New York

State’s inBloom data-sharing plan under City Council scrutiny

An embattled data-sharing project that state education officials have repeatedly endorsed is on the hot seat today by local lawmakers.

City Council members on the Education Committee want to know more about the plan and how student data will be shared with third-party vendors. Specifically, the committee is reviewing a legislative proposal that would regulate the way that districts can share certain information about students. 

It comes as the state is poised to usher in a new era of how student data is used to inform decisions about classroom instruction. As part of its participation in Race to the Top, the New York State Education Department is using a $100 million database called inBloom that was developed and funded in part by the Gate Foundation. The database was designed to eliminate the data management barriers that face under-resourced districts and schools. 

But there are concerns about how that data will be shared, specifically when it comes to some of the education technology vendors that could contract with districts. Five states that were originally signed onto the project have withdrawn from it.

It briefly became an issue in the mayoral election, and Democratic mayoral nominee Bill de Blasio has said he backs efforts to prohibit data sharing without parental consent. 

State education officials vehemently object to the legislative efforts, which would either require parents to opt into the data-sharing or require schools to give parents the change to opt out. They have argued it would disrupt the way schools work with third-party vendors in many other ways, including transportation, school lunch and attendance. 

Comptroller John Liu, a former mayoral candidate, is among the opponents testifying today in opposition of the inBloom database. His testimony is below: 

Thank you Chairman Jackson and members of the Education Committee for holding this important hearing on protecting the privacy of New York City public school students. I submit this testimony in strong support of proposed New York State Legislation, A.6059-A/S.5932, and in strong support of City Council Resolution No. 1768-2013.  

A growing number of New Yorkers are deeply concerned about the New York State Education Department’s (NYSED) and the City Department of Education’s (DOE) decision to release personally identifiable student and teacher data without parental consent to inBloom Inc., a corporation funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. I share these concerns as both a New York City public school parent and as comptroller.

The initial service agreement between inBloom and the NYSED involved no fee for service or any costs at all and therefore bypasses State and City Comptroller review and registration—though now we have been told that starting in 2015, the State and/or the City will have to pay a per student fee for inBloom’s services. The troubling lack of transparency with regard to what seems to be unprecedented disclosure of personally identifiable information raises grave concerns about the risks, safeguards, liability, and the long-term financial planning associated with this agreement.

Last May, I submitted a letter to NYSED Commissioner King and the Board of Regents urging them to withdraw New York State from this project, but the State is moving ahead with its plan. As of one of nine states to participate in the inBloom project, New York State students are guinea pigs for an operation that is driven as much by profit potential as it is for any educational benefit. Louisiana, Kentucky, Georgia, North Carolina, and Delaware have all since withdrawn from the project due to privacy concerns, and there are strong indications that others will follow suit. Just last week, Jefferson County in Colorado, that state’s one pilot district, agreed to allow parents the right to opt-out of having their children’s data shared with inBloom.

While it appears that the NYSED and inBloom have satisfied the bare minimum legal standard of the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), I am deeply disappointed that the NYSED has not chosen to adhere to a higher standard of protection for the personally identifiable information of the people it is meant to serve. By inBloom’s own admission, it “cannot guarantee the security of the information stored in inBloom or that the information will not be intercepted when it is being transmitted.” Additionally, save for an immaterial $1,000,000 to $5,000,000 that inBloom will set aside, the State and City have accepted near total liability. In the agreement, inBloom and its third-party partners (whoever they may be) reject just about any liability.

Despite the fact that the goal of this project is for inBloom to create a “data store” where third-party providers will use student data to develop products, NYSED and inBloom officials have stated that there is no necessity for parental consent.  In fact, the state has already uploaded or is in the process of uploading personal data from all the public school students in the state, even though hundreds of parents have asked to opt out. 

NYSED is also requiring that nearly every school district, including NYC, sign up with one of three companies that will produce “data dashboards” that will be populated with personal data from the inBloom cloud. A few districts that refused Race to the Top funds are exempted from signing contracts with these companies, but their student data is being shared with inBloom anyway. Why must districts that do not want to participate still be required to upload the data? Moreover, starting in 2015, districts will have to pay fees for the use of these dashboards, in addition to the fees charged by inBloom. NYSED is also encouraging districts to share even more personal student information and sign up for even more software tools from vendors who will be provided with this data, through the inBloom cloud, all without parental consent.

Indeed, NYSED has told districts that there is no necessity to allow opt-out or seek consent before student data is shared with any vendor, but they have not absolutely barred districts from doing so. Sadly, the City DOE has chosen not to allow either parental opt-out or consent. All this is being done despite the fact that, the “educational benefits” of these dashboards and the other software tools that inBloom is supposed to facilitate are entirely theoretical. We’ve seen this before. In 2007, the DOE announced that the data-management portal ARIS would “revolutionize” the school system, but a 2012 audit by my office demonstrated that the system is rarely if ever used and appears on the brink of becoming obsolete.

As for inBloom, even with the potential of “educational benefits,” the “data store” would have a more immediate, commercial benefit for third-party, for-profit providers. Others concerned with this plan have adroitly pointed out that in light of the heavily commercial elements of the agreement, inBloom and the NYSED have failed to conform to child protection standards for Personally Identifiable Information set forth by the Federal Trade Commission. This is worthy of a deeper look. All of this is to say that the NYSED’s legal argument could put the State and City in risk of serious liability.

Also disconcerting is the fact that the service agreement clearly states that inBloom “cannot guarantee the security of the information stored in inBloom or that the information will not be intercepted when it is being transmitted.” The agreement further states that inBloom will take all “reasonable and appropriate measures” to protect the data. This is hardly reassuring language,especially when breaches of security and loss of privacy happen with increasing regularity even in the most secure domains.

Currently, inBloom is a lean operation and has sub-contracted with Wireless Generation (now Amplify) to help with the management and protection of the data. Wireless Generation/Amplify will or currently has access to student and teacher personally identifiable information without having to obtain informed consent. Wireless Generation/Amplify’s parent company, News Corporation, is in the midst of several high-profile criminal trials in the UK for egregious privacy violations and seems likely to undergo a full-scale US Senate investigation once those trials are finished. This raises further questions about the integrity of the inBloom agreement.

Additionally, settlements and liability claims for data breach are on the rise. A recent report about data security threats in the health sector finds that settlements have the potential to reach $7 billion annually. Many data breaches are not typically malicious or criminal in nature and are often accidental—lost computers, employee error, etc. The simple reality is that technologies that promise greater productivity and convenience especially through the use of file-sharing applications and cloud-based services are extremely difficult to secure. As you know, these are the exact services that inBloom and its third-party party affiliates are promising to New York.

Another concern has to do with the long-term financial plan for inBloom. As stated, inBloom intends to be financially independent from the Gates Foundation by 2016. Right now, it seems the Gates imprimatur is the glue that holds this agreement together, but what happens when Gates is no longer involved? How does inBloom guarantee that it will be sustainable and financially solvent—especially as most of the states that originally planned to participate have now pulled out of any data-sharing agreement?

People ought to have confidence in the State’s and City’s ability to effectively safeguard personal information, yet there is a troubling lack of transparency in what seems to be an unprecedented disclosure of personally identifiable information. I would like to reiterate what I asked the NYSED and the Regents to do last May:

1.      Hold public hearings throughout the State to explain why this agreement should be pursued, answer questions, obtain informed comment, and gauge public reaction;

2.      Notify all parents of the data disclosure and provide them with a right to consent;

3.      Define what rights families or individuals will have to obtain relief if harmed by breach, improper use, or release of their private information, including how claims can be made;

4.      Ensure that the privacy interests of public school children and their families are put above the commercial interests of inBloom, Wireless Generation, and all other third-party affiliates.

I would like to add to this list my support for the legislation being considered by the State, A.6059-A/S.5932, that would block re-disclosures with any third-parties, without parental consent, and would require vendors to indemnify the City and State for any breaches of data. Finally, in today’s technological age, people regularly broadcast personal information on social networking sites and provide information to internet vendors, but they do so willingly. No one wants to learn that their personal information, and especially their child’s, has been handed over to an anonymous marketplace without their prior knowledge or consent.

Thank you.


call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”