House Education Subcommittee Holds Hearing on Student Privacy

(July 5, 2017) On June 28, the House Education and the Workforce Committee's Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education held a hearing entitled "Exploring Opportunities to Strengthen Education Research While Protecting Student Privacy." The hearing was held to review the effectiveness of current laws protecting student privacy and their impact on high-quality research efforts. While the session mainly focused on elementary and secondary education, federal legislation governing this space often impacts higher education institutions as well.

As Representative Todd Rokita (R-IN), chairman of the subcommittee, explained, our society is data-driven, and "information sharing is connecting and changing almost every industry," including education. With this in mind, subcommittee members and witnesses generally agreed that data collected by schools is essential for improving the education system and understanding what programs or techniques are working. However, they also concurred on the point that student privacy should be a top priority for any educational research performed with school data.

Witness testimony as well as comments from subcommittee members emphasized the need to update the federal laws governing this space, especially the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which was enacted in 1974. As Rachael Strickland, co-founder of the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, explained, "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." Members and witnesses alike called on Congress to revise relevant privacy laws to reflect changes in technology and the education system since FERPA was originally passed.

Jen Ortega serves as a consultant to EDUCAUSE on federal policy and government relations. She has worked with EDUCAUSE since 2013 and assists with monitoring legislative and regulatory proposals across a range of policy areas, including cybersecurity, data privacy, e-learning, and accessibility.