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Privacy jitters derail controversial K-12 big data initiative

InBloom said its initiative would have allowed schools to offer customized instruction to students

April 23, 2014 05:01 PM ET

Computerworld - Unrelenting privacy concerns finally derailed a controversial big data initiative that promised to deliver more individualized instruction to public school students in the U.S.

InBloom, a non-profit funded to the tune of $100 million by the Gates and Carnegie foundations, Tuesday announced that its is closing down due to public concerns over misuse of student data in its control.

In a statement, CEO Iwan Streichenberger said InBloom had been the "subject of mischaracterizations and a lighting rod for misdirected criticism" since the effort was first launchedas the Shared Learning Collaborative.

The concept of using student data to deliver individualized instruction to K-12 students is a new one, Streichenberger acknowledged. "Building public acceptance for the solution will require more time and resources than anyone could have anticipated."

Streichenberger's decision to pull the plug on InBloom comes just weeks after the New York State legislature passed a bill that prevents the state education department from sharing personal student data with companies -- like InBloom -- that store, organize and aggregate student data.

The legislation also requires that InBloom delete any data it has collected to date on public school students in the state.

New York was the last of nine states to shift gears after first agreeing to partner with the non-profit in a pilot program.

Over the past year, school districts from all of the other participating states, including Colorado, Louisiana, Illinois, Massachusetts, and Georgia, have similarly withdrawn from the effort due to privacy concerns.

InBloom's demise is sure to be a welcome development to the many groups that vociferously opposed the idea of school districts handing over vast volumes of highly sensitive student data to a private entity.

InBloom's stated mission was to serve as a data service that would ultimately enable public school teachers to deliver more tailored instruction to their students.

The plan called for school districts to upload to InBloom a wide range of student data, including names, addresses, academic records, test scores, racial and economic information and, most controversially, disciplinary, disability and health related data.

InBloom would collect and aggregate the data and share it with approved third parties who would develop dashboards and other tools that schools could use to customize instruction based on individual student needs. Among InBloom's numerous partners were companies like eScholar, Dell, Kickboard, Promethean, CPSI and iResult.

InBloom maintains that it did no data mining of its own, and it insists it used the privacy and security controls needed to protect student data in its control. The company also insisted that all decisions on the type of student data that would be uploaded and how the data would be used and shared rested entirely with individual school districts.

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