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"Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world." - Nelson Mandela

Congress Moves Toward National Database For Student Tracking

By Carole Hornsby Haynes, Ph.D. September 20, 2019

Politicians are feverishly trying to pass national data systems on every aspect of our lives. From a national gun registry to a national student database to a workers’ database, the federal government wants to track Americans from cradle to grave.

If Democrats and Republicans are successful in passing the College Transparency Act (CAT -- S.800, H.R. 1766), there will be a national database on students that will eventually include every person in the country. CAT seeks to overturn the ban on a federal student unit record data system that has been in place since 2008 and establish a system to collect personal student data.

Supporters are trying to convince the public that shopping for college is like shopping for a car. People can check out cars through consumer guides but not colleges. The federal government should establish a consumer college information center to help families decide on a college.

So what’s the problem? Consumer product information does not include highly personal information about families. A national database on students and colleges will hold a wide range of personal data on Americans.

Here’s another problem. Both Democrats and Republicans are skirting around the fact that, under the 10th Amendment, the federal government has absolutely no authority to be involved in education – in anyway, at any level. Violating Constitutional law has not mattered to either political party as they passed numerous federal laws that gradually took over education control from states and local communities.

Congress is now moving toward more federal control of education and our lives with the creation of a federal student unit record data system. Supporters claim critics are worried about the privacy of student data without a valid reason. They are lying to the public, again.

Here are the real facts about the bill.

Notice and Consent

  • No opportunity for students to consent to the collection of their personal information nor opt out.

Access

  • Bill prohibits sale of data to third parties but does not specify conditions for access by third parties.

  • Requires de-identified student-level data to be made available for research and evaluation purposes but does not define research or evaluation, placing data at risk of being widely accessible.

Purpose and Content

  • Stated purposes are very broad including transparency, customizable information for students and families, and reducing the reporting burden of institutions. These are assumptions.

  • No limitations on what is collected or whose data is collected.

  • Unlimited authority and opportunity to expand the data elements for government collection.

  • No limits on data collection for only those students who apply for federal college aid and willingly provide person and family information. Even students who enroll in a college course will be tracked.

  • What is the real purpose of the database? To gather data on part time and transfer students or on student employment earnings? How are the personal career choices of students a valid indicator of the quality of their education?

  • Why is there a need to rely on individually identifiable information when statistically reliable aggregate information is available and privacy can be maintained?

Collection and Maintenance

  • Institutions are required to turn over personal files of enrolled students to the federal government.

  • No limits on data retention. Bill states that no single federal database is to be created at the U.S. Department of Education that maintains information reported across other federal agencies will be created yet does not address how this can be avoided since the data would require regular updates.

  • Without a single database, how can the USDE conduct data matches with other federal agencies? Would that information ever be destroyed? How long would the individual be tracked? How can the government track individual earnings over a lifetime without a lifetime database?

For Texans this bill will allow the federal government, over time, to track everyone in the state.

In the 2019 Education Spending bill (HB 3), all Texas high school graduates are required by law, as a condition for graduation, to file an application for a federal college loan, even though 53% of the 2018 graduates were NOT college ready. A federal student unit database will include eventually ALL Texas public school students and their families' personal information even if they do not attend college -- just because they are forced to fill out a federal college aid application.

In 2017 Congress passed FEPA which established a de facto national database for K-12 students that permits personal student data to be shared among federal agencies. If Congress passes the College Transparency Act, there will be a national database on college level students as well as the workforce.

Let’s call this what it really is -- government tracking of Americans from cradle to grave.

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