Good news for the harried education researcher: the Department of Education has released new regulations on the notoriously punctilious Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). The law, which was enacted in 1974 to protect student data, came under fire after the April 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech; the incident, a panel concluded, was largely due to confusion over privacy laws that prevented the records of the gunman, who was a mentally-ill VT student, from being shared with authorities and the student's parents. While many of the changes are understandably geared towards higher education, there are a few relevant ones for the K-12 arena. Most notably, the new regulations permit state educational agencies to create and implement K-16 accountability systems that will facilitate the transfer of student records as well as the use of "de-indentified" aggregated data by researchers. And since many of these records are now stored electronically, the regulations also provide additional guidance on how these technological advancements affect privacy rules. Many of these issues were brought up in our chapter on FERPA in A Byte at the Apple. As chapter author Chrys Dougherty explains, "While working to protect students' privacy rights, policymakers must keep in mind the value of appropriately used data to answer important questions about student progress, teacher quality, and school effectiveness--to help students and schools get better." Sounds like these new regs are on the right track.
"Education Department Reworks Privacy Regulations," by Elizabeth Bernstein, Wall Street Journal, December 9, 2008