Student Privacy Issues - No to inBloom

 Update:  From a Colorado blog about children, School Belongs to the Children, a screenshot of inBloom's promotional video.  The accompanying article has some good information that I plan to draw from on what WE in Washington State need to do to stop this.

This article  from Reuters really does a good job of explaining the issues around student data and privacy.  (I had seen this but a reader also alerted me to it; thanks).

I keep getting asked, "What to do?"  I'll have a list of things you CAN and SHOULD do.  Our district can say no to a lot of this.  

In a nutshell:

A $100 million database set up to store extensive records on millions of public school students has stumbled badly since its launch this spring, with officials in several states backing away from the project amid protests from irate parents.

The database, funded mostly by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is intended to track students from kindergarten through high school by storing myriad data points: test scores, learning
disabilities, discipline records - even teacher assessments of a child's character. The idea is that consolidated records make it easier for teachers to use software that mines data to identify academic weaknesses. Games, videos or lesson plans would then be precisely targeted to engage specific children or promote specific skills.

The system is set up to identify millions of children by name, race, economic status and other metrics and is constructed in a way that makes it easy for school districts to share some or all of that information with private companies developing education software.

To note: districts could share this information with almost any company they want to, not just those developing education software.   (And people ask, "How could Bill Gates make money off this?")

How it works:

School districts already store student data and often share it with private vendors hired for jobs such as tracking reading scores. InBloom simply consolidates in one secure, cloud-hosted database the reams of student information now scattered among an array of computer servers, teacher grade books and file cabinets, Wise said. The districts retain complete control over which data to store in inBloom and whether to let third-party vendors use it.

InBloom is now free but will start charging participating states or school districts annual fees of $2 to $5 per student in 2015, bringing in millions of dollars that officials at the nonprofit say will cover expenses for developing and maintaining the database.

The nonprofit recently announced that it would no longer let school districts use student social security numbers to label individual files in the database. Instead, districts must assign each student a random numerical ID. But spokesman Adam Gaber refused to say whether social security numbers might be included elsewhere - not as a label but as a basic data point, along with ethnicity, address, parents' names and other personal information routinely collected by public schools. 

Cracks in the plan showing:

The nonprofit organization that runs the database, inBloom Inc, introduced the project in March with a presentation at an education technology conference, complete with a list of nine states that it said were committed partners.

But now, Louisiana has backed out - Kentucky, Georgia and Deleware told Reuters they never made such a commitment and Georgia wants its name off inBloom's list.

Meanwhile, Massachusetts and North Carolina are still pondering this question.  The states remaining are New York, Illinois and Colorado.   

An early backer of inBloom, the Council of Chief State School Officers, is now big on only a second phase of the project, which involves creating an online library of lesson plans, quiz questions and other teaching resources.

That last part - Phase 2 - is key because it's the part of the project that does NOT involve privacy issues and that most of the states would be okay about using.

And it's not just WHO gets access to your student's info, it's the safety conditions under which it is stored:

The single biggest issue is, Can we satisfy not only ourselves but everyone that the data is as secure stored there as it would be anywhere?" said Jeff Wulfson, deputy commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Education. "From our perspective, this is still in the research and development phase."

 Understand that this runs smack into Common Core use because the results of assessments coming from Common Core would be subject to inBloom.  (This is one reason that the Republican National Committee has come out against Common Core.)  

More on Common Core and national and local implications to come.


Anonymous said…
Wait, how is inBloom connected to the assessment consortia? Is there a contract between Smarter Balanced and/or PARCC and inBloom?

--- Confused
mirmac1 said…
Would be great if Dora Taylor and Seattle Ed 2010 did another network diagram linking various consortia, foundations, non-profits, yadda yadda with respect to data-mining. Cool Beans!
Anonymous said…
Thank you for the link. I was alerted to this issue recently by a parent who has done a lot of research on this issue. I was quite alarmed by what he told me. I am happy to see awareness of this growing. I am absolutely not ok with my child's data being stored like that. No thanks. This should be screamed from a mountain top because I think most other parents would agree with me. I posted a link to the article on my Facebook. I will be paying close attention to this issue and speaking up and rabble rousing if necessary. Certainly opting out should be an option for families at the very least if this or some similar database is brought online here.

Signed Privacy Mom
Unknown said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said…

There is no per se link between InBloom and Common Core State Standards. When I say this, I mean there is no requirement that states use InBloom to collect, analyze and report data. Having said that, InBloom and Common Core Standards both received heavy investments from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. And when I say heavy, I mean heavy. Over the last four years, the GF invested $148 million in grants to organizations and governmental entities to develop, advocate, inform and educate about common core standards. Interestingly enough five of the top six grantees of the GF's lavish funding are state level organizations in five of the nine states that were first signed up to beta-test InBloom Colorado, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana,New York and North Carolina. Grants ranged from 5.5 million to the James B. Hunt Jr. Institute for Educational Leadership and Policy Foundation, Inc in North Carolina to 9.7 million to the Colorado Legacy Foundation. Do you see any patterns here? I do.

In addition, some of the ways these grants are written are a tad bit scary. For example, there is a nonprofit organization in Houston, Texas called the “Reasoning Mind” that received 328,000 to ”pilot an online mathematics curriculum aligned to the common core standards as a means to providing alternative human capital models in large, urban school districts that serve minority and economically disadvantaged students.” Providing alternative human capital to minority and disadvantaged students sounds discriminatory to me. It also sounds cold. The Creative Commons Corporation of San Francisco received $463,000 to ”partner in the development of the learning resource metadata initiative to produce a common metadata schema to identify learning resources that will complement common core standards for K12, as well as all other online learning vehicles.” This initiative’s documents, funded by the Gates Foundation to support common core standards, is part of the InBloom site. Whether or not the tie from InBloom to CCSS is overt or not, the impetus to use InBloom is certainly there. The Gates Foundation is unmistakably driving CCSS and InBloom down parallel tracks.

On another purely aesthic note, people should check out the video on the InBloom site. Is it just me or do the kids and teachers in this video look like they have been assimilated by the Borg?.
mirmac1 said…
Hey! That Colorado blog HAS a (crude) diagram! I'm sure more entities could be added.

Those screen shots are scary. Schools can pass student records to other educational institutions without parent consent already. Is Jenny going to not get into Stanford because she can't resist distractions and her participation in class is spotty? Will her disciplinary records for smoking in the girls room dash her hopes for college? Will employers someday demand access to the "cloud", much like they demand access to applicant's Facebook data?

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