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Collecting Personal Data on Students

April 23, 2002

Last November, we sent out information on the mushrooming data collecting system in the schools. (See "Testing and Data Collection.")

A centralized data collection system under the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) has a national standardized system on all students "about the students' background, learning experiences, and performance." It includes their beliefs, detailed medical records, family situations, and on and on.

According to the following article, "The Ohio Department of Education said the database will bring the state in line with federal guidelines requiring increased accountability from schools."

There's that word "accountability" again. The federal government is holding local school districts "accountable" to them in every way. Once more, this is a violation of the tenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Collecting Personal Data on Students


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April 19, 2002

Students' personal data to go to state
Akron school officials raise privacy, security fears over details sought

By Reginald Fields
Beacon Journal staff writer

The state wants to get to know its public school children in extraordinary detail, asking school districts under a little-known law to provide personal information on students such as their mother's maiden name for a new database.

The Ohio Department of Education said the database will bring the state in line with federal guidelines requiring increased accountability from schools.

But local school officials are worried that Ohio is infringing on student and family privacy and does not need such personal information to ensure classroom accountability.

The Statewide Student Identifier System is to set up an identification number for all 1.8 million students in public schools. Those in private schools would not be part of the system.

The education department has hired the PricewaterhouseCoopers accounting firm to collect the student data and assign the identification numbers.

To guard against duplication in assigning the numbers, the state wants to know each student's Social Security number, eye color, mother's maiden name, dates of immunizations and other personal details on a 43-item checklist.

Local districts will use the identification numbers to pass on the students' academic records to the education department, including their classes, their grades, and any disciplinary actions against them.

By law, the education department cannot have specific academic details linked to students' names -- thus the need for the identification numbers. PricewaterhouseCoopers, however, will permanently maintain a database of student names and their personal information.

``Ultimately, this will allow us to see what students need help and what programs are effective, while at the same time keeping student names private,'' said J.C. Benton, an education department spokesman.

The system also will help the state track student mobility and offer districts more accurate data for their use in planning, Benton said.

Akron's questions

Akron school officials are suspicious of the state's motives, to say the least. For example, they ask whether law enforcement officials could use the database in criminal investigations (that's not likely, the state says) and whether parents can object to the release of information on their children (that's not an option so far).

The Akron officials say they will submit the student information -- under slight protest -- because they are required to do so by law. But they call the database system troubling, especially at a time when once- obscure crimes such as identity theft are on the rise. ``We are concerned about confidentiality,'' said Diane Kennedy, the Akron schools' director of information management.

Akron Superintendent Sylvester Small said: ``I think the general public would be outraged if they knew the type of information the state was requiring on their kids.''

Akron school board member Linda Kersker said collecting so much personal information on so many people in one database increases the likelihood of its misuse.

The school board was surprised to learn about the information request this week when Small brought it to their attention as a requirement the district has to meet by April 30. Small said even he only recently learned of the law.

Other districts worried

Kennedy, who has attended meetings in Columbus about collecting student data, said officials of other urban districts in Ohio are just as concerned about the system.

This year, the state requires that only some of the information requested in the 43-item list be provided. But Small said the number of required items will increase each year.

Akron has agreed to submit only this year's mandatory information. That's nine items, including name, address, date of birth, gender, race and school.

By next year, the state will require such additional items as the student's middle name and birthplace.

Some districts may choose to submit information that for now is optional.

One expert in identity theft said that while the education department might have a legitimate need for the information, it should assure the public about how it plans to keep the data secure.

``My concern is all the people that are setting this up,'' said Jay Foley of the Identity Theft Resource Center in California. ``Are they seriously, seriously taking in all the dangers involved. That information can be misused, maybe by a disgruntled worker.

``It's not so much that it is a bad idea -- it's `Are you aware of the downfalls?' ''

Benton, the education department spokesman, said security has been given a high priority in setting up the identification system. ``We have been assured it's safer than submitting credit card information over the Internet, and it is safer than using a cell phone,'' Benton said.

Akron school officials said the state has told them and officials in other districts that if the personal data is improperly disseminated, PricewaterhouseCoopers cannot be held accountable.

But Benton said that if the accounting firm mishandles the information, it can be prosecuted.

Reginald Fields can be reached at 330-996-3743 or rfields@thebeaconjournal.com

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