Jeffco Schools: Unanimous vote uproots inBloom

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For months, the Jeffco school board has heard concerns from parents regarding the plans to partner with an out-of-state entity for the purposes of storing student data.

Now, after receiving an enormous amount of negative feedback from Jeffco parents, the board on Nov. 7 voted to pull the plug on inBloom, a company that has received resistance from other school districts nationwide.

"It's really important that we come together as a community and do what's best for our 85,000 kids," said board member Jill Fellman. "And it was real clear to me that as long as the words 'inBloom' were in play anywhere in our district, that wasn't going to happen."

The board voted unanimously to sever ties with inBloom, a $100 million company, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, that provides data gathering technology to classroom dashboards. The district still hopes to create a "virtual classroom dashboard" — a system that would hold students' academic records in a singular database, something that supporters say would better personalize instruction. But those plans no longer include inBloom.

The board's decision was met with disappointment by the Georgia-based company.

"Over the last several years, Jeffco has worked hard to put the right pieces in place to begin to transform teaching and learning in its classrooms," said inBloom spokesman Adam Gaber, through an emailed statement. "While not a silver bullet, inBloom was a critical part of this strategy, and today's decision threatens to unravel all the hard work and progress made to date. This is a huge set-back for teachers, students and parents in Jeffco, and an unfortunate result of an ideological debate that will ultimately prevent progress and sacrifice teachers' learning time with their students."

The company's data gathering capabilities has generated controversy nationwide, primarily having to do with privacy and security concerns on the part of critics. inBloom's technology is capable of storing thousands of data points on students, including academic information like reading and math scores. But it can also hold personal data, such as a student's health information or disciplinary records.

Jeffco officials have long-said that the district would decide what information is provided to inBloom, and not the other way around. And the district has insisted that the dashboard — which will be provided by a separate software company called LoudCloud — will only collect pertinent academic information that is already being gathered through existing databases, such as grades, enrollment information and student demographics.

With Jeffco serving ties with inBloom, it leaves only two states that are currently partnering with the company or that will be doing so in the near future — New York and Illinois. Prior to the school board's decision, inBloom has seen other school districts in other states back away from their partnership plans.

Gaber did not directly respond to inBloom's recent setbacks, replying instead via email that, "We are confident demand will only increase for efficient and cost-effective services like ours that enable teachers to more easily tailor education to the needs, skill levels and learning pace of each student."

Jeffco board president Lesley Dahlkemper said after the meeting that inBloom offered a "promising" integrated system that would have helped teachers "determine what kids were struggling, what kids needed more challenge."

"We really liked that," she said. "But, I think our community wasn't there, and I think we heard loud and clear that there were concerns from our community about collecting student achievement data and putting it on a server other than the district server."

Still, Dahlkemper said that she's "not giving up on the classroom dashboard." "I think it is a phenomenal tool for teachers and helping kids in our district," she said. "We've just got to figure out the best way to get there."