Makoa Jacobsen

Makoa Jacobsen LLC




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Current State of the SIS for K-12

These are my thoughts on the SIS for K-12.  Typically this would be considered proprietary material but at this point if someone can take these thoughts and make a system better than I can then that is great for education.  However, these thoughts are five years old and I haven't seen anything yet.

There are two systems that power any type of school: The student information system (SIS) and the financial/accounting information system.  I have been working with Student Information Systems for almost ten years.  I have been developing auxiliary systems that sit on top of the student information system (KS Connect for Kamehameha), assisting with deployment of a new student information system with my auxiliary system (Chancery SMS with KS Connect for Kamehameha), converting and deploying new student information systems (eSIS to Synergy for Clackamas County school districts) and recently designing a student information system from scratch (Kula SIS for Oregon College of Art and Craft).  While my current employer is HigherEd, the college is small and in many respects operates like an independent K-12 school.  This post is about the SIS for K-12.

Proposal for Academy of the Pacific

Not many people know but I had a contract with Academy of the Pacific (AOP) to create and manage their SIS.  This is a school that operated very differently from others, refusing to allow the SIS dictate how they served their students.  Contract was signed in 2011.  I'm going to use slides from my pitch presentation to present to you my thoughts.

Current State (Administrative-Centric SIS)

The SIS sits in the middle of a bunch of systems, serving as the source for the others.  In a very simplistic form, the way you know a student attends your school is the SIS tells you.  The SIS is the source system of the student record.  The other systems use the student record for their purposes.

The SIS in relation to other systems a school typically uses.

I think this current state is just born out of need, specifically administrative needs.  This model hasn't changed, for as long as SISs have been serving schools. We have an administrator-centric SIS.

The Teacher Technology Struggle

I am a believer that technology is supposed to make things easier in the long-run (maybe not in the short-run but that's usually related to training, not necessarily making the process harder).  So why did it get so difficult for the teachers?  Looking at the diagram above, which of those individual systems do the teachers serve as the source of the information?

Teachers touch the green systems. Curriculum Mapping, Learning Management System and Gradebook are teacher-sourced systems.

Teachers also use Google Apps and a whole bunch of other "Web 2.0" systems to help augment the classroom.  It's so disjointed that the teachers now become the orchestrators of technology, which is borderline IT's responsibility.  Then administrators start mandating this stuff and then one starts to wonder: when do the teachers actually teach?

The Teacher Workflow

This is my over simplistic workflow of what a teacher does.

The over simplistic teacher workflow.
The over simplistic teacher workflow. In parenthesis is the system used to assist with the step.

In parenthesis are the systems that assist with each of those steps.  So first thought here: why don't they all talk to each other?  In the status quo, the closest systems that talk to each other are the Gradebook and the SIS.  Most SIS companies now sell a gradebook component to their system, which is usually crappy because it's administrative-centric.  This begs the next question: why aren't they all tightly integrated?  If this is the teacher workflow, the teacher-centric SIS would encompass all of these components and deliver a seamless solution.

Administrative Overhead

In the business world (yes, I am using a business term here...bear with'll like what I have to say, teachers) overhead is loosely defined as the stuff a business must do that has nothing to do with what the business does.  For example, businesses need some form of bookkeeping to keep track of their books.  Everyone agrees it's necessary but it has nothing to do with what the business actually does.  If a company has overhead expenses that are significantly larger than direct expenses, the business may be heading for its death.

What's administrative overhead?  It's a term that I created that is defined as the stuff administrators make teachers do that has nothing to do with teaching.  Loosely, it's the stuff teachers hate doing.  Back to the systems involved in the workflow, how much of that is administrative overhead?

Items in red are administrative overhead.

Quite a bit.  If I'm the administrator and I make something mandatory, I want to make sure I give my teachers the best tool to make them successful.  While looking for a teacher-focused tool that still delivers the administrative data I need, we might actually might get to the data-driven decision making nirvana everyone preaches.  I have yet to find one though.  Guess that means we have to make one.

The Solution/Market Opportunity

Create a teacher-centric SIS that solves the technology teacher workflow problem.  I can only imagine how much the school climate will improve when teachers are finally given a solution they have been clamoring for.


Written on September 6, 2014