Researcher recommendations on FERPA legislation

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!

Dear [],

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

Estela Bensimon, Professor and Director, Center for Urban Education at the University of Southern California

David Blazar, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland

Jessica Calarco, Assistant Professor, Indiana University

Edward Chi, PhD student, University of Southern California

Darnell Cole, Associate Professor, Co-Director, Center for Education, Identity & Social Justice, University of Southern California

Zoë Corwin, Associate Research Professor, 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

Oded Gurantz, Stanford University

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

Derek A. Houston, Assistant Professor, University of Oklahoma

Ethan Hutt, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland

Sandra Kaplan, Professor of Clinical Education, University of Southern California

Adrianna Kezar, Professor & Co-director, Pullias Center for Higher Education, University of Southern California

Daniel Klasik, Assistant Professor, George Washington University

Sarah Winchell Lenhoff, Assistant Professor, Wayne State University

Michael Little, Doctoral Student, UNC Chapel Hill

Tattiya J. Maruco, Research Project Specialist, University of Southern California Pullias Center for Higher Education

Tod R. Massa, Director of Policy Analytics, State Council of Higher Education for Virginia

Katherine McKnight, Senior Manager, RTI International

Heather Mechler, Director of Institutional Analytics, University of New Mexico

Tatiana Melguizo, Associate Professor, University of Southern California

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

Laura Owen, Research Professor, American University

Lindsay Page, Assistant Professor, University of Pittsburgh

Elizabeth Park, PhD student, University of Southern California

John Pascarella, Associate Professor of Clinical Education, University of Southern California

Emily Penner, Assistant Professor, University of California Irvine

Julie Posselt, Assistant Professor, University of Southern California

David Quinn, Assistant Professor, University of Southern California

Jenny Grant Rankin, Lecturer, PostDoc Masterclass at University of Cambridge

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

Gale Sinatra, Professor, University of Southern California

John Slaughter, Professor, University of Southern California

Julie Slayton, Professor of Clinical Education, University of Southern California

Aaron Sojourner, Associate Professor, University of Minnesota

Walker Swain, Assistant Professor, University of Georgia

William G. Tierney, Wilbur Kieffer Professor of Higher Education, University Professor & Co-director, Pullias Center for Higher Education, University of Southern California

Sean Tingle, Instructor, Arizona State University

James Ward, Dean’s Fellow in Urban Education Policy, University of Southern Calfornia

Rachel White, Postdoctoral Scholar, University of Southern California


8 thoughts on “Researcher recommendations on FERPA legislation

  1. Agree. Have a good day at the Capitol. –Edward Chi, Urban Education Policy PhD Student, University of Southern California


  2. Please add my name to the signature:
    Jenny Grant Rankin, Ph.D., Lecturer of PostDoc Masterclass at University of Cambridge, Author via ASCD and Routledge/Taylor & Francis


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