The fate of big data after inBloom

Yesterday, a $100 million startup lost its last customer. According to a Politico article, the state of New York, inBloom‘s last remaining client, will delete all student data on the repository due to privacy concerns. InBloom’s company spokesperson told Politico the nonprofit was “pushing forward with our mission,” though at the moment there are no known state partners. The rise and fall of InBloom is a cautionary tale for those interested in the intersection of education, technology, and policy.

130264333_0f0a21e540_z

Back in 2011, the Council of Chief State School Officers, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation began work on an unwieldy, unprecedented, obscure  “nuts-and-bolts, multi-state, grand-vision education technology project” called the Shared Learning Infrastructure. The purpose was to provide open-source software to safely organize, pool, and store student data from multiple states and multiple sources in the cloud. That included everything from demographics to attendance to discipline to grades to the detailed, moment-by-moment, data produced by learning analytics programs like Dreambox and Khan Academy. An API — application programming interface — would allow software developers to connect to that data, creating applications that could, at least in theory, be used by any school in the infrastructure.

In February 2013, just a little over a year ago, SLI relaunched as an independent nonprofit named InBloom. The company had nine state partners, Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York and North Carolina, representing 11 million students. At SXSWEdu, they made a splashy public debut the following month, hosting parties and panel discussions as an official sponsor, a gathering focused just as much on business as on education.

“Our purpose is to remove the friction in the deployment of technology in the classroom,” CEO Iwan Streichenberger told me at the conference. “It’s not very exciting, but if you don’t have plumbing you can’t have appliances.”

InBloom’s offering is not uncommon — in fact, similar technologies exist all over the internet, and consumers largely embrace them. For example, an API allows you to sign in and comment on the Washington Post or rent a home on AirBnb using your Facebook profile information. You can sign in to personal finance site Mint.com and see all of your bank accounts in one place, or for that matter, buy products on Amazon with one click thanks to back-end security protecting financial transactions.

But student information, like electronic health records, remains much more sensitive than other kinds of consumer information, and the public response since InBloom’s launch has been equivocal at best. In state after state,parents and other education activists raised concerns that student data would be exploited for financial gain or stolen by hackers. In the words of Leonie Haimson of Class Size Mattersin New York City, one of inBlooms’ staunchest critics, “For-profit vendors are slavering right now at the prospect of being able to get their hands on this info and market billions of dollars of worth of so-called solutions to our schools.”

THE FUTURE OF STUDENT DATA

So what does the demise of inBloom mean? It doesn’t mean that student data is safe, either from marketers or hackers. According to a recent study by Fordham University Law School, 95 percent of schools and districts already use a hodgepodge of third-party cloud providers for data storage and internal data mining. Fewer than 7 percent of these arrangements actually restrict the sale or marketing of student information by vendors, and parents are generally not informed of how their children’s data is stored or used.

Last November, a $5 million class action suit was filed against the makers of the ACTs and SATs for selling personal information about millions of high school students. And the Universities of Maryland and Indiana have recently suffered well-publicized data breaches exposing student Social Security numbers and other sensitive information.

It also doesn’t mean that the use of student data will come to a standstill. A small startup called Clever, launched in 2012, uses a single freestanding API to connect the vast mishmash of student information systems with third-party applications. It doesn’t store the data itself; it just makes it easier to get the data out of silos where it can be accessed by educational software developers — the exact same purpose announced by InBloom. So far, 10,000 schools have adopted it, with no public outcry.

It does mean that, at least when it comes to student data, when tech businesses roll out product pitches to schools, they need to understand the extent to which the concerns of parents and teachers will affect their business plans.

In our conversation, Streichenberger talked about taking down “barriers to entry” and creating an “attractive market for entrepreneurs.” Silicon Valley may generally take it for granted that what’s good for its business is good for everyone else, but for those wary of the privatization of the public school system, these are fighting words.

The same critics who are skeptical of the Common Core State Standards (also Gates-seeded) are skeptical about inBloom because of the underlying notion of “interoperability” in education practice. Standards and interoperability are core tenets of the web. It’s because of shared communications protocols such as HTTP that anyone can create a web page or application that is usable by virtually anyone else. Similarly, proponents of the Common Core argue that having a shared understanding of priorities will allow all schools to improve by sharing best practices.

The principle of interoperability is now coming into conflict with a longstanding tenet of American public education — that of local control. The ultimate outcome is anyone’s guess, but it’s now clear that the transition to a big-data educational future probably won’t come from a centralized mandate or single coordinated effort — at least not now.

(a modified version of this post originally appeared on Mindshift. Gates Foundation supports the Hechinger Report.)


POSTED BY Anya Kamenetz ON April 3, 2014

Comments & Trackbacks (7) | Post a Comment

[…] Read More […]

Leonie haimson

Local control, parent control; both are ignored by the grand plans and money-making schemes of the vulture philanthropists, the for-profit vendors and the AstroTurf groups they fund, busily spinning stories about how centralized standards, more tests, data-collection and the handing off of children’s personal information to create a huge market on data-mining software will somehow improve their education. It’s long past time that the media start to analyze and deconstruct those myths even though it might threaten their next paycheck from Bill Gates.

John

I have yet to find one school district here on Long Island where there are 124 that was clamoring for the likes of an inBloom solution. Understand that our state’s contract with inBloom was not a district led one; it was signed and agreed and managed by the state edu dept. The majority of district personnel I spoke with had no clue what the purpose of inBloom was and how it would benefit their local district. The unfortunate situation was, no one was listening to them. Most districts simply said “Well this is what NYSED said we have to do, so we are doing it” until it hit the tipping point of reaching parents. If you can’t explain how this type of service would benefit ALL kids in the state, maybe you shouldn’t be pushing it so hard on ALL kids in the state. Again, districts are not banging down NYSED’s doors asking for this. They pump millions into local BOCES data storage…why wasn’t it first being developed there under closer taxpayer eyes? Parents and educators were left of this data loop, so to speak. Again. Concerns were voiced and no one listened or acted. I watched a live NY Assembly hearing where Commish King was flat out asked “What happens in the event of a breach?” His reply, “I’m not sure, I’ll get back to you.” He never did, nor did he post anything online that explained this after that hearing or clarify that glaring question. So guess what, as the state moves forward and looks fro a new partner and new solutions, will they learn? Will they be able to clearly and sufficiently answer that one question alone? Because there are parents waiting to go with hundreds of questions once the new plan/company is announced.

Mary P

“Back in 2011, the Council of Chief State School Officers, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation began work on an unwieldy, unprecedented, obscure “nuts-and-bolts, multi-state, grand-vision education technology project” called the Shared Learning Infrastructure. The purpose was to provide open-source software to safely organize, pool, and store student data from multiple states and multiple sources in the cloud. That included everything from demographics to attendance to discipline to grades to the detailed, moment-by-moment, data produced by learning analytics programs like Dreambox and Khan Academy.”

Doesn’t anyone see the problems with this? It is right there in that paragraph from above. What’s missing from the equation here? Is this is a district/school led initiative or not? Money. It’s all about money. Who can make big money off an untapped potential.

Frank

One of the biggest mistakes NY made was going on in with inBloom from the beginning. Where was the pilot program? The test? The case study? The need? Instead, the state simply said hey let’s do this and we’ll send/store all data on all kids and families and their educators. Then, we’ll explain it after the fact. We heard lots about why all of this should be ordinary in the day-to-day operations of school and nothing to worry about, and we heard less about why it would benefits ALL the kids in the seats.

[…] The Hechinger Report has since written a much more thorough obituary of inBloom, The fate of big data after inBloom. […]

leonie haimson

also a correction; the project of the Gates Foundation was called the Shared Learning Collaborative; their “product” was called the Shared Learning Infrastructure. Much fancy talk & branding; little consideration of the substantive need and/or parent views on this massive data grab.

Your email is never published nor shared.

Required
Required
CAPTCHA Image