Parent Opposition Slims Student Data Collection

Published November 22, 2013

After months of parent protests, Colorado’s Department of Education ended its contract with controversial technology organization inBloom in November, shortly after Jefferson County, Colorado’s school board cut ties with it for the same reason by a 7-1 vote.

This makes New York the sole remaining state with a relationship with inBloom, of an initial nine. New York is holding hearings to reconsider education policies that include inBloom, also prompted by a wave of parent and teacher protests.

Jefferson County Superintendent Cynthia Stevenson, who signed on to the program in early 2013, resigned, effective June 30, 2014, after her board’s vote.

“InBloom is safe and secure and cost-effective,” she said. “Teachers participated in focus groups and were supportive. That said, parents have concerns that were honored by JeffCo.” 

InBloom is a nonprofit organization sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It offers states and school districts a way to consolidate their student data collection into one place, including Social Security numbers, discipline records, student hobbies, teachers’ opinions about students, and more.

Parents’ apprehension toward data collection is leaving many districts and states baffled on how to meet federal requirements while protecting personal information from hackers, unauthorized bureaucrats, and sale to marketing companies. Sunny Flynn, a parent activist whose daughter attends Jefferson County schools, says data collection “must always be weighed against the costs and risks. InBloom is not the answer.”

Data Access Expanded
InBloom lets school employees see all of a student’s information on one online dashboard. What has parents in an uproar is that access to the data does not stop there.

In 2012 the Obama administration rewrote the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) through regulations allowing public schools to transfer students’ personally identifiable information to third parties without parent knowledge or consent. That gives numerous individuals quick access to students’ personal information.

When a school signs up with inBloom, inBloom stores student records online. Then, another vender receives the data to arrange in a user-friendly format. This distributes sensitive student information to third parties without parent consent.

“You have to realize the overall context of electronic data collection and student privacy within public education to understand the concern with inBloom,” Flynn said. “With the increase in technology, the adoption of Common Core, the investment in the State Longitudinal Data Systems, and the move to national assessments, the amount of uniform data collection in our schools is increasing at an exponential pace. This data is extremely powerful, predictive, and personal.” 

New York, New York
In 2012, New York’s Board of Regents mandated inBloom statewide. In reaction, then-public advocate and now New York City mayor-elect Bill de Blaiso wrote to New York’s Education Commissioner complaining, “through this contract, students’ confidential information is being allowed to be disseminated in the marketplace for the purpose of generating revenue rather than improving educational outcomes.”

In 2013, New York Assemblyman Daniel O’Donnell (D-New York City) introduced Assembly Bill 06059 and Sen. Mark Grisanti introduced companion Senate Bill 04284. Both would block sharing of students’ personally identifiable data with corporations without parental consent. Neither has passed out of committee.

In November, twelve parents filed a lawsuit against Education Commissioner John King and the Board of Regents over the data collection. New York activist Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters, says inBloom should have to “provide full parental notification and consent.” The lawsuit will be heard December 6.

Louisiana Pulls Out
Louisiana Superintendent John White agreed to pull his state out of inBloom due to privacy concerns in spring 2013.

“After the Department heard the concerns of parents, the decision was made to remove the data from the database,” said Barry Landry, press secretary for the Louisiana Department of Education. “The data is currently being stored in-house.”

InBloom does not guarantee “the security of the information stored in inBloom or that the information will not be intercepted,” according to its security policy statement. InBloom does state, “Vendors have no access to student records through inBloom unless authorized by a state or district with legal authority over those student records. InBloom has no ownership of student records.” 

Image by Celiemme.