There is a fine line between making student data available to influence data-driven decisions and still respecting student privacy. For this reason, the U.S. Department of Education has launched a new initiative to elevate the importance of safeguarding the collection, use and disclosure of student records. With this new initiative comes a new position, chief privacy officer, and Kathleen Styles is the first.
"Components of what my office and I will be doing were being done elsewhere in the department. This move will centralize privacy in the Department of Education and give it a higher visibility," says Styles. Styles, who began her new role April 4, joins the Department of Education from the U.S. Census Bureau, where she was the chief of the Office of Analysis and Executive Support and reviewed data stewardship policies. Styles' division will also provide technical support through the Privacy Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) within the National Center for Education Statistics. The center will provide assistance and develop a privacy tool kit for states and districts on data governance.
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FER PA), which protects the privacy of student education records, is also undergoing a change. The DOE has issued a proposal that would give states the flexibility to share data to ensure that taxpayer funds are invested wisely and that there is increased accountability for institutions that handle FERPA records. The new rule was open for public comment until May 23.
According to Styles, the new division coincides with a national effort to collect and use student data to influence decisions. "The primary goal is to maintain the confidentiality of student records," says Styles.
"Data should only be shared with the right people for the right reasons," says U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. "We need common-sense rules that strengthen privacy protections and allow for meaningful uses of data. The initiatives announced [April 7] will help us do just that."