Will National student databases lead to government spying?



The government may tell American citizens that privacy and security are protected \”constitutional rights,\” but the recent Edward Snowden debacle has many people wondering exactly who is guarding personal data from whom.

While school districts scramble for a chance to claim their share of the $4.35 billion prize known as the Race to the Top initiative, many parents and privacy advocacy groups are less-than-thrilled about the prospect of relinquishing control of students personal data to yet another government network.

But what is a parent to do? Start by reading the guidelines for school districts on the Department of Education website and articles explaining why many parents and organizations like the Home School Legal Defense Association oppose compiling sensitive personal data.

An Argument in Favor of Student-Specific Data

Proponents of a detailed database that maintains race, age, familial statistics, health information, academic progress, learning disabilities and other information starting immediately after birth through high school will help educators measure achievement against national standards to make sure students receive knowledge and skills to succeed in post-secondary settings and the workplace.

Supporters also say a national data base with sensitive, student-specific data won\’t create information that is not already monitored and analyzed. Some argue that making permanent inclusive academic records portable and available to other states is essential for efficient academic management and student success.

Many states issue a unique student ID to every child that enters public education. The National Student Clearinghouse collects and returns information from high schools based on their understanding that transmitting personally identifying information does not need consent, according to FERPA guidelines. Some experts suggest that since we have technology capable of cradle-to-grave tracking, there is no reason not to start this practice even though there are still unanswered questions about the future impact.

The Rebuttal

The opposing side points to the basic fact that student-specific data is not necessary to deliver a high-quality educational experience. Numerous questions persist. Will this data affect college admission? How will this information impact job applications and career goals? How will data management firms protect privacy and security — remember the NSA data mining and security breach? Even inBloom, a third-party company contracted to compile aggregate records says that no data base is 100% secure.

A national student database is presumably a mechanism for tracking public school students; however, the New York City school district tracks home school students along with public enrollees. Will others follow suit as the program expands? There is no clear indication that records get deleted if a student withdraws from public education.

What Can You Do Now?

Parents might choose to enroll their students in a private or online educational institution to avoid continued tracking. Online schools like Penn Foster offer high school diploma programs and vocational certification programs. Visiting the school website to explore options it a first step to deciding if an online program is best for your child. Ask about privacy and security policies governing personal information.

Do your research. Carefully consider the benefits and drawbacks. Contact your state governor, local school district and state legislators to voice your support or opposition.

Creative Commons image by Nic\’s Events

Author Bio:Maria is an early education specialist who writes about advocating for head start schools.