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Carol Burris: Student privacy concerns grow over ‘data in a cloud’

Original article was posted in the Washington Post by Valarie Strauss

Privacy concerns have been growing over a $100 million student database – largely funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and operated by a  nonprofit organization, inBloom Inc. —  that contains detailed information about millions of students. Most of the states that had signed up to participate in a pilot program have pulled back, and in New York, parents and educators have pushed back with protests and a lawsuit. The nonprofit Electronic Privacy Information Center has sued the U.S. Education Department over the database.

Here’s a new post about the database from award-winning Principal Carol Burris of South Side High School in New York, who has been chronicling on this blog the many problems with test-driven reform in New York (here, and here and here and here, for example). She was named New York’s 2013 High School Principal of the Year by the School Administrators Association of New York and the National Association of Secondary School Principals, and in 2010,  tapped as the 2010 New York State Outstanding Educator by the School Administrators Association of New York State. She is the co-author of the New York Principals letter of concern regarding the evaluation of teachers by student test scores. It has been signed by more than 1,535 New York principals and more than 6,500 teachers, parents, professors, administrators and citizens. You can read the letter by clicking here. 

By Carol Burris

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is indecisive when it comes to uploading student information into inBloom, the cloud-based system designed to provide student data to vendors. He says that he is waiting for Commissioner John King’s report on privacy, even as the upload begins.  Cuomo claims that massive student data collection is “necessary.” Meanwhile, eight other states that originally committed to inBloom have pulled out, or put their plans on hold.

The collection and reporting of school data is nothing new. We used to send data on scan sheets; test scores, drop out rates, the percentage of students with disabilities, etc., were all reported in the aggregate. As technology progressed, we began to electronically send data, not in the aggregate, but by student.  Students were assigned a unique identifying number so that their privacy was protected, with identity guarded at the school or district level.  More data, including race, ethnicity and socio-economic status, were added to what we sent. This allowed the state to disaggregate data by student group, while still preserving anonymity.

Now that wall of privacy is shattered. Names, addresses (e-mail and street) and phone numbers are to be sent.  Schools are required to upload student attendance, along with attendance codes, which indicate far more than whether or not the student was absent or present.  Codes indicate whether a student is ill, truant, late to school or suspended.  Details about the lives of students are moving beyond the school walls to reside in the inBloom cloud….

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