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Who has Access to Your Kid's Information? More People Than You Think


The Education Department passed regulations that allow third-party individuals and companies to access information about your child and their education.

Feature Photo Credit: Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty Images

Around the nation, parents and teachers are joining together to oppose the implementation of the top-down, “one-size-fits-all” approach to education through Common Core State Standards. Movements in states from Pennsylvania to Georgia have gained momentum and forced lawmakers to examine the value of Common Core and in some cases halt its implementation.

The focus on Common Core and the federal intrusion into local control of education has shined a light on the U.S. Education Department’s recent efforts to eviscerate the nation’s central student privacy law, the Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

If you or your child has attended a public school in the past 40 years, you have benefitted from the firewalls erected by FERPA. The law was intended to ensure that personally identifiable information - ranging from test scores to Social Security numbers to personal health information - is not shared with outside entities without parental consent. This protection has led to the widespread understanding among parents that their children’s sensitive information would only be shared with those entrusted to educate, and not with unaccountable third-parties.

Regulatory amendments released in 2011 by the Education Department effectively tear down these protections and shift the responsibility of determining who has access to student data from parents to bureaucrats and administrators. Under the regulations, schools, districts and states have the ability to designate “authorized representatives” that can receive personally identifiable information without consent if they are deemed to have a “legitimate interest.” Data can now be shared with trade unions, non-educational government agencies, and private companies developing educational products and services. The Education Department even acknowledges that nothing in the regulations prohibit a state politician or private company from being designated.

As you can imagine, these changes have led to a boom in business for companies looking to capitalize on previously off-limits student data. Earlier this year a company funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation called inBloom announced the creation of a $100 million dollar database to act as a broker between schools, states and private companies. This type of massive data collection would not be possible under the historic interpretation of the law. Parents have little control or knowledge of who has access to information about their children.

While this news may be shocking to parents, it is even more shocking to members of Congress who never intended for these types of entities to have access without consent. In fact, as recently as 2008 the Education Department’s own policy was that any expansion of the list of entities that can gain access must be approved by Congress. Despite their own policy and the clear language of the statute, the Education Department forged ahead and made the changes through the regulatory process with little responsibility to address public concerns.

Unfortunately, these changes are just another example of the administration’s push to implement a top-down, “cradle-to-career” agenda by making education policy from Washington. Better than any Washington bureaucrat, those closest to students understand the diverse cultures and specific education needs that exist in classrooms across America. By working to further homogenize education, the Education Department continues to lessen the control that parents have over their children’s education.

Due to the concerns that I have heard from many of my constituents, I have sent  a letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan questioning his department’s actions regarding changes to FERPA. I have demanded that the Education Department address why such a deviation from precedent was warranted and press the department to detail whether these changes were made to facilitate Common Core or their aligned assessments.

The proper balance between privacy of our nation’s students and innovation in education cannot be developed from a one-sided point of view. A policy issue as sensitive as this, with such far reaching implications, should not be made in the back pages of the federal register but must be made with the input of the American public through their elected representatives in Congress. I encourage you to urge  Congress to sign on to my letter so we can hold the Education Department accountable.

Feature Photo Credit: Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty Images

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