April 30, 2013; Village Voice

The Education Data Portal is the creation of inBloom Inc. (formerly the Shared Learning Cooperative).  According to the NYSED’s description, the portal is designed for “the delivery of innovative data tools and curriculum content, including customizable dashboards for educators, parents, and students; early warning supports to help provide targeted resources to students at risk of not completing high school ready for college and careers; electronic transcript transfer between high schools and New York’s public colleges and universities; and curriculum/instructional resources to support our professional development and student learning goals.”

The plan for inBloom is to construct such portals in nine different states. The $100 million centralized database initiative is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation, and federal grants.

The Department of Education in New York has asserted that no vendor will be able to access the data without the school’s permission, but this has not allayed community fears. One parent, Natasha Capers, asked, “Was anyone around last week when the [Associated Press] was Twitter-hacked? It shut down New York City’s Wall Street. We can only imagine what would happen when someone wants this information and knows how to utilize it properly.” Molly Wulkowicz, whose child attends Midtown West public school, is upset that the infrastructure of the inBloom database system was developed by Wireless Generation, a subsidiary company of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation—an organization that has recently had some pretty high-profile issues with privacy.  

City Council candidate Jelani Mashariki declared  “You’re not going to give out my child’s information to a third-party corporation to do whatever it is they want to do…The people are not going to have it and we are going to fight back.”

The state asserts that inBloom does not take them out of compliance with the federal Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, but some activists believe that initiatives like inBloom are the result of U.S. Department of Education amendments to FERPA in 2008 and 2011 that relaxed protections.

The Department of Education’s deputy chief academic officer, Adina Lopatin, confirmed that New York State “has transmitted student data to inBloom as part of the process of building educational data portals,” and that “according to state guidelines, there is no provision for parents to opt their children out of inBloom or the educational portal tool.”

Two bills dealing with inBloom are moving through New York’s State Assembly and Senate. A06059 and S04284 prohibit “the release of personally identifiable student information where parental consent is not provided.”

In Louisiana, the state has taken a different tack, with State Superintendent John White withdrawing student data from inBloom until privacy concerns of parents could be thoroughly addressed.—Ruth McCambridge