Are We Overregulating Student Data Privacy?

Are We Overregulating Student Data Privacy?

STEPPING BACK: Parents and educators alike are protective of private student information. And legislators are listening, proposing over 170 bills to regulate student data use so far in 2015. But Susan Dynarski, professor of education, public policy and economics at the University of Michigan, reminds us of the insights that student data analysis can provide—and suggests that proposed legislation risks harming students who need help the most.

In The New York Times' TheUpshot, Dynarski explains that the proposed legislation on how much schools can share student data with third parties restricts both companies and researchers. She points out that when schools allow companies to use student data for their own profit, it already violates existing laws, including FERPA, and gives examples of studies that would have been prohibited under proposed legislation, including several that use student data to document the benefit of smaller classes and varied charter school performance.

Dynarski also argues against the focus on stringent student data security regulations, reasoning that there hasn’t been a large-scale theft of student data because test scores just don’t have the same market value as, say, consumer credit card numbers.

To avoid “unintentionally chok[ing] off the use of student data for its original purpose: assessing and improving education,” Dynarski proposes that instead of more restrictive legislation, Congress should authorize the Education Department to penalize schools and states when they violate existing privacy regulations.

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