In partnership with the Data Quality Campaign, I have organized a Researcher Day on the Hill next week to talk to hill staffers about data privacy, FERPA, and the importance of educational research. A great group of faculty from across the country, along with state and district policy leaders, is joining me to make the case that educational research needs good data and that these data can be properly safeguarded through policy.
Below is a letter that we are planning to share with staffers on that day. If you are interested in being a signatory, please email me, tweet at me, or comment on this post. Please share widely!
As researchers committed to supporting and improving student learning and protecting student privacy, we applaud the bi-partisan work underway to update the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). Education research and the data that enables it are incredibly powerful tools that help educators and policymakers understand and personalize learning; make good policy, practice, and funding decisions; and improve academic, life, and work outcomes.
Families, educators, and the public must be able to trust that student data is used ethically and protected. Well-designed FERPA improvements can help build that trust and ensure that schools, districts, and states are able to use data to improve learning and strengthen education without compromising student privacy.
With this balanced approach as our guide, we submit the following recommendations for strengthening the bi-partisan Student Privacy Protection Act (H.R. 3157 – 114th Congress) before the measure is reintroduced for the 115th Congress’s consideration:
- Enable states and districts to procure the research they need. The Every Student Succeeds Act’s evidence tiers provide new opportunities for states and districts to use data to better understand their students’ needs and improve teaching and learning. FERPA must continue to permit the research and research-practice partnerships that states and districts rely on to generate and act on this evidence. Section 5(c)(6)(C), should be amended to read “the purpose of the study is limited to improving student outcomes.” Without this change, states and districts would be severely limited in the research they can conduct.
- Invest in state and local research and privacy capacity. States and districts need help to build their educators’ capacities to protect student privacy, including partnering effectively with researchers and other allies with legitimate educational reasons for handling student data. In many instances, new laws and regulations are not required to enhance privacy. Instead, education entities need help with complying with existing privacy laws, which are often complex. FERPA should provide privacy protection focused technical assistance, including through the invaluable Privacy and Technical Assistance Center, to improve stakeholders’ understanding of the law’s requirements and related privacy best practices.
- Support community data and research efforts. In order to understand whether and how programs beyond school are successful, schools and community-based organizations like tutoring and afterschool programs need to securely share information about the students they serve. Harnessing education data’s power to improve student outcomes, as envisioned by the Every Student Succeeds Act, will require improvements to FERPA that permit schools and their community partners to better collaborate, including sharing data for legitimate educational purposes including conducting joint research.
- Support evidence-use across the education and workforce pipeline. We recommend adding workforce programs to Section 5(c)(5)(A)(ii) and to the studies exception in Section 5(c)(6)(C), . Just as leaders need to evaluate the efficacy of education programs based on workforce data, the country also needs to better understand the efficacy of workforce programs. FERPA should recognize the inherent connectivity between these areas to better meet student and worker needs.
We welcome the opportunity to speak about these issues and recommendations further.
Morgan Polikoff, Associate Professor, University of Southern California
Stephen Aguilar, Provost’s postdoctoral fellow, University of Southern California
Albert Balatico, K-12 public school teacher, Louisiana
Edward Chi, PhD student, University of Southern California
Danielle Dennis, Associate Professor, University of South Florida
Thurston Domina, Associate Professor, UNC Chapel Hill
Sherman Dorn, Professor, Arizona State University
Greg Garner, Educator, North Carolina
Chloe Gibbs, Assistant Professor, University of Notre Dame
Dan Goldhaber, Director, CEDR (Center for Education Data and Research), University of Washington
Nora Gordon, Professor, Georgetown University
Michael Gottfried, Associate Professor, UC Santa Barbara
Scott Imberman, Associate Professor, Michigan State University
Todd Hausman, k-12 public school teacher, Washington state
Heather Hough, Executive Director, CORE-PACE Research Partnership, Policy Analysis for California Education
Ethan Hutt, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland
Michael Little, Doctoral Student, UNC Chapel Hill
Katherine McKnight, Senior Manager, RTI International
Heather Mechler, Director of Institutional Analytics, University of New Mexico
Sam Michalowski, Associate Provost of Institutional Research and Assessment, Fairleigh Dickinson University
Raegen T. Miller, Research Director, FutureEd at Georgetown University
Federick Ngo, Assistant Professor, University of Nevada Las Vegas
Emily Penner, Assistant Professor, University of California Irvine
Richard Rasiej, Visiting Research Scholar, University of Southern California
Macke Raymond, Director, CREDO at Stanford University
John Reyes, Director of Educational Technology, Archdiocese of Los Angeles
David M. Rochman, Program Specialist, Assessment & Evaluation, Orange County Department of Education
Andrew Saultz, Assistant Professor, Miami University
Walker Swain, Assistant Professor, University of Georgia
Sean Tingle, Instructor, Arizona State University
Rachel White, Postdoctoral Scholar, University of Southern California