Driving Interoperability. Who’s Behind the Wheel?

May 2, 2018
Back to Blog

During the past year, I have interacted with many school districts, as well as held numerous meetings with publishers and technology leadership groups such as Microsoft, SEDTA, COSN, IMS Global, EdFi, and ISTE. I must say that I am encouraged by the direction the industry seems to be headed.

I am optimistic that 2018 will continue to be the year of interoperability.

There is increased awareness of open standards among education leaders, as evidenced in the 2017 Annual Report by IMS Global. IMS Global reports a membership of 440 members comprised of K-12 school districts, higher education institutions, suppliers, and government organizations.  School districts are fed up with the inefficiencies posed by proprietary systems. Districts are speaking with their dollars and demanding that providers of online curriculum conform to standards or be disqualified from doing business.  Chief among the demands is the requirement to accept the IMS Global OneRoster® file format to roster students into classes in the publisher platform.

Interoperability in education is long overdue and frankly, not rocket science.  

Absent a standard to rally behind; districts were forced to comply with systems that were often antiquated and required specific file schema.  I have literally “shown the door” to vendors who suggested that teachers simply create the classes, enter the student names, and disseminate usernames and passwords.  My response to those clueless folks was, “How do you propose I get this information to my 700 Kindergarten teachers?” Also, there is no security around this methodology, and given the demands currently placed on teachers, this is a recipe for disaster.

The need for a single sign-on methodology using a district’s federated identity serves to streamline access to online curricula.  The combination of rostering and single sign-on serves to slay what I call the “Two-Headed Dragon.” The adoption of these two workflows serves to allow access to students and teachers seamlessly and before Thanksgiving.  

While this analogy is tongue in cheek, it is sometimes a reality given the demands placed on  IT departments who are understaffed and who are trying to prioritize the requests sent their way.  Having been a part of an IT department, I know all too well the demands from numerous departments, all of whom are adamant that their needs are the top priority in need of attention.  Unless the department has some governance structure, they are faced with trying to determine the TOP priority from of all of the top priorities they are charged with.

I do not sense that there is a reluctance among the publishers to adopt a standard.  This is especially true of the primary content providers. It takes a while and requires development time to convert or rewrite legacy systems to conform to a standard.  The adoption of the standard among smaller content providers, including the “mom & pop” variety is slower, as they tend to have relatively fewer resources at their disposal.  Surprisingly, newer startups have been quick to adopt, as they do not have investments in previous platforms.

So how do we go about driving implementation of the standard?  

As I mentioned earlier, it is the school districts that will make this happen, not the publishers, and not the standards bodies.  

As a wise man once said, “Nothing happens until somebody doesn’t get paid.” As school districts (read: customers) speak with their dollars and demand conformance, it causes the folks in need of a purchase order to sit up and pay attention.  Besides, if a publisher embraces the open standard, there should not be an integration fee for this. It defeats the purpose and rationale behind an open standard and districts should not tolerate it.

I have had some small districts tell me that they could never do that, and the reason I could was that I came from one of the largest school districts in the country.  There is some truth to that statement, but I am going to have to take issue with that. While a small district does not have the clout to “turn the battleship”, nearly every small district is a part of some larger consortium, usually a regional entity that provides services and support for districts not large enough to provide all of the services required, such as Exceptional Ed staffing, IT services, Procurement, transportation and so forth.  If you speak with one voice, the cumulative effect is potent. Taking it a step further, if a state were to enforce the standard, imagine the impact that might have.

This will sound harsh, but it boils down to leadership.  Unless districts exert some leadership in taking up this issue, then you will continue to be victimized, and you have nobody else to blame.

The other group of vendors who need to be in the loop with these initiatives is the Student Information Systems.  IT departments should not have to spend time writing SQL queries to extract these files when there is a standard to adopt.  Once again, the customer should demand from their provider that they generate these files natively, and have the files certified.  This unburdens IT staff to a great extent.

So as a company, how is ClassLink providing leadership in this space?  To the school district, we are providing a service that enables the adoption of these workflows, both Single Sign-on, and rostering.  Our business model is collaborative. While there is a cost to the district, we work to ensure that there is a smooth integration with your curriculum providers.  We work and educate the curriculum providers that your district utilizes, and we do so at no cost to the third party vendor. We feel that to charge another vendor to be a part of our platform is counterproductive, and not in the spirit of adopting interoperability standards.  As we are both being paid by you, it is in our best interest to make ALL of your resources easily accessible in an open manner, such that information flows securely with each provider conforming to the same standards.

– George

George Perreault, Chief Academic Officer at ClassLink

George most recently served as Director, Instructional Technology, and Library Media at Orange County Public Schools (OCPS) in Florida, capping off a distinguished forty-year career as a teacher, administrator, and technology leader. During his time working in schools, Perreault guided OCPS through increasingly sophisticated use of technology in the classroom and across the district.

Related Posts: Interoperability Pledge


Education Leaders

About the Author

About the Authors