Government Launches New Student Privacy Regulations

The U.S. Department of Education has announced new student privacy protection regulations, while still maintaining certain flexibility for states to share school data that could be used to judge government investment effectiveness 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 should reinforce the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) by safeguarding the security of student information, expanding the Department's ability to hold accountable those who misuse student data while also ensuring taxpayer funds are invested wisely and effectively.

There had been some uncertainty about the lines between state authority and FERPA. And this created confusion for institutions about when it would be appropriate to share student information and who should be allowed to access it.

"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 changes are aimed to ensure policymakers can judge whether a state and education programs are adequately preparing children for success in the future.

States can now also determine which early childhood programs prepare kids best for kindergarten, and high school administrators will now be able to access information to tell how their graduates did in college. Research agreements will now be available for states to discuss with districts and determine how best to use limited education funding during tough economic times.

The announcement is in line with the Obama administration's recent efforts to ensure that private student data is protected. After appointing Kathleen Styles as the Department's Chief Privacy Officer, a Privacy Technical Assistance Center has been established and guidance documents on best practices for protecting confidential information about students have been published.

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