IT Infrastructure

School District Data Systems Are Messed Up. A New Coalition Wants to Help

By Alyson Klein — June 29, 2021 3 min read
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Massive amounts of student information is being used to help school districts and states make all sorts of decisions these days. But the systems that collect and analyze that data are often, well, a bit of a hot mess.

Data systems are often splintered, meaning that educators are stuck spending hours putting together information from discordant systems or manually reentering information. What’s more, now that student data is often stored in the cloud, privacy and security are paramount concerns. Cyberattacks against school districts are on the rise across the country.

Enter the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), the Council of Chief State School Officers, and the Council of the Great City Schools. The three organizations have tapped three state education agencies—in California, Massachusetts, and Nebraska—and 20 large school districts to join an effort to help make data systems more user-friendly, seamless, and secure.

The three-year partnership will help districts and states improve their systems’ interoperability, meaning make it easier for disparate systems to communicate with one another. The goal will be to create a set of tools and processes that any state or district can turn to when looking to tackle incompatible systems and/or secure their data.

“We know that having access to the right data and right information is really powerful for educators to make those really informed decisions to support student learning,” said Mindy Frisbee, the senior director of learning partnerships at ISTE, in an interview.

The partnership will give states and districts a chance to take a hard look at what data systems they already have and modernize their systems, in part to improve interoperability, Frisbee said. Districts and states will also get help in examining their procurement practices.

The aim is, in part, to support positive decision making around the adoption of educational technology tools, Frisbee said.

District officials say the pandemic has put a spotlight on how important it is for data to be comprehensive and accessible.

“As a result of the pandemic, the role of data and technology infrastructure across the country has shifted,” said Kenneth Thompson, the chief information officer for the San Antonio Independent School District, one of the 20 participating districts, in a statement. “Data systems have always been foundational, but there’s a better understanding now of just how much it matters for technology not only to function but to be properly integrated.”

Meanwhile, state officials say the project could help educators reclaim valuable time.

“Our continued work on Nebraska’s interoperability plan will reduce the financial and human capacity burden on districts, which is more important now than ever,” said Dean Folkers, chief information officer at the Nebraska Department of Education, said in a statement.“Interoperability can be a highly technical and complicated subject, but at its core this work is about ensuring that teachers and parents have the information at their fingertips to support all students.”

In addition to San Antonio, participating districts include: Albuquerque Public Schools, N.M.; Boston Public Schools, Mass.; Chicago Public Schools, Ill.; Clark County Public Schools, Nev.; Cleveland Public Schools, Ohio; Fresno Unified School District, Calif.; Dallas Independent School District, Texas; Hillsborough County Public Schools, Fla.; Kansas City Public Schools, Mo.; Minneapolis Public Schools, Minn.; Nashville Public Schools, Tenn.; Oklahoma City Public Schools, Okla.; Orange County Public Schools, Fla.; Philadelphia Public Schools, Pa.; Pinellas County Schools, Fla.; Portland Public Schools, Ore.; Rochester Public Schools, N.Y.;Saint Paul Public Schools, Minn.; Tulsa Public Schools, Okla.

Funding for this data system project was provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. Both the Gates Foundation and CZI also provide financial support to Education Week.

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