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Garden City Public Schools’ 'Question of the Week'

Why is student data being uploaded to inBloom? How secure is the information?

This week’s Common Core “Question of the Week” focuses on the collection of student data by New York State for inBloom. A complete listing of the questions and answers to date is posted on the district website under “Common Core FAQs.”

I’ve heard a lot about the collection of student data by New York State and its uploading to inBloom. What is inBloom?

InBloom debuted in February 2013. Funded with $100 million in seed money from The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation of New York, inBloom is an independent, non-profit data depository in Atlanta, GA. Its mission “is to provide a valuable resource to teachers, students and families, to improve education.”

InBloom’s founder stated that a major purpose of the organization would be to develop a national data repository that offered a standardized method for collecting and storing student data. Data could then be used by states, districts, administrators and teachers for tracking, interpreting, analyzing, comparing and correlating multiple variables.

Since data is currently compiled (and has been for many years) by districts and the state using a variety of templates and data fields, a standardized approach would allow deeper analyses. According to inBloom, software developers would then be encouraged to develop and supply products capable of refining the data toward guiding educational policy and best practices.  

InBloom’s data is being stored on a web-based "cloud" and "managed by Amazon.com;" the collection of data uses "an operating system built by Wireless Generation, a subsidiary of News Corporation. News Corp. is owned by Rupert Murdoch, . . ."

Why is student data being uploaded to inBloom?

A component of the Board of Regents’ Reform Agenda, the reporting of student data is required by New York State. The state selected inBloom as the vendor for its student data repository. All New York State district and charter schools are required to participate in student data reporting as per the terms of the state’s acceptance of $700 million in Race to the Top (RTTT) funds. The privacy of student data is currently regulated by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

Some have proposed that an opt-out of all student data reporting be implemented. There is no current opt-out option in place for parents, students or school districts in New York State. However, proposed opt-out student data legislation would have a crippling effect on school districts. For example, it would prevent the school district from using its student database to develop schedules, report cards and bus routing, or even manage the middle and high school student cafeteria purchases.

What data is reported?

New York State collects many data points. The fields include grades, test results and attendance records. New York State previously uploaded 90 percent of data on 2.7 million public and charter school students to inBloom. The uploaded data was stripped of students’ names, however.

NOTE: As of Jan. 9, 2014, the State Education Department decided to postpone the uploading of more student information until April. The new data is slated to include personally identifiable information.

How secure is the information?

The school district shares the concerns raised by parents and educators about data security. InBloom has publically reassured that its data depository is secure. However, concerns persist and, as a result, eight of the nine states that signed on to use inBloom have withdrawn, citing privacy and security issues. New York State is the sole remaining subscriber.

What other concerns have been raised?

Beyond data security, other concerns include: 

  • Accountability: InBloom is a non-profit corporation with a separate Board of Directors. Unlike public school districts, it is a non-governmental agency. Corporate policy makers are not elected or appointed and therefore are not directly accountable to the public.
  • Redundancy: New York State already collects student data, as do school districts and BOCES agencies. Garden City has used BOCES data warehouse service for at least eight years to track student performance with excellent results.
  • Clear Purpose: The current goals of data warehousing with inBloom have been specified. Moving forward, the purposes and goals could change. There has been no expiration date set for inBloom-stored data.

Garden City is carefully monitoring the situation with inBloom. While it is required to comply with New York State laws, it recognizes the importance of protecting student privacy and preventing the commercialization of student information.

Watch this column in subsequent weeks for more answers to questions and concerns about the Common Core and other New York State mandates. You can also visit the district’s website, under “Departments,” “Curriculum and Instruction,” to access useful links. If you are a resident of the school district and have a specific question you’d like answered about the Common Core or other pertinent education topics, please email knightc@gcufsd.net.

Submitted by the Garden City School District

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