Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan (D-Ridgewood) was at the head of a Standing Committee on Education hearing last week bringing into question the practice of storing personal student information in the name of efficiency.
The state Education Department signed a contract in 2012 with inBloom, a non-profit information collector, with the intent of helping teachers access educational resources, materials and sensitive student data. The deal has since been met with wide skepticism over whether or not students’ personal information could and should be disseminated through third-party vendors, and Nolan argued that constituents were feeling uncomfortable.
“The Assembly majority has serious concerns about the potential flaws of the state Education Department’s plan to share student data and their ability to protect student privacy,” Nolan said in a statement. “We feel compelled to question this plan and we strongly believe that student information should not be shared with inBloom at this time.”
An initial hearing was held back in November to solicit testimony from the state Education Department on the use and disclosure of student data to third-party vendors and several groups spoke out against the policy, including the New York State United Teachers, the United Federation of Teachers, the New York State School Boards Association and various parents, superintendents and teachers. InBloom did not attend the original hearing – but did testify before the Assembly on Friday.
Nolan questioned inBloom on the type of information it collected and the length of time that data was kept. She also pressed the non-profit to find out why other states have dropped their contracts with the group, whose stakeholders are among the third-party providers, and what would happen in the event of a security breach.
In its testimony, inBloom argued that while it did collect students’ information, its practices were both secure and perfectly legal in the name of improving education. The group, which was founded in 2013 with $100 million in grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation of New York, said it provided middleware technology so that teachers could more easily tailor education to the needs, skill level and learning pace of each individual student.
“An easy way to think about inBloom security is to picture the security of a safe deposit box in a bank vault,” the testimony read. “Each state or district customer has its own independent secure safe deposit box. The customer controls what’s in the box and who gets the key to the box. Contrary to claims, inBloom is not building a national database.”
Nolan said she and other members of the Assembly wanted to make sure the state Education Department was not the sole control of the sensitive student data. By the hearing’s end, inBloom had concluded that its contract with the state could be edited to address the concerns.
The hearing also came weeks after a New York state judge dismissed a petition filed by a group of city parents looking to put the program on pause. In the decision, state Justice Thomas A. Breslin found the state Education Department and Board of Regents “have met their burden to show there was a reasonable basis for the decision to enter into the agreement with inBloom and that the disclosure and transfer of data will be for a legitimate purpose.”
The lawsuit was only one in a series of legal battles against inBloom. Six of the nine states inBloom has partnered with have since put an end to their deals.
By Phil Corso