From the Statehouse

Data fears aired before State Board

The effort to build the next generation of student data systems is either “transformational” or ripe for “abuse.”

Photo of meeting participant
Lawyer Kahliah Barnes participated in the State Board of Education meeting via video link.

Those were some of the contrasting views expressed Thursday at a State Board of Education study session on inBloom, a data system that is being pilot tested in the Jefferson County Schools and a handful of districts around the nation. The state Department of Education also is a participant.

The $100 million project, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Carnegie Corp., is attempting to build a data system that can aggregate student personal and academic information and link such data with online instructional materials that teachers can use to personalize teaching for individual student needs.

“It’s a great leap forward for teachers and classrooms and children,” Jeffco Superintendent Cindy Stevenson told the board. She used the example of math class studying a particular unit, explaining that a teacher could pull up data about an individual student’s work in that area and also receive specific suggestions for improving the student’s performance.

Stevenson also stressed the importance of integrating data. “Our teachers have all the data in the world now, but it’s on different systems.”

But the inBloom project has sparked concerns about privacy and the security of student information, both in Jeffco and elsewhere around the nation, including New York City.

“While we understand the value of data for personalized learning, there are too few safeguards,” said Khaliah Barnes, a lawyer with the Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center. She cited a “growing risk that third parties would have access to sensitive student information.”

In a high-tech touch, Barnes both observed the study session and testified via a two-way video hookup.

The harshest criticism came from board member Debora Scheffel, a Republican from Parker. “Any time you centralize information there’s potential for abuse. I think the potential for abuse is substantial. … This to me is just another vehicle to centralize teaching. … I’m sorry Colorado is part of this pilot.”

The two-hour session was dominated by discussion of security issues, with less time spent on inBloom’s educational potential.

“Job number one for us is the security of the data,” said Sharren Bates, an executive of the Atlanta-based non-profit. She also stressed repeatedly that it’s up to school districts to decide what data to enter into the system, which holds the information in encrypted form on third-party servers.

Greg Mortimer, Jeffco’s chief information officer, also defended the security of the system.

But Barnes suggested that tighter controls are needed. “We encourage Colorado to make it a policy to limited the data available to inBloom,” adding that changes in state law might be necessary. “Colorado should take this opportunity to pass legislation concerning inBloom and other data collection companies.”

The privacy center is currently suing the U.S. Department of Education over rule changes that gave contractors greater access to student data if they work for school districts.

Another controversy about new data systems is whether parents should be able to opt out. Jeffco citizens who oppose inBloom have asked for the ability to do that.

Jeffco Superintendent Cindy Stevenson / File photo
Jeffco Superintendent Cindy Stevenson / File photo

Stevenson and others oppose the idea. “Opting out makes the system not as effective” because it creates gaps in the data, she said.

SBE member Marcia Neal, a Republican from Grand Junction, struck a nuanced note as the hearing neared its end. “I don’t think we can say no, we’re not going to do it because someone will use it incorrectly. It’s the modern world, and we need to find a way to do it effectively.”

The inBloom system isn’t currently up and running in Jeffco, according to district officials. The pilot project, which doesn’t cost participating districts anything, runs through the end of next year, at which time the system should be finished. Then the district will have to decide whether it wants to continue using inBloom for a fee.

Mortimer roughly estimated the cost of such a system at between $2 and $5 per student a year, or about $170,000 to $425,000 for Jeffco. He said using inBloom would be less expensive for the district than building and maintaining its own comparable system.

power players

Who’s who in Indiana education: House Speaker Brian Bosma

PHOTO: Sarah Glen

Find more entries on education power players as they publish here.

Vitals: Republican representing District 88, covering parts of Marion, Hancock and Hamilton counties. So far, has served 31 years in the legislature, 9 of those as Speaker of the House. Bosma is a lawyer at the firm Kroger, Gardis & Regas.

Why he’s a power player: Bosma was House Speaker in 2011, when the state passed its large education reform package, creating the first voucher program for students from low-income families. Along with Rep. Bob Behning, Bosma helped develop the state’s voucher program bill as well as the bill that expanded charter school efforts that year. As a party and chamber leader, he plays a major role in setting House Republicans’ legislative agendas.

On toeing the party line: With the debate over state-funded preschool front and center during this year’s session, Bosma has expressed far more enthusiasm than his fellow Republicans for expanding the state’s program. Indeed, Bosma has long been a supporter of state-sponsored preschool. Currently, low-income families in five counties can apply for vouchers to use at high-quality preschool providers. Bosma has said he’d like to see that number triple, if not more.

Recent action: In 2016, Bosma ushered through one of the few teacher-focused bills that became law in the wake of news that some districts in the state were struggling to hire teachers. The bill created a state scholarship fund for prospective teachers, and began awarding money to students this year.

A perhaps little-known fact: In the late 1980s, Bosma worked at the Indiana Department of Education as the legislative adviser to H. Dean Evans, the state superintendent at that time. Then, as with this year’s House Bill 1005, lawmakers advocated to make the state superintendent an appointed position, a bill Bosma is carrying this year.

Who supports him: In past elections, Bosma has received campaign contributions from Education Networks of America, a private education technology company; Hoosiers for Quality Education, an advocacy group that supports school choice, charter schools and vouchers; Stand for Children, a national organization that supports education reform and helps parents to organize; K12, one of the largest online school providers in the country.

Conversely, given his support for choice-based reform, the Indiana Coalition for Public Education gave Bosma an “F” in its 2016 legislative report card highlighting who it thinks has been supportive of public schools.

Legislative highlights via Chalkbeat:

Bills in past years: 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017

Also check out our list of bills to watch this year.

getting to know you

Colorado Sen. Nancy Todd is making up for all the times she was quiet in school

PHOTO: Sarah Glen

Throughout the legislative session, Chalkbeat is asking members of the House and Senate education committees to share a little bit about themselves — and their legislative priorities. In this installment, meet Sen. Nancy Todd.

Nancy Todd, an Aurora Democrat, is a former social studies teacher who has spent her retirement — if you want to call it that — at the Capitol helping shape education policy.

Since 2005, Todd has played a role supporting — and opposing — some of the state’s most ambitious education policies as a member of both the state House and Senate.

One of her earlier bills created a stipend for teachers who earned National Board certification, a rigorous and widely respected training program for educators. More recently, Todd has been focused on reducing standardized testing and curbing the state’s teacher shortage.

Todd was a vocal opponent of Senate Bill 191, the state’s controversial 2010 teacher evaluation law. She has regularly supported reversing provisions of the law, including a failed attempt this year to create more flexibility in how student data is used to evaluate teachers.

Get to know a little more about Todd here:

What is your favorite memory from school?

PHOTO: Nancy Todd
State Sen. Todd in the first grade.

I think one of my favorite memories was my fifth grade teacher. He was my first male teacher, and he inspired me to be creative and think outside the box. Being the daughter of a superintendent, I always appreciated those teachers who treated me as an individual, not their “boss’s daughter.”

Were you the teacher’s pet or class clown?
Neither. I was actually pretty quiet and followed the rules. Guess I’m making up for it now.

What was your favorite subject and why?
I loved American Government because I had a great teacher who was unconventional and allowed different views and lively discussions. He taught me a lot about respecting others’ opinions and how different leaders of our country were all instrumental in doing good for our citizens, using different approaches.

If you could give yourself one high school superlative it would be:
I was considered “Miss Priss” because I didn’t wear jeans like some of my friends did. I was kidded for being “prim and proper.”

What clubs or sports did you participate in high school?
Pep club, journalism, Quill & Scroll, girls sports

What would your perfect school look like?
An ideal school is where there is a high level of innovation, creativity, opportunity for teachers and students to interact with authentic and respectful relationships. Where learning is based on relevant learning environment and a balance of technology, live role models teachers who are highly qualified and LOVE working with students.

What are you legislative priorities?
Resolve ninth-grade testing question; expand counseling; reasonable school finance proposal.