Friday, May 20, 2011

Education Reform and Privacy Concerns Collide

In February, Grumpy Educators covered U.S. Office of Education initiatives to build and develop longitudinal data systems for education here and here. The requirement for data systems that track student data from preschool through high school and beyond is part of current education reform policy on data-driven decision-making. The data, to be accessed by researchers, auditors and other agencies, may reveal what reforms, methods or textbooks work or do not work so well.

A spokesperson from the Data Quality Campaign, a non-profit founded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, praises the proposed changes:

"We can't afford not to use this information if we want to meet our big policy goal of graduating students ready for college and career."

However, accessing the data requires changes in current privacy protection laws or the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Protection Act of 1974 (FERPA).

The expansion of state student-record systems is central to President Obama's accountability agenda, which seeks to improve education through the better use of data. In a statement issued on Thursday, the U.S. secretary of education, Arne Duncan, said the proposed new rules would "strengthen privacy protections and allow for meaningful uses of data."

According to the Chronicle, the proposed changes would allow sharing of student-level data with researchers, auditors, and other agencies without violating FERPA. The article further notes that Congress prevented the Education Department from creating a "national 'unit record' data system in 2008, but has also funded states to develop these systems.

There are many serious concerns and unanswered question about these proposed changes that affect that rights of parent consent and the collection and use of vast amounts of data on the nation's children. How long will this data remain available? How will it be stored? When will it be erased? Will it be erased? Will parents and the children themselves when adults know how the information is used?

According to a Missouri Education Watchdog alert, public input and objections to the proposed rules changes is available until Monday, May 23. Background information, examples of specific objections to the rules, and the website location for registering objections is offered.

If privacy concerns matter and the lack of interest by Congressional oversight on this matter matter to you, review the Missouri Education Watchdog blog here and consider writing an objection.

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