Guest Blogger: Don Dailey, Project Manager, TRIG Data Integration Project

 Are your state’s politicians and policy makers pushing for a single statewide student information system, or SIS? Many states are showing intense interest in this idea right now – including Michigan, where the State Legislature allocated a $1 million TRIG grant for moving school districts toward a single, unified SIS. The perceived benefits of a statewide system include:

  1. Reduced costs through economy of scale (mirroring the national trend toward statewide IT consolidation)
  2. More accurate and consistent data quality
  3. Lower degrees of training and support necessary, thanks to equitable access
  4. Ease of developing single solutions that can apply to all school districts

But the idea of a state dictated student system has many school districts concerned. In Michigan, which is a local control state, school boards can make unique policies to suit their needs. These school boards understand that one size most definitely does not fit all, and some educational policies are better implemented in one SIS than in another. The cost and effort needed to change systems, which can take more than a year, is another issue. Sole-sourcing a contract locks districts into certain vendors, which removes incentive to offer competitive prices.

Fortunately, the intermediate school districts (from which a single SIS model would be chosen) involved in the project  found a new approach that would enable them to enjoy all the benefits of a statewide SIS, but with none of the constrictions. They‘re using the Ed-Fi Data Standard and Ed-Fi ODS API to collect data in a common format from all of the state’s student information systems. The collected information will then be stored in an Operational Data Store (ODS) based on Ed-Fi technology, where the standardized data can be shared with other systems, essentially serving as a single statewide SIS.

The benefits of this approach, dubbed “the Michigan Data Hub,” are tremendous. The data hub concept provides consistent information across multiple systems and organizational levels that give crucial insights to school districts, state agencies and policy makers. The demanding need for retraining is also bypassed because the Ed-Fi ODS employs informational dashboards that help users generate reports and turn the data into actionable information. Even data integration management becomes a point-and-click operation, thanks to the “cockpit” application that manages the movement of data and applies the necessary analytics on a scheduled basis.

Even in its infancy, the Michigan Data Hub project has sparked considerable excitement from districts. The decision to rely on Ed-Fi technology has allowed the project to be completed faster and at much lower cost than any other approach and our school districts will still be able to realize the benefits of a statewide SIS without giving up their individual systems in order to serve the needs of Michigan students in the best way they see fit.