Threat to Student Privacy

In June of 2013, a short article appeared in the Chicago Tribune - “States Quit School Data Plan Amid Parents’ Privacy Fears”. This immediately caught our attention. We learned that a database was being developed by a non-profit organization called inBloom and that this project was being underwritten by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation at a cost of $100 million. We protecting-your-computeralso learned that many of the states that had originally signed on to participate in this project had withdrawn out of concern for student privacy.

The database purports to track around 400 different data points. Many are things that the school already tracks such as name, birthdate, test scores. But it is also tracking more sensitive data points; things such as disciplinary records, learning disabilities, IEP, health records, even teachers’ assessments of a child’s character. Moreover, it is a “longitudinal” database which means it tracks data over time. The stated purpose is to “improve learning outcomes”. All this data will be combined into a computerized dashboard. The individual teacher should be able to pull up all this data; identify individual student problems; and adjust teaching methods.

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It all sounds good, right? Why is it that we all feel so uncomfortable? Why is it that seven of the nine states that originally had signed on to participate in this project have all dropped out? And is such data-driven education really what parents want?

Illinois is one of two states that are participating in this project. In Illinois the project is known as Illinois Shared Learning Environment  (ISLE). It is a joint project of the Illinois State Board of Education and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. Two school districts, Bloomington School District 87 and McLean County Unit District 5, are currently piloting the project. In the fall of 2014 the program will be expanded to thirty-three school districts that are participating in Race to the Top. One of these school districts is neighboring District 211. The program is free right now but after the first year the plan is to charge school districts $3 – 5 per student. We are told that ISLE will not be capturing any “new” data; no sensitive non-academic data. And it will be strictly voluntary for school districts not participating in Race to the Top.

Still, we share concerns that have been identified by various other groups involved in education:

  1.        They aren’t letting parents opt-out of having their child’s data go to inBloom
  2.        They will be sharing data with for-profit third parties for the purpose of creating educational software.
  3.        The software is structured to allow for the collection of some very sensitive data.
  4.        inBloom cannot guarantee the security and privacy of this data. It’s stored in the “cloud” and once in the “cloud” there can be no guarantees.
  5.        The purpose, ultimately, is to eliminate teachers.

Of gravest concern, we feel, is that storing and sharing data in this manner leads to student “profiling”. Students can and do grow out of certain behaviors. They should be allowed to start fresh without a past incident clouding their ability to do so.

As an organization, we have reached out to the administration of District 214 expressing our concerns about this development and have asked if the district will be participating and, if so, will there be an opportunity for community input. A  letter was sent the first week of January. We will continue to follow up.

Please link to the petition at More Than A Score which is asking the head of CPS, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, not to share private student data.

And check out some of the resources and organizations below. And, as always, we welcome your input. Please email us at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Resources:

inBloom Sputters Amid Concerns About Privacy of Student Data
Deciding Who Sees Students' Data
U.S. Schools' Approach to Student Data Threatens Student Privacy - Study
School Database Loses Backers as Parents Balk Over Privacy

Organizations

More Than A Score
Raise Your Hand
Parents United for Responsible Education
ACLU of Illinois

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