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InBloom to play Big Brother with children's 'data'? Privacy forum in Chicago November 21, 2013 sponsored by More Than A Score and other groups

A coalition of groups in Chicago is sponsoring a public forum on Chicago's attempts to take away the privacy of children's data through a privatization contract with InBloom, a private corporation. The public event will take place on Thursday, November 21, 2013, from 7 to 8:30 pm at Fosco Park, located at 13th and Racine. The main speaker at the event will be Leonie Haimson, who is executive director of the New York City-based group called Class Size Matters. The event is sponsored by More than a Score, the Chicago Teachers Union, PURE, and other groups.

Leonie Haimson, Executive Director of Class Size Matters, will be the featured speaker at the More Than A Score forum in Chicago on November 21, 2013. Photo courtesy of Class Size Matters, New York City.Since mayoral control began in Chicago in 1995 (with the passage of the Amendatory Act), Chicago has been the site of major attacks on public schools and on traditional public privacy rules and regulations. These began more than a decade before InBloom received its first Chicago contract, and long before Barbara Byrd Bennett was "Chief Executive Officer" of Chicago's public schools.

In fact, the first schools chief in Chicago to take important student data out of the hands of public servants and privatize it was Paul Vallas. When former Chicago Schools Chief Executive Officer Paul G. Vallas moved the Chicago Public Schools headquarters from the South Side to the Loop, millions of student records going back more than 100 years were placed under the control of private contractors. Since then, student records and "data" have been made available selectively to charter schools and other privatization programs without the consent or knowledge of Chicago parents.

For more than 12 years, Chicago school officials, under administrations headed by Paul Vallas, Arne Duncan, Terry Mazany, Ron Huberman, Jean-Claude Brizard and (currently) Barbara Byrd Bennett have routinely made student records available to private companies setting up charter schools in Chicago. What has generally happened is that when a charter school is approved for an area of the city, CPS officials give student data to the charter school so that it can selectively market itself to the "best" students at nearby elementary schools. The process has been taking place for more than a decade, usually through the Office of New Schools, a bureaucratic department within CPS. Parents receive phone calls, are solicited for home visits, and are otherwise subjected to the promotional marketing that goes with privatization.

The privatization of important students and school records began in Chicago's public schools during the administration of Paul G. Vallas, who served as "Chief Executive Officer" of CPS from 1995 to 2001. Vallas ordered the move of CPS from the large facility at 1819 W. Pershing Road to 125 S. Clark St. as a favor to Commonwealth Edison, a major supporter of then Mayor Richard M. Daley, which wanted to unloaded the aged Loop building. Although Vallas proclaimed to the media that the Pershing Road facility was useless, in fact it had provided the space needed for most major public education functions, and its location at the geographic center of the city made it much more convenient for people to get to than an expensive Loop location near the center of the city's financial (LaSalle St.) and political (City Hall) power brokers. Immediately after the move to the Loop, CPS record keeping was privatized to a "data storage" facility, and public officials who had long had control over the records were fired or moved to other jobs. By 2007, this activity was supplemented with CPS promoting the annual "New Schools Expo". The Expo, which has turned into a charter schools marketing fair, takes place annually at Soldier Field's United Airlines Lounge and is backed not only by CPS, but by the city's major corporations through the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago. Chicago parents receive robo calls and are solicited in other ways for the New Schools Expo every year. The next one is expected to take place in January or February 2014.

At the same time, CPS officials were hostile to the recent Neighborhood Schools Fair, which was held on Saturday, November 16, at Chicago's Clemente High School. The force, power and resources of the nation's third largest school system are directed towards expanding privatization at the expense of the city's real public schools and the traditional protections to the public that have traditionally be provided in the public sector. A recent and relevant analogy would be to the privatization of national security work through both the NSA and the CIA, major scandals still unfolding around the world.

In 2012, Chicago quietly contracted with InBloom, a private corporation based in Ohio, to get student data. After CPS officials brushed off concerns from teachers and parents, the movement against the privatization -- focused on InBloom -- has been growing. With the decision by Illinois Governor Pat Quinn to choose Paul G. Vallas as his running mate, concerns are growing, since Vallas was the first CPS official to begin the massive privatization of Chicago public education functions -- including record keeping -- during his time as CEO of CPS (between 1995 and 2001).

The press release for the November 21, 2013 event follows:

MORE THAN A SCORE SAYS COME TO OUR FORUM ON STUDENT DATA PRIVACY NOV. 21.

More Than a Score, the Chicago Teachers’ Union, PURE, Parents Across America, and other groups are co-sponsoring an important forum on the threat to student data privacy. The free, public event will take place in Chicago on Thursday, November 21, 2013, from 7 to 8:30 pm at Fosco Park, which is conveniently located at 13th and Racine.

Childcare and Spanish translation will be provided.

The main speaker will be Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters in New York City. Leonie is the nation’s foremost parent expert on inBloom and the current threat to student data privacy.

You can find some excellent background information on the CSM website, and local highlights on the More Than a Score website.

Why is this forum so important right now?

Beginning in January 2014, the state of Illinois may begin collecting up to 400 “data points” about each CPS and Illinois student under a contract with inBloom. This information that may be shared with for-profit companies. The program, called the Illinois Shared Learning Environment, or ISLE, is already being piloted in Bloomington and Normal.

MTAS and other groups sent letters to state superintendent Christopher Koch and CPS CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett on October 10 expressing opposition to the overall concept of sharing confidential student and teacher information with third parties without permission of parents or teachers, especially for commercial purposes. We have received some feedback on these letters but no official response as yet.

Our letters detailed our concerns about the possibility of data breaches and potential unintentional misuse or future inappropriate use of the extensive private information about children, families and school employees that will be gathered and stored. We know that InBloom refuses to guarantee the security of this data. We also know that Wireless Generation, which designed the operating system for inBloom, is a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, and that Murdoch has been accused in the UK and the US of wiretapping and phone hacking.

The information to be collected about individual students may include name, address, grades, test scores, detailed disciplinary and health records, race, ethnicity, economic status, disabilities & other highly sensitive personal and family details. In the past, students’ school records could not be shared outside of school agencies without parents’ permission, but the federal government recently rewrote the regulations protecting student privacy to allow student data to be shared with for-profit companies involved in “educational programing.” This can be any company CPS or the state board of education chooses.

For more on this serious threat to our children’s privacy, read the MTAS fact sheet and backgrounder, “More Testing, Less Privacy?”

And please plan to attend the important forum on November 21.

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