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Beware of Data Sharing Cheerleaders Offering Webinars

January 3, 2014

Perhaps the most sobering component of the privatization push is its unprecedented demand for data collection (data “mining”) on American students. Data mining is not just an American issue. However, on the American front, two education activists have been at the forefront of the fight against this mammoth student data collection: Louisiana’s Jason France (here’s a great example of his writing on the subject) and New York’s Leonie Haimson (her is her testimony on student data/privacy issues in a September 2013 New York city council meeting).

(For those unfamiliar with the data mining issue, see this concise yet thorough summary on the WhatIsCommonCore blog.)

US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan believes that there is “power” in data for “school reform”.

Indeed there is. The issue isn’t whether there is “power” in data collection and storage, and its potential sharing. There certainly is power. That is precisely why the public is wary of the federal push to develop statewide, longitudinal data systems.

The question is whether state and federal governments (and the privatizing interests nurtured by state and federal governments) should have control of over 400 data points per student.

As is true with any attempt to hand over the public to privatizing interests (i.e., the heart of corporate reform), the potential for exploitation abounds is this so-called “data storing/ data sharing” endeavor.

Those promoting the data collection want to assure those who will be subject to it that there is nothing to fear, that if handled properly, the mountains of data can only benefit those whose lives have been mined.

Enter the “reassuring” data sharing webinar. This is sponsored by the Education Writers Association (EWA):

Student Privacy: Lost in the Cloud?
Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014
3:30 p.m.

As more school districts share data with parents and teachers, privacy advocates warn that they run the risk of violating students’ privacy. How valid are such concerns? Should parental rights trump educators’ efforts to track students? What should the federal role be?

Our webinar will look at these issues, with a particular focus on how the rollout of assessments linked to the Common Core State Standards could affect student privacy. Speakers include:

Aimee Guidera, Data Quality Campaign
Joel Reidenberg, Fordham University
Jim Shelton, U.S. Department of Education
Ben Herold, Education Week (moderator)

Space is limited — register today!  [Emphasis added.]

To those who would isolate the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) from other reforms: This webinar maintains that CCSS, its assessments, and resulting data collection are a package deal.

Furthermore, notice the wording: Should parental rights trump educators’ efforts to track students? 

Got that? It’s the educators who want to track the students!

Now, know that the term educators is the fashionable disguise to hide those with either zero or arguably cosmetic classroom experience but who have inserted themselves into key decision making positions in public education.

It isn’t the teachers and local administrators who want to collect hundreds of data points and store these in some “cloud.”

In our upside-down, corporate-reform-shaken world, educators also means education for-profits and education philanthropists.

Speaking of “education philanthropists”:

Guess whose “education stuff” dollars are all over this webinar?

Yep. Bill. Gates.

First of all, it was Gates money that funded the inBloom data “cloud.”

Next, the sponsor of the webinar, EWA, has taken $2.7 million in Gates money since 2003.

Third, the Data Quality Campaign (DQC) has taken $13.5 million in Gates money. (In November 2013, I wrote this post on Aimee Guidera and DQC. Enlightening reading.)

Fourth, USDOE Assistant Secretary for Innovation and Improvement Jim Shelton used to work for Gates as the Gates Foundation director of its education division. Shelton is also a partner with the charter-market-creating New Schools Venture Fund (a connection to Education Undersecretary nominee Ted Mitchell) AND was a senior management consultant for McKinsey and Company (former employer of Common Core “lead architect” David Coleman).

Fifth, Fordham University professor Joel Reidenberg and others conducted a study on privacy issues and “cloud computing”… funded by Microsoft.

To be fair, I must note that Reidenberg’s paper does include the following acknowledgement and assertion of no influence of funding upon study outcomes:

A gift from Microsoft to the Center on Law and Information Policy at the Fordham University School of Law, New York, NY (Fordham CLIP) supported work on this study.

The views and opinions expressed in this report are those of the authors and are not presented as those of any of the sponsoring organizations or financial supporters of those organizations.

However, whereas the Reidenberg et al. study “proposes a set of specific, constructive recommendations for school districts and vendors to be able to address the deficiencies in privacy protection,” it does not address the question of the appropriateness of such massive data collection in the first place.

To be blunt: Reidenberg and his colleagues can offer as many reasonable cautions as they like. None if it matters since those with the power and influence to force their data collection agenda answer to no one.

Reidenberg et al. suggests the establishment of a national research center and clearinghouse.

What they should have suggested is the establishment of a regulatory agency to enforce their other suggestions and a halt to all massive data collection until such an agency were established and active.

(I have no evidence to the effect that the Reidenberg recommendations were in some way modified to suit the wishes of the study’s funder. However, I have been learning some lessons regarding the subtle limiting ability of funders upon so-called “outside” or “objective” investigation. For example, I will never forget that the agency hired by former DC Chancellor Rhee and Rhee successor Henderson to investigate cheating in DC, Caveon, had limits set by its “funders” and had to operate within the scope of those limits. Thus, I learned that it is possible for investigators [and researchers] to operate truthfully within prescribed limits. Thus, in reading the Reidenberg et al. recommendations, I wonder whether the overall study is somehow couched within parameters “suitable” to Microsoft and by extension, Gates.)

No one on this panel will offer strong cautions against massive data collection. 

Incidentally, no one on this panel will be subject to having the likes of inBloom “store” hundreds of data points connected to their lives in some unregulated “cloud.”

And so it goes in the world of corporate reform: Those cheerleading and strategically devising ways to entice “voluntary” participation/agreement are themselves removed from the consequences of their own advice.

I challenge Duncan, and Gates, and Guidera, and Shelton, and Reidenberg, and anyone else who promotes the longitudinal data collection on America’s students to first volunteer for hundreds of points of his or her own information– selected by others– to be placed in the trust and care of the privatizer-friendly data cloud.

Such a demonstration really would be the heights of “backing up one’s opinion with data.”

  1. 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.

    • monarda permalink

      Let’s see, three million students in NYS @ $5 each — how often per year, from the taxpayers’ money?

  2. 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.

  3. Sara permalink

    I am a mom and an opponent of the CCSSI. I had a meeting today with the person in charge of data management for the Louisiana Dept of Education and she repeatedly assured me that though they were outsourcing certain data related services that no personal information was being shared by them with the US-Dept of Ed.

    In addition she assured me that the longitudinal database was handled by LDOE and not outsourced and that it did not collect any information that was not collected before the database was in existence and that data collected on individual students was:

    1. Name
    2. SSN
    3. Gender
    4. Ethnicity
    5. DOB
    6. Lunch Status
    7. Address
    8. Class Schedule
    9. Grades
    10. Enrollment/Attendance Overview
    11. Exceptionalities
    12. Discipline
    13. Assessments

    I posed 31 questions in advance and really did not get much more than that which is stated here beyond references to certain LA and Fed laws and also that any contracts with vendors for outsourced services, protect the data with strict provisions regarding security by outlining the laws governing the use of this data, containing specific provisions for how the data may and may not be used and the specific data elements to be shared and ensuring that data cannot be shared with third parties. Like many of you, I am very frustrated and fear for the privacy of my children and the longterm effects and use of this data in addition to however it is currently being collected, shared and used.

    Does anyone have any specific proof to the contrary beyond the PARCC Agreement and the INBloom letter to State Super John White regarding the “parking” of student socials in violation of its policy? Also can someone explain the difference between Louisiana Education Data Repository System (LEDRS) and the statewide longitudinal database or as the LDOE, are they the same?


    • I can. Just give me a call. I thought we were going to have a phone conversation before that meeting but I am still available. That answer is incorrect and if you google SIS student information guide Louisiana you will see a few hundred pages of data elements. Some of those were created as part of LEDRS grant.

  4. gitapik permalink

    This is an important thread. I just read through it, again, and started to put some ideas down. It got pretty lengthy, which makes me self conscious. But I still have more to say, lol. I don’t pretend to be an expert, so I’m putting these ideas out for consideration. If I need to be corrected, I will gladly take the heat. I’m all about getting it right for all of us:
    “You can opt out of sharing your child’s data”.
    “Parents have no rights to opt out in practice. I opted out, as did many parents, yet all data, including SSN’s were sent to inBloom, multiple times”.
    “inBloom and Amplify doesn’t have student data”
    “Both companies do have the data”
    These two disparities, alone, display a need for transparent debate. They’re both very important points that require clarification.
    “inBloom will never sell student information, nor will we share it with others unless directed to do so by a state or local customer”
    What’s the definition of a “local customer”?
    Regarding “…a state…”, please see below.
    “Our customers (School Districts) have absolute control over who can access the inBloom service”.
    Part of the disconnect, here, is that, even if inBloom is a disinterested party with no access to the data (a disputed claim), the school districts and the politics that influence them are not. Is it reasonable to assume that, throughout the US, every school district will maintain strictly monitored guidelines in the use of student data that’s stored in the cloud? Especially with the added pressure from the State and Fed to meet up with the stipulations of programs such as Race to the Top?
    “inBloom Inc.’s own privacy policy acknowledges that it “cannot guarantee the security of the information stored … or that the information will not be intercepted when it is being transmitted.”
    I understand the legal need for this clause. Any company, large or small, needs to cover it’s bases. And the more people that are served, the more severe the consequences can be without a clause of this sort. But a point was made about hackers breaching some of the most highly guarded data systems in our country. Is it really possible to say that this won’t happen with the information that’s being put out there about our kids? Is ANY margin of error acceptable?
    “Focusing education programs on a narrow set of measurable hard skills at the expense of student-centered classroom activities and community building experiences that promote social/emotional learning and ethical behavior will leave our students ill equipped and unprepared for the real “tests” in life.”
    “It’s discouraging reading the comments on this blog. So far, the word Gates appears 51 times. Privacy? 32 times”.
    “Time to wake up & accept the fact that data is going to be collected & most likely won’t be all opt-in.”
    There’s a movement underway to completely change the way in which children, adolescents, and adults are educated. A movement that does away with the teacher/student centered classroom and relies on technology as the prime delivery system. Beyond multiple choice tests, now essays can be graded through programs designed around the profiled grading systems of chosen professors. Children can be educated at home or, if in school, be supervised by inexperienced, inexpensive teachers who act as monitors and collectors of data. Programs evaluate the data and then decide on the steps to follow according to both current and past records of the student’s work and interest levels, etc.
    A very large part of this movement is being pushed by Bill Gates. Is it any wonder that his name would come up 51 times on this or any thread that has to do with education reform? How about 100 times? His influence can’t possibly be understated. This man lives by data. It’s his life and his gold mine. Of course he will believe in it’s effectiveness and profit by it’s proliferation.
    With this kind of capital to invest in R&D and the effective marketing of a valuable product, the question still needs to be asked: who put this man and his ideas in charge? Are his ideas of what’s best for America really in the public’s best interests? He’s investing in Biosensors to monitor U.S. students’ attentiveness ( I don’t usually get into absolutes, but beyond it’s uses in studies, how could anyone justify the use of something like this in a classroom? How could anyone NOT see the negative implications?
    At what point do we draw the line between what’s acceptable and what’s not? Should those decisions be made by people who are profiting from the “solutions” and not having to deal with their repercussions (e.g. sending their kids to private schools that don’t use those methods) without the input of the millions of those with less wealth who will be the most effected in terms of footing the bill (taxes) and getting a quality education from this new system?
    Yes, my alarm clock went off loud and clear and my eyes are wide open to the realities of data collection. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t question, discuss, and try to effect different ways in which it can be used, if at all. Mr. Duncan sneered at the idea of “going back to the days of pencil and paper”. Don’t get above your raising, people. The pencil is as powerful a tool as any computer. And it’s still there when the “system is down”. My personal preference would be to see a coexistence between technology and our current system of education that allows for a more natural evolution than the current “takeover” mentality is currently displaying. This model, imo, would better take into account the educational, social, and civic needs of the many different student populations that our educational system is supposed to serve.

  5. Making inBloom a pariah has overshadowed the larger issue of student privacy. I’d encourage everyone here to take a moment to read recent posts on

    Consider Clever which connects into a school or district’s central student information system to access to all the data. They then move that data into the cloud and make it available to 3rd parties: Clever is a small startup in SF, just over a year old. They are now in more than 15,000 schools and growing exponentially.

    • FLERP! permalink


    • gitapik permalink

      Wow. Thanks for this, boboze.

      • Deborah permalink

        Yes, perhaps it is wrong to assail inBloom, for once we get rid of “this” inBloom, another is sure to follow. That is why the most important thing we can do right now is to put all such contracts and companies on hold while our legislators get it straight — that parental consent must be the first step in ensuring that student privacy rights are properly guaranteed and protected. That is the gist of the children’s data protection and privacy petition.

      • gitapik permalink

        Well…that’s what Sheila’s been saying, in terms of opting out of sharing your child’s data, Deborah. Yet I’m reading that this isn’t a guarantee, either.

        Conflicting messages. It’s frustrating.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Who Owns the Data? | Stop Common Core in Washington State
  2. Explosive Reaction to Schneider Post on Data-Mining and Student Privacy | Diane Ravitch's blog
  3. Education Blogger Mercedes Schneider warns: Beware of Data Sharingcheerleaders Offering Webinars - Wait What?
  4. Beware of Data Sharing Cheerleaders Offering Webinars #stopcommoncore #ccss | Stop Common Core Illinois
  5. The Octopus of inBloom… | Dolphin
  6. Twelve Embarrassing Years of NCLB and RTTT: Time for Arne to Blame USDOE | Georgia SchoolWatch
  7. Happy New Year and Smarter Balanced Assessments in California coming to your child in 2014 or 2015! | teaching malinche

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