Amendment to create student data privacy commission clears Senate

The Student Privacy Policy Commission would create a panel to determine which federal and state laws around student data privacy are working and which aren't.

An amendment to the revamped No Child Left Behind bill that would create a privacy policy commission passed unanimously in the Senate Monday night, capping an achievement for advocates who have pushed protecting student data into the spotlight.

Sponsored by Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Ed Markey, D-Mass., the amendment would establish a committee that scrutinizes current federal laws like the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act — which was last updated in 2012 — and offers recommendations on how to best update the legislation.

Hatch vowed his measure would “create a structured commission to study important aspects of the convoluted world of student privacy.”

The panel members would also have to discuss how to improve coordination between federal and state laws, which vary widely — from the definitions of “privacy” that are used to the punishments meted out to bad actors.


Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, with two middle school students who won an essay writing competition. Hatch spearheaded a student privacy amendment with Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass. (Courtesy of the senator’s website)

“I think they got it right, really focusing on what we see as the biggest struggle, which is: What is the right role for state and federal governments?” said Paige Kowalski, vice president of policy and advocacy for the Data Quality Campaign. “How do we appropriately share and aggregate and de-identify information? These are really complex issues, and these are the right people to come together to deal with this.”

The committee would be composed of three people appointed by the Education secretary, about a dozen experts, educators, parents and state officials responsible for managing student data, and educational technology providers. Four members would be appointed by House and Senate leadership.

None of the committee members would be paid, according to the amendment.

Kowalski said bringing teachers on board who are charged with safeguarding student information on a regular basis is an important step.


“It involves educators, and that’s been missing,” she said. “We’re privacy experts and parent advocates and advocacy groups who are thinking about policy goals, but without educators, you miss the voice of the classroom.”

The committee would have to “address the sharing of data in an increasingly technological world,” including how kids’ information is used for research purposes and how their data is deleted or removed by schools.

Mark Schneiderman of the Software & Information Industry Association, which has been critical of mixed messages from different laws, also praised the measure.

“It makes sense to convene a stakeholder panel to review practices, consider if policy and definitional updates may be needed, and assess the coordination of inconsistent federal and state laws in light of evolving technologies and education models,” Schneiderman wrote in a blog post Thursday. “Taking the time to further understand this complex issue will hopefully allow us to avoid new laws that end up restricting student access to advanced technologies.”

Several other amendments to the bill are still being debated by the Senate this week, including two that would focus on closing the so-called “homework gap” by giving more kids in poor and rural areas high-speed Internet access after school. A final vote on the bill is expected soon.


Reach the reporter at or follow her on Twitter @clestch.

Latest Podcasts