to track everything from test results to bookstore purchases, parents and students are vulnerable to the inappropriate use of student data – often without their knowledge or consent.

New devices, platforms, programs, and services have enabled educators to better understand the behavioral and educational needs of each student and tailor individual learning plans accordingly. They have assisted researchers in developing new solutions to improve classroom instruction. And they have provided families with more educational options by facilitating distance and blended learning opportunities.

Technology organizations and policymakers have taken steps to strengthen student privacy protections. However, these efforts have not addressed rules under which schools must operate as the guardians of student data. Unless Congress updates FERPA and clarifies what information can be collected, how that information can be used, and if that information can be shared, student privacy will not be properly protected.

We welcome your thoughts on how this committee can update FERPA for the 21st century, improve parental involvement, and hold bad actors accountable. Modernizing student privacy protections without undermining opportunities to improve student achievement is no small task, but we owe it to students and parents to work together to find the proper balance. I look forward to hearing from you and from my colleagues on this important issue.


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