Why parental consent often isn’t required in education research
While writing a recent column about teachers conducting educational studies in their own classrooms, I was curious about when they might need to inform their students’ parents about this research and obtain parental permission. As I dug into the rules governing informed consent in educational research, I was surprised to learn that parental consent often isn’t required by law. That’s the case not just in teacher-led studies but even when outside researchers are studying which teaching methods or materials work best in the classroom.
The main federal rule on protecting humans during experiments generally requires their consent or a parent’s consent when the human is under 18 but there is a major exception, written expressly for education. Parental consent isn’t needed when the researcher is studying “normal” educational practices in a classroom that are “not likely to adversely impact students’ opportunity to learn.” That includes “most research on regular and special education instructional strategies,” from evaluating the effectiveness of one approach to comparing different approaches with each other.
Education researchers enjoy this extra freedom because, unlike medical researchers, they’re not injecting potentially harmful drugs into children and policymakers wanted to encourage teachers to try different things and improve their craft.
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