Since its passage in 1974, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) has struck a careful and reasonable balance between the privacy of students and families and the need for timely and accurate information on the state of U.S. schools and school systems. But a provision in the FERPA overhaul “discussion draft” currently being circulated by Republican John Kline and Democrat Robert Scott threatens to upset this balance by giving parents the right to “opt out” of data-sharing agreements with “organizations conducting studies for, or on behalf of, educational agencies or institutions,” which are currently exempt from FERPA’s general prohibition on the sharing of personally identifiable information.
As written, this provision would do serious harm to efforts to evaluate and study existing education programs, because its widespread use would degrade the quality of the data on which many evaluations and studies are based. This would be a huge problem, especially if there were significant differences between students whose families chose to opt out and the broader student population (which there almost certainly would be). Such differences could (and likely would) bias the results of future studies that rely on education data, especially those seeking to understand the performance of students over time by linking data from different systems.
This isn’t just about the convenience of academics in universities, think tanks, and research firms. It’s actively menacing to the country’s ability to know things like:
How well are public schools preparing students for college and the workforce?
Why do some young people drop out of school, and what happens to them when they do?
What’s the “return on investment” for education spending, and does it vary by location?
Are existing career and technical education programs getting good results?
Do charter schools outperform traditional district schools?
How effective are...