Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Overblown Concerns

by Andrew Gillen

Doug Lederman had a piece on data systems yesterday. Apparently, while the push for a federal system has been killed, many states are being encouraged to establish their own.

That we don’t already have widespread longitudinal systems in place boggles my mind. The fact that there are enough holes in the data available that we can’t even determine something as clear cut as graduation rates is ridiculous (lots of schools like to point out that some students have transferred away, and possibly graduated elsewhere).

Critics of such systems are, in my humble opinion, largely using overblown concerns to sink these efforts. For example, one critic is quoted as saying
"These will become the data marts of choice for activities that we would not endorse today," he said. "If you build it, the [Federal Bureau of Investigation] will come looking for criminals. The military will come looking to recruit. [Health and Human Services] will come looking for deadbeat dads.
This might be a valid concern, except for the fact that the government already has access to much more complete data systems. For instance, the IRS has info on everybody, not just those who’ve been educated in the US. If the government really wanted to do any of those things, there are much better ways to do it.

I’m all for putting safeguards on the data – both IRS and future educational systems. While this will reduce the risk of misuse, it will not eliminate it. But this risk, while real, must be weighed against the benefits of such data systems. And the benefits are enormous - such data would provide so many insights into our educational system and it’s effects that all of the arguments against it seem pretty weak in comparison.

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