Home > Myth Busters: Getting the Facts Straight about Education Data

Myth Busters: Getting the Facts Straight about Education Data

The education data agenda is experiencing unprecedented backlash, including the propagation of data myths, especially regarding Common Core, FERPA, and vendors. The Data Quality Campaign (DQC) seeks to make the case for education data while ensuring state policymakers meet their moral and legal responsibilities to safeguard this information and ensure its appropriate and ethical use. This document dispels the most common myths with concise talking points and related resources, and DQC will continually update this resource as additional myths arise. Any information about the number of states reporting an activity is based on Data for Action 2012: DQC’s State Analysis.

MYTH: The federal government collects academic and other information about individual students.

• The Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA) of 2008, No Child Left Behind (NCLB)  legislation amending the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the Education Reform Sciences Act of 2002, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) prohibit the creation of a federal database with students’ personally identifiable information (i.e. information such as SSN).
      -   Section 113 of HEOA: “Except as described in subsection (b) [relating to systems necessary for operations of specified Higher
          Education Act programs and previously in use by the Department],  nothing in this Act shall be construed to authorize the
          development, implementation, or maintenance of a Federal database of personally identifiable information on individuals
          receiving assistance under this Act, attending institutions receiving assistance under this Act, or otherwise involved in any
          studies or other collections of data under this Act, including a student unit record system, an education bar code system,
          or any other system that tracks individual students over time.”
      -   Section 9531 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act :"Nothing in this Act (other than section 1308(b) [relating
           to a migrant record system] shall be construed to authorize the development of a nationwide database of personally
           identifiable information on individuals involved in studies or other collections of data under this Act.”
      -   Section 182 of the Education Sciences Reform Act: “NATIONAL DATABASE- Nothing in this title may be construed to
          authorize the establishment of a nationwide database of individually identifiable information on individuals involved
          in studies or other collections of data under this title.”
     -    Section 616 of IDEA: “(ii) Rule of construction.--Nothing in this title shall be construed to authorize the development
          of a nationwide database of personally identifiable information on individuals involved in studies or other collections
          of data under this part.”

• The federal government is authorized to publicly report specific aggregate-level data only.
• Federal law prohibits the reporting of aggregate data that could allow individuals to be identified.
• The federal government does not have access to the student-level information housed in state data systems.
• Common Core is not a mechanism for federal data collection, nor does state implementation of Common Core and its
  related assessments require any data collection beyond the aggregate data authorized by No Child Left Behind.
• Common Core (and related assessment consortia) does not authorize the sharing of student data between states.

MYTH: The federal government is using grants such as The Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems (SLDS)
grant program, The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), and Race to the Top as a way to drive
a national/federal collection of student information into a single database.

• States that receive grants from the federal government are forbidden to report any student-level data to the federal
  government in return (see HEOA, NCLB, SLDS, and IDEA language above describing this prohibition).
• States were building data systems and collecting the necessary information to improve education within each state
  years before the federal government introduced grants to support this work.
• As a condition of receiving any ARRA funding, states committed to building their SLDS with elements described
  in the America COMPETES Act (ACA); the 12 elements in the ACA align with DQC’s 10 Essential Elements.
• The State Fiscal Stabilization Fund (SFSF) under ARRA did not encourage or require the use of SFSF funds
  for the development of these data systems. However, operationalizing the 12 ACA elements was a requirement
  of receiving funding.
• States have been building student-level data systems for over a decade to inform policy and practice; the average
  state reported meeting five of the DQC’s 10 Essential Elements prior to the first federal grant awards to states for
  this purpose. The systems provide educators with the information (e.g. cohort graduation rates, growth measures,
  early warning systems) needed to inform their practice.
• As of 2012, 36 states are providing state funding for their P20/workforce SLDS.

MYTH: The National Education Data Model (NEDM) is a federally driven collection of hundreds of
pieces of sensitive individual student information.

• The NEDM is not a data collection and does not contain any data; no state or district is submitting data to the
  federal government based on this model.
• The NEDM is a technical resource that was developed at the national level; its use is not required as a
  condition of any funding or collection.
• The NEDM is a framework describing the types of data that individual districts and states may choose
  to use to answer their own questions about policy and practice.
• The NEDM was funded by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), managed by the NCES
  Forum (comprised of state and district representatives from every state), and received technical assistance
  from the Council of Chief State School Officers.
• A data model is a representation that shows how unstructured data in a database could be organized
  or connected.

MYTH: The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) has been weakened by the
current administration.

• The 2008 and 2011 regulations were direct responses to state requests for clarification of FERPA
  regarding the role of the state in using student data while maintaining privacy protections around
  personally identifiable information.
• The US Department of Education clarified FERPA’s application to state longitudinal data systems
  through a public process in response to conversations between states, education stakeholders,
  and public stakeholders over several years and across two administrations.
• The 2008 and 2011 clarifications aligned FERPA with other federal laws requiring states to link
  data systems and use student data for evaluation and school and district accountability. 
• Prior to these clarifications, states were unclear about basic, permissible activities including
  whether postsecondary institutions can share data with state and local education agencies for
  the purpose of high school feedback reports, whether  state-level data could be used for research
  to improve instruction, and whether the state  can transfer student academic records to a receiving
  district when a student moves.
• These changes were accompanied by provisions designed to tighten privacy protections and provide
  for fuller FERPA enforcement.
• When the US Department of Education issued FERPA clarifications, they also took steps to build
  capacity within the ED to provide technical assistance around privacy protections; these steps
  included hiring a Chief Privacy Officer, establishing the Privacy Technical Assistance Center,
  and issuing technical briefs providing guidance and best practices on protecting personally
  identifiable information.

MYTH: FERPA is the only law protecting student privacy, and states are not addressing this issue.

• While FERPA sets limits on how personally identifiable data can be accessed and shared, states
  also have their own policies and practices, and many have state laws that parallel FERPA designed
  to ensure the privacy and confidentiality of data.  Virtually all states also have laws that address
  data security and security breaches.
• Nearly all states education agencies (46) have established governance bodies charged with
  managing the collection and use of data, including how those data will be kept secure and confidential.
• Nearly all states (43) have established policies that determine what type of data is available to
  select stakeholders – like teachers and principals – who will use it to improve instruction.
• Nearly all states (41) make their data privacy policies publically available.
• States are responsible for developing policies that determine how student data will be protected
  from inappropriate sharing or use.

MYTH: Efforts to centralize the collection and storage of student information are increasing the
risk of inappropriate access and use of this information.

• Districts currently contract with a variety of vendors to provide data storage, management, and utilization
  services. Most districts lack the technical/legal expertise and oversight capacity to develop and manage
  comprehensive security protocols, so keeping data in multiple fragmented district-level systems increases
  the chance that student data will be mismanaged or inappropriately accessed.
• District-level vendor contracts can be costly, can create redundancy across the state, and are often
  limited by lack of district resources and technical expertise.  If a state chooses a statewide vendor,
  it can reduce costs for districts, ensure that privacy measures are implemented consistently and
  effectively across the state, and relieve districts of management and security burdens.
• Centralized systems, such as statewide longitudinal data systems, ensure that data collection, storage,
  and access meet a uniform set of protections that limit the risk of inappropriate access and use.

MYTH: States are selling student-level data to vendors and corporations who will use it to develop
new products to market to students.

• States and districts cannot and do not sell student information, and the limited information that states
  and districts do collect is used for the purpose of informing policy, practice, and research to improve
  education and delivering educational services to students (as prescribed in FERPA; see above for reference).
• In response to external research and transparency requests, some states charge fees to assemble data
  sets to cover labor costs associated with responding to these data requests. (DQC’s 2013 survey will
  collect more information on this topic).
• FERPA ensures that any individual or entity that a state or district authorizes to access its data must
  (1) use student data only for authorized purposes; (2) protect the data from further disclosure or
  other uses; and (3) destroy the data when no longer needed for the authorized purpose.
• Out of necessity, states and districts have always contracted with for-profit and non-profit partners
  to transform their data into actionable information.

MYTH: States are collecting and sharing an inappropriate amount of student level data.

• States do not have access to the full array of data collected and maintained by schools and districts.
• States collect a limited amount of student-level information that is commensurate with state-level
  responsibilities. State data can provide a rich set of contextual information to supplement district-level
  data and guide local improvement efforts.

MYTH: As a recent federal report states, Common Core and a brain mapping initiative recently
announced by President Obama are being used to collect biometric data about children.

• Common Core does not collect or require the collection of any biometric data (or any data at all).
• Common Core is not related to the BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies)
  Initiative, a recently-proposed scientific endeavor to map the brain. The BRAIN Initiative is not collecting any
  data from or about students and is not related to any education initiative or program.
• A recently released research report (Promoting Grit, Tenacity and Perseverance: Critical Factors for Success
  in the 21st Century) prepared by SRI International on behalf of the US Department of Education is an overview
  of potential measurement methods of skills like perseverance and tenacity and is not related in any way to
  Common Core standards or assessments or any data collection.
• The US Department of Education’s report on promoting grit and tenacity does not guide or reflect Common
  Core in any way. This report does address Common Core’s standard of “making sense of problems and
  persevering in solving them” to demonstrate the relevance of nonacademic skills.