Parents Against Student Data-Mining Notch Victory in Colorado

11/15/13. Parents Against Student Data-Mining Notch Victory in Colorado.

Parents in a Colorado school district rejoiced last week when they learned that the pilot version of a controversial student data collection program would be stopped. Now, the state has taken it a step further by completely severing ties with the program known as inBloom.

“It has been very exciting,” Sunny Flynn, the mom of a kindergartner in the Jefferson County School District, told TheBlaze. “We thought we had a longer battle in front of us.”

Last month, TheBlaze first spoke with Flynn and another mom leading the charge with other parents against inBloom — a project that began with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Carnegie Corporation of New York. At the time, Flynn expressed fears over potential privacy issues with the program, as well as what she considered “big business” making its way into the classroom.

“Now that the Colorado Board of Education has decided to terminate its relationship with inBloom … it shows that Commissioner (Robert) Hammond is listening to parents,” Flynn said.

Hammond, the state’s education commissioner, informed the state board of education Wednesday of the department’s decision.

“As a result of Jefferson County School district’s decision to withdraw from inBloom and recognizing the concerns being expressed, I have made the decision that in the best interests of the department we exercise our right to terminate the service agreement with inBloom,” Hammond said.

But Hammond was optimistic about how inBloom could have been used.

“Using these tools, teachers would have been able to more easily support their students’ needs by helping them learn at their own pace and truly master a concept before moving forward. In my opinion, this continues to be an important goal in educating our students for the 21st century,” he said. “Unfortunately, concerns and questions persisted in Jefferson County that led to their decision to withdraw from inBloom.”

In addition to including standardized test scores and enrollment information, parents were concerned about the hundred of data points that could be collected and stored on inBloom. They included everything from disciplinary actions, which the school district later said it would not collect, to family status to food assistance programs and disabilities.

Hammond said the state can take away valuable lessons from the now-terminated pilot program, including the need to improve privacy policies — working with privacy advocacy groups to identify problems beforehand — and the need to create a statewide policy to model how school districts can enter into agreements with third parties.

But Flynn thinks the lessons learned from the state’s relationship with inBloom could have more of a reach.

At the moment, “we have to make sure New York hears this news,” Flynn said.

“We hope that (New York’s Board of Regents and Education Commissioner John King) takes this as a really important message,” the Littleton, Colo., mother continued. “This is not about security, this is about privacy. The technology has simply gotten ahead of leadership and policies.”

This week, parents in New York City filed a lawsuit with the New York state Supreme Court, hoping to prevent student data from being shared with inBloom.

“Commissioner King has ignored the protests of thousands of parents who have urged him to drop this plan and asked him to protect their children’s highly sensitive information,” Leonie Haimson, executive director of the advocacy group Class Size Matters who is involved with the lawsuit, told The Poughkeepsie Journal. “They have been joined by a growing chorus of school board members and superintendents throughout the state who say that his data-sharing plan is not only unnecessary, it poses huge and unprecedented risks.”

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