Who Is In Charge

Data fears aired before State Board

The effort to build the next generation of student data systems is either “transformational” or ripe for “abuse.”

Photo of meeting participant
Lawyer Kahliah Barnes participated in the State Board of Education meeting via video link.

Those were some of the contrasting views expressed Thursday at a State Board of Education study session on inBloom, a data system that is being pilot tested in the Jefferson County Schools and a handful of districts around the nation. The state Department of Education also is a participant.

The $100 million project, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Carnegie Corp., is attempting to build a data system that can aggregate student personal and academic information and link such data with online instructional materials that teachers can use to personalize teaching for individual student needs.

“It’s a great leap forward for teachers and classrooms and children,” Jeffco Superintendent Cindy Stevenson told the board. She used the example of math class studying a particular unit, explaining that a teacher could pull up data about an individual student’s work in that area and also receive specific suggestions for improving the student’s performance.

Stevenson also stressed the importance of integrating data. “Our teachers have all the data in the world now, but it’s on different systems.”

But the inBloom project has sparked concerns about privacy and the security of student information, both in Jeffco and elsewhere around the nation, including New York City.

“While we understand the value of data for personalized learning, there are too few safeguards,” said Khaliah Barnes, a lawyer with the Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center. She cited a “growing risk that third parties would have access to sensitive student information.”

In a high-tech touch, Barnes both observed the study session and testified via a two-way video hookup.

The harshest criticism came from board member Debora Scheffel, a Republican from Parker. “Any time you centralize information there’s potential for abuse. I think the potential for abuse is substantial. … This to me is just another vehicle to centralize teaching. … I’m sorry Colorado is part of this pilot.”

The two-hour session was dominated by discussion of security issues, with less time spent on inBloom’s educational potential.

“Job number one for us is the security of the data,” said Sharren Bates, an executive of the Atlanta-based non-profit. She also stressed repeatedly that it’s up to school districts to decide what data to enter into the system, which holds the information in encrypted form on third-party servers.

Greg Mortimer, Jeffco’s chief information officer, also defended the security of the system.

But Barnes suggested that tighter controls are needed. “We encourage Colorado to make it a policy to limited the data available to inBloom,” adding that changes in state law might be necessary. “Colorado should take this opportunity to pass legislation concerning inBloom and other data collection companies.”

The privacy center is currently suing the U.S. Department of Education over rule changes that gave contractors greater access to student data if they work for school districts.

Another controversy about new data systems is whether parents should be able to opt out. Jeffco citizens who oppose inBloom have asked for the ability to do that.

Jeffco Superintendent Cindy Stevenson / File photo
Jeffco Superintendent Cindy Stevenson / File photo

Stevenson and others oppose the idea. “Opting out makes the system not as effective” because it creates gaps in the data, she said.

SBE member Marcia Neal, a Republican from Grand Junction, struck a nuanced note as the hearing neared its end. “I don’t think we can say no, we’re not going to do it because someone will use it incorrectly. It’s the modern world, and we need to find a way to do it effectively.”

The inBloom system isn’t currently up and running in Jeffco, according to district officials. The pilot project, which doesn’t cost participating districts anything, runs through the end of next year, at which time the system should be finished. Then the district will have to decide whether it wants to continue using inBloom for a fee.

Mortimer roughly estimated the cost of such a system at between $2 and $5 per student a year, or about $170,000 to $425,000 for Jeffco. He said using inBloom would be less expensive for the district than building and maintaining its own comparable system.

Tennessee Votes 2018

Early voting begins Friday in Tennessee. Here’s where your candidates stand on education.

PHOTO: Creative Commons

Tennesseans begin voting on Friday in dozens of crucial elections that will culminate on Aug. 2.

Democrats and Republicans will decide who will be their party’s gubernatorial nominee. Those two individuals will face off in November to replace outgoing Republican Gov. Bill Haslam. Tennessee’s next governor will significantly shape public education, and voters have told pollsters that they are looking for an education-minded leader to follow Haslam.

In Memphis, voters will have a chance to influence schools in two elections, one for school board and the other for county commission, the top local funder for schools, which holds the purse strings for schools.

To help you make more informed decisions, Chalkbeat asked candidates in these four races critical questions about public education.

Here’s where Tennessee’s Democratic candidates for governor stand on education

Former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and state Rep. Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley hope to become the state’s first Democratic governor in eight years.

Tennessee’s Republican candidates for governor answer the big questions on education

U.S. Rep. Diane Black, businessman Randy Boyd, Speaker of the House Beth Harwell, and businessman Bill Lee are campaigning to succeed fellow Republican Haslam as governor, but first they must defeat each other in the 2018 primary election.

Memphis school board candidates speak out on what they want to change

Fifteen people are vying for four seats on the Shelby County Schools board this year. That’s much higher stakes compared to two years ago when five seats were up for election with only one contested race.

Aspiring county leaders in charge of money for Memphis schools share their views

The Shelby County Board of Commissioners and county mayor are responsible for most school funding in Memphis. Chalkbeat sent a survey to candidates asking their thoughts on what that should look like.

Early voting runs Mondays through Saturdays until Saturday, July 28. Election Day is Thursday, Aug. 2.

full board

Adams 14 votes to appoint Sen. Dominick Moreno to fill board vacancy

State Sen. Dominick Moreno being sworn in Monday evening. (Photo by Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat)

A state senator will be the newest member of the Adams 14 school board.

Sen. Dominick Moreno, a graduate of the district, was appointed Monday night on a 3-to-1 vote to fill a vacancy on the district’s school board.

“He has always, since I have known him, cared about this community,” said board member David Rolla, who recalled knowing Moreno since grade school.

Moreno will continue to serve in his position in the state legislature.

The vacancy on the five-member board was created last month, when the then-president, Timio Archuleta, resigned with more than a year left on his term.

Colorado law says when a vacancy is created, school board must appoint a new board member to serve out the remainder of the term.

In this case, Moreno will serve until the next election for that seat in November 2019.

The five member board will see the continued rollout of the district’s improvement efforts as it tries to avoid further state intervention.

Prior to Monday’s vote, the board interviewed four candidates including Joseph Dreiling, a former board member; Angela Vizzi; Andrew LaCrue; and Moreno. One woman, Cynthia Meyers, withdrew her application just as her interview was to begin. Candidate, Vizzi, a district parent and member of the district’s accountability committee, told the board she didn’t think she had been a registered voter for the last 12 months, which would make her ineligible for the position.

The board provided each candidate with eight general questions — each board member picked two from a predetermined list — about the reason the candidates wanted to serve on the board and what they saw as their role with relation to the superintendent. Board members and the public were barred from asking other questions during the interviews.

Moreno said during his interview that he was not coming to the board to spy for the state Department of Education, which is evaluating whether or not the district is improving. Nor, he added, was he applying for the seat because the district needs rescuing.

“I’m here because I think I have something to contribute,” Moreno said. “I got a good education in college and I came home. Education is the single most important issue in my life.”

The 7,500-student district has struggled in the past year. The state required the district to make significant improvement in 2017-18, but Adams 14 appears to be falling short of expectations..

Many community members and parents have protested district initiatives this year, including cancelling parent-teacher conferences, (which will be restored by fall), and postponing the roll out of a biliteracy program for elementary school students.

Rolla, in nominating Moreno, said the board has been accused of not communicating well, and said he thought Moreno would help improve those relationships with the community.

Board member Harvest Thomas was the one vote against Moreno’s appointment. He did not discuss his reason for his vote.

If the state’s new ratings this fall fail to show sufficient academic progress, the State Board of Education may direct additional or different actions to turn the district around.