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Anxieties About Data Privacy Spell End of the Road for inBloom

Cross-posted from the Digital Education blog

by Ben Herold

After months caught in the crosshairs of parents, advocates, and educators concerned about student-data privacy, controversial nonprofit inBloom announced Monday that it will close its doors.

The announcement, sent in an email to the Atlanta-based organization's "friends and partners," comes on the heels of the New York state legislature's recent enactment of legislation that effectively pulled the plug on the education department's relationship with inBloom.

Founded in 2011 with $100 million in support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation of New York, inBloom aimed to serve as a data repository for states and districts, storing and cleaning a wide range of student information, then making it available to district-approved third parties to develop tools and dashboards so the data could more easily be used by classroom educators.

The nonprofit company sparked a high-profile backlash, prompting withdrawal of planned partners in Louisiana, Colorado, New York, and elsewhere. 

In the organization's emailed announcement, the full text of which is provided below, CEO Iwan Streichenberger decried "mischaracterizations" of inBloom's work and security protocols and called it "a shame that the progress of this important innovation has been stalled because of generalized public concerns about data misuse, even though inBloom has world-class security and privacy protections that have raised the bar for school districts and the industry as a whole."

Following is the full text of the announcement from inBloom CEO Iwan Streichenberger: 

In 2011, an alliance of educators and state leaders, non-profit foundations, and instructional content and tool providers formed the Shared Learning Collaborative (SLC). The vision of that group was simple: create a resource that allows teachers to get a more complete picture of student progress so they can individualize instruction while saving time, effort and precious resources.

I signed on to the project in November 2012 to lead inBloom, the nonprofit corporation that is the SLC's successor. I joined because I passionately believe that technology has the potential to dramatically improve education. My belief in that mission is as strong today as it ever was. Students, teachers and parents deserve the best tools and resources available, and we cannot afford to wait.

Over the last year, the incredibly talented team at inBloom has developed and launched a technical solution that addresses the complex challenges that teachers, educators and parents face when trying to best utilize the student data available to them. That solution can provide a high impact and cost-effective service to every school district across the country, enabling teachers to more easily tailor education to students' individual learning needs. It is a shame that the progress of this important innovation has been stalled because of generalized public concerns about data misuse, even though inBloom has world-class security and privacy protections that have raised the bar for school districts and the industry as a whole.

The use of technology to tailor instruction for individual students is still an emerging concept and inBloom provides a technical solution that has never been seen before. As a result, it has been the subject of mischaracterizations and a lightning rod for misdirected criticism. In New York, these misunderstandings led to the recent passage of legislation severely restricting the education department from contracting with outside companies like inBloom for storing, organizing, or aggregating student data, even where those companies provide demonstrably more protection for privacy and security than the systems currently in use.

We stepped up to the occasion and supported our partners with passion, but we have realized that this concept is still new, and building public acceptance for the solution will require more time and resources than anyone could have anticipated. Therefore, in full alignment with the inBloom Board of Directors and funders, I have made the decision to wind down the organization over the coming months. It wasn't an easy decision, and the unavailability of this technology is a real missed opportunity for teachers and school districts seeking to improve student learning.

I want to thank you for your partnership in our endeavors and look forward to speaking with many of you in the coming months.

Stay tuned for updates to this story.

Follow @BenjaminBHerold and @EdWeekEdTech for the latest news on ed-tech policies, practices, and trends.  

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