Policymakers Should Not Restrict Additional Uses of Student Data

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This blog first appeared in the Data Quality Campaign blog, "The Flashlight."

Parental consent is an important element in protecting student privacy.  Of course, as FERPA says, prior consent is not always required when student information is disclosed for the educational purposes of a school under the direction of the school. But the fully informed consent of parents also legitimizes additional uses of student information. When not directed by a school, should a student’s information be shared with potential colleges or employers? What about to a student’s tutor or a scholarship competition?

It’s clear there are currently federal and increasingly state laws and regulations to ensure student's sensitive data is protected and used only for educational purposes. As some policymakers though have sought additional protections they have drafted legislation that would preclude parents from authorizing the use of their child's data for purposes restricted or not envisioned by the legislation. They shouldn't.

If technology-enabled services are available that would help a student reach their potential, provide parents with information they want to help their child succeed, or even to advance the quality of education broadly – parents should continue to have the ability to authorize the use of their child's data to deliver those additional services.

With the use of affirmative parental consent in response to clear and conspicuous notice, parents can be assured that schools and service providers may use data only for those additional services authorized. Such consent and notice requires an opt-in from parents written in layman’s terms specifying to whom the data will be shared and for what purpose. This takes off the table concerns some have that service providers might take advantage of parental consent through the use of blanket exceptions, confusing legal jargon, or an ‘opt-out’ approach.

Prohibitions in law that prevent – or create confusion about – a parent's ability to authorize the sharing of data with a child's tutor do not help students and do not make their data more secure. Instead it will force parents to work around such prohibitions, limit opportunities for students, and make student personal information less safe.