When the NYS Education Department announced that a new data program, InBloom, would replace the controversial ARIS, many parents had no complaints.
A few weeks later, Leonie Haimson and her group Class Size Matters informed parents that the nonprofit group would store students’ information in a cloud and share it with corporations, people were naturally up in arms.
The activist group and InBloom have gone back and forth for a number of months but last Friday, at a hearing called by Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan (D-Sunnyside) and the Standing Committee on Education, InBloom was called on to answer questions.
At the original hearing held in November that InBloom representatives did not attend, Nolan noted that “the Assembly Majority has serious concerns about the potential flaws of the state Education Department’s plan to share student data and their ability to protect student privacy.” Last week, she stood by her statement and grilled NYSED and InBloom regarding the type of data stored, the purpose of such storage and the length of time it would be kept. She also pressed to find out why other states dropped their contracts with InBloom in the past.
The organization was steadfast in defending its program, stating information would be encrypted several times so no one person would have access to all the data.
“The advantage of InBloom is that, since its founding, InBloom has consistently recognized the importance of keeping student data private and secure,” Peggy Brookins of InBloom said. “We designed our [student data system] to be compliant with both [the Family Educational Rights and Policy Act] and state law concerning student privacy.”
Another concern many parents have is the possible selling of information to vendors like McGraw-Hill and Pearson.
InBloom publicly stated that it will “never sell student or customer data” and that the state of New York owns and manages the data that resides in the repository.
But, perhaps the most controversial part of the InBloom initiative is parents’ inability to opt out of the program.
In June, Nolan and Assemblyman Phillip Goldfeder (D-Howard Beach) introduced the student privacy bill, which would allow parents and students 18 and older to opt out of the state Education Department’s disclosure of personal identifiable information to a third party. It was never signed into law as the Senate did not act.
Nolan and other Assembly members now want to ensure that the state Education Department does not maintain singular control of student data, but that districts also have authority.
By the end of the hearing, Nolan’s office reported that InBloom asserted that its contract with the state Education Department can potentially be edited to address the concerns of parents, education groups and the Assembly; what exactly those edits would be was not specified.
No final decision was made but Nolan might seek further information from other third-party providers that contract with InBloom.
“We appreciated the opportunity to testify before Assemblywoman Nolan and the New York State Assembly Standing Committee on Education today and hope to continue participating in constructive discussions,” InBloom spokesman Adam Gaber said after the hearing. “As a non-profit education data services organization, InBloom is a small, but critical component of New York State’s efforts to improve student achievement by enabling teachers to easily tailor education to students’ individual needs and skill levels. We look forward to continuing our collaboration.”