Tech industry pushes STEM over privacy in ESEA reauthorization

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A group of associations representing the tech industry urged lawmakers on Wednesday to include strong STEM learning requirements in the No Child Left Behind reauthorization — at the expense of a student privacy amendment.

In a letter, the six organizations — Application Developers Alliance, Internet Association, NetChoice, TechNet, Information Technology Industry Council, and Software and Information Industry Association — called on Congress to advance blended learning and STEM initiatives through the legislation.

The No Child Left Behind reauthorization, also referred to as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, or ESEA, has been languishing in legislative limbo since 2007.

Congress took it up again in the last several months, and different versions of the bill passed the House and the Senate over the summer. Now both chambers’ education committee leadership must hammer out a final bill.

The associations wrote that the I-TECH amendment (which stands for Innovative Technology Expands Children’s Horizons) would “promote technology literacy by encouraging educators to implement blended learning initiatives, as well as by focusing on professional development.”

“In today’s knowledge-based economy, the ability of our students to have direct access to STEM education and education technology are critical steps in maintaining our country’s competitiveness, now and in the future,” they wrote.

But they also took a shot at the Student Privacy Protection Act, an amendment to the bill that would update the definition of an “education record” to ensure student information that is gleaned through classroom technology is protected.

“Given the importance of fostering a robust STEM skillset in the rising generation of American workers and entrepreneurs, we urge you to avoid attaching any controversial measures to [the bill] that would impede the ESEA reauthorization effort,” the groups wrote. “Proposals such as the Student Privacy Protection Act … contain concepts that require further consideration and may therefore draw opposition to the underlying measure.”

The proposal, introduced by Sen. David Vitter, R-La., would also prohibit schools or tech companies from using a student’s record to market products or services to kids, and allow parents to opt out of sharing their children’s information.

Student privacy advocates have applauded the measure, which they say would provide a badly needed update to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. But the software industry has come out against it, arguing that FERPA already provides a strong framework for what companies can and cannot do when it comes to collecting student data.

Read the full letter here.

Reach the reporter at corinne.lestch@edscoop.com, or follow her on Twitter @clestch and @edscoop_news.

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