Valerie Strauss writes that Steve Winnick, senior counsel at EducationCounsel LLC and former former deputy general counsel of the U.S. Department of Education, thinks many of us are misunderstanding FERPA in our concerns about the new $100M database funded by the Gates Foundation. He writes:
Since the launch of non-profit inBloom earlier this month, there has been much discussion regarding the privacy and use of student data and the role of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). In particular, the 2011 FERPA regulatory amendments were discussed in Valerie Strauss’ earlier post. She has given us the opportunity to address some misunderstanding about inBloom’s service and its compliance with FERPA.
The disclosure of student records to the inBloom data services is allowed by two different provisions in FERPA. The first provision allows schools to disclose student records to school officials with a legitimate educational interest in the records, including private contractors hired by a school district, when the student records are needed to provide the contracted services. This applies to inBloom, which is contracted by school districts to provide technology services for school administrators and teachers. USED spelled out rules authorizing disclosure of student records to school district contractors in 2008 (see section 99.31(a)(1)(B)); however, this type of disclosure was consistently allowed long before it was codified in 2008 (for example, see this 2004 USED advisory opinion).
The second FERPA provision allows disclosures of student records to authorized representatives of state or local education officials for the purpose of evaluating, auditing or complying with federal- or state-supported education programs. This is not the primary purpose of inBloom, but is a secondary benefit of states’ participation in inBloom.
Read more of his response on Washington Post.