Colorado

CDE cuts its ties with inBloom data project

Education Commissioner Robert Hammond told the State Board of Education Wednesday this his department has ended its contract with inBloom, the controversial student data system that was being pilot tested in the Jefferson County Schools.

“As a result of Jefferson County School district’s decision to withdraw from inBloom and recognizing the concerns being expressed, I have made the decision that in the best interests of the department we exercise our right to terminate the Service Agreement with inBloom,” Hammond told the board.

The $100 million inBloom project, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Carnegie Corp., has been attempting to build a data system that can aggregate student personal and academic information and link such data with online instructional materials that teachers can use to personalize teaching for individual student needs.

But there have been widespread criticism of inBloom’s ability to protect student privacy, and such concerns were believed to be part of the reason that a Republican-endorsed slate of three candidates swept to victory in last week’s Jeffco school board election. The board voted last Thursday to end its relationship with inBloom.

Get more background on the inBloom controversy is this EdNews story about a State Board hearing earlier this year.

Here’s the full text of Hammond’s statement:

This past week, the Jefferson County School Board decided, after many public discussions and work sessions, to conclude its relationship with the data management organization, inBloom. The vision for use of inBloom’s system was to give teachers better tools for understanding their individual students’ academic needs. Using these tools, teachers would have been able to more easily support their students’ needs by helping them learn at their own pace and truly master a concept before moving forward. In my opinion, this continues to be an important goal in educating our students for the 21st century. Unfortunately, concerns and questions persisted in Jefferson County that led to their decision to withdraw from inBloom.

As you’ll recall, Jefferson County was Colorado’s only pilot district in exploring the use of inBloom to manage student data. As a result of Jefferson County School district’s decision to withdraw from inBloom and recognizing the concerns being expressed, I have made the decision that in the best interests of the department we exercise our right to terminate the Service Agreement with inBloom. I have already notified inBloom of this decision and will be following through in writing. I can assure the State Board this project was entered into with a belief that such a system would ultimately benefit students. I still believe such. However, given the heavy implementation work the department is doing, this pilot project is not a priority for the department. CDE will now be working with inBloom to close out the work pursuant to the Service Agreement.

The process of examining inBloom as a tool and resource prompted several beneficial lessons for CDE. First, the Board’s work session illuminated the need to improve the department’s privacy policies and to work with respected groups like EPIC to identify potential weaknesses in the state’s process for collecting and storing student information. As a result, CDE has worked together with EPIC and others to re-write student privacy policy language and upgrade our data usage practices at the department. In addition, it is our desire to have a statewide model policy that districts can use when and if they enter into such agreements with third parties such as inBloom.

In closing, I do want to recognize the hard work of Jefferson County district staff, CDE staff as well as inBloom staff. Despite the termination of the Service Agreement, many lessons were learned that will guide us in the future.

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede