The American Civil Liberties Union this week declared its opposition to a federal database of student-level outcomes in a letter signed by a handful of education advocacy groups.
There has been bipartisan momentum in Congress and in some advocacy circles to reconsider the federal student unit record ban. Proponents of lifting the ban argue it would help policy makers and institutions better understand what pathways have the best outcomes in terms of graduation, job placement, salary and loan repayment.
But supporters of the ban, notably including North Carolina Republican Representative Virginia Foxx, have continued to support the ban, citing concerns over privacy and misuse of data. Foxx is widely expected to be the next chairwoman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, which oversees higher education issues.
The ACLU statement illustrates how the student-unit records issue scrambles the typical right-left divide.
The organization said in a letter this week to the Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking that a federal database posed a high probability of breaches and that state-level data that would be shared with the feds included personal information like immigration status, disciplinary proceedings and homelessness status. The civil rights group said revelations about widespread surveillance of Americans by the federal government should give further pause to discussions of national unit record system that would allow further tracking of students.
The Gates Foundation said this fall that collecting data on student-level outcomes was one of its key higher ed priorities for the coming year. State higher education institutions, meanwhile, have formed partnerships with nonprofit groups and federal agencies to explore the creation of state-level data systems while the ban remains in place.