State budget axes inBloom

New Rochelle High School

New Rochelle High School

By CHRIS EBERHART
The state Education Department has abandoned the controversial student database inBloom.

The state discontinued inBloom’s service as part of its budget—passed on March 31—but parents remain concerned with the prospect of data collection as a possibility going forward.

Collecting personally identifiable student data was a component of the Common Core, created in 2010 by the federal government and rolled out in the 2012-2013 school year to establish consistent education standards across the country and better prepare students for college. In order to entice school districts to adopt the Common Core, it created the $4.35 billion federal grant program Race to the Top in 2012, which sought to spur education innovation in public schools.

In essence, the grant program dangled money in front of school districts that adopted the Common Core.

In order to receive money from the Race to the Top program, school districts were obligated to send their students’ information to the state Education Department to be stored in the online database inBloom, a nonprofit funded by the Gates foundation.

The rationale behind the data collection was to provide information that allows parents and teachers to catch early warning signs of a student that might not finish high school and to track the student’s progress in relation to their career goals.

But the data collection service was met with immediate backlash from parents, teachers, school administrators and lawmakers that worried about breaches in security and possible profiteering among other concerns.

Lisa Rudley, co-founder of the parent advocacy group New York State Allies for Public Education, said the budget failed to address this central concern, an issue that’s been at the heart of the controversy swirling around the Common Core.

“We applaud the Legislature for canceling the contract with inBloom as NYSED and the Board of Regents failed to heed to taxpayer concerns,” Rudley said. “But concerns that remain include the no parental consent requirement language in the legislation. While there are restrictions on certain data to never be shared, we believe that parents should have to give consent on any personally identifiable data that is being shared beyond the school.”

Rudley was also concerned that state legislators didn’t address the possibility that further data collection could be reincorporated into Common Core at a later date.

“The language of the legislation allows the school districts to opt out [of a possible future, statewide data collection] but still doesn’t give that option to the parents,” she said.

State Sen. George Latimer, a Rye Democrat who has been pushing for Common Core reforms, said the state budget also calls for a mandatory Parents Bill of Rights, which would outline what parents can expect in terms of data collection and would govern what access the state has to any information that is collected.

The Legislature has not been in session since the budget passed, so the bill of rights has not been created nor is anything  eminent, but Latimer said this is something that will be developed.

In regards to the state’s divorce from inBloom, Latimer agreed with complaints from parents and educators and said there were too many question marks surrounding the database.

“There were complaints about different aspects of the Common Core,” Latimer said. “But everyone had a problem with [the data collection] and privacy issues. Collection of data has to have a clear and valid purpose, which this didn’t have. For a 12th grader ready to graduate, why do you need his third grade info and what happens when he leaves school? What’s the purpose of having all that information? There’s a lot of objection because of privacy concerns, what it’s used for and how much it’s going to cost.”

In protest of inBloom, at least 30 school districts in the lower Hudson Valley have forfeited their Race to the Top money in the preceding months before the state budget passed in an effort to avoid sending their students’ data to inBloom. But school districts were still forced to send their students’ information to the state, and extensive information was already collected and transferred to the state-wide database.

State lawmakers intervened and included the discontinuation of inBloom in the recently-passed budget and demanded the already-collected information be destroyed.

Tom Dunn, spokesperson from the state Education Department, said the department will delete all information that has already been collected, but will also look for other avenues to provide school districts with “cost-effective education technology tools.”

“To comply with the enacted budget and our Race to the Top obligations, we will continue to explore and pursue alternate paths that help our schools, districts and BOCES access secure and cost-effective educational technology tools that empower and support our teachers, students and their families,” Dunn said. “As required by statute, we will not store any student data with inBloom and we have directed inBloom to securely delete the non-identifiable data that has been stored.”

Adam Gaber, vice president of communications for inBloom, said inBloom respects the state’s decision to discontinue its service, but remains steadfast in its opinion inBloom has a “unique ability to empower teachers in ways that can dramatically improve learning for students.”

“We are pushing forward with our mission to overcome the barrier of information interoperability for the benefit of education,” Gaber said. “We remain committed to the high standards of privacy and security we have always maintained.”

Latimer said the future of state-wide data collection is still unanswered and open-ended.

“Where do we go from here? We have to determine what is it that we need to know about a student performance and keep data collection narrow and then decide how it is going to be used,” Latimer said. “I’d like to keep student data collection at the local level, but that will be part of the discussion moving forward.”

CONTACT: christopher@hometwn.com