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Queens Chronicle

Forum a little bit of a late bloomer?

DOE and NYSED meet with parents to discuss inBloom data portal

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Posted: Thursday, June 20, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 10:52 am, Thu Jun 27, 2013.

InBloom, the controversial nonprofit organization that will be providing data storage for the State Education Department and Department of Education, has ruffled the feathers of parents and activist groups all over the city.

The group, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, describes itself as a “provider of technology services that allow states and public school districts to better integrate student data and third-party applications to support sustainable, cost-effective personalized learning.”

But while inBloom and the NYSED have been gushing over the possibilities a central data cloud can have, parents have been steaming over the fact that no formal announcement was made nor parental permission sought before the two entities got into bed with one another.

Rallies sponsored by the activist group Class Size Matters have warned parents about inBloom’s collection of confidential student information, calling it a radical violation of privacy.

But for the first time, at a parental advisory board meeting in Borough Hall on Tuesday, inBloom's Chief Product Officer Sharren Bates, the NYSED Associate Commissioner Ken Wagner and DOE Deputy Chief Academic Officer Adina Lopatin sat down with Panel on Educational Policy representative Dmytro Fedkowskyj to lay out a detailed overview of what inBloom is and how it can benefit children, teachers, administrators and educational departments.

“Inbloom is a nonprofit with some additional funding from the Gates foundation that was established solely for the purpose of creating some nonproprietary, open source, publically available standards for which education tools would be built,” Wagner said at the forum. “No vendor owns the data or the standards and inBloom doesn’t own the data or the standards.”

In the city, a centralized Education Data Portal has been used in the past with ARIS though a majority of people, including the DOE, have admitted it is a failure.

This new EDP is being implemented because of the federal grant contest known as Race to the Top, which was created to spur innovation and reforms in state and local district K-12 education.

The contest, which began in 2009, did not add New York to the list of finalists until 2011. States on the list have met a series of requirements and are awarded funds for education. New York received $700 million.

Both the NYSED and the DOE report that a central sign-on portal that uses data dashboards and online tools that display student demographic, enrollment, program participation and achievement scores must be used.

As NYSED is using the RTTT money to fund the inBloom project, implementation will not cost the school districts any money until January 2015, when the grant money runs out.

“All of the states that have signed onto inBloom’s project are merely saying that they are interested in using inBloom some way or another,” Wagner said. “We are going to try it while we have this grant money and then in 2015 we’ll decide from there. If you hate it, we won’t use it but if you like it and you see that is helping the teachers and administrators and students, then we will continue to use it.”

Wagner added that using inBloom will save each school district a lot of money. Where current practices cost a district $13 to $16 a student, inBloom will cost $2 to $5 a student.

The savings could cover buses, school lunch and other commonly used items.

By the end of Wagner’s presentation, parents and educators seemed a little more at ease with inBloom though many felt that the company should have communicated more.

“The presentation was very informative and detailed,” Fedkowskyj said. “If this had come out a few months ago, maybe the situation we’re in right now would be a little bit different.”

“At first, when I heard about this, I was very upset about inBloom, but you did a good job of explaining it,” Joseph Blythe, a PS 49 parent and member of the School Leadership Team, said. “Though I can’t believe nobody in the process of all of this thought, ‘What are the parents going to think of this?’ It seems like this is a ‘it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission’ kind of thing.”

Still, some parents pressed the NYSED to consider removing full names and addresses of students when passing along information to vendors.

Wagner said on July 1, the NYSED and inBloom will begin community outreach.

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  • OnlineOpinion posted at 9:30 am on Fri, Jun 21, 2013.

    OnlineOpinion Posts: 4

    Also, the Chronicle got the name of the inBloom chief product officer incorrect. Her name is Sharren Bates. See her bio from inBloom for her credentials to recruit a ton of software companies to design products and portals to help parents teach Johnny how to read, write and do math.

    "As Chief Product Officer, Sharren Bates is responsible for the vision, strategy, design and development of all inBloom products and services.

    Prior to joining inBloom in February 2013, Sharren’s excitement about the power of personalized learning and deep understanding of barriers to entry and innovation in the sector led her to her previous role as Senior Program Officer on the Next Generation Models team at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. There she was one of the Foundation’s lead representatives on the Shared Learning Collaborative, and spearheaded the development of the inBloom technology services.

    Prior to the Gates Foundation, Sharren worked on education policy at the federal level as an education analyst working on the National Broadband Plan at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Previously, she led the New York City Department of Education’s Achievement Reporting and Innovation System (ARIS) team, launching an integrated data reporting and collaboration system for the city’s 90,000 teachers and approximately 800,000 parents.

    Sharren has been working at the intersection of education policy, classroom practice, and technology for the past eight years, and draws on fifteen years cross-industry experience delivering high-quality large-scale technology projects on time and on budget. She lives in New York with her husband."

  • OnlineOpinion posted at 9:20 am on Fri, Jun 21, 2013.

    OnlineOpinion Posts: 4

    [ohmy] I attended this meeting and prior to attending I reviewed Ken Wagner's (NYSED) March 2013 memo that he sent to NYS and NYC educators explaining the state's Education Data Portal and it's relationship with inBloom. I also took the time to research the initial IRS annual return of inBloom and the public literature concerning its creation and unique financial and staff relationships with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation of NY.

    I think what parents and the public should object to is the process by which these huge decisions are made at the state and city government levels. The Chief Product Officer of inBloom used to have high level management relationship with ARIS. Why would the public (and after all it is our tax dollars that support NYCDOE and NYSED) trust an executive who has ties to a $10million dollar problematic system (ARIS) to oversee the recruitment and payment of vendors who will develop the software system that drive inBloom? She also has substantial private foundation ties to the foundations funding this project.

    If I owned an education software company, I would be salivating at the revenue projections of selling a service to inBloom or later down the road, NYC DOE. inBloom was created as a 501C3 to eventually generate its own earned income if it fails to receive enough public support to maintain salaries and other expenses. Foundations that support inBloom get a tax deduction. Individuals who donate to inBloom get a tax deduction. Corporations that support inBloom can deduct their funding because inBloom was created as a 501C3. When a fundraiser imagines inBloom's income over the next 5 to 10 years, it's impossible to not to come to the conclusion, inBloom REQUIRES an earned income business plan to survive as a 501C3.

    Ken Wagner raised the issue of public and private lawsuits against NYSED and NYC DOE if there is a data breach. He says the State is responsible for any data breaches AND carefully explained to the audience that the liability to a non-profit organization was up to $1 million dollars. Mr. Wagner advised the public that, of course, we have our own recourse to (sue?) if there is a data breach. A limitation on inBloom's liability should there be data breaches should be further examined by the public.

    Regarding the public's request to give parents the options to opt out of sharing their child's data. Clearly this has not happened yet in any state that is developing an EDP with the federal Race To The Top money. Neither Ken Wagner NYSED or the NYC DOE Deputy or inBloom's Chief Product Officer offered any satisfactory or informative response to this opt-out option. It's almost like they were too LAZY as policy makers to investigate this option.

    My takeaway from this meeting is that we need to keep an eye on public-private partnerships (or government agencies relinquishing the majority control over their projects to private foundations and private corporations). It was NOT GOOD when Ken Wagner of the government described this EDP process as "an experiment" and when he was not able to come up with the academic research that showed data portals actually create better teachers and better students.

    Wagner's experiences have been with the state's much smaller school districts. He did not show a familiarity with the much bigger operating systems of NYC's public schools or our classroom issues... His presentation focused more on the government's ability to share student data should students move out of NYC's school district to an upstate school district. His presentation spent more time touting the potential administrative savings with one system that would combine programming efforts for school bus lines, ELLs, free lunch, suspensions & discipline data, attendances, blue card data, grades, test results, vocational expectations, etc. So if this data is collected from your child's pre-K to grad 12 activities, you can imagine the concerns parents have over data breaches or potential future issues in EDP/inBLOOM inadvertently providing vendors with inappropriate access. It doesn't matter that SSNs are not included -- the child's name, address and family's name, phone and location is included in the record.

    Wagner provided a scanty description of how this database and it's data portals would actually be used by a NYC public school teacher. It's clear to me that Ken Wagner is right... the state's efforts to create an EDP and the creation of inBloom is an experiment. It's one of a long line of social and government experiments. The state and city should respond to the public's concerns over privacy and data breaches and focus significant effort on responding to questions about WHY we cannot set up an opt out version for the NYC school district.