State ed office, Senate clash over plan to outsource student data

State senate allocates $3m to hire outside firm to analyze student achievement data. Office of Education raises privacy concerns, claims it can build system in house.
Written by ZDNET Editors, Contributor

New budget negotiations in Utah are getting underway, and lawmakers are asking for a portion of the education budget go to private contractors to sort student data, reports the Deseret (UT) News.

Under the proposal, $3 million of the education budget would go to implementation of a system "provided and developed by the private sector" to gather student achievement data and to manage and disseminate information to school administrators.

Allowing a private company to collect and store data has some lawmakers concerned. Patti Harrington, the state superintendent of education, said appropriating money specifically for the private sector would be putting student data outside the Utah Office of Education's purview when the state has the ability to develop the system.

But Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper and co-chairman of the Public Education Appropriation Sub-committee, supports the appropriation.

"The state office has proven they are incapable of doing that — they have attempted to provide (a system) and have not," Stephenson said. "We know those tools are available in the private sector ... and we want to ensure that we get the best possible tool for making data available for empowering the public, parents and educators to slice and dice data to ensure accountability."

The advantages of enlisting private vendors may outweigh the concerns over accountability. Rick Gaisford, education technology specialist for the State Office of Education, said that the private sector tends to have additional revenue streams they can use to develop the data management software.

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