School reform industry leaders are encountering more and more parental pushback to their totally awesome ideas, and I think it’s about time.
First it was the parent-led revolt against the ridiculous, ludicrous amount of standardized testing the data-driven reform crowd have sold since NCLB, and now it’s inBloom, Inc.:
“You’re not going to give out my child’s information to a third-party corporation to do whatever it is they want to do,” Makarishi continued over whistles and applause from the audience. “The people are not going to have it and we are going to fight back.”
Several other audience members had similar things to say regarding inBloom Inc., the controversial data-sharing initiative that parents at Monday night’s volatile forum believe violates the privacy and security of their children. The $100 million initiative, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation, and federal grants, and built by News Corp’s Wireless Generation, is responsible for designing something called anEducation Data Portal in order to provide data tools to teachers and families.
As Lopatin later clarified, inBloom’s EDP uses student data–including student demographics, parent contact information, dates of absence, suspensions, and state test scores–through an Amazon cloud-based service. That information is then shared with school-contracted vendors. The DOE maintains that this practice does not violate the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, and that vendors will not be able to even access the data without the school’s permission
“I’m outraged,” said Karen Sprowal, 52, a stay-at-home mom. Her 9-year-old son is a fourth-grader at Public School 75 in Manhattan.
“I send my child to school to be educated. I never agreed to have his information shared with private companies or stored in a database.”
Public Advocate Bill de Blasio sent a scathing letter to city and state officials protesting the move. “I don’t want my kids’ privacy bought and sold like this,” he said.
InBloom, a 3-month-old database, is funded primarily by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. A division of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. built the infrastructure for the new electronic portal.
The state spent $50 million in federal grants to partner with inBloom and finalized its agreement in October to share data with the fledgling company.
I don’t really have strong feelings on the Gates plan to create a “data portal.” It looks like another attempt to get around the hard (probably really grinding and slow and infuriating) work of “improving” public schools to me, but then I’m sick to death of these market-based reformer types. It’s all we can do here to get a school levy passed what with the Failed and Failing Public Schools theme reform industry leaders and media promote, so Big Data is really the least of my immediate problems.
However, I could have told the school reform billionaires that going forward with Big Data Plan without bothering to tell the parents of the students about Big Data Plan would result in absolutely outraged parents. Guaranteed.
In some ways Gates is the least objectionable of the reform billionaires, because he’s the public face of the reform industry. It doesn’t take a genuis to figure out why they put Gates forward as official spokesperson, instead of, say, the Wal Mart Heirs, Rupert Murdoch or Mike Milken (the former junk-bond king) but I give Gates some grudging credit for putting his consumer brand at risk. I didn’t ask for his help with my public school, I don’t believe he’s presumptively credible on public schools, and I will cheer the first elected official who turns down his money because the money comes with what to me is an unacceptable (and undemocratic) level of control of public school policy, but at least he’s risking The Brand.
As I’ve said here before probably too many times, I continue to believe it is completely insane and reckless to turn our public schools over to a small group of extremely wealthy people. I do not understand why these private-public reform schemes are so easily and passively accepted. I suspect they were so easily and passively accepted because the billionaires were mostly “transforming” schools in poor urban areas, so “reform” wasn’t real or pressing to most of us who live outside of those areas. InBloom is planned nation-wide and the ever-increasing focus on standardized tests and endless hours of test prep are nationwide too, hence the new questions. I’m really pleased that the industry is meeting what they call “friction” and what I call “public accountability.” Good on the parents for finally stepping up and asking. If market based reform is as fabulous as reformers say it is, they shouldn’t have any problem persuading a room full of angry parents.
You talk to us actual PARENTS and you will find we never wanted the patently unworkable and punitive NCLB (even if Bill Clinton nominally signed on); we don’t want private-croney operated charter schools; and we don’t want the teacher unions being broken up by ALEC thugs. We just want adequate funding for public ed, even in the schools where the tax base is weak. Is that so hard to understand? No, they just don’t WANT to understand. The big data question- geeky nonsense, probably, but that part doesn’t seem unduly worrisome.
The Very Reverend Crimson Fire of Compassion
a big chunk of the Old Testament is concerned with the moral imperative NOT to sacrifice one’s children to false gods. The basic psychology of human beings has not significantly altered since. A truly shocking number of our population is always up for the possibility of offering up their and (especially) other people’s children to whatever intellectual fads, cultural fetishes, or current shibboleths promise to increase their power or feed their wallets. I’ve spent twenty years in the classroom, and I never cease to be amazed and sadly amused by the endless proliferation of the next “big thing” in education. Inevitably, the next big thing turns out to be at best the ill-planned best intentions of the worst informed, and at worst, a deliberate scam by the worst elements of the species.
1) Find a way to get the government to underfund (x) to the point of failure.
2) Offer a free-market solution to improve the quality of (x).
I just wish I had thought of it first.
Typical liberals. Baby on a baby monitor, baby sitter on a hidden webcam, pre-K offers a web-cam on the internet, Elementry school with cameras in classrooms for supervisory monitoring, jr. high with cops, metal detectors and cams to keep the precious safe from bullies, Xtians using same to bug their kids bedrooms to “Jesus told me you …”
Your perception of privacy and your kinder could not be farther apart in reality. Stick a fork in it.
@Tom_B: Take the per-student expenditure at a well-heeled suburban school district as a base. Take that base expenditure and multiply it times a factor for each school to reflect the poverty rate, ESL rate, disabled-learners rate, etc. of those schools and raise the spending accordingly and see how the schools do. What, you say? That would be prohibitively expensive? Yeah, that’s pretty much the point. The school “reform” movement is all about appearing to do things to improve students’ academic performance while doing nothing at all, other than diverting public funds into scumbags’ wallets. It’s all about convincing gullible marks that it can be done on the cheap, but the truth is, it can’t be done without violating the Republican sacrament of never ever ever raising taxes. At least on people like those pushing “reform.”
“I continue to believe it is completely insane and reckless to turn our public schools over to a small group of extremely wealthy people.”
Really? No deal? After the excellent job they’ve done with the economy?
@The Very Reverend Crimson Fire of Compassion: Cleaning out my file cabinets after 20 years teaching middle school I threw out documentation for 11 different “big ideas” that were supposed to save American education, or at least the portion of it in NY State. Some of them didn’t even last the school year before they needed to be junked. On exactly none of them were we asked whether they would be appropriate/useful for our students and, surprise!, they weren’t. One thing they all had in common was that they cost the state and/or district a bundle.
Agreed. But you forgot “strong leader.” They’re crazy about “strong leaders”. Mayoral control. Appointed boards. Charismatic bomb throwers, like Rhee and Christie.
Not so crazy about those messy elected school boards, though. There. they meet “friction” otherwise known as “dissent”.
It’s tough to be a CEO when you can’t give directives. I can’t figure out if the kids are low level employees or customers. I’m still torn on that issue.
It’s crazy to me.
“Here’s ten million dollars. Hand over your school system, Memphis”
Excuse me? Can we at least discuss this?
But … they’re extremely wealthy! That means they’re perfect! God favors them! Everything they do is right!
@Kay: I think the “strong leader” is merely the pitchman, the carney barker. Without someone to cause a lot of commotion and call attention to himself, the movement gets no traction. Compared to the school board members, who have to weigh legitimate competing interests in determining education budgets and publicly fret over whether they’re doing the right thing, the snakeoil salesmen look “strong.” But that’s because they have no competing interests to weigh, just the heft of their net worth.
Right, but competing interests are a pain in the ass. It’s part of why I think a business model for public schools is such a tragically bad idea. A CEO just isn’t the right fit for a public school. Public school have to serve all sorts of people. You can’t just announce that standardized test scores are now the one important metric. Public schools are assets that belong to whole communities, not just selected “stakeholders.” If one could issue directives, they wouldn’t be “public.”
Schools with appointed boards and a my way or the highway attitude already exist. Those are called “private schools” :)
Let’s refine the target a wee bit, shall we?
We’re fine until we get to the bold part. I am guessing Ms. Sprowal would be equally outraged if told that she can’t access her child’s grades online, or if to takes a few weeks to get a report on his status because everything is on paper. In this century, the school has this information in a database.
The question then becomes how much time and money the schools are wasting duplicating this effort to send it to all the outside companies that provide things like transportation, food, special education materials, custom education materials, and whatever else I can’t think of because I’m old and childless.
Is all that information shared with vendors, or only what is necessary for them to fulfill their contracts? I’ve read far too much bad “journalism” to take on faith that the existence of information in a database means all vendors get access to it. I’m especially skeptical that the Gates Foundation would have left this gaping privacy hole in a brand-new initiative they’re driving.
So you go read about it and you find out that InBloom is just a full-infrastructure database for schools so they don’t have to build their own. Schools enter the data, schools control who has access to it, schools update it. It’s not “national,” it’s never shared beyond the local entity that authorized it (unless a state authorized it for all districts, in which case the state has access to it—but the state has the right to that data anyway). New York cannot see Ohio’s data, or vice-versa. Albany can’t see Manhattan’s data.
The schools also get to aggregate or anonymize what they call the “personally identifiable information” before giving it to vendors if that’s all the vendors need. The school district (or state, sigh) decides who has access to this “PII,” and all contractors who access it must sign privacy guidelines.
So, can companies buy the data from the school? Only if the school sells it.
Do they get all kinds of PII? Only if the school allows it.
Is it a data risk? Yes, but probably less than the school that puts its own Microsoft Access database on the Internet and hopes no one guesses the password.
Schools need databases. All I’m seeing after researching this topic is that people think this database is worse than other databases because, paraphrased, “the promises might not be true.” My reading is that the non-profit has taken all reasonable steps to make sure that only schools decide who gets the data.
Maybe avoiding InBloom doesn’t mean staying with paper and ink, but why is this worse than each school district or state having to build its own database and maintain and update it forever? I’m not a privatization advocate but I look at the FBI and VA computerization processes and don’t get optimistic that our rump-controlled Congress would ever fund and specify a valid solution.
So what am I missing? Why does this seem so goddam reasonable to me?
For those who are interested there towards the very end of the article we learn:
I’m sure some of y’all live in these states. Time to call your state legislators/school district officials to bring up questions of invasion of privacy, data security, and all the other happy things that happen when personal data gets collected and stored beyond the local level in today’s society.
Public schools, like everything else in the public sphere, is a giant, giant pool of untapped publicly held wealth.
Of course the oligarchs want it. They can transfer that wealth “back” into their own pocket, where god wants it to be.
Because you have to explain things to people before you agree to them on their behalf. They have to consent. Not in a legal sense, since it probably complies with federal law, but consent in the sense of providing information and addressing concerns. That’s why public systems are different than private systems. Accountability, consent, transparency. The two entities, inBloom and Gates, didn’t even show up. That isn’t how things work in public schools.
Is it a pain in the ass? Yup. But if they don’t like it they’re free to go back to the private sector, right?
@Emdee: because you don’t respond to knee-jerk lefty appeals to “corporation bad, smash corporation” appeals to your lizard brain?
I still don’t get it. The school already has this information. It’s already sharing it with contractors, but in a less efficient and more expensive way (presumably—it’s a whole nother can of worms if this is more expensive and less efficient than the old way).
New database built by professionals who keep the technology updated vs. local database built by local resources that are usually fragile, heavily dependent upon the knowledge of the few people who build it, and hard to use or export when needed.
Are you saying it’s just a matter of holding hands? Do parents actually believe their local schools don’t have databases today? Are they wanting Bill Gates or Rupert Murdoch to show up at every local school board considering the technology?
I’m sorry I’m so clueless, but to me this just looks like “non-profit vendor offering enterprise solution custom-tailored to education with extra privacy protections thanks to FERPA.” I can’t figure out why it’s somehow “more” than that.
JR in WV
You can’t say it too often – the “reformers” are greedy bastards trying to steal a majority of the public monies intended to teach our kids how to learn stuff!!
It’s worse than the military and government contracting scandals by far, because they are preying on our kids.
I use that phrase on purpose, even tho we don’t have kids of our own, because for us, everyone’s kids are our future. We drove the county assessor’s clerks crazy after moving to a rural WV county – we wanted our property taxes raised, because $11 a year was absurdly too low to finance a decent school system, Yes, eleven dollars a year! For 90 acres and a shack.
These people are stealing our most precious resource – our kids’ future.
Why some rich people can’t be satisfied by earning a fortune I’ll never understand. Once they’ve made so much they can’t possible spend it all, they turn around and try to steal another couple of billion dollars.
Parents need to stop these fraudulent thieves, no one else really has standing.
Good luck, parents, I’m with you in spirit!
You’ve offered a very good defense. I don’t know why inBloom couldn’t have offered one. They can certainly take the approach that they’re “gifting” these people with something, but if the people who have children in those schools are not persuaded, I think they should re-examine that approach.
I said in the post that the portal is not one of my big concerns. What concerns me is the absolute lack of interest in acknowledging that public schools involve public input and messy, loud discussions.
They’re not defense contractors. They’re trying to sell a system to schools. Whether they like it or not, that involves dealing directly with parents. The parents have a sense of ownership of the school, and there’s a good reason for that. They own it. That’s really central to public schools.
I suspect they are so readily accepted because, after years of slashing school budgets, the districts are more than happy to accept money from any available source they can get it from.
So the blame for this lies with those who think that the schools are getting to much money from the taxpayers. In other words, a lot of the same people who are complaining about “sharing my kids private data” are probably the same people who voted against giving the schools the money they need to operate *without* working with private industry.
I don’t think you’re clueless at all. But it doesn’t matter. The people they have to sell on it are those parents who object. They don’t “have” to, really. But if they don’t, the elected people who have to deal with the actual parents are probably going to insist they engage.
They’re raw materials.
From my reading of the article inBloom is a private, for profit company. The supposed goal of the data is to enable other companies to design personalized teaching materials.
I find this side of it extremely suspect. How long will this designing process take, how soon will teachers have those materials, will teachers have training in how to use the new materials? Will teachers really really be able to use the materials with 40 or more different students in a class, as class sizes seem to be getting larger as budgets are squeezed.
(I worked for close to 16 years for a NYC educational non-profit. I observed many things in my time with the organization and as a product of the NYC public schools myself. Reforms and teaching methods keep going through fads and trends, but no one really knows if any of it helps the students.
@Kay: Really in response to comment #23.
In NYC the schools are funded from the general tax fund. There aren’t separate votes to approve a budget or funding source by the residents as there are in suburban districts or other cities.
Hah! Of course. I’m going with that.
I’m largely with Kay. Emdee has a valid point on the specifics, however, the real problem here is that inBloom hasn’t bothered to communicate with the parents because it never occurred to them to do so.
InBloom is a non-profit company. They will charge districts but not with the idea of making profit or returning “value” to shareholders; their primary owners are charitable foundations. They say they are focused on being a technology provider.
That was one of my puzzling moments: if schools choose to outsource this stuff (and keeping it in-house is neither easy nor necessarily cheap), I”d think a non-profit would be a better idea than EDS or IBM or other for-profit companies that are explicitly trying to make a profit.
Kay: thanks for your clarification. I understand a bit better now, but I don’t have any real feel for how often school vendors have to sell their products to the parents, rather than to the school districts. Lunch providers? Yeah, sure, but curriculum designers? Janitorial services (if not in-house)? This seems more infrastructure than direct classroom material, and I’m just entirely unfamiliar with parents wanting veto power over that. That’s just my ignorance, I suppose.
I represent juveniles and I can tell you that records regarding children is huge with parents. I’m sensitive to it because I deal with it.
I just don’t think it’s comparable to food service.
You really do have to get their consent. You won’t get arrested if you don’t, but it makes life a lot easier if you explain what’s going on.
@Tokyokie: ” It’s all about convincing gullible marks that it can be done on the cheap, but the truth is, it can’t be done without violating the Republican sacrament of never ever ever raising taxes. ” I’m not against more taxes for more services, but in my state, the gullible marks elected (thru low turn- out and gerrymandering) a Republican supermajority, so we have no voice and no representation. They don’t even pretend to ask for input. My feeling is modest tax increases and some flesh from the DoD budget could do wonders.
Sister Rail Gun of Warm Humanitarianism
@Emdee: What you’re missing, I think, is the increasing distrust of datamining, coming largely from this sort of thing at big retailers.
That is what being in a database means to people who aren’t computer professionals.
@Emdee: Okay, you’re right about their being a non-profit. Right now their own budgeting revolves around what they are getting from Gates and Carnegie and the federal contracts. What happens when Gates and/or Carnegie tire of education or funding them? Will the school districts be able to make up the money? Will they go into fund-raising mode, on a national basis, will they be able to find enough rich people to fund them?
ETA: Believe me, foundations definitely change their minds about what they fund and for how long they fund any project. Sometimes they let you know ahead of time, sometimes they don’t.
James E. Powell
I don’t understand why the school district needed a non-profit corporation to put that data together. I work for the Los Angeles schools and all the data referenced in the article is available to me for every student in my class. And I am required to keep it confidential.
Also, why would any believe that a textbook publisher would be able to fashion lesson plans for a student better than the teachers in the student’s classroom? What are they thinking?
@Kay: I edited an academic book on charter schools. Charter school proponents need a strong leader to deal with, such as Bloomberg as mayor running the school system in New York City, so they can sell one person on the deal, and that’s it. These very well-paid people representing the foundations pushing the charter schools don’t have the patience or the skills to deal with elected school boards, PTAs, neighborhood associations, or other citizen groups.
(They can’t cope with ordinary people, so we give them our children?)
Isn’t it about time that someone tell Bill & Melinda Gates to take all that money and stuff it up their ass. Or better yet, just feed the hungry and care for the sick. These people are dicks.
hehehe, thanks. I needed that laugh.
@James E. Powell: Because it isn’t just working in one school district. They are aggregating data from nine states and a number of separate school districts.
Yeah, my thought was, “Aren’t gaping privacy holes the hallmark of every Windows product?”
@Mnemosyne: Yeps. Microsoft has been the very definition of a callous disregard of customer security for a generation.
keep on bringing it, Kay.
I understand a bit more now, but still:
a) I’m no Microsoft fan (or even user) but this is the Gates Foundation, and they’ve hired a big contractor to build it. The ongoing fees should be what keeps it running and upgraded.
b) the Gates Foundation seems to be for real in worldwide do-gooding, but there’s controversy over their US education policies. I just don’t’ see this as related to the charter school mishegas.
I’ll leave it there, but I feel more enlightened to the objections, which was my goal. Thanks!
Nobody should be putting children’s school records in the cloud, either. I mean, I work in IT and I know that cloud this cloud that cloud the other thing is pretty much required to be buzzword-compliant these days, but it strikes me as an enormous security hole and a huge issue that the company proposing to do this doesn’t even own the servers the data will be on — they’re outsourcing that to Amazon, for squid’s sake. I can’t see that as anything other than a huge source of potential problems.
I like the Gates Foundation a lot better when they’re vaccinating kids and trying to eliminate malaria…
James E. Powell
So why would anyone want that information aggregated like that? I’m afraid I missed something, but I don’t understand why anyone would need it.
@James E. Powell: Because that’s how the project was sold and formed. See their web site:
Read between the lines and you get the idea of efficiency from (large) size of the database. Supposedly only Coloradians will be able to access Colordao data. (Economies of scale.) But to the design the database they wanted more numbers and input from more places. IOW, design one database and sell its use to lots of places.
Thanks for this, Kay.
One small suggestion: never refer to school “reform” or “reformers” without scare quotes. That term is Orwellian, and we should never accept it at face value.
Alternatively, you could refer to it as school privatization, school monetization, school profiteering, or school deform.
Note how the “Reformers” themselves never attended public schools, nor will their offspring, yet are being championed as saviors of institutions they know nothing about.
the issue is about process. arrogance that you can change things without really explaining it.
it’s a sign that people are pissed about “reform” period and any “reform” targeted at the schools their kids go to is seen first as some stupid assed budget excuse to have more tests, less instruction and do away with what ever music, art and phys ed are left.
“education reform” can only piss on parents and tell them it’s raining for so long before they remember what it was like when they went to school and say what the fuck.
I mean really two fucking weeks of standardized tests for second graders? Does the mother fucking SAT take 2 weeks?
(yes parent of a second grader)
I can’t wait to see the ‘personalized teaching materials’ prototypes to come out of this totally-all-about-the-students effort.
If you haven’t seen them, here’s a good archive of articles on ed privatization from Dissent, where Joanne Barkin among others has been very good.
This is a particularly good overview:
I am a bit late to this party so maybe no one will see this.
To those above who are dismissing parents as being unsophisticated about having their info “stored in a database”: New York State is trying to retroactively alter the TOS they feel parents “agreed” to by sending their kids to public school.
Yes, they have been collecting and storing data in the course of providing a public service. But now they are saying that they “own” it. The pushback they are getting isn’t that different from past privacy/data ownership kerfluffles with Instagram, Facebook, Google, etc., even if the resistance language sounds more community-politics-ish.
One value proposition for states is that InBloom is cheaper and easier than doing it themselves (though New York City had already done it themselves with essentially the same people and seems to be doing over for additional $$) but InBloom is also clear that it won’t be cheap for more than a few years. What’s to stop the states from continuing to pay by “monetizing” the data they say they own? They easily can do this in a way that is FERPA compliant – they just have to document that the commercial third parties they are sharing wih are providing them “services.” Students and parents have no say in those future deals.
Some of the marketing on InBloom’s site envisions those future services as products for “tracking” students across their entire school career. I stopped using Gmail and Facebook, but to protect my kid’s privacy in the same way, I would need to remove them from public school. That is a much higher bar, don’tcha think?
By the way, the InBloom agreement w/NY also states that InBloom can NOT insure the security of the data and is not to be held responsible for any damage due to breaches.
I m not a parent, but if I were I can’t imagine I wouldn’t be kicking up a fuss. Even if they were claiming that they would insure security, so what? It wouldn’t be enforceable in any meaningful way and more importantly, if there were a breach the damage would already be done and could not be undone. I think I understand and empathize with parents who don’t want their kids’ information going outside the school district. I know I would be leery as hell.
Also, couldn’t they have come up with a better name for the service?