The Scarsdale PT Council has sent out a district-wide email to parents to alert them that their children's personal data may soon be shared without their consent. They are urging parents to email the NYS Board of Regents, who is meeting with vendor inBloom, Inc. today, Monday April 22, to discuss the plans to share data.
According to reports in Reuters and the NY Daily News, New York State has already "spent $50 million in federal grants to partner with inBloom Inc. and finalized its agreement in October to share data with the fledgling company." New York State is one of nine pilot states that have agreed to provide data to inBloom Inc. who will partner with other vendors. These vendors will mine the database to create personalized learning tools, tracking software, educational games, and custom products for students, lesson plans for teachers, and progress reports for principals. One of these companies is eScholar who creates software allows students, parents and teachers to set individual goals for students and track their progress throughout their educational career. Check out their video here.
inBloom Inc. was founded as a non-profit and received $100 million in funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation and others. They have hired Wireless Generation – a company owned by News Corp -- to build the data infrastructure. Gates says technology can be used to collect and analyze data from schools and that big data can help "save" troubled schools. The goal was to build a "set of shared technology services" that states and districts can use "to connect student data and instructional materials" and integrate them effectively.
Though the goals of the new enterprise may be well-intentioned, parents are wary about releasing their children's personal data. If approved, the data could include "personally identifiable information, including student names, addresses, emails, photos, grades, test scores, detailed disciplinary, health and attendance records, race and ethnicity, and economic and disability status." inBloom, Inc. claims that they will not allow third parties to access the data unless "it is authorized by a school district or state educational agency to support a local priority." But who knows; once it's out there, there is the potential that everything about a student's performance could eventually be shared with college admission's committees, future employers and beyond.
Furthermore there are security risks. According to their website, inBloom, Inc. will store the data in the Cloud and "strive to keep it secure, ... however, inBloom, Inc cannot guarantee the security of the information stored in inBloom or that the information will not be intercepted when it is being transmitted.
Commenting on the proposed use of student data, Superintendent of Scarsdale Schools Michael McGill said, "Most of us only learned about this proposal over the weekend, so I can't say much about it in specific terms. What I can say is that I've had trouble with the State Education Department's practice of warehousing huge amounts of individually-identifiable student information in its computers; it's not necessary for policy-making. So I obviously have even more difficulty with the idea of sharing that kind of information with third parties. Government and for-profit education businesses are becoming ever more inextricably inter-connected. This is a development that merits public concern and close public scrutiny."
Scarsdale parents are not the only ones to object to the data sharing. After an outcry from parents, Louisiana State Superintendent John White announced that he was recalling all confidential student data from inBloom. In Massachusetts, the Massachusetts ACLU, the Massachusetts state PTA, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, Class Size Matters, and others — have expressed their concerns about the project, In New York City and Brooklyn Heights parents groups also appealed to parents to email the NYS regents to urge them not to share the data. The US Department of Education is being sued by the Electronic Privacy Information Center for "promoting regulations that are alleged to undercut student privacy and parental consent. The rules allow third parties, including private companies and foundations promoting school reform, to get access to private student information." However the U.S. Department of Education contends that the data will "will facilitate States' ability to evaluate education programs, to build upon what works and discard what does not, to increase accountability and transparency, and to contribute to a culture of innovation and continuous improvement in education."
The leadership of the Scarsdale PT Council is appealing to parents to get involved. They have circulated the text of an email that they are asking parents to send to the Board of Regents. It says, "I urge you to follow Louisiana's lead and pull our student data out of this risky project immediately. Do New York children deserve less privacy than children in Louisiana? If the data leaks out or is used inappropriately by vendors, it could damage a student's prospects for his or her life....If you do not decide to withdraw all the state's data, I ask that you at least require parental consent, so that I as well as other parents can decide for ourselves if we would like our children's most sensitive information shared with inBloom and other corporations."
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