by Dan Lacey
In the fall of 2013, concern exploded in Jeffco over the Gates Foundation-funded database inBloom, particularly the implications for data security. The project incorporated an Innovative Instructional System (IIS)—essentially a system bordering on artificial intelligence that would evaluate a number of variables and prescribe curriculum and instruction for each student—with a dashboard to provide a front-end technology system to simplify teacher data entry work, and a database. The IIS and dashboard were to be provided by a vendor called LoudCloud. While the inBloom database was terminated amidst the pushback from parents concerned about their children’s data security, the LoudCloud project continues to this day.
The inception of the programs goes all the way back to 2010 when the school district identified the need for Innovative Instructional System technology. In 2011 a request for proposal was sent out to identify vendors for the system. LoudCloud appears to have been selected
because they offered to complete the first phase free of charge while competitors' proposals to complete the first phase were around $250,000.
The former superintendent selected LoudCloud without consent from the board, because no dollars needed to be allocated for the proof of concept phase. The selection of LoudCloud also appeared to be tied to the possible inBloom project because its systems would be compatible with the controversial database.
In March 2013, the district transferred $3 million of 3A mill levy override money to the technology fund to support the development of new software systems. Spending logs obtained from the district indicate that the district spent $119,500 on LoudCloud in April 2013. (The figure is lower than the threshold requiring formal board approval.) The April board meeting was the first time the board was made aware of LoudCloud.
Two months later, the district requested an allocation of $2 million to be spent on LoudCloud to develop an Innovative Instructional System. The June 2013 school board meeting was the first time the board was asked to approve any funding for the project. (The motion passed on a 4-1 vote.)
The approved contract was to develop an Innovative Instructional System designed to transform instruction.
Information regarding the connection between inBloom and LoudCloud came to light after the district requested permission to apply for a $500,000 grant from the Gates Foundation.
This revelation prompted many community members to come forward requesting more information on security and privacy of data. Community members expressed concerns that outside organizations would be able to obtain access to staff and student data. Rumors swirled that lesson plans would be created and delivered by outside organizations as teachers accessed a national curriculum database.
The scope of the LoudCloud project remained unclear. An understanding of what inBloom and LoudCloud each respectively would deliver was murky at best. After extensive discussions, comments, and debate, the board voted to sever the relationship with inBloom on November 7, 2013, at the last meeting of the previous board. However, the relationship with LoudCloud continues.
The former superintendent created a Data Management Advisory Committee (DMAC) in June 2013, the purpose of which was to make a recommendation on the advisability of proceeding with the Classroom Dashboard project. Somehow the LoudCloud project went from developing an Innovative Instructional System (IIS) to development of a Classroom Dashboard system.
Those two projects sound very different in scope. A dashboard should tie together the half-dozen or so systems that teachers currently use so they no longer would have to log in and out of different systems nor reenter data, improving their productivity. As stated in the executive summary presented with the June 2013 school board motion to approve the $2 million expenditure with LoudCloud: “The [Innovative Instruction System] uses this detailed student information to guide instructors with intelligent recommendations for instructional resources in order to improve student achievement. The ‘recommendation engine’ goes a step further, and also recommends professional learning for teachers based upon relevant situations from classroom data and administrative observations.”
In their final report, submitted in November 2013, the DMAC recommended proceeding with the Classroom Dashboard project, the description of which included words eerily similar to the IIS. The “Classroom Dashboard Built by LoudCloud” chart in the final DMAC proposal says, “It will recommend supports for teaching our students…It will continuously analyze student data…”
This description is particularly troubling, as the Board of Education voted to withdraw from the inBloom project that same month.
In March 2014, during the budget development cycle, the district requested an additional $1 million for the Classroom Dashboard