InBloom concerns need attention

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Community Voices

By Paula Noonan
Jeffco schools Superintendent Cindy Stevenson is traveling across the county to discuss various Jeffco education initiatives. One program, a large information technology pilot project called inBloom, will collect, store and distribute personal student data on off-site Amazon “cloud” servers managed by non-district employees.
Information will include, at least, student ID number, name, address, test scores, demographic information, grades, assessments and some medical  information.
This large, complicated project has kicked up deep controversies involving information delivery, student privacy, data security, school board oversight and governance, and education policy. Nine states were originally in the pilot. Five states pulled out, threatening inBloom’s sustainability. Others are reconsidering their participation.
In brief, the district plans for inBloom, a nonprofit enterprise funded by the Gates and Carnegie foundations, to integrate and store district data off site, then funnel it back to the district’s “dashboard” for staff use. The objective is to give teachers and others integrated information to support individual student learning needs.
Here’s the rub: Huge chunks of personal student data will flow across the Internet. The district will depend on the security protocols at inBloom and the ethics of inBloom personnel to protect student privacy.
Data clouds are vulnerable to security attacks. IT professionals in large numbers do not trust cloud storage for their most sensitive data.
For some parents, the project’s security methodology is not good enough. They also question how they will be informed of data breaches involving their children and how liability for the breaches will be resolved.
Further, parents are concerned about this massive data collection under the patronage of the Gates Foundation. A Gates Foundation mission is to “blend face-to-face instruction with digital tools that allow students to learn independently and at their own pace, freeing up time for teachers to give students more individualized attention and to focus on more complex tasks.”
One reason the Gates Foundation supports this project is to encourage a robust market in software learning tools, based on the types of data stored in inBloom and potentially shared through inBloom.
This mission may be attractive in theory, but it will inevitably have some unintended consequences that will not be good for students or teachers.  
These issues have not come to me from analysis I received from the school district. They come from many conversations with south area and other district parents. They involve honest, reasonable, urgent concerns. They must be respected, researched and weighed against potential benefits.
So far, the superintendent appointed a Data Management Advisory Council made up of 14 individuals, and gave the council its mission. The school board had no input. The council is supposed to provide recommendations to the school board in January. The board will have three new members elected in November. This process will not suffice.
I sent the board and superintendent numerous messages relating my concerns, which, according to the school district’s attorney, violated sunshine laws. I asked the district to provide a public space on the district’s website for me and other board members to post our questions and observations. The district will not do this.
I am thus publishing my questions at TakeCareSchools.com. I encourage anyone with questions or concerns to send them to me at penoonan@jeffco.k12.co.us. I will post them on the TakeCareSchools.com blog so we can have a full and free debate that thoroughly, publicly analyzes inBloom and other similar district initiatives.

Paula Noonan is the first vice president of the Jefferson County Board of Education. Her term expires this year, and she is not running for re-election.