inBloom and Data Mining: A Common Core Cousin
This week I posted this piece about a January 9, 2014, webinar promoting data mining– a webinar with Gates money all over it. (Here is a briefer follow-up to the post.) The initial post had a record number of comments, some of which were made by an inBloom representative. The comments prompted me to further investigate some of the nuances of inBloom, including key funding for and individuals associated with this data storage mammoth, and of the privatizer-promoted data mining craze in general.
Before inBloom: Shared Learning Collaborative
The precursor to inBloom was the Gates- and Carnegie-funded Shared Learning Collaborative (SLC). (To read an excellent, brief history of SLC, see this summary, written by Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters.) In July 2011, Gates gave SLC $87.3 million ”to build, manage, and promote the Shared Learning Infrastructure (SLI).” Only a few months earlier, in March 2011, the Carnegie Corporation forked over $3 million for the same purpose.
“Infrastructure building”… “management”… and “promotion.”
Data stored in inBloom are not meant to remain unseen. One does not “promote” what is not meant for exposure.
McKinsey and Company
McKinsey and Company is ubiquitous in education reform.The company has contracted for SLC involvement in Louisiana, where Governor Bobby Jindal happens to be a former McKinsey employee. McKinsey is connected to both CCSS testing consortia, and never forget that CCSS “lead architect” David Coleman turned to McKinsey for employment “advising public schools” when he could not secure a New York teaching position.
McKinsey and Company is happy about “open data” (also referred to as “liquid information”):
It has long been recognized that free markets and free societies thrive on the free exchange of information. Transparency of market prices and of government operations are the foundations of efficiency and integrity, encouraging participation by market players and citizens, and spurring new ideas and innovations. Today, with massive computing power and data analytics, it is possible to make open digital information “liquid” and shareable to an unprecedented degree.
Open data—from both public and private sources—are adding a new dimension to big data analytics and giving rise to novel, data-driven innovations. Businesses are finding new ways of segmenting markets by blending open data with proprietary data and discovering new ways to raise productivity by using open and proprietary data to benchmark operations. [Emphasis added.]
Anyone who observes what is happening regarding the push for collecting massive data and dismisses the profit motive is denying reality.
inBloom: The “Bucket” Becomes Its Own Nonprofit
On February 5, 2013, SLC became inBloom:
UPDATE: As of February 5, 2013, the Shared Learning Collaborative has been renamed inBloom Inc.
The Shared Learning Collaborative, which receives significant support from the Gates Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation, is developing a project called the Shared Learning Infrastructure. It was originally started by the Council of Chief State School Officers. The SLI provides a data warehouse in the cloud for all kinds of student data, and links that data, through Common Core standards, to digital educational content. …
The main part of the Shared Learning Infrastructure is a huge, carefully structured bucket: the data store/warehouse, which holds, well, a bucket-load of student data across grades and subjects, such as individual student names, demographic information, discipline history, grades, test results, teachers, attendance, graduation requirements, even detail of standards mastered. [Emphasis added.]
Why do education privatizing interests need a gargantuan “bucket” of data if not to advance their own interests of privatization?
Notice that CCSS content is part of the bucket. Don’t call it curriculum–that might make it sound like ed-reform philanthropy and business want to monitor, control, and financially profit from the entire teacher-student dymanic (tongue in cheek).
InBloom is a bucket, and I guarantee, the handle of that bucket is out of reach for the stakeholders whose information is to be in that bucket.
The inBloom 2012 990
The only 990 available for inBloom is this one for a single month in 2012 (June 1-30). Since the Gates startup grant of $16.8 million was not paid until October 2012, inBloom’s 2012 990 includes no financial information. However, it does include the names of three “directors.”
The first is Stacey Childress, faculty of Harvard Business School and deputy director of education for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Childress is listed as inBloom’s interim CEO.
(The Gates Foundation is a launching pad for career-minded reformers. Los Angeles iPad fiasco star, Superintendent John Deasy is a former deputy director of the Gates Foundation. Also, former “under the radar” Gates Foundation Director of Advocacy Stefanie Sanford has moved on in her reformer career to join Common Core State Standards (CCSS) “architect” David Coleman at College Board. Coleman is president, and Sanford is chief of policy, advocacy, and government relations.)
Second on the inBloom board as listed on the 2012 990 is Director/Secretary Michele Cahill:
Michele Cahill is vice-president for national programs at Carnegie Corporation of New York. She leads the philanthropy’s strategy to expand educational opportunity through systemic change across K-12 and in higher education…. Prior to rejoining Carnegie Corporation in 2007, Cahill served as senior counselor to the chancellor for education policy in the New York City Department of Education under Chancellor Joel Klein. [Emphasis added.]
Of course, Klein is now with Rupert Murdoch, who owns 90% of Wireless Generation and whose company is being “compensated” for SLI software as per the SLI contract with Louisiana. Murdoch’s Amplify (run by Klein) also has a contract with the testing consortium Smarter Balanced to develop “professional learning tools for educators.”
Corporate reform: Few major players; multiple fat business opportunities.
The third individual listed on the inBloom board according to its 2012 990 is Gene Wilhoit, director/treasurer, who is also the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) executive director and whose 2012 CCSSO compensation was $350,000.
Wilhoit also sits on the board of the Data Quality Campaign (DQC), one of the participants in the previously-mentioned, heavily-Gates-funded, pro-data-mining webinar. To date, Gates has funded DQC $13.5 million.
In this comment about Coleman and CCSS, one can see the shadow of inBloom, both its funding and its “board of three”:
Referred to as ‘Common Core lead standards authors’ by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), David Coleman and Jason Zimba are just two in a long list of Common Core creators whose academic roots are with the education-for-a-revolution machine borne by Annenberg Institute, Carnegie Corporation, Bill Gates, et al. [Emphasis added.]
The affiliations of all three inBloom board members are listed in the above paragraph– and all are connected to Coleman and his CCSS.
Addressing Some Previous Data-sharing Comments
On my January 3 data sharing post, some commenters have noted that the attention to inBloom detracts from the overall issue of the dangers of centralized, watery-FERPA-permitting data collection. Others have noted that inBloom holds the data cloud monopoly and is additionally dangerous for that reason. I think that both points are well made. InBloom is arguably a monopoly. Even though other “data clouds” might exist, both the money and well-positioned individuals behind inBloom make it possible for inBloom to swallow the meager competition, literally, via business deals and possible mergers. And certainly it is possible to forget that the chief issue behind inBloom is that centralizing this data makes for easy exploitation by those whose chief aims are money, power, and prestige.
Another notable point is that this inBloom centralized data “bucket” is readily available for federal dipping. Consider this comment from former Louisiana Department of Education data analyst Jason France. In his comment France alludes to the issues of inBloom monopoly, federal access, and other logistics of “cloud” operation. France’s comment is addressed to inBloom CTO Garrett Suhm:
Are you anticipating teachers will start entering data directly into inBloom, or will they not simply be forced to use the same applications they do now, that create the data you store, thus storing the data in two places. You talk about creating efficiencies by eliminating the need for data transfer, but that transfer must still take place, just it must be sent to you now. The only way I see this as potentially more efficient is in the long run, if you replace local storage and vendor databases with your framework. Then any vendor that wants to create a new field will have to ask you to create them to hold their data, true? You intend to be the ultimate backend environment, by obsoleting all current systems school districts currently use. You will then collect fees from school districts and your partners, true? inBloom has already proposed ways it will lessen fees to school districts, when they purchase products from your vendors. You intend to build a data monopoly that will require all vendors to work with you, and starve off/out all vendors not doing business with you. You claim you are doing this for efficiency, but the real goal is to build a student warehousing monopoly.
Additionally, any Federal agency that wants data can secretly subpoena you, as they do with cell phone company records now, and get data for whatever purpose they want, without states having a recourse. This would have sidestepped Louisiana’s sovereignty with the Federal government over voucher data, which might have been a positive, but I wonder if states realize by allowing this they are essentially ceding data over to the Federal government without due process? That’s my little epiphany nugget for Federalists to chew over. [Emphasis added.]
Suhm responded to a number of comments. To France’s detailed comment he did not, except in the form of this “sales-speak” regarding “collecting fees”:
Yes, we are a self-sustaining non-profit that charges a small fee for operating costs. We are continually working to drive these costs down and pass the savings along to our customers. [Emphasis added.]
“Pass the savings to our customers.”
A nonprofit with “customers” doesn’t sit well with me.
As to inBloom’s “small fee for operating costs,” Leonie Haimson notes the following:
InBloom officials have said they intend to charge its “clients” $2-$5 per student; recently according to NY officials that has risen to $3-$5 per student. They have also said they are exploring charging vendors for the “services” it supplies; which in my mind is very similar to selling access to the data. …
One of the education officials in NYS pointed out that we will be have to pay each year to get back from inBloom the student data that we gave them for free. A great business model for them; especially if they can charge vendors for access to the data as well. [Emphasis added.]
The amount of money that inBloom stands to make is obscene. Louisiana has roughly 730,000 public school students. At $3 per student, inBloom would rake in $2.2 million per year from Louisiana for storage alone. In the Unites States, there are approximately 50.1 million public school students. If inBloom contracted to store data for only 25% of these students at $3 per student, inBloom would collect $37.6 million per year for storage alone.
“Small fee for operating costs”??
As it stands, this primarily-Gates-financed “infrastructure” has few employees. According to Suhm’s Linkedin profile, inBloom has “1 – 10 employees.” It just so happens that these are listed on Suhm’s profile:
- Sharren Bates
Chief Product Officer at inBloom, Inc.
- Michael Forrester
IT Operations Manager at inBloom, Inc.
- Iwan Streichenberger
CEO of inBloom, Inc., a nonprofit…
- Scott Gallant
Solutions Architect at inBloom, Inc.
- Greg Kisling
Sr. Product Manager at inBloom, Inc.
- Garrett Suhm
CTO at inBloom, Inc.
So. Once one factors in the many ways that inBloom can make money (data storage; data vending back to school districts; data vending outside of the school district; the collecting of fees annually), one might imagine that the handful of individuals running this show are in a powerful and undoubtedly well-compensated position. How nice for them, indeed.
I haven’t even discussed potential data leaking (intentional or not) and the associated potential scandals.
I have, however, returned to a question that never leaves me for long:
How is this cumbersome and frightening “liquid data” burden supposed to benefit the quality of the student-teacher interaction and enhance the learning environment?
Answer: It isn’t.
The attempted erasure of privacy rights allowing for unprecedented data mining is meant to deliver public education into the hands of privatizers– the common end of the entire spectrum of so-called education reforms.