U.S. Education Department Launches Initiatives to Safeguard Student Privacy

Archived Information

U.S. Education Department Launches Initiatives to Safeguard Student Privacy

April 7, 2011

The U.S. Department of Education today announced a series of initiatives to safeguard student privacy while clarifying that states have the flexibility to share school data that are necessary to judge the effectiveness of government investments in education. Over time, interpretations of FERPA have complicated valid and necessary disclosures of student information without increasing privacy protections and, in some cases, dramatically decreased the protections afforded students.

"Data should only be shared with the right people for the right reasons," said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. "We need common-sense rules that strengthen privacy protections and allow for meaningful uses of data. The initiatives announced today will help us do just that."

To help strike a balance between student records privacy and data availability, Secretary Duncan announced the following steps:

  • Chief Privacy Officer
    The U.S. Department of Education has hired its first chief privacy officer. Kathleen Styles joins the Department from the U.S. Census Bureau where she most recently served as chief of the Office of Analysis and Executive Support. In that role she managed a portfolio that included confidentiality, data management, the Freedom of Information Act, data stewardship policy, and coordination for the acquisition and management of data from other agencies.

    Styles will serve as a senior advisor to the secretary on all of the Department's policies and programs related to privacy, confidentiality and data security. She will head a new division dedicated to advancing the responsible stewardship, collection, use, maintenance and disclosure of information at the national level within the Education Department. She also will coordinate technical assistance efforts for states, districts, and other education stakeholders, helping them understand important privacy issues such as minimizing unnecessary collection of personal information.

  • Privacy Technical Assistance Center
    The Privacy Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) has been established within the National Center for Education Statistics, which is a section of the Department's Institute for Education Sciences. PTAC will serve as a one-stop resource for the P-20 education community on privacy, confidentiality, and data security. The center will develop a privacy toolkit, including resources such as frequently asked questions, a library of resources, and checklists for data governance plans.

    PTAC will provide technical assistance site visits to states and coordinate regional meetings to share training materials. The center's help desk is now available to take questions on these issues. To access the PTAC Web site or submit a question visit http://nces.ed.gov/programs/PTAC/.

  • Technical Briefs Featuring Best Practices
    NCES has also launched a new series of technical briefs that further the national conversation on the best practices of data security and privacy protections. The briefs are intended to serve as resources for practitioners to consider adopting and/or adapting to complement the work they are already doing. Three briefs have already been released and are posted at: http://nces.ed.gov/programs/ptac/TechnicalBriefs.aspx.

  • FERPA Clarification
    The Education Department is releasing a Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). The proposed regulations would give states the flexibility to share data to ensure that taxpayer funds are invested wisely in effective programs, as well as increase accountability for institutions that handle FERPA protected records.

Under the Department's proposal:

  • Enforcement provisions of FERPA would be strengthened to ensure that every entity working with personally identifiable information from student education records is using it for authorized purposes only.
  • Schools will be able to implement directory information policies that limit access to student records, preventing marketers or criminals from accessing the data.
  • States can enter into research agreements on behalf of their districts to measure the success of programs, such as early childhood programs that effectively prepare kids for kindergarten.
  • High school administrators can share information on student achievement to track how their graduates perform academically in college.

The Education Department welcomes public comments to the proposed regulations, noting that citizens have 45 days from the date of publication in the Federal Register to submit written comments. All responses will be carefully reviewed with the goal of publishing a final rule by the end of this year.

The full NPRM may be found at: http://www.ed.gov/fpco. The public is encouraged to comment at: www.regulations.gov by the deadline of May 23, 2011.