October 10, 2013

New statewide coalition calls on state board and Chicago schools for more information on inBloom program

October 10, 2013

CONTACT: 212-549-2666, media@aclu.org

CHICAGO – A new coalition of local and national parent and advocacy organizations brought together by More Than a Score today raised questions about how private student information is protected by school districts, after new revelations concerning a database vendor moving into Illinois. The groups sent letters to Illinois State Schools Superintendent Christopher Koch and Chicago Public Schools (CPS) Chief Executive Officer Barbara Byrd-Bennett expressing serious concerns about plans for CPS to join a state database of private student information as soon as January 2014.

The program in question, the Illinois Shared Learning Environment (ISLE), may collect up to 400 "data points" about each student, information that may potentially be shared with for-profit companies. The state school board already has contracted with inBloom to facilitate ISLE across Illinois.

"InBloom refuses to guarantee the security of this data, said Julie Woestehoff, of Parents United for Responsible Education. "Once that information is uploaded electronically, no one can be sure where it will end up, whether it is with colleges, potential employers, or other entities critical to students' futures."

In the letters made public today, the groups expressed opposition to the overall concept of sharing confidential student and teacher information with third parties without permission of parents or teachers, especially for commercial purposes. The groups are also concerned about the possibility of data breaches and potential unintentional misuse or future inappropriate use of the extensive private information about children, families and school employees that will be gathered and stored.

This concern is heightened by the accusations of wiretapping and phone hacking against Rupert Murdoch, whose company built inBloom.

The information to be collected about individual students may include name, address, grades, test scores, detailed disciplinary and health records, race, ethnicity, economic status, disabilities & other highly sensitive personal and family details.

In the past, students’ school records could not be shared outside of school agencies without parents’ permission, but the federal government recently rewrote the regulations protecting student privacy to allow student data to be shared with for-profit companies involved in “educational programing.” This can be any company CPS or the state board of education chooses.

"The sharing of massive amounts of data between school districts and private companies poses a serious threat to students’ privacy," said, Colleen K. Connell, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois. "Rather than rush into any agreement, we would urge school officials to engage a public discussion that includes parents, students and advocates concerned with student privacy."

Opposition to similar data sharing programs run by inBloom has been growing across the U.S. According to the New York Times (10/6/13), "Parents in Louisiana raised a ruckus after discovering that their children’s Social Security numbers had been uploaded to inBloom. In April, Louisiana officials said they would remove all student data from the database. Of the nine states that originally signed up this year to participate, just three — Colorado, New York and Illinois — are actively pursuing the service."

"Parents trust schools to safeguard their children’s confidential and sensitive data," said Josh Golin, Associate Director of the Boston, MA-based Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. "Education officials should actively be seeking ways to protect students’ personally identifiable information in today’s digital age rather than helping for-profit companies leverage student data for profit."

The groups sending today’s letters include More Than a Score, Parents United for Responsible Education (PURE), the Chicago Teachers’ Union, Raise Your Hand Illinois, Parents 4 Teachers, the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, Chicagoland Researchers and Advocates for Transformative Education, Parents Across America, and the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.

The groups will consider next steps based on the responses they receive from ISBE and CPS. They will sponsor a public forum on the topic on November 21, 2013, with guest speaker Leonie Haimson, a parent leader from New York City who has been leading parent opposition to New York State’s participation in data sharing with inBloom.

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