Atlanta-based inBloom is an independent nonprofit organization with a copy-editor-frustrating name*, dedicated to solving the lack of networked electronic instructional tools in schools. And they’re backed by big foundations with track records of support for the Common Core Standards and innovative approaches. Yesterday, a New York state court dismissed a petition filed by an NYC parents group that asked the judge to halt the state education department’s controversial relationship with inBloom.
At issue is the security of individual student data. The technology inBloom developed provides a centralized, cloud-based system that unites data normally stored in separate, location-based systems, making student records and academic progress portable and accessible to educators between schools. The completely unshocking private funders of inBloom are the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation of New York.
The Gates Foundation likes U.S. education programs with innovative approaches and proven effectiveness, and it supports K-12 and postsecondary programs around the country. Given the founder’s background and influence, it’s extremely likely that Gates program officers were impressed with inBloom’s cloud-based technological approach.
The Carnegie Corporation of New York counts K-16 education as one of its primary funding areas, and it’s been ramping up its donations in recent years. The funder likes programs that generate systemic change across the whole K-16 continuum, and programs that boost students from high school to college. They also place a strong emphasis on the Common Core Standards. They’ve pumped a lot of money into the New York City education system lately, including their financial support of the Leadership Academy, a controversial Bloomberg-era apparatus that extrudes school administrators. Anyway, it’s pretty easy to see why they’d back a project like inBloom’s.
Parental concerns about the privacy of student data led six states to drop the program, and the New York City parents group hoped to make New York the seventh. Class Size Matters, an education advocacy group, organized the petition against inBloom. The organization is, um, quite sincere in its opposition to inBloom (click here for a credibility-enhancing, Photoshopped image of “data snatching” Bill Gates with evil snake eyes). The New York Times has called the organization “the city’s leading proponent of smaller classes.”
Anyway. Justice Thomas A. Breslin wrote yesterday that the New York State Department of Education, Commissioner John B. King, and the Board of Regents of the State University of New York "have met their burden to show there was a reasonable basis for the decision to enter into the agreement with inBloom and that the disclosure and transfer of data will be for a legitimate purpose."
Carnegie, Gates, and inBloom have set a bunch of precedents, here—technological, philanthropic, and legal. States looking for legal precedent to pursue technological partnerships for education got that from Judge King. Technology-based education nonprofits have a line on two gargantuan funders. And inBloom’s eventual success (or lack thereof) could set a funding example for other big foundations.
*Slightly less frustrating than the unconventional noncapitalization of charity : water (sic).