FERPA Proposals Put Alignment Between Privacy, Data Quality, and Data Use at Risk
May 2015

Student data privacy continues to be a hot topic in Congress, with potentially harmful consequences for researchers.

Senator David Vitter (R-LA) introduced the Student Privacy Protection Act (SB 1341), a bill that would severely undercut the quality of education data, on May 14. One of the bill’s most concerning provisions would require active consent from parents when student data is made available to a third party. This provision would have a clear, detrimental impact on response rates.  

AERA is helping to circulate a community sign-on letter that opposes the legislation. Today is the deadline for researchers to sign onto the letter. 

“At the heart of our concern is to avert putting student privacy and the quality of student data on a collision course,” said AERA Executive Director Felice J. Levine. “We have had decades of experience allowing for data use with strong confidentiality guarantees and data security provisions. If we are to serve our students well, we need to strengthen this tie and not let it go adrift.”  

The Student Privacy Protection Act should not be confused with the similarly named Protecting Student Privacy Act of 2015 reintroduced by Senators Edward Markey (D-MA), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), John Walsh (D-MT), and Mark Kirk (R-IL) on May 13. This bipartisan discussion draft updates privacy protections of student records without decimating data quality. Furthermore, Senator Blumenthal (D-CT) is also expected to introduce a student privacy bill.

Given the tremendous concern on Capitol Hill about student privacy, the education community expects to see a privacy amendment to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization bill, when it is taken up on the Senate floor, as early as June.

In the House of Representatives, Chairman John Kline (R-MN) and Ranking Member Bobby Scott (D-VA), of the House Education Committee, have circulated a discussion draft of possible legislation to amend FERPA.

Of primary concern to AERA in the House draft is the introduction of an option for parents to remove the student record of their children for data being used by “[an] organization conducting studies for, or on behalf of, educational agencies or institutions.” Allowing parents to “opt-out” would have negative consequences for the reliability of the student data available to researchers.  

AERA has been invited to provide comments and recommendations on the current draft. Rep. Scott spoke at the AERA Annual Meeting in Chicago, making important comments on possible FERPA legislation.

Reps. Polis (D-CO) and Messer (R-IN) were the first to get the privacy legislation moving when they introduced the Student Digital Privacy and Parental Rights Act of 2015 on April 29. This bill differs from the other legislation in that it targets online service providers working with state and local education agencies.
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