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N.Y. State Preps InBloom Student Data Dashboards

Education officials persist with plans for an education portal despite public and political objections to InBloom's cloud-based data warehouse. But will it work?
Formerly known as the Shared Learning Collaborative, InBloom is a non-profit organization originally created to address a set of common education data analysis and integration challenges defined by the Council of State School Officers. Despite its potential benefits, the project has touched off a substantial backlash from parents and privacy advocates, leading several states and districts to back out of the program. Critics are suspicious of how much data the service would collect, how it would be protected, and how it would be shared.

NYSED remains determined to move forward, and its plans would make it the first InBloom user to go into production. But New York is also a hotbed of opposition and political battles over the program. In the New York City mayoral race, Democrat Bill de Blasio recently pledged that if elected, he will "protect students' privacy and stop this needless invasion of privacy" by denying InBloom access to data from city schools.

The Jefferson County, Colo., school district is also moving forward and seems to have had more success than most at securing support from parent and teacher organizations -- Kerrie Dallman, president of the Colorado Education Association gave a ringing endorsement in an opinion piece for the Denver Post -- although there's still disagreement in the union ranks and on the school board.

InBloom officials and board members say much of the criticism of the service is based on fundamental misunderstandings. For example, critics often describe the service as if it were amassing one giant repository of data from all participating school districts and making it available to any tech vendor or marketing firm. In fact, InBloom promises to give each district control over what data to collect and which users or applications get access to it. Instead of one massive index, like Google search, think Salesforce.com, which provides accounts to many enterprise customers but keeps each customer's data separate and allows each to make separate judgments about what apps to enable for their accounts. However, because InBloom provides a back-end service rather than complete applications, the value it promises is more abstract.

As InBloom's Bates said, "The customer is deciding what data to store and how the data should be used and presented -- to which users and to which applications -- but that does mean it's hard for us to hold up a bundle of stuff and say, 'Here's InBloom.'" One thing that educators tend to find compelling, she added, is the promise of one unified service they will be able to log into for a complete picture of how their students are doing, rather than having to log into multiple applications.

The dashboards NYSED is preparing to launch will not prove that InBloom can deliver on that promise. It's just a first step, with the broader integration application possibilities to follow later -- if the project can stay alive long enough to prove it.

Follow David F. Carr on Twitter @davidfcarr or Google+. His book Social Collaboration For Dummies is scheduled for release in October 2013.