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Children's Educational Records and Privacy

A Study of Elementary and Secondary School State Reporting Systems

Following the No Child Left Behind mandate to improve school quality, there has been a growing trend among state departments of education to establish statewide longitudinal databases of personally identifiable information for all K-12 children within a state in order to track progress and change over time. This trend is accompanied by a movement to create uniform data collection systems so that each state’s student data systems are interoperable with one another. This study examines the privacy concerns implicated by these trends.

The study reports on the results of a survey of all fifty states and finds that state educational databases across the country ignore key privacy protections for the nation's K-12 children. The study finds that large amounts of personally identifiable data and sensitive personal information about children are stored by the state departments of education in electronic warehouses or for the states by third party vendors. These data warehouses typically lack adequate privacy protections, such as clear access and use restrictions and data retention policies, are often not compliant with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, and leave K-12 children unprotected from data misuse, improper data release, and data breaches. The study provides recommendations for best practices and legislative reform to address these privacy problems.

Other Coverage

Our research team included:

  • Joel R. Reidenberg, Professor of Law and Founding Academic Director of CLIP
  • Jamela Debelak, Esq., Executive Director of CLIP

Student Project Fellows (Research and Drafting):

  • Adam Gross
  • Lee Mayberry
  • Judith Simms
  • Elizabeth Woodard

Student Project Fellows (Research):

  • Camilla Abder
  • Luke Bagley
  • Lisa Cooms
  • Ezra Kover

CLIP Files Comments with the Department of Education

On May 23, 2011, CLIP filed public comments on the Department of Education’s proposal to amend the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (“FERPA”) regulations. The Department’s rule-making proceeding sought to relax restrictions on the sharing of educational records in state-held databases of student information. CLIP’s comments were highly critical of the Department’s approach, showing that many of the proposals contradicted FERPA and explicit statutory protections for student privacy. CLIP’s comments drew on the results of the study “Children’s Educational Records and Privacy: A Study of Elementary and Secondary School State Reporting Systems” that CLIP released in October 2009 and that found privacy protections for existing state databases of children’s educational records was lacking.