Data Privacy | News

Ed Tech Leaders Testify in Congressional Hearing on Student Data Privacy

This morning in Washington, DC, two ed tech leaders testified before a joint congressional hearing on student data and privacy. Speaking to the U.S. House Education and Workforce Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education and the U.S. Homeland Security Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection and Security Technologies, Mark MacCarthy and Thomas C. Murray both highlighted the educational benefits of student data and urged Congress to be cautious in considering any new legislation.

MacCarthy, the vice president of public policy for the Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA), said, “From adaptive learning software to class scheduling applications to online learning, technologies are enhancing student access and opportunity…. The result of advanced data-management and analysis tools is the ability for school systems to better identify students at risk of failure, identify the lessons that best meet each and every student’s unique needs, inform decision-making and enhance operations.”

He concluded that, “SIIA agrees that the obligation to safeguard student data privacy and security means that continued review and enhancements are needed in the framework of our policies, practices and technologies…. However, we do not think that new federal legislation is needed at this time. The current legal framework and industry practices adequately protect student privacy. Moreover, new legislation creates substantial risks of harm to the innovative use of information that is essential to improving education for all students and ensuring U.S. economic strength in an increasingly competitive global environment.”
MacCarthy’s full testimony is available here.

In his testimony, Murray, state and district digital learning director at the Alliance for Excellent Education, said that preparing students to be competitive in the 21st century economy “means using data and technology effectively in the classroom. Just as doctors evaluate the medical history, current condition and records from other physicians to diagnose, care and treat patients, teachers and administrators need access to data in order to best personalize learning for each student.”

Murray’s testimony built on his fourteen years of school district service as a principal, assistant principal, teacher and director of technology and cyber education in Pennsylvania’s Quakertown Community School District (QCSD).

During his testimony, Murray discussed how QCSD used data at the classroom, school and district level to personalize instruction, analyze trends in curriculum, allocate resources and make decisions about curriculum renewal, standardized assessments, professional learning and budgets. Murray said that QCSD used firewalls, security certificates and 128-bit encryption to transfer data — the same level of security used in online banking.

To better support educators in effectively using data to improve instruction while also protecting sensitive student data, Murray recommended that Congress use funds from Title II of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. He also urged Congress to use caution as it explored policy regarding student data and privacy.

“Privacy concerns are real, but education in the 21st century must take advantage of all that technology has to offer,” Murray said. “We must not let fear of data prevent us from realizing the promise of technology. The nation’s students, their parents, and our economy deserve nothing less.”

Murray’s complete testimony is available here. Archived video from the hearing, opening statements and other witness testimony are available here.

About the Author

Christopher Piehler is the former editor-in-chief of THE Journal.