NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

FERPA Reforms Could Effect Student Privacy and Educational Innovation

February 25, 2015

In 1974, President Ford signed the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) into law to protect student privacy by securing education records. But today, computers, iPads and other emerging technologies pose new problems to the outdated privacy solution. That is, student privacy is becoming increasingly difficult to ensure.

A recent hearing by the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education sought to address possible reforms to FERPA and subsequently identified three significant shortcomings in the privacy law.

They include:

  • FERPA does not protect students from the third party vendors that schools have entered into contracts with. Therefore, nothing prevents a third party from using student data to target them with product advertisements.
  • FERPA's penalty enforcement policy is insufficient and only applies to schools receiving federal funding.  Schools that violate FERPA lose their federal funding, but the Department of Education has never enforced this penalty.
  • FERPA does not permit victims and their families to seek private civil action against their transgressor.

With this in mind, Congress could compensate for the failing and outmoded student privacy law by implementing a more appropriate legal foundation. However, reauthorizing FERPA should not include aggressive regulations, lest it prevents students from learning opportunities.  A few ways to prevent this can include:

  • Striking a balance between student privacy and third party data usage;
  • Maintaining relationships with education technology firms whereby they pledge to use student data in keeping with the terms set by the school;
  • And reforms to FERPA should leave room for technological innovation.

Congress would do well to reauthorize FERPA in a way that ensures student record protection while not overregulating a third party's ability to create new ways of pioneering educational advancements.

Source: Brandon Wong, "FERPA: The Joke is No Punchline," American Enterprise Institute, February 23, 2015.  


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