inBloom, BloomBoard, and the Undeniable, Corporate Reform “Need” for Student Data

On April 21, 2014, the Gates-funded data warehouse inBloom publicized that it was shutting down.

The New York Times called it a “setback for the nearly $8 billion prekindergarten through 12th-grade education technology software market.”

InBloom CEO Iwan Streichenberger calls it “a real missed opportunity for teachers and school districts seeking to improve student learning.”

I’m sorry, but making my classroom part of “the nearly $8 billion… technology software market” does little to convince me that Iwan Streichenberger can do anything substantial toward “improving student learning” in my classroom.

I wonder just how dead inBloom actually is.

One of the sponsors of inBloom is a company called BloomBoard, a company started by Jason Lange and Eric Dunn in 2o1o. The two entities complemented one another: inBloom was to collect student data; BloomBoard is to collect teacher data for “professional development” and teacher evaluation– and embedded in teacher evaluation is student data.

BloomBoard needs student data. InBloom was to provide student data.

In true corporate reformer fashion, Jason Lange is a “CEO” who is now making a go at profiting from public education dollars after establishing his professional background in mergers and acquisitions and private equity.

Co-CEO Eric Dunn hails from the highly controversial Edison Learning, the reborn version of Edison Schools. (If managing schools leads to financial failure, just rename and change the game to education software focused on “achievement management solutions.”)

“Mergers and acquisitions” and “achievement management” are not terms on my resume. Then again, my entire professional career has been inside of the classroom. Imagine that.

According to this August 2013 BloomBoard Frequently Asked Questions file, inBloom and BloomBoard are not related:

7. inBloom, which collects student data to personalize learning pathways, recently faced controversy regarding user privacy concerns. What is BloomBoard’s relationship with inBloom?

The two companies are entirely separate entities with no connection. However, BloomBoard does work with inBloom in some districts and/or states that choose to utilize the inBloom platform data architecture. The sharing of the word ‘Bloom’ in our names is purely coincidence – and we actually called it first. [Emphasis added.]

The two “companies” (technically, inBloom became a nonprofit after its birth as the Shared Learning Collaborative [SLC]) might be “entirely separate entities”; however, to say that they have “no connection” is a stretch since not only did BloomBoard sponsor inBloom; BloomBoard expected to benefit financially from its association with inBloom.

Companies with access to the [inBloom] database will also be able to identify struggling teachers and pinpoint which concepts their students are failing to master. One startup that could benefit: BloomBoard, which sells schools professional development plans customized to each teacher.

The new database “is a godsend for us,” said Jason Lange, the chief executive of BloomBoard. “It allows us to collect more data faster, quicker and cheaper.” [Emphasis added.]

The “godsend” in inBloom for Lange’s BloomBoard would have been the “quicker, cheaper” student data required to fuel his teacher professional development product.

In 2012, BloomBoard CEO Jason Lange posted this press release (no longer available except via archive) concerning its “partnership” with SLC (precursor to inBloom):

Press Release: November 14, 2012

November 15th, 2012 by Jason

BloomBoard Partners With Shared Learning Collaborative To Accelerate Interoperability And Improved Use Of Data

Palo Alto, CA (November 14, 2012) — BloomBoard is proud to announce a partnership with the Shared Learning Collaborative to accelerate the standardization of data across our nations’ schools. Stephen Coller, Director of Developer Engagement for the Shared Learning Collaborative, praised the partnership stating “The SLC and BloomBoard share a passionate belief in the power of interoperability and data standardization to reduce the burden on teachers and spark innovation on a massive scale.”

 Through this partnership, BloomBoard will be able to leverage a common data architecture for SLC states and districts, resulting in automated account creation and maintenance, single sign-on, near-immediate implementation, and improved recommendation engine algorithms in the BloomBoard professional development marketplace.

BloomBoard provides school districts and states with user-friendly tools to collect educator effectiveness data — and then recommends personalized training for each teacher based on his or her particular professional development needs. In addition, BloomBoard customizes its tools so that schools can use processes and instructional frameworks that are already in place. And in an industry where comparable tools may cost thousands of dollars per school, BloomBoard offers its platform and desired customization to schools, districts and states at no charge. [Emphasis added.]

How is it that two non-educators are able to “recommend personalized training for each teacher”?

Based on “algorithms”– mathematical formulas– “value added” advice for “improvement.”

No human judgment required. Just plug in the data, and the BloomBoard “platform” tells the human teachers what they need.

And don’t let the “free” platform fool you, for it provides a means for districts to become dependent upon the products tailored to fit the “free” platform.

Of course, “cost effectiveness” is maximized if American education relies less on human professionals and more on computerized platforms, tools, and algorithms– all ultimately dependent upon student data.

Since student-data-related profits are the name of the game, is it naive to believe that inBloom is really a done deal?

Massive student data collection is part of the 2009 National Governors Association (NGA) Symposium spectrum of reforms approved by US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

The federal government will continue this massive student data collection push, inBloom or no.

And do not overlook the USDOE trend toward standardization.

Standardization and consolidation are melded concepts.

On May 8, 2014, the US House of Representatives “quietly” pursued the USDOE student data collection goal:

If you blinked you might have missed it: The U.S. House of Representatives gave quick and quiet approval to a bipartisan bill that would reauthorize the Education Science Reform Act, with an eye toward making federal K-12 research more relevant and timely for those out in the field.

The legislation also calls for new or improved collection of data on areas such as high school graduation rates, school safety, discipline, and teacher preparation and evaluation. And it would add a new focus on examining the implementation of a particular policy or strategy, not just its impact.

It also makes changes to a federal program that helps states bolster their longitudinal data systems, a hot area of policy these days. It would shift the focus of grants away from just building data systems—since most already have robust systems in place—to actually using them to improve student outcomes. The measure would also beef up privacy protections for student data, a huge issue in state legislatures this year. [Emphasis added.]

“Improving student outcomes”– the nauseatingly familiar euphemism for teacher and school value as determined ultimately by student standardized test scores.

This federal “change” to “using” data systems over “building” data systems does not preclude the “need” for data warehouses as “godsends” for “faster, quicker, and cheaper” data collection.

Otherwise, there is no need for both the Gates-funded Data Quality Campaign (“implementing” and “using” data systems) and Gates-funded inBloom (unprecedented quantities of data collected).

Plus, I’m thinking that “the nearly $8 billion prekindergarten through 12th-grade education technology software market” that would “suffer” (tongue in cheek) from inBloom absence will surely continue to diligently search for its next outlet.

Why, that arrangement might already be part of the history of high-power boardroom handshakes.

Stay tuned, America.