|Superintendent John White (credit: Shreveport Times)|
Then a mere four months after the decision was made to become a “Phase I” inBloom state, White suddenly announced he was withdrawing from the project, after parents and state board members had erupted in protest about the plan’s violation of student privacy. How did this happen? Some clues can be found below.
April 26, 2011: Paul Pastorek, State Superintendent of Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE), appoints John White as head of the Recovery School District (RSD). White is the former NYC Deputy Chancellor, controversial for his support for closing public schools and installing charter schools in their place. Pastorek instead cites White’s “collaborative” work “with principals and teachers to design a teacher effectiveness program in New York City that effectively supports and evaluates their achievement.”
June 2011: The Gates Foundation gives the Louisiana Department of Education a $7.6 million, three year grant.
July 2011: The Gates Foundation gives a $1 million, one year grant to the Recovery School District (RSD).
August 22, 2011: Julie Fabrocini, senior program officer for the Gates Foundation writes John White and asks to speak by phone to him to “talk about an opportunity with math and literacy instructional tools (LD and MD) that support CCSS (Common Core State Standards) in some RSD charters.”
September 9, 2011; Pete Gorman, senior VP of News Corporation’s new education division, later named Amplify, asks White to spend time with him to “understand what is happening in the Recovery School District…like your insights on a few News Corp /Wireless issues [Wireless is the primary education subsidiary of NewsCorp, and the designer of inBloom Inc.’s operating system]…” Assures him that “one of the great parts of my job is I don’t sell anything to anyone, I am sharing information with our team about what is really happening in the schools. So no sales pitch or pressure!”
White replies; “Dude—you are my recharger! Dinner it is, of course. Then let’s visit some schools…I’m really looking forward to it.”
Oct. 20, 2011: Neerav Kingsland, Chief Strategy Officer of New Schools for New Orleans, writes White: “Might be good for some of us to attend [Gates confab of Compact Leaders] esp if we can meet with Shalvey [Deputy Director at Gates Foundation] re: funding.” (Earlier in May 2011
New Schools for New Orleans had received $301K “to fund a road map for community engagement around school closure”. The following year the organization receives a Gates’ $3 million grant.]
New Schools for New Orleans had received $301K “to fund a road map for community engagement around school closure”. The following year the organization receives a Gates’ $3 million grant.]
Oct 27, 2011; Pete Gorman of NewsCorp follows up, thanking White for the time they spent together: “Joel [Klein] said he may be seeing you soon and he is looking forward to it.” Announces that he would like to return with the president of Wireless, Josh Reibel, to discuss how the company can “help increase achievement…assist with “school turnarounds” and give “a preview of ‘new curriculum.’” White says that sounds great.
Dec. 31, 2011 Erin Bendily, Asst.Superintendent at LDOE, writes that they need to push “more on the CCSS [Common Core State Standards] alignment/integration throughout. This sounds harsh, but we should show that our current/old educator evaluation system is crap and the new system is stellar. We should also highlight the Gates integration project in a major way as well, as there’s little detail about exactly how the two initiatives are being rolled out together…”
Jan 11, 2012: White is officially named Louisiana’s State Superintendent of Education, replacing Paul Pastorek.
Jan 20, 2012: White receives an invitation from the Center for Educational Leadership and Technology (CELT), a Gates grantee, asking him as well as the other Shared Learning Collaborative State chiefs to a meeting about the data-sharing project– with reimbursement for travel expenses. CELT had received a multi-million dollar Gates grant to “focus on developing recommended practices and business processes for collecting and validating linked teacher and student data,” with Louisiana one of the participating states.
Jan 21, 2012: White asks Vicky Thomas, executive assistant at LDOE: Did Paul [Pastorek, his predecessor] participate in this for real? To another staffer: “I know what it is, but I don’t know if we are really invested since I haven’t heard anyone mention it.”
Jan 22, 2012 Vicky Thomas: “Yes the DOE is participating in this. I’m not sure if we are part of Phase I or II, but Erin and Jim Wilson, (LDOE Chief Information Officer), have been working on this through the Gates Foundation. Paul did not attend these kinds of things but would send staff.”
Feb.23, 2012: Pete Gorman asks to visit with him about “the new curriculum and device that Joel [Klein, former NYC Chancellor and president of NewsCorp’s education division, Wireless] has discussed with you as well as talk about a few other items. Josh Reibel of Wireless would be joining me.” Asks to meet during afternoon and have dinner together on March 12. John White: “Yep would love that. Have been hoping you all would call on us re some of the work you’re doing. “[I wonder who paid.]
March 2, 2012 – Julie Fabrocini of Gates asks that they be able to spend a whole day briefing “pilot superintendents.” Turns out that there is a larger group of “advisory” Louisiana Superintendents meeting on March 22. .
March 5, 2012 – Fabrocini again asks to meet with the “grant” or “pilot Superintendents” to tell them about MET [Gates’ teacher evaluation project] and the SLC. “My hope was to light some fire and unity among the Superintendents along with some principals and HC and curriculum leads in the Integration pilot districts…I don’t want to be presumptuous here.” White says to staff; the whole group of Superintendents should meet with Gates about only MET project, the data/SLC only with the five grant district Superintendents.
March 6, 2012: Fabrocini asks to give presentation on MET and SLC to all the advisory Superintendents on March 22. White responds to staff “Beyond brutal.”
March 7, 2012 – Fabrocini asks if they can schedule an hour for him to get together with Henry Hipps, Senior Program Officer of Gates on March 21st. White agrees.
March 8, 2012 – Fabrocini now asks for two hours for all superintendents; White gives her one. After more pressure, he okays 1.5 hours.
April 30, 2012: email from Megan Matthews, director of communications for the Dell Foundation, asking for a quote in press release for Ed-FI (another data system) to “share your plans /vision for Ed-FI how this will affect students/teachers of your state and what you are seeing or expect with dashboard use. She says “our hope is to stimulate the vendor market.” Jim Wilson tells White to hold off of until “we find out if we get the Fed grant.”
White: “Let’s send them a generic quote that doesn’t commit to anything in particular.” “ (Ed Fi’s final press release here http://www.ed-fi.org/news/2012/05/ed-fi-gains-momentum-k-12-education-sector/
Jun 14, 2012: White receives another invitation to SLC Convening meeting, with travel expenses etc. paid Gates. Vicky Thomas to White: “Do we need to send someone? White: Nick [Nicholas Bolt, Deputy Chief of Staff].”
July 18, 2012: Kunjan Narechania, White’s chief of staff: “We have this meeting with Gates on SLC…Julie wants to invite Jim W [Wilson, Chief Information Officer] and Ken [Bradford, Assistant Superintendent] and all kinds of other people. I don’t even know what this is so I’m hesitant to invite anyone. [She adds: “Charlotte Danielson, expert on teacher effectiveness, is being a pain again. Apparently some reporter interviewed her about us using a version of her rubric for our system. She said she thinks it’s a bad idea for us to use an abridged version of her rubric and that we should have piloted for a year. So lame…”
White replies: “when is meeting? I’d like to stay close to this.”
July 19, 2012: Narechania: “You have a meeting with Henry [Hipps, Senior Program Officer at Gates] on 7/30- and two hours on 7/31.”
July 25, 2012: White receives another invitation to White to attend the Gates-funded Shared Learning Collaborative meeting in Sept. 2012– from Sarah Krongard, Instructional Designer, of CELT, including forms to fill out for travel reimbursement. White says might be helpful for Ken to go. (Ken Bradford, Assistant Superintendent for Content).
July 30, 2012: After seeing the Gates’ agenda for SLC and LDOE meeting of superintendents, his Chief of staff Kunjan Narechania writes to White: “Another brutal meeting.” White: ” This sounds terrible.”
July 30, 2012: Jim Flanagan of Wireless/ NewsCorp asks newly appointed head of Louisiana Stand for Children Rayne Martin, previously at Louisiana DOE, for help in getting a contact in LA DOE to help him sell “some very cool assessment and literacy programs, strong professional services practice with data coaching, school improvement & Common Core transition offerings.” Martin responds copying Kunjan: “I have been fan of Wireless generation’s work for a while now.’
August 8, 2012: Jim Wilson, Chief Information Officer of LA DOE writes: “Next step is for Ken to attend the September SLC/SLI [Shared Learning Infrastructure] meeting. Since we are a Phase II state there are no urgent steps. Additionally, keep in mind that there are no alpha or beta SLI apps developed yet. The key focus area for Ken initially will be to participate and get plugged into the data tagging approach SLC/SLI is pushing in the Education industry and with the search engine companies (GOOG, MSFT, etc). It will be important that we understand the approach as we begin to make use of internally/externally developed curriculum content.”
August 12, 2012: Pete Gorman of Wireless/Amplify/NewsCorp thanks Vicky Thomas, White’s assistant, for the “letter of support you and John White provided Wireless Generation in our application for a IES grant [Institute for Education Sciences, of the US DOE.] “We have been awarded funding by IES to evaluate the efficacy of Burst; Reading!’... ‘Burst helps teachers to target intervention instruction to student needs and adjusts that instruction as the students progress, as indicated by assessment results.’ Asks White if they will partner with the company and use the curriculum for a longitudinal study.
August 28, 2012: Pete Gorman complains he never ‘heard back from Vicky’ and asks White who to ‘follow up with the IES grant we were awarded and talked with you about partnering on.’
Sept 17, 2012: John White writes to Mark Leuetzelschwab, SVP Product and Marketing Executive, at Agilix Labs, Inc.: “We have been in long discussions about a number of routes with the donor [Who? Gates?] and have ironed something out, which means funding for our project is secure.”
Meeting of state SLC chiefs occurs.
Sept. 22, 2012: Don Shalvey, Deputy Director at Gates, writes White and piles on the accolades: “Congratulations of work well done. Thanks for a very inspiring set of meetings. You and your colleagues will most certainly change the opportunity equation for the youth of Louisiana. Your elegant design you are operationalizing via the networks, Compass [the LDOE the teacher evaluation system], the SLC and the talented team you’ve assembled has so much promise. I can see how all of you will continue to energize every educator and then as the student results emerge, the transformation will be palpable and long lasting. Please accept a very large BRAVO!!!”(etc. etc.)
White replies: “Your notes mean a great deal to us. Our team is working hard for sure and they don’t hear often enough how they are opening doors for hundreds of thousands of children. Thank you for being our friends and guides in this work. I’m looking forward to more of the most exciting work on earth.”
October 3, 2012: email from Gene Wilhoit, Executive Director for the Council of Chief State School Officers, another major Gates grantee and on the board of the Shared Learning Collaborative to SLC chiefs – “If you are aware of any districts planning to apply for the RTTT district funds we would like to provide an opportunity for them to consider potential connections to the SLC work taking place in your states. As we continue to develop and scale the SLC technology, RTT-D may be an excellent opportunity to take advantage of additional funding in this area.”
Oct. 9, 2012: Amrit Singh, Education Data Portal Project Director for the Regents Research Fund (which is also Gates-funded) Regents Fellow at the NYS Education Department and former colleague with White at NYC DOE writes, “attached are two practical guides on developing and implementing an enterprise architecture with an IT organization …
October 10, 2012: Nicholas Bolt, Deputy Chief of Staff, expresses concerns re “money/Time ($6 Mil) & District buy-in – if we can’t figure out how to market this for their participation and show them real value, it’s going to fall apart.” It thus appears that the district superintendents are not enthusiastic about buying into this project.
October 14, 2012: Class Size Matters, along with parent leaders and attorney Norman Siegel hold press conference in NYC, releasing a letter to the New York State Education Department (NYSED) demanding that it reveal its contract with the Shared Learning Collaborative, hold public hearings, and require parental consent before sharing any student’s personally identifiable information [PII]. This generates the first round of negative publicity about the violation of student privacy involved.
At this point, New York appears to be the only SLC client sharing data from the entire state’s student population. The Gates Foundation now appears intent on persuading White to accelerate the timeline, and convert Louisiana from Phase II to Phase I state, and agree to involve the whole state’s data in the project, as if to take the heat off NYSED officials.
November 18, 2012 Julie Fabrocini of Gates writes: “John, we have been talking in the Foundation about the next steps with the Shared Learning Collaborative and doing some thinking about possibilities for accelerating Louisiana. I think it would be important for us to get together for 60-90 minutes to discuss strategy, infrastructure and commitment? “
Dec 15, 2012: NYSED Regents Fellow Amrit Singh gets into the act, and also writes John White: “Below is a link to a great article that connects SLC, LRMI, and Learning Registry and may help your team get on the same page re the value and interconnection of these initiatives:
https://www.edsurge.com/n/potent-alphabet-soup-how-sli-lr-and-lrmi-will-shape-education-technology-content Singh tells him how to subscribe to EdSurge (also funded by Gates.)
Sometime during this period, White agrees to convert Louisiana into a Phase I state. Though no superintendent apparently signed up to pilot inBloom, White decides to upload entire state data into SLC cloud -- to populate their controversial “Course choice” program, in which students can sign up for courses for credit “a la carte” with a range of for-profit providers; this program is being implemented by another company called Agilix.
Dec. 22, 2012: John White – to Amrit Singh, the NYSED Regents Fellow, “Agilix is going to route course choice data through the SLI, our first foray. Off and running.”
Jan 1, 2013: White signs a Memorandum of Understanding with the Gates Foundation for the Shared Learning Collaborative.
Jan 2, 2013: Ken Bradford gives John White updates on their “Choice” program “Both Agilix and SLC-Gates Alvarez [Alvarez and Marsal, Gates consultants] team to be here Monday 1/7/2013 to walk through the steps for getting our LDOE student data into the SLI warehouse…to transform our data file and co-devise a solution for Louisiana’s identity management needs.”
January 19, 2013: Diane Ravitch reprints on her widely-read blog a post written by Leonie Haimson for the NYC Parent blog the day before, entitled “Parents beware! NY and eight other states plan to share your child’s confidential school records with private corporations without your consent!” The post warns parents about the Shared Learning Collaborative project.
January 27, 2013: Shan Davis, Administrator at the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education [BESE] writes to Kim Nesmith, LDOE Data Quality Director: “could you provide me with a summary of the Shared Learning Collaborative/ Ms. Beebe [Lotte Beebe, a member of BESE] would like the details regarding what this is, the funding sources, and when it will be implemented, etc.”
January 31, 2013: Mick Hall, Director at Alvarez and Marsal writes to Ken Bradford, cc; Hipps and Bates of Gates, and Genevieve Haas, Account Director at WaggenerEdstrom, the Gates PR consultants:
“Dear Ken: As you are aware, a letter critical of the Shared Learning Collaborative and its partners was recently posted to a blog belonging to Diane Ravitch, an education policy analyst. The letter was written by NYC activist Leonie Haimson who is an outspoken critic of the Gates Foundation and other education reform efforts. Haimson, who heads the organization, Class Size Matters, is calling on parents to challenge the right of states and districts to leverage the SLC’s infrastructure to facilitate the sharing of student data with third party providers. For context, a version of the letter originally appeared on Haimson’s blog in October 2012, at which time the NY State Education Department took steps to address the concerns raised. “ [Note by LH: NYSED did little or nothing to address our concerns, and to this day has refused to answer our questions.]
“While we agree that privacy and data security are important issues, Haimson’s letter and ongoing critique of the SLC contain distortions and inaccuracies that we feel are important to correct and the SLC has posted several resources on its site that address these issues as well as posting a comment on Ravitch ‘s blog post. We also we recognize that you will need accurate information and tools to allay concerns among your stakeholders. In view of this, we propose to hold a call to discuss any concern and identify what resources and strategies would be helpful to you…”
Ken Bradford forwards the above email to Nicholas Bolt, who is unconcerned and responds “I don’t think a call is necessary at the moment. Kim, have you heard anything else beside that on BESE member?”
January 31, 2013; Shan Davis, BESE administrator, complains to Kim Nesmith about how Lottie Beebe has not received a response to her email the previous week.
January 31, 2013: Mike Hall of Alvarez and Marsal emails Ken Bradford, Sharren Bates of Gates, Henry Hipps, and their PR firm; asking for phone meeting to allay potential privacy concerns.
February 4, 2013: Kim Nesmith finally responds to Lottie Beebe, with a statement copied from Gates:
“The Shared Learning Collaborative (SLC) provides a standardized technology infrastructure that will allow states, districts, and schools to link to various curricular resources… And adds: “Recently there was a letter critical of the SLC posted on education policy analyst Diane Ravitch‘s blog. This letter was written by Leonie Haimson…etc.” Links to the SLC website at http//slc.edu/technology/privacy-and-security
Feb 4, 2013: Hipps of Gates emails the SLC states and pilot districts, telling them tomorrow the SLC with transition to inBloom Inc. He gives them brand usage guidelines, and alerts them to media briefings, etc.
Feb. 6, 2013: Email from Mike Hall of Alvarez and Marsal to the entire list of participating state chiefs and pilot district superintendents: “Thanks for your time this week to align on privacy issues and messaging. Attached is the situation overview and messaging that Henry shared on the call.” Attachment [not included]: “InBloom Privacy Guidance”
Feb. 6, 2013: Brady Isom, software engineer at Agilix asks “do we have an ETA as to when the StudentUniqueStateId will be changed to the student’s SSN [Social Security Number]?
Feb. 8, 2013: Dave Lefkowitz, Education Deputy for Louisiana Department of Education, asks about “availability of SSN student data for testing” among other things.
Feb. 20, 2013: Message from Gates Foundation about their cross-state monthly call, scheduled for Feb. 22 to prepare for the transition from the SLC to inBloom Inc., to discuss highlights of SXSW show, to give a status update on “Vendor engagement” and “pilot site updates.”
March 3, 2013: The Gates-funded SXSW Education conference opens in Austin, Texas, with Bill Gates as keynote speaker, which is organized around a major push to promote inBloom Inc. and persuade more states and vendors to sign on.
At the same time, Stephanie Simon of Reuters publishes a devastating expose in Reuters about how the most private details of students’ lives will be made available to inBloom and through inBloom to for-profit vendors, and how these companies are slavering at the prospect. This is the first time the national media has reported the unprecedented scope of the Gates Foundation plan, and the apparent willingness of nine states to share their personal student information without parental consent. She also reveals is that inBloom is collecting student Social Security numbers – something that inBloom later attempts to deny in tweets to other reporters, calling her reporting inaccurate.
In the weeks to follow, the Gates Foundation, their PR agents, and numerous consultants seem surprisingly flat-footed in coming up with a cogent rationale or explanation for their data-sharing plans.
March 6, 2013: Tandra Oubre, IT programmer at LDOE, writes that “the SSN is the primary data element that is used to retrieve the viewable student information.”
March 11, 2013: A charter school parent writes LDOE to ask if her child’s charter school will be included in the inBloom database.
March 13: Louis Boullion, Director of Information Technology at St. Tammany school board, emails John Fielding at LDOE: “Can you please give me a call regarding the article Darlene spoke with you about… [Reuters] I need something in writing that says the data is not being released. Our Board and parents are flooding us with calls. I would like the correct info before we respond.”
March 14: John Fielding responds: “Louis, as I mentioned to Darlene, I am not sure who could provide you the documentation you’re looking for. I am copying Kim Nesmith because I believe she will know who should try next…” Kim Nesmith: “Hi Louis, I do have a prepared statement that I will get to you tonight.”
March 15: Boullion to Kim Nesmith: “are you able to provide us a statement, do you need more information.”
March 18: Kim Nesmith: “Hi Louis, Sorry that I’m just getting back to you. Here’s the statement from our Public Affairs Office:
We follow all applicable laws and expect the same of school systems. We deeply respect the right to the privacy for children and families.”
Boullion responds, “Kim this is pretty generic and will not satisfy our Parents or Board. The parents are now talking about sending in forms to opt out of the State’s ability to release their student’s data. These 2 sentences do not even mention the database. Can we please get a little more detail and description, so we can calm our parents and Board?’
March 18, 2013: Daniel Kim, Manager at Alvarez and Marsal, consultant to inBloom and the Gates Foundation, writes Ken Bradford and others at LDOE: “With the increased level of press and public discussion on inBloom after SxSW, our primary topic for this month’s cross site call will be on communications and public relations…”
March 27, 2013: As the issue of Social Security numbers heats up, Kim of Alvarez writes (with subject heading “inBloom/lD sync – Student IDs”): thank you for the call today. Here are the next steps we agreed on: inBloom/Dan Draft a temporary waiver with our legal counsel and connect with Kim Nesmith by EOW; LDOE /Nick: Organize a call with Mark Wolfgramm, [VP of Development] and Chipp [Walters, General Manager] @ Agilix to consider potential options in place of SSN…
March 29, 2013: Marie DeMego, VP at Connect Edu, a participating vendor, asks to meet to “introduce the leadership team spearheading ConnectEDu’s inBloom efforts.”
April 2, 2013: In an attempt to calm the growing furor over student privacy, John White sends a letter to the state’s superintendents, arguing that the inBloom storage is no different from what the state currently does. This does not allay the controversy.
April 10, 2013: Thomas Schmidt, attorney of the Home School Legal Defense Association, emails to ask if homeschooled Louisiana student information will be sent to inBloom.
April 16, 2013: Sue Millican, who oversees the LADOE Home Study Programs, responds to Schmidt that “no home study student information is planned to go into the inBloom database. If you should have further questions regarding the new process, please contact Brian Darrow, in the LDOE Office of Parental Options.”
April 17, 2013: What was described as a “lively” BESE meeting, with parents and students testifying against the data–sharing, privacy-busting inBloom plan. 16 year old Rachael Sachs tells the boardmembers,
How would you feel if your house got broken into and all of your personal belongings were stolen? And later when you went on the Internet, you discovered that your belongings were being sold to the highest bidder?
How you would feel then, is how we feel now. Our personal information is being sold to anybody who has money, whether it is a company, or a predator, not to mention hackers. We are being put in danger.
I don’t have a Facebook for this reason. These companies are treating us as though we are theirs to sell to make a profit off of . . . it is almost as if we are being prostituted.
Under pressure, John White promises to release all MOUs and contracts related to data sharing agreements with inBloom and Agilix.
April 18, 2013: The following day, John White announces he is pulling all student data out of inBloom Inc. – and writes the following letter to the BESE board:Members:
At Wednesday’s meeting we heard some compelling testimony regarding the state’s and school districts’ data storage practices. It’s an issue worth continued discussion with the board.
The data storage agreement with the inBloom database was undertaken with caution and a sense of responsibility. However, because of the concerns expressed by some parents, and because we have not yet had an in-depth discussion with the board and public about data storage at the agency or district level, I think that it is best for now that we withdraw student information from the inBloom database. I have told our staff to do so and have informed inBloom of our decision.”
April 19: After this news is reported in the media, inBloom tweets:
.@frankcatalano @audreywatters Louisiana still part of inBloom community. Many inaccuracies in coverage
— inBloom (@inBloomEdu) April 19, 2013
Louisiana parents and advocates don’t know whom to believe. White contradicts inBloom and insists he has pulled all the student data out of inBloom.