FERPA: As bad as it sounds
January 25, 2006
Though the Bush Administration talks nonstop about the essential role of rigorous research in informing education policy and practice (see here for example), it has made little progress removing one of the biggest barriers to such research. So reports Education Week in a front-page examination of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act - or FERPA. First passed in 1974 and designed to protect student privacy, the law's strict regulations keep scholars from accessing student-level data - which they want to use not to probe the lives of Johnny or Mary but to track and analyze academic gains by blocks of kids from one year to the next. Explains Hoover Institution fellow (and 2004 Fordham prize winner) Eric Hanushek, "It's a simple matter that, if we want our schools to improve, we have to make it possible to do some of the fundamental research on what affects achievement.... If we stop that, we're stuck." Scholars' best hope may be Assistant Secretary of Education Tom Luce, who ran into his own FERPA headaches in his previous life as the head of the data-centric Just for the Kids, and who now oversees the Department's policy shop. If anyone can loosen the law or its accompanying regulations, it's Luce.
"Scholars Cite Privacy Law as Obstacle," by Debra Viadero, Education Week, January 18, 2006 (paid subscription required)