Coalition Urges Massachusetts Education Officials to Reconsider Controversial Gates Foundation Partnership

At first blush, the notion of disclosing personally-identifiable student info to this sort of third party seems crazy ... I hope there is more to it. - promoted by david

Yesterday, the Mass. PTA, the American Civil Liberties Union of Mass., the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and Citizens for Public Schools wrote to education officials and Governor Patrick demanding they reconsider a plan to share private student information with a Gates Foundation partnership. Here’s the press release that went out about the letter.

Date of Release:

Thursday, February 7, 2013


Josh Golin (617-896-9369;
Dr. Erik J. Champy, Mass PTA (617-861-7910;
Ann O’Halloran, Citizens for Public Schools (617-448-3647;

For Immediate Release

Coalition Urges Massachusetts Education Officials to Reconsider Controversial Gates Foundation Partnership;
New Shared Learning Collaborative Will Hand Over Confidential Student Data to For-Profit Corporations.

BOSTON — February 7 — Advocates for privacy, children, and education are demanding that the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education reconsider a controversial plan to share confidential student data with the Gates Foundation’s Shared Learning Collaborative (SLC). The Gates Foundation is building a national “data store” of personally identifiable information including student names, test scores, grades, disciplinary and attendance records, and most likely, special education needs, economic status, and racial identity as well. Today, the ACLU of Massachusetts, Citizens for Public Schools (CPS), the Massachusetts PTA, and the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) sent a letter to the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education urging the Board to make public its contract with the SLC, require parental consent before any data is shared with the Gates Foundation, and pledge that data will never be used for commercial purposes.

“This program forces public school students to trade their personal privacy for access to education — even without their knowledge or their parents’ consent. Students in the Commonwealth should be able to trust that state officials will not quietly hand over intimate information about them en masse to private corporations or other third parties,” said Kade Crockford, director of the Technology for Liberty program at ACLU of Massachusetts.

Added Dr. Erik J. Champy, president of the Massachusetts PTA, “We have deep concerns about a commercial entity having access to private information about students and teachers and potentially using it for profit, and encouraging others to do the same. This data should never be used for commercial purposes and this matter should be investigated very carefully.”

The Gates Foundation intends to turn over its trove of student data information to inBloom Inc., a newly formed corporation which plans to make that information available to commercial vendors to help them develop and market their “learning products.”

“Parents trust schools to safeguard their children’s confidential and sensitive data,” said CCFC’s Associate Director Josh Golin. “Sharing that data with marketers and commercial enterprises is a clear violation of that trust.”

Advocates’ concerns about the partnership include inBloom’s statement that it “cannot guarantee the security of the information stored in inBloom or that the information will not be intercepted when it is being transmitted” to third party vendors. These concerns are heightened by the fact that the data store’s operating system is being built by Wireless Generation, a subsidiary of the News Corporation, which has been investigated for violating the privacy of individuals both here in the United States and in Great Britain.

“CPS members are concerned about the privacy of our student information and the use of that information by private outfits for profit-making ventures,” said CPS president Ann O’Halloran. “We seek clear information and assurances that private student information will be protected, and that parents will have the right to consent before their information is shared with such databases.”

Massachusetts is one of nine states, including New York, North Carolina, Colorado and Illinois that have agreed to turn confidential public school student records over to the Gates Foundation as part of Phase 1 of the Shared Learning Collaborative. Phase II states that have agreed to pilot the system starting in 2013 include Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, and Louisiana. Parents in New York expressed outrage when they learned that the New York State Education Department planned to give their children’s private information  to the Gates Foundation without their consent.

“This entire project represents an unprecedented violation of the privacy rights of children and their families,” said Leonie Haimson, the Executive Director of a New York-based organization Class Size Matters. “New York parents who are aware of this plan are horrified. I think it’s absolutely crucial that the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education widely publicize their plan, disclose the contract with the Gates Foundation, and give parents the right to consent before this highly sensitive information is shared with any organization or corporation that intends to provide it to commercial vendors.”

The organizations’ letter to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education can be found at And Leonie Haimson has more about this at her blog.


14 Comments . Leave a comment below.
  1. How is this not illegal?

    When I see the words “confidential information” I assume such confidentiality is protected by privacy laws. There have been times when substitute teaching that I’ve been told I can’t even make the most harmless sounding comments about a student in mixed company because of privacy rights.

  2. Gates needs to stop treating people like science experiments and quantifiable “data”. People cannot be quantified – there is no metric, stop trying to create one. People’s “worth” cannot be quantified, stop trying to invent metrics and policies that do so. Lastly, categorizing people based upon gender, socio-economic class, race, special education status, and disciplinary issues is just plain wrong. Public schools educate everyone, regardless.

  3. Parental permission is required for everything a school does...

    …but the school can had over all this information about a child, without parental permission?!?! With HIPPAA, how can information about special needs be legal?

    • Laws are dead.

      Looking back in history, even the emperors of Rome through the monarchies of Europe had some respect – even fear – of laws. Narrow interest replaces law now.

      Private data is public. Who does not believe the children labeled “terrorists” in the numerous fake gun hysteria episodes will be marked forever? Would a 3 year old’s temper tantrum you had in a public place mean unemployment forever? Which way would you bet?

      Just as cattle are branded and their conditions recorded, the American public will have every stage of their lives recorded. There is no Constitution, no privacy laws. No laws whatsoever that clash with the interests of powerful people.

  4. A concerned parent and teacher......

    I used read these posts as a teacher; I now read them as a parent first and a teacher and community member second and third. With young children approaching school age, my lenses have been adjusted. I won’t put my children’s pictures on facebook, etc., and I ask people not to post their photos, names, or any other information regarding them. In studies at Children’s Hospital, Boston, I make certain that no revealing information is used before I agree to let my children participate in a study.

    The idea that their school would send their information without consent is outrageous to me, and probably criminal. Does Informed Consent exist in education? It is a policy that is in place to make certain research is done with integrity. I mean real consent, not a clause buried in a student/parent handbook, or sent home as something that “needs” to be signed before children are “allowed” to participate in lunch programs, field trips, and other activities—yes, it really happens. I have seen parents bullied into participating in programs that “will benefit their children” too many times when, in reality, the participation has little to do with the students an more to do with a doctoral dissertation.

    Real education is a compilation of academics, learning how to be a good citizen and community member (social responsibility, the importance of voting, etc.), soft skills, such as the importance of being punctual and polite, and a variety of other things, none of the least of which is helping students find their voice, worth and natural skills and interests. Worthwhile evaluation consists of both quantitative and qualitative data which includes not only testing academically where students are, but also the progress they have made. Additionally, we need to teach each child not a stereotype or average……. Some of the nicest students I have encountered are of average or lower than average intelligence. They often have other talents that will help them to succeed in life beyond school. Unfortunately, too often corporation like the Gates, present these children as lazy or less worthy than others….sometimes it is because of a flawed study sometimes it is because they are academically just average.

    As others have said we need to educate and respect every child and his strengths and weaknesses.

    A Brighton Mommy

  5. This is all part of education reform's

    goal of turning education into something that can be sold. inBloom is a non-profit organization, but if what they do appears successful, commercial providers will enter the “market.” That’s where all of this leads.

    The unstated assumption, however, is that we have data worth looking at. The fact is we don’t. We generate all kinds of numbers–MCAS and other standardized test scores–but there is no algorithm for educational achievement. These companies want free market research, not data to tailor their products to learners.

    • Ed reform=profits!

      From Valerie Strauss:

      Good news for those who see school reform as a way to make big bucks: A new report says that the global education market is now worth $4.4 trillion — that’s TRILLION — and is set to grow a lot over the next five years.

      The report, issued by the London-based investment bank IBIS Capital, said the fastest-growing sector, not surprisingly, is e-learning, which is expected to grow some 23 percent by 2017.

  6. Seconding Christopher - how is this legal?

    The Massachusetts public records law makes a number of exclusions from the definition of “public record.” One of them is:

    “personnel and medical files or information; also any other materials or data relating to a specifically named individual, the disclosure of which may constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”
    (General Laws, chapter 4, section 7, clause 26(c).)

    And the state Fair Information Practices Act, General Laws, chapter 66A, requires agencies to maintain the confidentiality of personal information.

    Don’t get how the state gets around those laws to share the information. Pretty creepy.

    • It's not legal

      It’s against the law regarding school records. Individually indentifiable information cannot be shared outside the school. You can share general data that does not identify individuals for research purposes, but not individual data, and certainly not special education data. Even saying out loud that a student has an IEP to non-school personnel violates state law.

  7. I think the Gates Foundation is a perfect example for why charitable donations in the millions and billions by individuals and married couples should remain taxed.

    The stuff these people are trying to push on the world is often dangerous and against people’s best interests, and not accountable to voters.

    It would be better to fund what we need through taxes, so we don’t get crazy billionaires trying to gain access to detailed information on students, etc.

    RyansTake   @   Fri 8 Feb 7:17 PM
    • It's not really a charity

      Anymore that Crossroad GPS is. They just push issues not candidates.

      And is there anything in the past to think that Bill Gates would honor the confidentiality of the data he receives?

      sabutai   @   Sat 9 Feb 11:24 AM
  8. I had never heard of this before, and on the face of it, it sounded absurd.

    Reading the inBloom website, it sounds like the epitome of information security:

    I think it’s likely in between and could be a great resource for educators and education technology. Identifying personal information (especially student names!) should not be attached to the data, but I think it could be a great resource. I would prefer it be a federal-funded and managed database, not a privately-managed one, but c’est la vie.

    (And on inBloom’s for-profit status, that’s a legacy of the Bush administration that made it so non-profits that organized as for-profits would get preferential treatment for federal funding)

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