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.