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    New York Times: Deciding Who Sees Students’ Data

    The New York Times reports on schools’ collection of students’ personal information, including through the use of InBloom’s services, and how this could affect the privacy of students and parents:

    WHEN Cynthia Stevenson, the superintendent of Jefferson County, Colo., public schools, heard about a data repository called inBloom, she thought it sounded like a technological fix for one of her bigger headaches. Over the years, the Jeffco school system, as it is known, which lies west of Denver, had invested in a couple of dozen student data systems, many of which were incompatible. […]

    InBloom, a nonprofit corporation based in Atlanta, seemed to offer a solution: it could collect information from the district’s many databases and store it in the cloud, making access easier, and protect it with high-level encryption.

    The company has name-brand backing: $100 million in seed money from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation along with the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Beyond storing data, it promised to help personalize learning — by funneling student data to software dashboards where teachers could track individual students and, with the right software, customize lessons in real time. Also, districts could effortlessly share student records with developers seeking to create educational tools for schools. In other words, for Dr. Stevenson, it represented not just a fix to a narrow technical problem, but also a potentially revolutionary way to help educate students.

    “We are joining the new generation of data management,” Dr. Stevenson said enthusiastically in the March issue of “Chalk Talk,” the school district’s newsletter for parents.

    She did not imagine that five months later, she would be sitting in a special school board meeting in the district’s headquarters, listening as a series of parents, school board members and privacy lawyers assailed the plan to outsource student data storage to inBloom. What troubled the naysayers at that August session was that the district seemed to be rushing to increase data-sharing before weighing the risks of granting companies access to intimate details about children. They noted that administrators had no policies in place to govern who could see the information, how long it would be kept or whether it would be shared with the colleges to which students applied. […]

    Jefferson County is not the only place where parents have challenged the adoption of inBloom. Parents in Louisiana raised a ruckus after discovering that their children’s Social Security numbers had been uploaded to inBloom. In April, Louisiana officials said they would remove all student data from the database. Of the nine states that originally signed up this year to participate, just three — Colorado, New York and Illinois — are actively pursuing the service. […]

    InBloom seems designed to nudge schools toward maximal data collection. School administrators can choose to fill in more than 400 data fields. Many are facts that schools already collect and share with various software or service companies: grades, attendance records, academic subjects, course levels, disabilities. Administrators can also upload certain details that students or parents may be comfortable sharing with teachers, but not with unknown technology vendors. InBloom’s data elements, for instance, include family relationships (“foster parent” or “father’s significant other”) and reasons for enrollment changes (“withdrawn due to illness” or “leaving school as a victim of a serious violent incident”).

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