Statement - School Board on the Proposed Student Information System - February 13, 1997
The reason the school administration has not renovated McLean High School for forty years is because millions of school dollars are wasted on ineffective programs. For example, even though schools spend $10 million a year on extra reading teachers, Fairfax County's average reading score on standardized tests is still only at the 65th percentile. Schools could raise that score without extra teachers if they adopted phonics-based reading instruction. Even though schools spend another $10 million a year on elementary guidance counselors, student behavior is worse. Guidance counselors actually contribute to the problem by teaching children not to obey rules, but to do what they, the children, believe is best. Schools now spend $30 million a year on the seven-period day. The average student could not handle seven academic subjects if the subjects were taught rigorously. Over the last five years, these three programs have absorbed over $150 million, which would have been enough to renovate McLean, Stuart, Lee, Madison, and Annandale high schools.
Now the administration wants to spend $11 million to put confidential student records on the Internet. The schools' Chief Information Officer has acknowledged that school staff members could create files of student records and email those files anywhere in the world. The SIS is on the Internet so Fairfax County can transmit student records to a proposed federal Labor Market Information System. Why do we need this? The SIS is not going to raise student achievement, improve student behavior, or reduce the number of administrators; and the federal data base will not improve student employability. If the SIS would make these improvements, then why don't school planning documents say so? Why is it that school board members are so concerned about protecting student privacy that they object to releasing the Centreville High School election results but are willing to put 140,000 students' health and discipline records and grades on the Internet? Why do some school board members oppose a new federal testing bureaucracy but support a federal student data base bureaucracy? Why does the federal government need student health records in an employment data base? Why do we even need a federal employment data base?
So-called software "firewalls" are really only packet filters and are vulnerable to hackers. Statements that the new SIS will be the most secure SIS in the nation are misleading. The current Local SIS (LSIS) is far more secure because schools are connected to it through dumb terminals, not computer networks. There are only one or two terminals per school, and these terminals cannot create and email files of records. What is truly needed - new printers, fixing the year 2000 problem, and adding a few new fields such as the names of both parents - can probably be done for $2 million by upgrading the current Legacy SIS, thus saving $9 million.
Upgrade the existing LSIS and spend the savings on building renovations. Don't put student dossiers on the Internet.