InBloom Student Data Repository to Close

At the SXSWedu conference last year, Iwan Streichenberger, left, the chief executive of inBloom, appeared with Bill Gates, whose foundation provided seed money for the company. Credit Amy E. Price/Inbloom, via PR Newswire

In a setback for the nearly $8 billion prekindergarten through 12th-grade education technology software market, inBloom, a non-profit corporation offering to warehouse and manage student data for public school districts across the country, announced on Monday morning that it planned to shut its doors.

Financed with $100 million in seed money from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation along with the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the venture promised to streamline how teachers and administrators accessed student records. The system was meant to extract student data from disparate school grading and attendance databases, store it in the cloud and funnel it to dashboards where teachers might more effectively track the progress of individual students.

But the project ran into roadblocks in a number of districts and states over privacy and security issues.

An inBloom video offered a vision (using fictional students) of new uses for data in education.Credit inBloom

The inBloom database included more than 400 different data fields about students that school administrators could fill in. But some of the details seemed so intimate — including family relationships (“foster parent” or “father’s significant other”) and reasons for enrollment changes (“withdrawn due to illness” or “leaving school as a victim of a serious violent incident”) — that parents objected, saying that they did not want that kind of information about their children transferred to a third-party vendor.

That led some schools to recoil from the venture.

After parents in Louisiana discovered that their children’s Social Security numbers had been uploaded to inBloom, Louisiana officials said last year that they would remove all student data from the database. Subsequently, the school board of the Jeffco district, in Jefferson County, Colo., voted to end its relationship with inBloom.

This month, after New York state legislators passed legislation prohibiting the state department of education from giving student information to data aggregators like inBloom, education officials also reversed their plans to use the service.

The idea of using data-mining to tailor learning for students may be promising. But the story of inBloom suggests that many parents remain leery.

In a statement on Monday morning, Iwan Streichenberger, the chief executive of inBloom, said that personalized learning was still an emerging concept. He said that inBloom, as an infrastructure layer of that ecosystem, had been “the subject of mischaracterizations and a lightning rod for misdirected criticism.”

He added that inBloom would wind down over the coming months.

“We stepped up to the occasion and supported our partners with passion,” Mr. Streichenberger said in the statement, “but we have realized that this concept is still new, and building public acceptance for the solution will require more time and resources than anyone could have anticipated.”

Following is the full statement from inBloom.

Friends and colleagues:

In 2011, an alliance of educators and state leaders, non-profit foundations, and instructional content and tool providers formed the Shared Learning Collaborative (SLC). The vision of that group was simple: create a resource that allows teachers to get a more complete picture of student progress so they can individualize instruction while saving time, effort and precious resources.

I signed on to the project in November 2012 to lead inBloom, the nonprofit corporation that is the SLC’s successor. I joined because I passionately believe that technology has the potential to dramatically improve education. My belief in that mission is as strong today as it ever was. Students, teachers and parents deserve the best tools and resources available, and we cannot afford to wait.

Over the last year, the incredibly talented team at inBloom has developed and introduced a technical solution that addresses the complex challenges that teachers, educators and parents face when trying to best utilize the student data available to them. That solution can provide a high impact and cost-effective service to every school district across the country, enabling teachers to more easily tailor education to students’ individual learning needs. It is a shame that the progress of this important innovation has been stalled because of generalized public concerns about data misuse, even though inBloom has world-class security and privacy protections that have raised the bar for school districts and the industry as a whole.

The use of technology to tailor instruction for individual students is still an emerging concept and inBloom provides a technical solution that has never been seen before. As a result, it has been the subject of mischaracterizations and a lightning rod for misdirected criticism. In New York, these misunderstandings led to the recent passage of legislation severely restricting the education department from contracting with outside companies like inBloom for storing, organizing, or aggregating student data, even where those companies provide demonstrably more protection for privacy and security than the systems currently in use.

We stepped up to the occasion and supported our partners with passion, but we have realized that this concept is still new, and building public acceptance for the solution will require more time and resources than anyone could have anticipated. Therefore, in full alignment with the inBloom Board of Directors and funders, I have made the decision to wind down the organization over the coming months. It wasn’t an easy decision, and the unavailability of this technology is a real missed opportunity for teachers and school districts seeking to improve student learning.

I want to thank you for your partnership in our endeavors and look forward to speaking with many of you in the coming months.

Kind regards,
Iwan Streichenberger
Chief Executive Officer