Colorado

CDE cuts its ties with inBloom data project

Education Commissioner Robert Hammond told the State Board of Education Wednesday this his department has ended its contract with inBloom, the controversial student data system that was being pilot tested in the Jefferson County Schools.

“As a result of Jefferson County School district’s decision to withdraw from inBloom and recognizing the concerns being expressed, I have made the decision that in the best interests of the department we exercise our right to terminate the Service Agreement with inBloom,” Hammond told the board.

The $100 million inBloom project, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Carnegie Corp., has been 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.

But there have been widespread criticism of inBloom’s ability to protect student privacy, and such concerns were believed to be part of the reason that a Republican-endorsed slate of three candidates swept to victory in last week’s Jeffco school board election. The board voted last Thursday to end its relationship with inBloom.

Get more background on the inBloom controversy is this EdNews story about a State Board hearing earlier this year.

Here’s the full text of Hammond’s statement:

This past week, the Jefferson County School Board decided, after many public discussions and work sessions, to conclude its relationship with the data management organization, inBloom. The vision for use of inBloom’s system was to give teachers better tools for understanding their individual students’ academic needs. Using these tools, teachers would have been able to more easily support their students’ needs by helping them learn at their own pace and truly master a concept before moving forward. In my opinion, this continues to be an important goal in educating our students for the 21st century. Unfortunately, concerns and questions persisted in Jefferson County that led to their decision to withdraw from inBloom.

As you’ll recall, Jefferson County was Colorado’s only pilot district in exploring the use of inBloom to manage student data. As a result of Jefferson County School district’s decision to withdraw from inBloom and recognizing the concerns being expressed, I have made the decision that in the best interests of the department we exercise our right to terminate the Service Agreement with inBloom. I have already notified inBloom of this decision and will be following through in writing. I can assure the State Board this project was entered into with a belief that such a system would ultimately benefit students. I still believe such. However, given the heavy implementation work the department is doing, this pilot project is not a priority for the department. CDE will now be working with inBloom to close out the work pursuant to the Service Agreement.

The process of examining inBloom as a tool and resource prompted several beneficial lessons for CDE. First, the Board’s work session illuminated the need to improve the department’s privacy policies and to work with respected groups like EPIC to identify potential weaknesses in the state’s process for collecting and storing student information. As a result, CDE has worked together with EPIC and others to re-write student privacy policy language and upgrade our data usage practices at the department. In addition, it is our desire to have a statewide model policy that districts can use when and if they enter into such agreements with third parties such as inBloom.

In closing, I do want to recognize the hard work of Jefferson County district staff, CDE staff as well as inBloom staff. Despite the termination of the Service Agreement, many lessons were learned that will guide us in the future.

defensor escolar

Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.