The technology firm, funded largely by the Gates Foundation, was poised to take advantage of Obama administration changes to the Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) to create a mass data “cloud” by becoming a multistate repository of student data. In the past states might contract a database firm to create an in house system for their exclusive use. What makes inBloom different was the scale of the data collection, the multistate nature of the project, and that instead of simply housing data for the state and districts to analyze, inBloom intended to let vendors use that data to make education products.
Activists and parents protested on two grounds: first, they were concerned about just how secure data that is supposed to be protected by federal law would be and second, the nature of the deals made with inBloom that allowed students’ educations to become ongoing revenue stream and that were made with no public input whatsoever.
Technology firms should learn the right lesson from this. Individual learning products tailored by big data analysis are coming to public schools, and they have potential. But they should not come via back room deals that adjust federal privacy law and make contracts that fundamentally change the way states store and safeguard children’s private records without public input.
If technology firms repeat inBloom’s mistake and act as if they only have to market to 50 state education departments instead of to the parents and guardians of the 74 million children in this country, this fight will only happen again.