Wednesday, November 11, 2009

P-20 data system and a national ID card

SB5X-2 would create a P-20 CDE data system to follow students from Pre-K through a doctoral degree.

(3) The bill would state the intent of the Legislature to create a Preschool through Higher Education (P-20) statewide longitudinal educational data system in order to inform education policy and improve instruction, and to use this P-20 system for state-level research to improve instruction. The bill would additionally state the Legislature’s intent to require the State Department of Education, the Commission on Teacher Credentialing, the California Community Colleges, the University of California, the California State University, and any other state education agency to be required to disclose, or redisclose, personally identifiable pupil records to this P-20 system, as permissible under state and federal law.
This brings up an issue where I disagree with lots of my fellow liberals. I think this is a great idea. To make it work, we have to have unique identifiers for all kids, so we can track their progress even if they switch schools (which they pretty much all do when they go to middle school, high school, and college).

The liberal policy objection to this (as distinguished from the educational policy objections) is that the students' privacy will be violated. I have two responses to this:

  • The privacy battle is lost.
  • This is not such a bad thing.
When I was a child (here we go again), teachers thought nothing of announcing the grades when handing back papers, or posting test results by name on the bulletin board. If you wanted to know what somebody was in the hospital for, you called the hospital, and they told you. I'm not personally aware of any trauma resulting from this practice, but these are criminal offenses now, largely because the atmosphere around privacy rights has changed.

At the same time, several influences are working against privacy.

  • The National Security Agency sniffs a large percentage of the world's internet and phone traffic and reads or listens to anything their algorithms pick out of the stream. Homeland security uses what NSA sniffs to make up its do-not-fly list.
  • Marketers know everything you do that you don't pay cash for, and they can probably make a pretty good stab at that. 
  • Storing all medical records online means any medical professional with a legitimate work need can look at them. In practice, this means the marketers will add it to their databases, so they know to target you with ads for diabetes products, or antidepressants, or adult diapers.
  • Creating unique identifiers for preschoolers, and allowing research organizations access to the data, in practice means the marketers will add it to their databases, so they can target parents with tutoring products if your kid is doing badly or with accelerated programs if your kid is doing well.
The NSA is more evil, because it involves the government being willing and able to listen in on anything they feel like.

But marketers more important in our everyday lives and are the biggest reason the battle for privacy is lost. It is inevitable that both the government and private companies will soon know pretty much everything about everyone. This means marketers, insurance companies, anybody with a commercial or law enforcement interest in knowing about you.

In this context, we should worry about not how much they know about us but whether what they think they know is correct. If we have to have a do-not-fly list, we should at least make sure we're excluding the right Mohammed Abdul Naby. We need for Big Brother to be efficient, so we are herded into the right chute, or at least not stuck with the prod by accident.

The easiest way to do this is to have a national ID card. It should be free, mandatory from birth, and hard enough to forge that you have to have a factory to do it. The personal ID number would also serve as medical record number and student identifier.

If it is required to be shown to get a job, that would solve one aspect of the illegal alien problem but create another. The new problem is the large number of illegal aliens who have lived here for years and whose  kids are going to grow up here and join the society, who would be unable to work. The solution is not to send them south to an alien nation but to regularize their status here.

My compromise solution is to let anybody who is already here stay as a resident alien, but not allow them to ever become citizens unless they go back and start over. We satisfy the liberals, because nobody is deported, and no homes are broken up, and we satisfy the conservatives because there is no path to citizenship.

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