The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

$100 million Gates-funded student data project ends in failure

A controversial $100 million student data collection project funded by the Gates Foundation and operated by a specially created nonprofit organization called inBloom is shutting down after failing to achieve its goals.

After most of the original state partners with inBloom withdrew their support, the final straw was the recent decision by the New York state legislature to stop participating in any project involving storing student data in the manner that inBloom was planning. The data were to be stored in a data cloud that would hold incredibly detailed data points on millions of school children with the stated mission of allowing education officials to use the information to target educational support.

Activists led by New York’s Leonie Haimson, head of Class Size Matters, as well as educators and parents raised alarms that there was no guarantee that the information could be stored securely with a 100 percent guarantee and  that a great deal of the data being collected was too personal. There was also concern that third parties could access private information though inBloom officials denied it.

In a message on the inBloom website, Chief Executive Officer Iwan Streichenberger blamed the failure of the initiative not on inBloom itself  but rather on critics who offered “mischaracterizations” and “misdirected criticism” of the effort and the inability of inBloom officials to realize how difficult it would be to build public acceptance.

Here is the complete text of the message on the inBloom website, from Streichenberger:

Friends and colleagues:
In 2011, an alliance of educators and state leaders, non-profit foundations, and instructional content and tool providers formed the Shared Learning Collaborative (SLC). The vision of that group was simple: create a resource that allows teachers to get a more complete picture of student progress so they can individualize instruction while saving time, effort and precious resources.
I signed on to the project in November 2012 to lead inBloom, the non-profit corporation that is the SLC’s successor. I joined because I passionately believe that technology has the potential to dramatically improve education. My belief in that mission is as strong today as it ever was. Students, teachers and parents deserve the best tools and resources available, and we cannot afford to wait.
Over the last year, the incredibly talented team at inBloom has developed and launched a technical solution that addresses the complex challenges that teachers, educators and parents face when trying to best utilize the student data available to them. That solution can provide a high impact and cost-effective service to every school district across the country, enabling teachers to more easily tailor education to students’ individual learning needs. It is a shame that the progress of this important innovation has been stalled because of generalized public concerns about data misuse, even though inBloom has world-class security and privacy protections that have raised the bar for school districts and the industry as a whole.
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.
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. Therefore, in full alignment with the inBloom Board of Directors and funders, I have made the decision to wind down the organization over the coming months. 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.
I want to thank you for your partnership in our endeavors and look forward to speaking with many of you in the coming months.
Kind regards,
Iwan Streichenberger
Chief Executive Officer