July 29, 2006

Thumb drives up for mobile students

One of the serious concerns for parents who are mobile—whether they carry arms in the military or pick vegetables in the fields—is the discontinuity of education for their children. One bureaucratic nightmare for parents is getting records transferred, which can take weeks depending on the systems involved. (See the advised checklists for military parents for leaving a school and entering a new one. One of the key tips for school officials involves accommodating the slippage of records—e.g., providing a 60-day waiver for immunization records.) For teachers, too, there are practical problems with missing records, especially when the needs of a student are complicated (such as migrant students with disabilities, whose individual education plans convey legal obligations as well as are based on student performance). The in-the-works Migrant Student Records Exchange Initiative is a promised substitute for the older federal Migrant Student Records Transfer System, which reached about a third of districts but died in the 1990s.

The Migrant Student Records Exchange may be web-based, but it's not yet up and running. What worries me is one news story that the formatting might be proprietary, limiting what districts and states might be able to do on their own. (I'll say that I know very little about this and hope my reading of the article is dead wrong.) Surely, the Student Records Exchange might create a workable XML definition that would accommodate other files to include IEPs, various assessments, and even everyday classroom assignments as well as transcript information, school-related health records, etc.

But parents and school districts shouldn't have to wait for such a system. There's an easy way to provide exiting students with at least enough unofficial information to provide for a smoother transition. With the price of small-capacity USB drives dropping below $10 (and those are prices for single USB drives—imagine what bulk purchasing could do), it seems there would be a pretty simple solution. Schools could easily have a fast scanner in the front office and be able to scan a student's cumulative folder and transfer all records (electronic and scanned versions of paper records) into the thumb drive. Even in a family whose property is whatever fits in a car or truck, a child can carry her or his essential academic records (at least until an official transfer of records) at the end of a lanyard.

Oh, and Nicholas Negroponte? Your One Laptop Per Child initiative might want to consider children of migrant farmworkers. A robust machine might be especially valuable for them.

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Posted in Education policy on July 29, 2006 2:03 PM |