District Demand Growing for Data and Content Systems That Can Share Information

Associate Editor

Scottsdale, Ariz.

K-12 districts are starting to understand how important it is to have data interoperability for their digital tools, and to push for this capability. Ed-tech companies are starting to take notice, too.

That was one of the key takeaways in a session at EdNET 2017, which focused on “Giving Teachers Back Their Sundays.”

With more digital resources than ever in classrooms, there’s a growing awareness among district leaders that these products need to be able to securely share information within schools and in a district.

A survey of district chief technology officers by the Consortium for School Networking  (CoSN) earlier this year found that 72 percent of districts are in varying stages of implementing data interoperability. The organization defines interoperability as “the seamless sharing of data, content, and services, among systems or applications.”

Four interoperability initiatives—single sign-on, data dashboards, content interoperability, and data interoperability—are covered in the report. Of these, single sign-on had the largest implementation, with 19 percent of districts fully implementing it.

Clearly, there’s still a long way to go.

“This is not a problem we don’t know how to solve,” said Erin Mote, a technologist and the co-founder of the Brooklyn LAB Charter School and one of the organizers of Project Unicorn, a nonprofit collaboration to improve data interoperability within K-12 education.

When it first launched in May, more than 26 school systems representing 600,000 students from across the country signed a pledge to commit to improving data interoperability. Four months later, 200 school districts have done so. Together, they represent $2.3 billion worth of buying power in the ed-tech market, said Mote, who is also co-founder of InnovateEDU, the nonprofit that leads Project Unicorn.

Mote said the organization will be releasing sample RFP and procurement language for districts to consider, as well as short policy briefings to explain the various issues for different audiences. The website offers links to resources for teachers, school leaders, and vendors.

“We’re requiring, more than ever, that our vendors get in line with a new roadmap” for interoperability, said Scott Gutowski, chief technology officer for the 35,000-student Pittsburgh, Pa., school district.

Before joining the district, Gutowski worked as the executive director for a $40 million Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation grant for a personalized instruction initiative in Pittsburgh. The work convinced him of the need for a push for interoperability and data standards. “We’re exploring the Ed-Fi model and IMS Global standards,” he said. “There’s a real necessity to double down on standards and expectations of vendors.”

Gutowski’s district technology team wants to make it easy for educators to “utilize, consume and benefit from” ed tech, he said. “So my team makes a lot of magic happen to make all these different technologies talk to each other” and report data, he added.

“There’s such a business imperative for us to do better, get better–but there’s also a teaching-learning imperative,” said Mote. “I want my teachers to spend time in downtown Brooklyn having those conversations about scaffolding, differentiating, doing station rotation, doing what it takes to help kids grow academically.”

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