Real-World Story: Portland
The school system in Portland, Oregon, is actively trying to build a more teacher friendly data world. District leaders want to be as responsive as possible to teacher needs. To that end, they want to allow teachers to take advantage of quality tools and apps — fast.
“We can’t be on this pilot cycle where we hold a stakeholder group meeting for three or six months, negotiate with a vendor for six months, then pilot for a year, and then maybe two or three years down the road actually adopt a new tool,” says CIO Josh Klein.
When teachers identify a tool they want to try, they want to try it asap. “We need to be able to bring tools online in a matter of weeks or months, and have a very low cost to do that. And then, if they’re not working, we need to be able to just cut them loose.” Klein achieves that level of responsiveness with an enterprise education architecture provided by the Ed-Fi Alliance. With standard data definitions, an ODS, and an API that allows vendors to plug in with minimal effort, Klein has created an ecosystem that affords him the speed and flexibility he wants.
Portland also has plans for a “learning portal.” This single sign-in environment for student data, which will update automatically and offer 30 to 50 curated instructional apps (rotated in and out as fluidly as needed), promises a number of crucial benefits. For example, a teacher with an at-risk student would be able to see and adopt an intervention strategy that has proven successful with students with similar
demographics. He or she might also suggest appropriate curricular materials, based on student reading progress. On top of these instructional benefits, Portland’s solution will also help with IT workload and data protection.
“On the IT side, we’re under increasing burden to integrate tools to our system, since many vendors have proprietary and unique ways of uploading data into their system,” Klein says. “This means lots of custom code and maintenance.” Thanks to Ed-Fi’s API, he can integrate vendor products without all the custom work. Klein admits that teachers don’t always know or understand the risks inherent in adopting a tool or license agreement— and they shouldn’t necessarily have to. “It’s our job to help protect them, the student, the family and that data,” he says. “If they’re using a tool that’s not set up in an enterprise way, that leads to privacy concerns.”
With an enterprise approach, and district data under local control, Klein can secure his whole array and not be concerned about the vulnerability of individual apps. Finally, Klein plans to put Portland teachers in a position to have the “aha” moments that arise when compelling data points from one location are brought into context with other data. “There’s a lot of good work happening, but it’s in
pockets and silos and not being shared enough,” Klein says. He calls this a “leaky system,” and ultimately he wants teachers to get feedback from apps in a standardized fashion, with information going back through the Ed-Fi ODS to be shared with other tools.
“We want all our tools talking to each other, so there’s this collective intelligence.”