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Gates-Funded inBloom Student Data Processing Company Shuts Down over Privacy Concerns

Gates-Funded inBloom Student Data Processing Company Shuts Down over Privacy Concerns

The student data processing company inBloom, Inc. will shut its doors within the next few months following criticism that led to the recent loss of its last active client – New York State.

In 2012, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the primary private source of funding for the development, promotion, and implementation of the Common Core State Standards, awarded inBloom $16,783,334, the purpose of which was “to provide seed funding for startup and initial development costs of new 501(c)(3).”

According to the Associated Press, inBloom launched in 2013 with $100 million in financing from both the Gates Foundation and Carnegie Corp., with the goal of providing educators a data-based tool to personalize instruction. Based in Atlanta, inBloom offered to store and synthesize student data, including grades, disciplinary actions, and disability records in cloud-based servers.

The goal of student data collection for “personalized instruction” has been closely associated with Common Core’s stated goals of seeking economic justice and equity. Last year, the “architect” of the centralized standards and current College Board president, David Coleman, praised the collection of student data via the standards initiative.

Coleman also welcomed to the Common Core data collection initiative Barack Obama’s re-election team to develop the College Board’s economic justice project, “Access to Rigor Campaign,” aimed at profiling low-income and Latino K-12 students whom Coleman referred to as “low-hanging fruit.”

While nine states originally became clients of inBloom, they began to back out as parents and lawmakers raised concerns about student privacy and security of the data. Fears that the information could be subject to data-mining, i.e., sold or sought out by colleges and others with marketing goals, have increasingly been voiced as parents and other citizens have become more aware of the data collection aims of the Common Core standards.

Though the start-up assured parents and lawmakers student data would be secure, New York became the latest state-customer to discontinue its relationship with inBloom, directing the company to delete any of its stored data.

“It wasn’t an easy decision, and the unavailability of this technology is a real missed opportunity for teachers and school districts seeking to improve student learning,” said inBloom CEO Iwan Streichenberger in a statement on the company’s website. “We stepped up to the occasion and supported our partners with passion, but we have realized that this concept is still new, and building public acceptance for the solution will require more time and resources than anyone could have anticipated.”

The statement read:

The use of technology to tailor instruction for individual students is still an emerging concept and inBloom provides a technical solution that has never been seen before. As a result, it has been the subject of mischaracterizations and a lightning rod for misdirected criticism. In New York, these misunderstandings led to the recent passage of legislation severely restricting the education department from contracting with outside companies like inBloom for storing, organizing, or aggregating student data, even where those companies provide demonstrably more protection for privacy and security than the systems currently in use.

“Anything that limits the tools teachers and school districts can use to directly benefit their students is disappointing,” said the Gates Foundation in a statement. “Teachers should be able to easily support the individual learning needs of students. We believe the technology behind inBloom is an important part of making that a reality.”

“Promoting equity of access for students to personalized learning, while ensuring the highest levels of security and privacy protection, has always been our goal in supporting inBloom,” the Carnegie Corp. also said in a statement.

Reacting to the news of inBloom’s decision to shut down, New York State United Teachers, the state’s largest teachers’ union, said the closing “demonstrated the power that parents and teachers hold when they work together and fight for what’s best for students.”

William Estrada, director of federal relations for the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), called inBloom’s closing a “huge victory for student privacy advocates.”

In September, HSLDA published an article about the inBloom databases entitled “The Dawning Database: Does the Common Core Lead to National Data Collection?

“In his statement on inBloom’s website, CEO Iwan Streichenberger tried to characterize national database opponents as uninformed Luddites rejecting cool new technology,” Estrada wrote. “But parents are not objecting to new technology – they’re objecting to the use of technology to transfer local decision-making ability and control to national policy makers.”

“Parents are tired of educational elites making parenting decisions for them,” Estrada said. “Parents and teachers should be in the driver’s seat when it comes to educating the next generation.”

Estrada warned, however, that “those who support national student data tracking are not going away.”

“States and the federal government have already whittled away numerous student privacy protections,” he added. “This victory is the first step, as we continue to call on state legislatures and Congress to aggressively protect student privacy.”

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