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Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education Discusses Balance between Education Research and Student Privacy

The Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education held a hearing today to discuss the effectiveness of the current laws governing education research and student privacy protection.

“There is no denying the fact we live in a data-driven society. Information sharing is connecting and changing almost every industry, and our education system is no exception,” said Rep. Todd Rokita (R-IN), chairman of the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education.

In 2002, the Education Sciences Reform Act (ESRA) was enacted to update and improve how education research could impact schools across the country.

Conducting education research allows for information sharing between states and local school districts in order to implement best practices.

“The data collected by schools is essential for understanding what is working, and it allows for a more open conversation between schools and parents about strategies that work for our students,” Rep. Rokita said.

While witnesses on the panel highlighted the importance of education research to build better schools, they also discussed the need to make student privacy a top priority. Part of that discussion was on updating the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) that was originally enacted in 1974.

“Enacted more than forty years ago, FERPA became law when students' paper files were held under lock and key in the principal’s office, and for the most part, never left the school,” said Rachael Stickland, co-founder of the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy.

Members of the subcommittee, as well as the witnesses, explained that student records are no longer just grades, test scores, and course lists, but also personal information.

“Schools collect a tremendous amount of data in this day and age, and we strongly believe that each additional data element that gets collected on our students must be balanced by privacy concerns,” said Nathaniel Schwartz, chief research and strategy officer, Tennessee Department of Education.

The House Committee on Education and the Workforce will continue to explore how Congress can strengthen our student privacy laws while also looking for new ways to utilize education research to create a better learning environment for students.