The House Committee on Education and the Workforce recently held a hearing to evaluate federal policies affecting education research and student privacy. At issue is whether and how Congress will update the 1974 Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which protects student education records and provides how state and local education agencies collect and maintain data on their students. FERPA has been widely criticized for its outdated definition of a “student record” and its failure to keep pace with new ways that student information is being collected.

Witnesses discussed the competing interests between the need for researchers to access student data to improve classroom instruction, and the importance of respecting student privacy and keeping student information safe. Rachel Stickland, co-chairwoman of the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, stated that parents should be informed up front about the type of student data that is being collected and how it is used. She also argued that parents should be able to choose to have their child’s data stored out of the state data system. Jane Hannaway, professor of public policy at Georgetown University in Washington, disagreed, arguing that allowing parents to remove their child’s data from state systems at their discretion would provide researchers with faulty data.

Over the past year, several lawmakers have attempted to revamp the student data privacy laws. Thus far, none of them have gained any traction.