State departments of education are evaluating the use of records and the possibility of sharing data on students from kindergarten through college with colleges and state agencies for research purposes. In New York State, the state Education Department is in the final stages of creating such a system to share student data.
As education reformers push the power of data analysis, state officials say the new system will let researchers find the keys to student achievement and failure. What does prekindergarten background say about the likelihood of success in high school Advanced Placement classes? How did college students who fail science do in middle school? What are the links between applying for unemployment benefits as an adult and one’s educational history?
“The only purpose of this work is to get information that can make our education programs better,” said associate education commissioner Ken Wagner, who is leading the initiative. “We want to learn the types of courses that kids do well in that will predict success in college and the workforce.”
But this is a time of growing public anxiety about the use and security of data. Many educators and parents have railed against the state’s separate plans to send identifiable student data to the privately run inBloom cloud for storage and controlled public use. Critics say the Education Department’s little-known plans to share data with other agencies — known as P-20 — raise all sorts of concerns about how closely government should be following citizens’ lives.
“This throws up so many red flags for me as a parent, a tech guy and an educator,” said Brian Wasson, a technology training specialist at St. Joseph’s College on Long Island who has used his Twitter account to urge that attention be paid to P-20. “As this develops, will they decide to use this data for more than research? I don’t buy the rationale for it.”
The state Education Department has been working on P-20, which refers to the period between prekindergarten and entry into the workforce, since at least 2008. The costs are difficult to separate, but the department has gotten more than $40 million in federal and state grants to expand its data systems.
New York is hardly alone. Forty-four states are synching data between schools and colleges, and 19 have connected workforce data, according to the Data Quality Campaign. The federal government has pushed the development of P-20 systems through Race to the Top, stimulus grants and other programs.“Data is painting a profile of a student that is richer and more valuable than ever before,” Jim Shelton, a U.S. Education Department official who previously worked for the pro-data Gates Foundation, said in a recent call with journalists.
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