inBloom Data Collection Support Wilting

Back to December 2013 Ed Reporter

inBloom Data Collection Support Wilting

student data collectingSchools have long collected student data, including grades, test scores, and family contact information. With funding from the Gates Foundation, the Council of Chief State School Officers developed “Common Education Data Standards,” in conjunction with Common Core, which demands large amounts of certain data to be collected. Before Common Core standards increased data demands, information about students was managed by states and by school districts that determined what information to collect about students and how to store it. With new regulations, schools are looking for ways to manage the increased data requirements.

Massive Amounts of Student Data

As part of the Common Education Data Standards, the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) developed guidelines for a longitudinal data system, which is a fancy term for the student’s permanent record that tracks students over multiple years even when they change schools. The CCSSO model of the permanent record is called P-20 because it tracks students from preschool through postsecondary or entry into the “workforce” (cradle to career). The CCSSO website states that P-20 “will do for State Longitudinal Data Systems what the Common Core is doing for curriculum.”

According to the CCSSO, a private lobbying organization based in Washington, D.C. and not answerable to any public or government oversight, the data collection and the national Common Core tests will “focus on student outcomes,” “target lowest performing schools,” “report timely actionable and accessible data,” and “align performance goals to college-and-career-ready standards.” The CCSSO P-20 has a goal of “Continued Commitment to Disaggregation,” which means they want personally identifiable information about individual students, rather than the grouped, anonymous information that has previously been requested from school districts. Parents and privacy advocates are concerned about this development and wonder why schools now need a record that begins when a student enters preschool and records everything about that individual student through age twenty. It can potentially become a lifelong record.

What’s a School To Do?

One option for schools to manage this increased student tracking is a database framework funded and developed by the Gates Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation, and Rupert Murdoch of News Corporation. $100 million in funding came from the Gates Foundation alone, according to the New York Times. (10-5-13) They then turned the database framework over to a nonprofit corporation called inBloom. inBloom offers a way for school districts to store the massive amounts of data that will be collected about students, as called for by Common Core. Personally identifiable information includes student health records, disciplinary records, class participation patterns, as well as home life particulars such as religious affiliation, family structure details, and parental political party affiliation.

Parents no longer need to give permission for their children’s private information to be shared. In order to collect the large amount of data about students the federal government now demands, the Obama administration unilaterally made significant changes to the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), including removing the rule that parents must give schools permission to share data. Consumer data is a multi-billion dollar industry. According to the Software and Information Industry Association, education technology for pre-K to 12th grade is an $8 billion market. Parents and privacy experts are increasingly concerned about the privacy rights of schoolchildren.

inBloom Slowdown

Of the nine states that originally signed up for inBloom, only Colorado, New York, and Illinois are still onboard. Other Colorado school districts are delaying implementation as they watch the debacle in Jefferson County, Colorado, where privacy concerns flared. Louisiana withdrew once parents discovered that children’s Social Security numbers had been uploaded to inBloom. In New York, public and charter schools have uploaded data on 90% of 2.7 million students without personally-identifying information, but state officials will soon add names, according to the New York Times. (10-5-13)

In Jefferson County, Colorado, a parent familiar with data collection and privacy issues because of her job worried that the school district may not adequately protect the data collected about children and then shared with inBloom. Once she met with the school superintendent she realized that her fears were justified. She said of the Jefferson County school district, which received a $5.2 million grant from the Gates Foundation, “I think they were star-struck and didn’t do their due diligence.”

Jefferson County School Superintendent Cynthia Stevenson was a superstar of the Common Core/inBloom crowd, and was even written up by the New York Times as an early, enthusiastic supporter. But when parents discovered the truth about the stealth and unwarranted collection of private student information, unsafe storage of that data, and the Gates Foundation’s huge donations to her district, Stevenson was put on the hot seat. She has now resigned. The school board also voted to sever ties with inBloom. (MichelleMalkin.com, 11-7-13)

Michelle Malkin commented about the Jefferson County turnaround, “The Davids are exercising their freedom of speech and association to beat back the deep-pocketed Goliaths at their schoolhouse doors. Parents across the country: This battle can be won.”

Cloudy skies for the Cloud

Schoolchildren’s data will be stored in what is referred to as a “cloud system.” Privacy and technology experts worry about the safety of cloud storage (and all data storage). Today’s industry standard becomes a hacker’s next code to crack. Well-publicized recent leaks of so-called private information in other sectors call into question the security of all information storage. The privacy of millions of children is at risk.

Whether or not a school district chooses inBloom or another data storage method, the longitudinal data collection needs to be done for the district and state to remain Common Core compliant. Student information will be gathered, disaggregated, stored, and sold to third parties. (Yes, that’s a part of Common Core, too.) The federal government under NCLB and now Common Core is demanding more and more personal student data.

An inBloom official stated, “All of the decisions about what data is stored and what applications are approved and what users can see that data in those applications are all a local customer decision.” Even if that were true, it only holds until the federal government threatens to cut off education funding until the required data is received. What choice will local school districts have then?