Gates-backed school database blue screens

A school database, which is backed by Bill Gate’s charity foundation, is losing State backers as parents start to question the set up’s security.

The $100 million database was set up to store extensive records on millions of public school students and launched this year. However, US states are starting to walk away from the project after complaints from parents.

The database, funded mostly by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, tracks students from kindergarten through high school by storing myriad data points, including test scores, learning disabilities, discipline records and even teacher assessments of a child’s character.

The big idea is that consolidated records make it easier for teachers to use software that mines data to identify academic weaknesses and come up with better lesson plans.

But where it is getting messy is that kids are identified by name and their details can be shared with private companies developing education software.

The database is run by a nonprofit called inBloom and is seeing action in nine US States.

Parents and civil liberties groups are concerned about potential privacy breaches. Louisiana Superintendent of Education, John White, withdrew student data from inBloom in April. He’s planning to hold public hearings on data storage and security this summer and is wondering if there really is a need for inBloom.

Kentucky, Georgia and Delaware have been telling Reuters that they never made a commitment and have no intention of participating.

Representatives from Massachusetts and North Carolina said they are still evaluating the project and may never upload student data.

This leaves just New York, Illinois and Colorado as active participants.

The Gates Foundation has said that it is confident about inBloom’s future, saying early adopters will provide a “blueprint for the future” and “assuage the concerns that have been raised”.

This is not the first time the Foundation has been mired in controversy about its plans for education. One of Chicago’s largest ever public sector strikes saw thousands of teachers walk out on the job in protest of a Gates backed initiative on standardised testing, among other proposed changes.

The database is free but will start charging participating states or school districts annual fees of $2 to $5 per student in 2015.