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Education Reporter

'Stimulus' Requires States to Put All Students on a Database
The $787 billion stimulus bill, signed into law in February, designated over $100 billion for education and job training. It's no surprise that this money, earmarked in the hundreds-of-pages-long American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), comes to states with plenty of strings attached. ARRA requires states to maintain their own state-level education budgets at 2006 levels; to rate teacher performance and report on the number and percentage of teachers rated as high performing in the classroom; and to develop tests showing that students are progressing toward college readiness.

Hidden among these "so-what" bureaucratic requirements, however, is an ominous requirement moving the country a giant step closer to national electronic databasing of students, and ultimately of all Americans.

According to the Department of Education, any state that wants to receive funds for education must "establish a longitudinal data system that includes the elements described in section 6401(e)(2)(D) of the America COMPETES Act." The America COMPETES Act sets out a vision for statewide, longitudinal databasing of "student-level enrollment, demographic, and program participation information" for all students "P-16" - from preschool through postsecondary education. According to the bill, for students in grades preK-12, these electronic databases should contain "yearly test records of individual students," "a teacher identifier system with the ability to match teachers to students," "student-level transcript information, including information on courses completed and grades earned," and "student-level college readiness test scores."

For postsecondary students, states should database "information regarding the extent to which students transition successfully from secondary school to postsecondary education, including whether students enroll in remedial coursework," and "other information determined necessary to address alignment and adequate preparation for success in postsecondary education."

The ostensible purpose of all this is so that federal and state governments can "use the data in the system to . . . inform education policy and practice in order to better align State academic content standards, and curricula, with the demands of postsecondary education, the 21st century workforce, and the Armed Forces." The America COMPETES Act authorized the Secretary of Education to provide grants to states that wanted to develop such statewide databases. The ARRA makes databasing mandatory for all states that want to receive stimulus money for education.

In Teacher magazine this summer, teacher and author Dan Brown set forth an enthusiastic vision of all that a massive national student database could contain and achieve. "With access to comprehensive ESRs [electronic student records] — containing an e-portfolio of grades, test scores, teacher commentary on academics and behavior, curricular information, scanned work samples, and relevant health information — our schools could serve children far more effectively."

Brown's editorial did not neglect the workforce-development angle of federal involvement in such extensive databasing. Detailed electronic records on every student would yield "better-functioning schools and better-equipped students — and therefore a more competitive, productive workforce," he claimed. (Teacher, 7-8-09)

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