Memo to APPAM Members: Access for Researchers to Education Data
Dear APPAM Members,
There is widespread belief among people who follow education issues in Washington DC that there could be a provision in upcoming legislation that would have an impact on researchers who use data from local and state school systems. Chairman John Kline (R, MN) of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce is working on legislation to reform the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). Along with a former staffer from the Data Quality Campaign and Professor David Figlio of Northwestern, one of us (Haskins) had the opportunity to meet with Kline’s staff person who is working on the text of the legislation. Kline’s staffer informed us during the meeting that Chairman Kline would have provisions that will affect the access of researchers to education data in student records controlled by local school systems. Specifically, the Chairman and others on the Committee may want to include a provision that would give parents the right to withhold their child’s data from access by people outside the school system for research purposes.
The meeting with Kline’s staffer was cordial and she was very forthcoming about the Chairman’s intention to protect parents’ right to control information from their child’s school records, including information on test performance. She is well aware that giving parents the right to prevent researchers from having access to information in their child’s school records could have a deleterious impact on the size and representativeness of research samples. We discussed ways that the provision might be drafted to protect the privacy rights of parents and their children while minimizing the impact on researchers.
There are many ways a provision like this could be written. As in all legislation, once a bill is written the language must be carefully parsed and any interested parties outside Congress must weigh in if they have concerns. The Kline provision on privacy has not yet been drafted, but his staffer assured us that we would have access to the language as soon as it becomes public and that she was interested in hearing any reactions we might have to the legislative language. In fact, she offered to meet with us at that point if we thought it would be useful to talk in person. We will have the language and probably an opportunity to meet with Kline’s staff before the committee begins to markup the legislation.
Although individual researchers may want to take action at this time – such as writing to Chairman Kline about your concern with limitations on researchers’ access to student records, we do not think enough information is yet available to express great concern about the pending legislation. We will keep a close eye on the legislation, consult with the Data Quality Campaign, and keep you informed if we think the legislative language interferes with research in any significant way. Meanwhile, please send any comments you might have to Tara Sheehan (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Jane Waldfogel, APPAM President
Ron Haskins, APPAM President-Elect
Angela Evans, APPAM Past President