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Is InBloom Enthusiasm Inspired By Gates Grants?

This weekend I read an unusual opinion column in the Denver Post, written by the president of the Colorado Education Association (CEA), a former teacher named Kerrie Dallman. The commentary is titled "InBloom enables great teaching tools," and it presents reasons she is delighted with the services inBloom will be providing. Nowhere in her commentary does Ms. Dallman disclose the fact that the CEA has received large grants in the past two years from the same organization that created inBloom; the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

According to Ms Dallman, inBloom solves a vexing problem for her.

Teachers want to help students learn, but don't have enough time to truly personalize learning for every student to meet their individual needs. While nothing can ever replace the instincts of a teacher, we do rely on a series of information systems to help us make the most of our time in the classroom. However, such systems are often far from efficient.
In Jefferson County, where I've been an teacher for more than a decade, my colleagues and I log into more than 30 different information systems that support many different processes to help us do our jobs. And then, after logging into all of these systems -- each requiring its own username and password -- we have to cut and paste information about our students into a spreadsheet in hopes of turning this information into something meaningful that we can use to inform our teaching.

Ms. Dallman states,

InBloom provides a technical solution to lead educators into a new information age, similar to how technology led us from the typewriter to the desktop computer. It works by harnessing the power of the many different technology and information tools our districts already use, and aligning them to work together more effectively and efficiently.

I gather Ms. Dallman must be relying on the promises made by those selling inBloom's services, because so far as I know, this system has not yet been implemented.

InBloom is the non-profit entity created by the Gates Foundation to house student and teacher data in a cloud-based storage system, where it can be made available to third party vendors, such as Rupert Murdoch's Amplify. The Gates Foundation's vision for education reform calls for the creation of markets in all aspects of our schools. Student and teacher data become a vital commodity, as well as a means by which products and "educational delivery systems" are compared, based on the test score outcomes they produce. Many of us are deeply disturbed by this rapid marketization of our schools, and of our children's data. We do not want our schools to be "driven by data," and we do not want this data held by large, unaccountable organizations like inBloom, or their for-profit partners.

Furthermore, experienced educators (and parents and students) understand that true personalization does not come from enhanced data systems, but rather from the ability of teachers to get to know their students on an individual basis, and respond to their unique needs. This requires small class sizes and autonomy for our teachers, rather than highly standardized curriculum and computerized tests.

The Gates Foundation has become influential in part due to its willingness to underwrite those who will speak in favor of its agenda. This 2011 article in the New York Times explains in detail how the Gates Foundation has sponsored groups of teachers that turn up at state legislative hearings to argue against seniority and due process.

I looked online, and discovered that in fact, the Colorado Education Association has received two grants from the Gates Foundation in the past two years. In 2012, the CEA received $100,000: "to augment communications to teachers, de-bunk myths, create teacher buy-in for SB 191 and College Ready Work tools in integration pilot districts." I do not know what "myths" CEA was paid to debunk. Senate Bill 191 created a system of annual teacher evaluations, with 50% of the evaluation tied to student outcomes.

The second Gates Foundation grant to CEA came in February of this year, and it was in the amount of $300,000, in order to: "help train teachers and teacher leaders on implementation of CO teacher evaluation system, academic standards and accountability system, in support of integration work led by Colorado Legacy Foundation." The Colorado Legacy Foundation is another Gates-funded project that encourages data-driven reform.

I wrote to Ms. Dallman yesterday morning to see if she would explain the relationship between her opinion column in the Denver Post and the two grants the CEA has received, but so far she has not responded.

In my view, a public statement such as this should, at the very least, disclose the Gates Foundation's financial investment in the CEA.

The CEA presumably collects millions of dollars in dues from its members. How are important policy decisions such as an enthusiastic endorsement of inBloom discussed within the organization?

I do not believe that the inBloom data storage system and the high stakes testing it enables is in the interest of our students or our teachers. I think members of the Colorado Education Association should take a hard look at the money that the Gates Foundation is "investing" in your organization -- and what Gates is getting in exchange. These grants may provide a short term gain that leaves you and your students in a long term mess.

A group called Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood is asking citizens to contact the Colorado State Board of Education to express concerns about the state's participation in the inBloom data system. Details are here.

What do you think? Is inBloom likely to provide tools that educators need? Should our unions be out there promoting these systems?

Continue the dialogue with Anthony on Twitter.

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