The U.S. Department of Education established the Privacy Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) as a “one-stop” resource for education stakeholders to learn about data privacy, confidentiality, and security practices related to student-level longitudinal data systems. PTAC provides timely information and updated guidance on privacy, confidentiality, and security practices through a variety of resources, including training materials and opportunities to receive direct assistance with privacy, security, and confidentiality of longitudinal data systems.
The expanded collection of student-level data across the entire spectrum of education sectors, associated with successful implementation of K-12 and P-20W (early learning through workforce) longitudinal data systems, accelerated by the National Center for Education Statistics’ (NCES) Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems (SLDS) Grant Program administered since 2005, has increased the need for information on student privacy protection. Additionally, American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) funding (provided through the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund and fiscal year 2009 ARRA SLDS grants) expanded the scope of SLDS from K-12 student data to include linkages to teacher, postsecondary, early childhood, and labor data. This increased use of student-level data systems for education decision making and reporting, including accountability decisions made under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, has led to questions about how best to protect student privacy without diminishing the quality, utility, and integrity of data.
The Department strongly believes that benefits of using student data must always be balanced with the need to protect student privacy—this consideration has been instrumental in the Department’s decision to establish PTAC. PTAC aims to help educational agencies and institutions achieve this balance, with priority always given to protecting student privacy. Parents and students put their trust in the stewards of education data to ensure that students' personal information is used only for legitimate purposes and only when absolutely necessary. The Department values this trust and strives to do all it can to protect the privacy of student information.
PTAC is designed to provide education stakeholders with:
- A set of tools, resources, and opportunities to receive assistance to improve the privacy, security, and confidentiality of student-level longitudinal data systems;
- A means for states to share their best practices, documents, and other relevant resources in the areas of privacy, security, and confidentiality;
- A focal point for queries and responses to the privacy-related needs of State educational agencies, local educational agencies, and institutions of higher education in a confidential, safe environment; and
- A set of resources to promote compliance with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and other best practices for ensuring the confidentiality and security of personally identifiable information.
PTAC, supported through a government contract, provides technical assistance to education stakeholders through a range of materials and activities. The Department's contractor is working under the guidance of the Chief Privacy Officer and in close collaboration with the FERPA Working Group, which consists of representatives of the Office of Management, the Family Policy Compliance Office, and the Office of General Counsel, to produce and review privacy technical assistance products. PTAC also regularly consults with the Department’s Privacy Advisory Committee, whose members include Chief Statistician of NCES, SLDS program officer, and representatives from the office of Federal Student Aid, the Office of Civil Rights, and the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, among others, on the privacy issues of broad importance.
PTAC engages national experts from a variety of industries and federal agencies with experience on technological issues regarding data security; legal issues regarding data sharing, access, and use; policy issues regarding data governance processes; and statistical issues regarding the reporting and publishing of aggregate performance data.
PTAC Resources and Services
PTAC provides timely information and updated guidance on privacy, confidentiality, and security practices through a variety of resources, including training materials and opportunities to receive direct assistance with improving the privacy, security, and confidentiality of longitudinal data systems. PTAC resources provide best practices for ensuring the confidentiality and security of personally identifiable information and promoting FERPA compliance:
- A Privacy Toolkit that serves as a centralized depository for the most up-to-date information to guide stakeholders looking to improve the security, confidentiality, and privacy of education data. Toolkit resources include Technical Briefs, Issue Briefs, Checklists, Webinar presentations, and many other materials. All resources are organized according to the following topics:
- Technical Assistance site visits to State and local educational agencies to provide hands-on support for establishing and reviewing security policy, data governance, FERPA compliance, staff training, and related topics.
- Regional meetings and lessons learned forums for education stakeholders.
- Support center, including an interactive Help Desk , offering assistance via phone or email.