Trust The Department Of Education With A Student Database? Not Likely

Career College Central summary:

  • A proposal for a detailed federal database of all college students has once again surfaced, the brainchild of researchers who believe that a major purpose of colleges is to serve as data sources for their own studies, and of policy wonks who think that any nationwide effort worth doing must be owned and operated by the federal government. The proposed database is a bad idea for at least three reasons.
  • The first reason for caution is the federal government’s poor track record in handling sensitive personal data. One need look only to the National Security Agency’s lack of adequate security to see that, unchecked, a federal agency can easily stretch beyond its original mandate—with negative consequences for ordinary Americans. The proposed "unit record" database would require every college student to submit extensive personal information to the government as a condition of receipt of federal student aid and college enrollment.
  • Some advocates believe that the database should also include information about family socioeconomic background, elementary- and secondary-school records, and health records—all of which, they argue, are needed to understand students’ performance in college. Some say, approvingly, that the database could be used to check on IRS compliance or registration for military service. It is difficult to imagine how such a coercive arrangement could protect students’ privacy and adhere to widely accepted principles of research involving human subjects.
  • Advocates nonetheless argue that the U.S. Department of Education can be trusted to manage a sensitive, high-stakes enterprise. However, when the American Council on Education’s senior vice president, Terry Hartle, questioned the wisdom of basing a ratings plan on the current federal database, widely acknowledged as highly inaccurate, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan dismissed the concern for accuracy as unimportant. Mr. Duncan has not proposed any safeguards to prevent the use of flawed data as the basis for ratings that could be calamitous for colleges.
  • The second reason is the Department of Education’s repeated unwillingness during the past decade to take seriously any nonfederal efforts
  • at data collection, analysis, or assessment. In 2003, well before Margaret Spellings, as secretary of education, called for a federal test based on the Collegiate Learning Assessment, the Council of Independent Colleges had already embraced that assessment process and had assembled a voluntary consortium which quickly grew to 47 institutions that—at their own expense—used it to assess learning outcomes.

Click through for full article content.


Leave a Reply

Be the First to Comment!

Notify of