House Committee on Education and Labor
U.S. House of Representatives

Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon
Ranking Member

Fiscally responsible reforms for students, workers and retirees.



Committee Statement

April 14, 2010

CONTACT: Alexa Marrero
or Brian Newell
(202) 225-4527

Kline Statement: Hearing on “How Data Can Be Used to Inform Educational Outcomes”

We’re here this morning to examine how data can be used to inform educational outcomes. To be sure, educational data systems play an integral role in efforts to create more sophisticated academic performance measures. In other words, data help us understand how our students – and their teachers – are performing. 

Yet no conversation about educational data systems would be complete without a discussion of student privacy. Technological advances and research opportunities have created a thirst for individualized student data like never before. Our commitment to privacy and data protection must intensify at the same pace. 

Unfortunately, the research indicates not nearly enough is being done to safeguard our students’ records. We’ll hear this morning from Professor Joel Reidenberg of the Center on Law and Information Policy at Fordham Law School, who has been at the forefront in examining the privacy implications of longitudinal data systems. These massive, state-controlled databases collect personally identifiable information about school children – information designed to be interoperable among a variety of data systems, leaving open the possibility that this data could be mined for uses far beyond its intended purposes. 

Professor Reidenberg will discuss his findings in detail, but there are two areas of concern I’d like to highlight. First, the Fordham study found privacy protections lacking in most states – in some cases, states are not even complying with the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act. 

Second, the study highlighted the risk that individual state data systems could be sewn together to create a de facto national database – a massive federal collection of individual student information that could include not just academic histories but sensitive personal data including social security numbers, demographic and financial characteristics, discipline records, and health or behavioral information. The study describes it this way: “Common data standards, by definition, facilitate the combination of multiple data sets into one national data warehouse of K-12 children, which in turn could be combined with data from post-secondary data systems to create an unprecedented national database of personal information.” 

The prospect of these data systems being used for more than academic tracking in grade school is hardly far-fetched. In fact, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act – the so-called stimulus bill, which we now know contained a host of provisions having nothing to do with job creation – included an additional $250 million for the existing state longitudinal data systems. 

According to the U.S. Department of Education, the long-term goal of the program is to enable all states to create comprehensive P-20 systems, which will track students from almost literally the cradle to their careers. The emphasis on “interoperability” makes clear these systems are intended to link personal and academic information from elementary and secondary school to workforce data systems that track adults later in life. 

These vast collections of information could significantly undermine individual privacy, particularly if they are compromised through ineffective security measures. In this era of technology and vast web-based information archives, data that become public can never again truly be kept private. 

The potential privacy cost of these data systems – particularly if they do not maintain proper safeguards – cannot be ignored. Yet we must also consider the monetary costs associated with significant new data collection requirements. 

States and local school districts take on significant financial and personnel burdens to comply with data collection requirements. At a time when local schools are seeking less red tape and fewer federal requirements, we must carefully weigh the potential benefits with these costs. 

The stimulus significantly expanded the scope of federal involvement in student data collection, the consequences of which are only just beginning to emerge. I remain deeply concerned about student privacy, both under current programs and in light of proposed expansions in data collection and use through reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. I shared a number of these concerns in a letter to Secretary Duncan in February of this year, and I am eager to continue a dialogue about how individual privacy protections will be maintained and strengthened. 

As I said at the outset, data systems are an important component of our efforts to measure and improve student academic achievement and teacher quality. Yet as technology advances, we must ensure the data collected is narrow in scope and tightly controlled, with its use carefully monitored. 

The more data collected, the greater the risk of exposure – which is why every effort must be made to bring privacy laws into the 21st century to protect student information. 

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