Monday, October 7, 2013

Move over, inBloom. Meet Footsteps2Brilliance!

yes, I thought the name was a fake, too. It's not

You'll possibly remember how we've been concerned about inBloom? And here? And how we're left in this limbo on if Massachusetts is going forward or not?

Meet Footsteps2Brilliance*!

Introduced at a Board of Ed meeting back in September of 2012--I'm assuming as part of an Early Learning Challenge grant proposal**--Footsteps2Brilliance puts itself forward to solve the most vexing problem of early childhood ed in the state:
In order for this model to scale effectively, Massachusetts must be able to obtain parental consent to collect child data. 
And that's attached to this fascinating illustration of a circle labeled "Early Childhood Information System" with the agencies involved listed as:

  • DPH: Department of Public Health
  • CTF: Children's Trust Fund
  • DHCD: Department of Housing and Community Development
  • DTA: Department of Transitional Assistance
  • DCF: Department of Children and Families
  • EEC: Early Education and Care
  • DMH: Department of Mental Health
  • DESE: Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
  • DHE: Department of Higher Education
Clearly, the intent is going to be to share information among the agencies "for the good of the child," though you'll notice as you go through the PowerPoint that the idea that information is going to be shared with anyone other than the teacher is never again spoken or pulled out. A quick look at the above list and minimal imagination gives some nightmare scenarios with the above sharing information along and with local public schools (public schools sharing with housing? mental health sharing with transitional assistance? and so on).
And again, the very first thing that F2B is selling the state on is the ease with which they can collect parental consent (page 3):

Footsteps2Brilliance™has developed a proprietary biometrics technology that will allow the Commonwealth to collect a parent’s digital signature on consent forms from any smart mobile phone, tablet, or computer, thus allowing the Commonwealth to collect the data necessary to provide families and childcare agencies with the resources they need to help every child. This electronic process of collecting parental consent conforms to Massachusetts’ digital signature laws (see page 10, section F),and is a fraction of the cost of paper related expenses. It also massively reduces the extraordinary time associated with physically submitting, handling,and storing bulky consent forms.
Fascinating to note, incidentally, that you can search all over the F2B website, and find nary a mention of this particular aspect of the program.One of the least informative websites, ever.
Much of the rest of the presentation goes into what you will read about on the website: mobile apps that parents can download that kids can play with that then upload data about those kids to their teachers (and whoever else, as it doesn't say). If you Google "Footsteps2Brilliance apps" and start scanning reviews, you'll find that many of them read...alike. Make of that what you will.
In their presentation before the BoE, however, F2B cited instead "opinion leaders," namely, the superintendents of Revere, Everett, Malden, and Winthrop. While I personally don't find 53.8% saying it "could be helpful to our students" much of a sales point, someone obviously did. And at $4.4 million, what a bargain!
Lo, and behold, which schools do we find mentioned in this news from last week as being the three adopters of Footsteps2Brilliance? Revere, Everett, and Malden! No word on Winthrop. Note in the news article: much talk of reading and of gaming, but NOTHING of the data collection or of parent consent.
I don't think that was accidental.

So where does that leave us? Clearly, someone has signed up for this. It's not clear that the state did, as Malden, anyway, is paying for it for itself. However, if you look again at that final chart, F2B's goal is clear: all the cities, anyway.
Consider this a heads up.

*Just what is the deal with these trying to be hip vendors? Why must words be run together? Why must everything be in this cutsie text speak? If you're attempting to sell to educational institutions, could you possibly SPELL?!
**I can't tell. Those are posted on the .gov site, which is down due to the government shutdown.

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