U.S. Education Department Announces New Measures to Safeguard Student Privacy

The U.S. Department of Education announced new regulations to safeguard student privacy while giving states the flexibility to share school data that can be helpful in judging the effectiveness of government investments in education.

"Data are a powerful tool needed to improve the state of education in this country," said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. "At the same time, the benefits of using student data must always be balanced with the need to protect students' privacy rights and ensure their information is protected."

The regulations will strengthen the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) by protecting the safety of student information, increasing the Department's ability to hold those who misuse or abuse student data accountable and ensuring our taxpayer funds are invested wisely and effectively.

In the past, uncertainty about where state sunshine laws left off and where FERPA picked up created confusion for institutions about when and with whom student information could and should be shared. Schools need the flexibility to pursue routine uses of information without getting prior consent while allowing them to prevent those who may misuse or abuse student information from accessing it. The regulations announced today allow schools to do just that.

The new regulations will also help the Department of Education more effectively hold those who misuse or abuse student information accountable for violating FERPA. When FERPA was first conceived in the 1970s, it only applied to institutions with students in attendance—like high schools and colleges. Since then, a growing number of institutions and entities without students in attendance—like student lenders for example—have access to student records that should be protected by FERPA, but aren't. The announcement fixes that gap in student protection.

The changes will also help policymakers determine if state and federally funded education programs are adequately preparing children for success in the next stage of life, whether that is in kindergarten or the workforce. States will be able to determine which early childhood programs prepare kids for kindergarten. High school administrators will now be able to tell how their graduates did in college. And states will be able to enter into research agreements on behalf of their districts to determine how best to use limited education funding during tough economic times.

The announcement comes on the heels of several efforts undertaken by the Obama Administration to ensure that private student data is protected. These include the appointment of Kathleen Styles as the Department's Chief Privacy Officer, the establishment of a Privacy Technical Assistance Center, and the publication of guidance documents on best practices for protecting confidential information about students.

The full regulation may be found at: www.federalregister.gov.

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