Editorial: A national database to improve education

By Staff Editorial

The Obama administration has started to push forth a new education agenda. At the center of… The Obama administration has started to push forth a new education agenda. At the center of this effort is increasing accountability in higher education by a keener use of student data.

The uncertainty in the interpretation of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act makes this an issue of intense debate, but there is some merit here.

This act bans colleges from releasing student data without the student’s consent and provides students with data about educational institutions with U.S. Department of Education funding.

The system President Barack Obama proposes already uses the mechanics of how colleges store and disclose student data.

States can already develop and use databases of student records. The new angle Obama brings is for collaboration within states and between them and the federal government.

Obama proposes that states exercise these abilities so that a common-standards effort could be more approachable. In essence, institutions would have to report to a single body in the country, increasing accountability and scope.

In principle, this raises thoughts of big government. Should it?

The purpose is to improve American education. The country needs to make an initial assessment of its present condition, so it can prescribe more succinct solutions.

If students already give their records to the state, then privacy seems to become an irrelevant argument against this national effort. There doesn’t seem to be a difference in one entity having access to it, or the other, larger one.

More importantly, this nationwide system would still protect individuals from being pinpointed. Individual data would not be released.

The real meat of these statistics lies in information about the groups of students, regions of students or students in a particular field or institution.

But Social Security numbers would be used at some levels — at least in secured computer systems, Jane Oates, an assistant secretary of labor who used to work for former Sen. Ted Kennedy, said. Colleges already use a common nationwide database storing these numbers to track financial aid eligibility.

The legislature and network are already in place for student data collection and assessment at the state level.

Giving non-individual access to the federal government at the national level lends itself to smarter legislation.

Because the state can already collect student data, it does not mean much to the individual if the greater government uses it for the betterment of education.

But it can impact private schools.

These schools usually control the data they release themselves, so they have a control of their own image, statistics-wise. They might not want to lose that control.

In 2008, backed by lobbyists from private colleges, Congress barred any such system at the national level.

With Congress’ lack of progress lately, Obama would have another layer of difficulty to push this agenda.

It is important to understand the motives behind legislature before attaching to it a certain sentiment. This plan is simply to improve education.

If Washington could treat this issue more comprehenively than our individualized units, then it might be worthy of consideration.