The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Student privacy activists win a big one

In a win for student privacy activists, New York state is ending its relationship with a controversial $100 million student data collection project  funded by the Gates Foundation and operated by a nonprofit called inBloom. It appears that from the nine original state partners, none are now committed to going forward.

The state legislators passed a law barring the state Education Department from participating in anything that involves storing student data in the manner that inBloom was planning to do for New York and some other states, according to The Journal News. Any data already being stored must be deleted. Dennis Tompkins, spokesman for Education Commissioner John King, released a statement that said in part:

“As required by statute, we will not store any student data with inBloom and we have directed inBloom to securely delete the non-identifiable data that has been stored.”

The  data cloud was supposed to hold detailed data points on millions of school children with the stated mission of allowing education officials to use the information to target educational support. Privacy activists, educators and parents raised alarms that there was no guarantee that the information could be stored securely with a 100 percent guarantee,  that a great deal of the data being collected was too personal, and that this private information would be given to private third parties. The Journal News said in part:

The Westchester Putnam School Boards Association and the Lower Hudson Council of School Superintendents questioned state officials about the inBloom project at numerous meetings and forums and continued to raise objections to losing local control of student records.
Officials were gratified to learn of the demise of the state’s data plans.
“I think it is a really good example of democracy in action,” said Susan Elion Wollin, president of the School Boards Association. “It’s nice to see that folks in Albany listened and respected our kids, our parents and our school officials.”

According to Politico, there are now “no known customers” for the inBloom project though inBloom spokesman Adam Gaber said the nonprofit is  “pushing forward with our mission.” New York was the state that was most fully involved in the project.

Education activists in New York, led by Leonie Haimson, founder of Class Size Matters, led a campaign against the project and sued the state of New York over the state’s involvement in the project. On the website of Class Size Matters, Haimson wrote:

In any case, the inBloom saga has opened up a can of worms, letting us know that dangerous threats to student privacy arise from a multitude of sources, including the state agencies, avid to track your child’s data from cradle to the grave, as well as for-profit vendors, eager to collect as much highly valuable student data as possible in the name of “improving instruction” and “personalized learning” but primarily to make a buck.
Though we may have won the battle, we are far from winning the war. Here in New York, Commissioner King will be appointing a “privacy officer” (which in my mind is akin to having the fox guarding the hen house) and will be writing regulations for the new law, whose language in many ways is ambiguous and confusing. We will all have to keep a close eye on him as he is likely to be adopting language for those regs from expensive attorneys hired by the Gates Foundation, Pearson and the like, who are his real “partners” in the educational endeavor known as corporate reform. Keep tuned as we continue our work to inform parents, and help them fight for the right to protect their child’s privacy and security to the maximum degree possible going forward.