The state Education Department and the inBloom student-data project are undergoing an involuntary uncoupling.
The Education Department is acknowledging that it will end controversial plans to store identifiable student data in a web-based cloud created by inBloom, a non-profit funded by the Gates Foundation.
State lawmakers passed legislation early this week that prohibits the department from giving student information to entities that collect and store data for use in a data dashboard or portal — as inBloom intended to do for New York. The state is also required to make sure that student data already uploaded is deleted.
"As required by statute, we will not store any student data with inBloom and we have directed inBloom to securely delete the non-identifiable data that has been stored," said a statement from Dennis Tompkins, spokesman for Education Commissioner John King.
The state already transferred extensive student records to inBloom and had planned to add students' names and addresses soon.
Educators and parents across the Lower Hudson Valley and state voiced grave concerns about whether identifiable student data would be secure in inBloom's datacloud and whether the information could be misused to track students or even sold down the line. Both the Education Department and inBloom insisted those concerns would not come to pass.
The Westchester Putnam School Boards Association and the Lower Hudson Council of School Superintendents questioned state officials about the inBloom project at numerous meetings and forums and continued to raise objections to losing local control of student records.
Officials were gratified to learn of the demise of the state's data plans.
"I think it is a really good example of democracy in action," said Susan Elion Wollin, president of the School Boards Association. "It's nice to see that folks in Albany listened and respected our kids, our parents and our school officials."
Pleasantville Superintendent Mary Fox-Alter, who explained her concerns about the state's plans before the Assembly Education Committee, said she was proud of the advocacy work done by superintendents.
"The planned upload of student data into the national inBloom superstructure generated many privacy, profiteering and profiling concerns," she said.
Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters, an advocacy group in New York City, was among the first to oppose the state's plans and worked to raise public awareness across New York and the country. InBloom had planned to work with nine states to organize student data, but state after state dropped out because of public protests.
Haimson said advocates for preventing the misuse of student data had only won one battle.
"InBloom is just the most egregious example of the widespread problem of excessive data collection and sharing of personal student data by the state, districts and schools – without parental consent, in the name of personalized learning," she said, "but really to commercialize the data and accelerate the trend towards instruction via computers rather than human interaction with teachers."
State officials have insisted that they need to better use student data to more effectively track student needs and help teachers adjust instruction.
"We need a data source from which we can pull (data) to change instruction the very next day," Deputy Education Commissioner Ken Slentz told several hundred educators at a conference in November. "The only way we can effectively use data is if we have it."
InBloom spokesman Adam Gaber said the Atlanta-based company will push forward.
"We respect New York state's decision to provide additional local control, and for also addressing privacy," he said in a statement. "At inBloom we continue to believe that our technology has the unique ability to empower teachers in ways that can dramatically improve learning for students."
New York state is still obligated to improve the use of data under its participation in the federal Race to the Top program.
Education Department spokesman Jonathan Burman said the department will explore "alternate paths" to help schools, districts and the state's BOCES access "technology tools" that will support teachers and students. The state has been working to create a portal system that will allow parents, teachers and others to access student data.
Local officials have called for the state to use its 12 "regional information centers" — BOCES-run operations that provide technology services for school districts — to store and crunch student data. The legislation passed this week specifically allows BOCES to operate data systems.