Once parents in the rest of the country learned through blogs and news articles of the Foundation’s plans to upload onto a data cloud and facilitate the sharing of their children’s most sensitive personal information with for-profit vendors, their protests grew ever more intense, and inBloom’s proponents were powerless to convince them that the benefits outweighed the risks. Though the Gates Foundation had hired a phalanx of communications and PR advisers, they were never able to come up with a convincing rationale for inBloom’s existence, or one that would justify this “data store”, as they called it, that cost them more than $100 million dollars to create.
The Foundation started the 2013 with a plan to promote inBloom through the media and at the large SXSWedu conference, and to expand the number of inBloom “partners” beyond the original nine states and districts that they said were already committed; instead they watched as every one of these nine states and districts withdrew or claimed they had never planned to share data with inBloom in the first place.
For the previous posts in this saga, see Part I showing how, after waiting a year and a half, we finally received the emails in December 2014, after inBloom had collapsed and the day after John King announced his resignation as NYS Commissioner to become Arne Duncan’s top adviser. He is now Acting US Secretary of Education. Part II contains FOILed emails from 2011, and Part III has highlights from emails sent in 2012.
1/10/13: Henry Hipps, Senior Program officer of the Gates Foundation, tells Ken Wagner of NYSED that “We’re ramping up for a pretty big push for the new post-SLC [Shared Learning Collaborative, the LLC which morphed into inBloom Inc.] at SXSWedu in March. [SXSWedu is an annual conference focused on education and dominated by tech companies that takes place in Austin Texas.] It’s a watershed moment for the project and our engagement of the vendor community and additional states and districts. We are doing a couple of LEA/SEA-focused panels and I’d love to have you join us to discuss NYSED’s view of the world. We’ve got a whole slate of events. And Bill [Gates] is joining us for both a private reception as well as the keynote address of the conference. Should be fun.
|Diane Ravitch, education historian and blogger|
|Mike Hall of Alvarez and Marsal|
|Iwan Streichenberger, inBloom CEO|
We shared with Mitchell Chester [Massachusetts State Commissioner] the NYSED letter responding to Leonie’s initial claims from Last October. He and his team really appreciated it. As I mentioned, we think that letter is really strong and would love to see you guys post that publicly. Given that you already consider it a public document, any chance of that happening?” [I’m not sure if they ever posted that unconvincing letter, but I did here.]
|reporter Stephanie Simon|
Simon’s story become the buzz at SXSWEdu, and is soon followed up by articles in the Hechinger Report, Politics 365, The Denver Post, and The Washington Post Answer Sheet. On the same day, hundreds of NY parents start sending opt-out letters and emails through our website to Commissioner King, Chancellor Walcott, Stacey Childress of the Gates Foundation, Michele Cahill of Carnegie Foundation, NY Attorney General Schneiderman, Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, demanding that their children’s data not be disclosed to inBloom.
|Bill Gates with Iwan Streichenberger at SXSWedu|
|Michele Cahill of Carnegie Corporation|
3/12/13: Ken Wagner emails Hipps, Streichenberg and Genevieve Haas of Waggener Edstrom, one of the Gates Foundation’s many PR consultants, with a “draft field memo…I am a bit tired and can no longer focus…I cannot tell for sure. I am most in need for you to make sure everything in the memo about inBloom is accurate.” [The memo is not attached.]
3/13/13: Haas responds that she is reviewing the memo and will get it back to him ASAP. “On a related note, we have seen an announcement from Leonie Haimson that she is holding press conference tomorrow in front of Tweed. Link below. We wanted to both make sure you were aware of the planned press conference and make sure you have whatever support you need from us on a response strategy.” Wagner responds, “Yes we are aware. Dennis [Tompkins] and Tom [Dunn] (copied here) planned to reach out for validator statements …I assume you folks saw the EPIC USED lawsuit [about the weakening of FERPA by the US Education Department to encourage data-sharing] in the WaPo."
The same day in Albany, NYS Assemblyman Daniel O’Donnell introduces bill A6059 to protect student privacy to block any vendor from redisclosing personal student data without parental consent, as inBloom was designed to do. It also would place strict security provisions on any vendor and require that they indemnify the state for breaches. NYS Senator Mark Grisanti soon introduces a companion bill in Senate, # S04284. The New York Daily News subsequently writes about the bill here. Within two weeks the bill has 38 co-sponsors in the Assembly and three in the Senate.
3/14/13: Class Size Matters holds a press conference on the steps of Tweed, the NYC DOE headquarters. Parents, Councilmembers Letitia James, Daniel Dromm and Stephen Levin all speak out against the state’s plan to share data with inBloom. Video of the press conference is here. The Daily News reports on the issue in a two page spread including an op-ed by me; the press conference is also covered by CBS News, GothamSchools, ABC Local, NBC New York, the Village Voice, the New York Daily News and WNYC/Schoolbook.
3/19/13: Genevieve Haas emails NYSED that Dori Marlin of CBS 6 News in Albany is working on a story on inBloom, “focused on whether inBloom can guarantee the security of student data, provisions for data breaches and whether inBloom will enable vendors to access the data.” Tom Dunn responds that Ken is being interviewed by the reporter the next day.
Haas sends them some talking points to be shared with the reporter: “…inBloom can be a game-changer by doing two things: first by giving teachers more time, more visilbility into what students need, and easier access to tools and resources, and second by making it possible to personalize learning for every kids in a classroom... Q Can inBloom GUARANTEE that NY students’ personal private information will not be compromised or intercepted? Data privacy and security is a top priority for inBloom. In this day and age no security protections can be 100% guaranteed …etc.”
|CBS6 News screenshot|
4/8/13: Tom Dunn sends to Gates, inBloom and Waggener Edstrom a copy of the letter that John King finally sent in response to the “800 parents who responded to Leonie’s petition.” King’s letter never uses the words inBloom, instead calls it the “NY’s Education Data Portal (EDP)” and claims it will greatly benefit students, “help teachers deliver high quality personalized instruction”, as well as “maintain stringent data security and privacy protections,” and achieve the goal of “preparing all children for college and careers.…”
4/19/13: Responding to Louisiana parent and school board outrage at finding out about inBloom from the media, and the fact that inBloom was collecting students' Social Security numbers along with their names and other personal information, Louisiana Superintendent John White announces he has changed his mind, and is pulling student data out of inBloom – the first state to do so. This signals the beginning of inBloom’s collapse, only six weeks after its launch.
Iwan Streichenberger writes to John King and to reporters that “an article was published this morning that had a number of inaccuracies about Lousiana’s continued involvement with inBloom.” He claims that Louisiana “remains part of the inBloom consortium.” John King asks Streichenberger if Louisiana or inBloom could “put out a press advisory clarifying these points.”
|Superintendent John White of Louisiana|
This never happens, though Steve Winnick, an attorney on the inBloom payroll writes a statement affirming that their plans do not violate federal law, similar to an oped he had written for the WaPost AnswerSheet on March 28. Michael Gibbons, a security expert at Alvarez and Marsal, another paid Gates consultant, also composes a statement that says he has been reviewing inBloom’s system security documentation “for the past 4 weeks[!]” and his “impression is that there are no significant unmitigated risk to data at inBloom.”
4/23/13: Streichenberger writes to inBloom’s state partners, again attempting damage control regarding Louisiana Superintendent John White’s decision to pull out. He describes how Louisiana was initially Phase II state, but then “the team in Louisiana saw an opportunity to move more quickly…Last week, Superintendent White decided to pause their fast-track implementation in order to have the kinds of conversations with his Board and other stakeholders that Phase 1 states have been having for more than a year…The pause also supports Louisiana’s efforts to transition from using Social Security numbers to randomized student ID numbers, in keeping with inBloom’s requirements and with industry best practices….We welcome the chance to support your efforts to communicate clearly and transparently with your stakeholders, for your convenience I’ve attached a document with fact s about inBloom’s approach to privacy and security .”
When EdWeek follows up, and asks John White to respond to Streichenberger's comments that the state is only on "pause," White says, "I don't really know what it means," and emphasizes that the state no longer has any student data stored with inBloom.
4/25/13: Streichenberger thanks Ken Wagner for the time he took today to “catch up” and provides him with a “proposed statement for Commissioner King” that he could offer to mitigate some of the damage around Louisiana’s defection:
“We are confident that inBloom has made privacy and security of student data their highest priority, and are committed to working with them to improve instruction and achievement for all New York students. Following a recent meeting of the New York Board of Regents, where I shared with the Regents the vision for New York’s Education Data Portal, I want to restate my commitment to providing the best technology tools to support our educators in preparing students to be college and career ready. Making these tools available is frequently inefficient and inconvenient because they do not typically work as easily as they should with school and district data systems. This frustrates teachers and short-changes students and their families. For this reason, NYSED is excited to be partnering with the non-profit inBloom to provide New York with services to integrate our data systems. This will increase the educational technology options available to our schools and lower costs, all while protecting data security and the privacy of all students.”
|An angry parent berating NYSED officials at our Town hall|
We invite NYSED officials to attend and answer questions. Dennis Tompkins, Chief of NYSED External Affairs, and Nicolas Storelli-Castro, Director of Governmental Relations, attend the meeting, though they refuse to speak or to answer any questions. Two Board of Regents members come and listen intently: Kathy Cashin of Brooklyn and Betty Rosa of the Bronx. Though we also invited Sharren Bates of inBloom and Stacey Childress of the Gates Foundation, they refused to attend or send any representatives. Adina Lopatin, Deputy Chief Academic Officer of NYC DOE, does answer some of our questions and reveals that much confidential NYC student data has already been uploaded into the inBloom cloud, which sparks even more parent outrage. My account and the videos of this event are here.
On the same day, Joe Scantlebury emails John King, urging him to “Stay Strong.” King replies with a quote from Martin Luther King that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”
This is the end of the emails I received, as I requested communications only until May 1, 2013, having initially submitted the FOIL in June 2013. The following is from a timeline showing the sequence of events that followed. (A more detailed and extensive timeline is available here.)
5/4/13: Georgia Superintendent Dr. John Barge assures parents at a town hall meeting that he “will not share the student data with InBloom.” Georgia was listed as a Phase II inBloom “partner.”
5/13/13: Bill A7872, introduced by Chair of the NY Assembly Education Committee Cathy Nolan, is passed in the Assembly. The bill would allow parents to opt out of having their children’s personal information shared with third parties, unless required to do so by court order or for safety reasons.
5/21/13: Comptroller John Liu sends a letter, warning the Board of Regents and the Commissioner King against disclosing any student data to inBloom or to any other vendors without parental consent. A resolution is introduced in the NYC Council by Council Members Brewer, Jackson and Lander against the sharing of personal student data without parental consent and in support of the student privacy bill, A.6059 / S.4284.
5/28/13: At a candidate debate, all the Democratic candidates for NYC Mayor affirm their opposition to sharing student data with inBloom, except for Christine Quinn, who is not present. The candidates subsequently reaffirm their opposition in candidate surveys, again except for Christine Quinn.
5/29/13: Reporter Stephanie Simon writes another article for Reuters entitled “School database loses backers as parents balk over privacy.” She reveals for the first time that “Kentucky, Georgia and Delaware – all initially listed as partners on the inBloom website – told Reuters that they never made a commitment and have no intention of participating….Officials in two other states on the list, Massachusetts and North Carolina, said they are still evaluating the project and may never upload student data.” Among the remaining inBloom participants only three remain clearly committed: New York, Colorado, and Illinois.
5/28/13: CNN runs a segment on the inBloom controversy, drawing further national attention.
8/1/13: Guilford County schools officially pull out of using inBloom — the one inBloom pilot district in North Carolina.
9/4/13: S.5930-2013 is introduced in the NY State Senate, the same student privacy bill as A7872, already passed by the Assembly.
9/4/13: Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who will be elected NYC mayor in November, tells the New York Daily News, “As mayor, I will protect students’ privacy and stop this needless invasion of privacy.”
|JeffCo Superintendent Cindy Stevenson|
|Superintendent David Gamberg|
Though InBloom officials are asked to testify, they again claim a "prior engagement" -- the same response the NYC Council received from the company when the Education Committee held their hearings the prior month.
Commissioner John King testifies that the state has already uploaded a large amount of personal student data to the inBloom cloud, only without student names attached, to help inBloom "test" and develop their infrastructure -- though both Wagner and King avoided answering questions about what exact data elements were shared. Ken Wagner also explains how soon, each district will have to pay a per student fee to both inBloom and the vendors of the data dashboards that will be populated by student data from the inBloom cloud.
|John King and Ken Wagner at the Assembly hearings on inBloom|
|Assembly Education Chair Cathy Nolan|
12/16/13: NY Assembly Education Chair Cathy Nolan along with scores of other Assemblymembers send a letter to Commissioner John King, thanking him for his testimony, and saying that “We do not believe the State Education Department should share [student] information with InBloom, especially not at this time.” Three days later, the leader of the Assembly, Speaker Sheldon Silver calls on State Education Department to suspend the state’s participation in the project.
1/8/14: In legal filings in response to our lawsuit, the NY Attorney General reveals that NYSED has moved back its date for the transfer of data to inBloom to no earlier than April 1, 2014. NYSED claims the delay is caused by their “contractors” running behind schedule. In response to my tweeted question, the inBloom CPO, Sharren Bates disputes this claim:
— sharren bates (@sharrensharren) January 9, 2014
|Assembly Member O'Donnell questioning Ken Wagner|
|Steven Ross Johns Hopkins professor and inBloom enthusiast|
Unreported is the fact that Ross’s Center has recently received a large grant from the Gates Foundation “to promote specific improvements in the purchasing practices of K-12 school district buyers as they seek to implement innovative digital technology products and services.”
Epilogue: As you have seen, neither NYSED, the Gates Foundation nor their many paid consultants, lobbyists and non-profits they funded were able to figure out a message that would quell parents’ anger at being left out of the decision-making loop, anger which was quickly communicated to elected school board members, district Superintendents, legislators, and even the Governor.
Though among the emails I received there was no smoking gun, no damning revelation showing why NYSED officials signed on with such alacrity to the inBloom deal, there was plenty of evidence of the various grants and travel expenses offered that helped induce them into an ongoing alliance with the Gates Foundation, the richest foundation in the world, with its own personal interest in facilitating the exchange of as much student data as possible with ed tech vendors and assorted researchers.
The inBloom debacle not only led to the Gates Foundation losing over $120 million, but kickstarted a debate over student privacy that continues to this day, as parents became aware for the first time how vulnerable their children’s personal information was to being shared with a host of ed tech vendors, services providers, and other private organizations for a variety of purposes and goals.
According to the Data Quality Campaign, a Gates grantee, 110 bills on student data privacy were introduced in 2014, and twenty states approved 28 of these bills. In 2015, 36 states had 110 student privacy bills, and 24 of these bills were approved in 21 states. At least five federal student privacy bills have now been introduced in Congress. Rarely have public school parents had so much immediate impact on an issue of such importance to powerful and wealthy interests, though few if any of the bills approved so far are strong enough, in our view.
Several of those responsible for inBloom and who were so dismissive of parents’ privacy concerns, were promoted following its collapse. John King is now the Acting Secretary of the US Education Department. Stacey Childress, who led the inBloom project for the Gates Foundation, is CEO of the New Schools Venture Fund, which raises capital to expand charter schools and online learning. Ken Wagner was appointed Rhode Island’s Education Commissioner. Henry Hipps and Allen Golston are still at the Gates Foundation, while Joe Scantlebury is Vice President of the Kellogg Foundation. Debbie Robinson, Communications Officer for Gates, is now the VP for Government Affairs and Communications at Education Trust.
Michele Cahill, formerly Carnegie Vice President, is now a Distinguished Fellow in Education and Youth Development at the National Center for Civic Innovation. Gene Wilhoit, who helped spearhead the project when he was head of the Council of Chief State School Officers, is the CEO of the Center for Innovation in Education at the University of Kentucky and a partner at Student Achievement Partners. Matthew Gross, former head of the Regents Research Fund, is CEO of Newsela, a literacy technology company.
Sharren Bates is Senior Director at Lifion, another technology company. Iwan Streichenberger, inBloom’s former CEO, is an “executive consultant” advising “turn-around and business strategy” and “business/product launches.” Merryl Tisch is still Regents Chancellor, but has announced she will step down from the Regents this year, after twenty years on the Board. Stephanie Simon, whose investigating reporting was invaluable, not just on inBloom but on a whole host of education issues, is now Managing Editor of Stat News, a national journal covering medical and health issues.
I am still fighting for smaller classes at Class Size Matters, and still advocating for student privacy as the co-chair of the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, which Colorado parent activist Rachael Stickland and I co-founded in July 2014, following inBloom’s demise. Please visit our website here.