- Explanation of Process and Conclusions
- Discussion of Jurisdictional Communication
- Effect on Stakeholders
- Reflection on Leadership
- Reflection on Process
Link to full text (google doc)
The immediate impact on stakeholders is obvious: there would be less money all around to distribute to other areas such as transportation, building maintenance, staffing, or professional development opportunities. I cannot say whether or not the Ministry would allocate any funds in order to offset the costs of implementing a new system. Considering the current economic climate I would assume not.Therefore, the impact on students and teachers cannot be taken lightly.
I have searched through the budgets posted on Regina Public’s website to see if I could determine the approximate cost of the implementation of PowerSchool to compare it to the quote I received from Alma, but I was unable to find out where in the budget this would be. It did not look like there was a massive increase in operational costs in the years I associated with the start of Regina Public’s use of PowerSchool.
A change like this cannot be undertaken in one year. A school board must ensure that there is enough of a contingency fund to offset the extra costs this would have. There must be a plan for any unexpected costs arising during the school year that had not been budgeted for.
Because this would be a gradual process, impact on stakeholders would be distributed over the course of years rather than months.
As discussed previously, buy-in from stakeholders would take place through surveys, forums, and participation in working committees. Hopefully by eliciting comments and suggestions from staff members, this change can proceed with little resistance.
Failure in this endeavor would look like a refusal to accept or acknowledge that PowerSchool could be problematic because of its genesis and corporation.
The report to taxpayers would have to be thoroughly detailed indicating that all possible outcomes have been analyzed. The case for social justice would have to be made in very clear, concise terms so that it is obvious why Pearson-developed software is problematic. Unfortunately, in this conservative province, this is potentially the source for the biggest backlash of the change. The general public does not appreciate change in education for a variety of reasons, mostly due to the cost. I would anticipate that board meetings would have open forums to educate people on the change proposed. School trustees would be tasked with communicating to their constituents the dangers of Pearson and what makes Alma the more positive choice for students and teachers.
I think, most obviously, the resistors will be teachers, parents, administrators, superintendents, directors, and Ministry staff who do not like change. Especially expensive change.I think this will be one of the biggest hurdles to overcome. A strong case for the change must be made that includes detailed cost breakdown of the removal of PowerSchool, the cost of breaking contracts, the cost of implementation, and training. When PowerSchool was implemented, the board saved money by having teachers learn about the new system over the summer rather than using Professional Development time or other instructional time. I would promote this idea as a way to offset some of the costs involved in getting teachers used to the new system.
By providing cost analysis, it can be proven that a change, while expensive in the short term, can have many long term benefits.
Before the change is detailed, an explanation of the corporate history of PowerSchool should be given. There should be an emphasis on the lack of equality implicit within a program developed by Pearson. This alone should encourage a change, though there may be more convincing that is needed. As well, the results from the teacher survey could be used as further leverage that change is needed. PowerSchool has a reputation for having a lot of downtime and maintenance issues, as I have discovered personally. In my experience, at least once a month, PowerSchool is unavailable during school hours. This means I am unable to log attendance, as is my legal obligation, or enter grades. This causes mass confusion and frustration and adds time to the end of my day as I try and catch up. Comparing downtimes and maintenance schedules will help make the case as it would increase productivity to have a system that did not have technical issues on a consistent basis.
In researching the alternative I discovered, Alma, I found that one of the features not supported by them is Special Education. PowerSchool does support Special Education. However, I am not sure what is meant by supporting Special Education. I was unable to find out if this feature in PowerSchool means that IPPs are stored or that specialized applications are integrated. I have not used or heard of Special Education features in PowerSchool being used in Regina Public. As far as I am aware, student support is managed through CLEVR.
Currently, I work at Campbell Collegiate, which is a large secondary school. There are approximately 1 300-1 500 students registered with approximately 100 staff members. There, I teach English Language Arts to 9-12.
Part of my duties include Core Leader, which is the same thing as a Department Head. In this position, I am responsible for communication between administration and staff, creating professional development opportunities for staff in my core, and managing system goals.
My school district is Regina Public Schools with approximately 22 000 students, K-12. There are also affiliate schools with the board, such as Huda School and Luther.
Current State of Matters:
Currently, the Regina Board of Education uses former Pearson software, called PowerSchool and Gradebook, as their Student Information System (SIS). This suite includes parental tools called ParentPortal which allows parents real time access to attendance and achievement. The companion, StudentPortal, allows students the same access.
PowerSchool was implemented in 2010 and replaced Student Information Records System (SIRS).
Roll out was extensive with teachers required to do modular learning in June and over the summer in order for the system to be workable by September.
Not all features of PowerSchool were immediately available. Teachers began by using the Gradebook system (which is a web based system) and PowerSchool. After approximately 3 years, ParentPortal and StudentPortal were opened up with learning sessions for parents at parent-teacher conferences.
From anecdotal conversations with administration, Regina Public purchased a version of PowerSchool. Since that purchase, additional updates have been purchased in order to keep the system current. However, the division is not running the most recent versions of PowerSchool as the cost to purchase is too high. Again, this information is from an administrator who had completed a PowerSchool course to help them complete timetables within that system.
PowerSchool was developed by Pearson, the behemoth educational conglomerate. In 2015, Pearson agreed to sell PowerSchool to Vista Equity Partners, a venture capitalist firm that specialises in acquiring software, particularly financial software. PowerSchool now operates as PowerSchool LLC, a completely separate entity from Pearson. PowerSchool has made several acquisitions since its departure from Pearson, consistent with its parent company’s vision.
PowerSchool has faced criticism in Canada about the cost of its programming versus the benefit of implementation. As well, the ParentPortal aspect of PowerSchool can be empowering to parents and students as a way to monitor achievement and attendance, but it can also lead to teacher stress and helicopter parenting.
Furthermore, the concept of corporate responsibility and accountability to customers has gained prominence. The idea that a corporation cannot take whatever actions they please in search of the greatest profits is something that is a new concept in today’s educational and technological environments. Customers, such as school divisions, expect that companies they are dealing with have transparent sets of ethics and accounting. Corporations are being held to a greater standard.
I believe that because of PowerSchool’s history and current owners, that the corporate responsibility expected of them cannot be met. I believe that any ties to Pearson, past or present, taints a company’s credibility. Pearson is in the business of continuing systemic inequalities in education for profit. I cannot even begin to post the innumerable articles detailing how awful Pearson is for education. Those nine articles are a sampling of the over 1 million results for a Google search of “Pearson education bad”.
This alone should worry any educator. Any ties, especially for one concerning student data, should be examined. Pearson is single-handedly destroying the credibility of teachers by disseminating the idea that learning is objective and can be measured through standardized tests. They are eliminating the purpose of school divisions because they are promoting the idea that education is one size fits all and that school divisions do not need to be responsive to individual needs.
Pearson appears to run contrary to every single ideal that Critical Theory stands for. Companies founded by Pearson seem to have the same ideas that their parent company has: maintaining social inequalities through unequal access to education.
Regina Public has the obligation to ensure they are setting the very highest of standards in the selection of software for students. Regina Public serves a diverse population and as such should ensure that the companies they are paying money to can and will support all students, regardless of who they are or where they are from. This is a basic tenant of public education: education for all.
Clearly, switching a SIS is a massive undertaking. It must be carefully researched and costs of implementation must be considered. SIS must address every possible avenue of need from each corner of the educational system. It must be accessible by teachers, first and foremost, as teachers are the ones that consistently access an SIS, multiple times a day for a variety of reasons. It needs to be user-friendly for parents whose technological literacy may not be that of their children. It needs to be easy to navigate for students who wish to stay informed of their progress. It needs to be formatted in a way that administrators have ease of access to data, timetabling, and contact information. Finally, the SIS must be able to interface with Ministry software as ultimately, that is who administrators must answer to.
With all of this in mind, an all encompassing SIS should not be chosen lightly.
The positive outcome of this selection would be increased ease of use, an SIS that is responsive to the needs of our division rather than our division changing to fit the constraints of the SIS. An SIS contains all information about students, both academic, personal, and medical.
The personal data of all students is stored within the SIS and is accessible by all staff members. This also means that the owner of the software, the developer themselves, could also have access to all of this data. In addition to examining the usability of the software, the division should also examine the privacy of the software. Is it vulnerable in any way? How long is data stored? Where is the data stored? Who has access? What fail safes to unauthorized access are there?
The potential issues to implementing a new system across a division are obvious: cost, staff buy-in and training. A system change such as this cannot be done in sections; it must be completed all at once in order to ensure continuity for staff and students. Reticence and resistance should be expected from staff, as teachers, from my experience, are not the most accepting of change.
Rationale for the change should be explicitly discussed with staff. This would help staff adjust as there would be transparent reasoning behind the change.
Below are examples of how this change would be broached with various levels.
Proposal to Ministry:
Honourable Don Morgan:
The Regina Public School Division #4 wishes to change their student reporting systems.
This change has been researched by a committee of teachers, administrators, and superintendents in order to determine the responsiveness of the current system (PowerSchool) to student, teacher, and parent needs. Furthermore, the corporate responsibility of PowerSchool has been examined and because PowerSchool was derived from Pearson, the committee has come to the decision that they cannot support any links or ties to such a corporation in good conscience.
The new system selected is Alma. Alma provides all of the features teachers have indicated they wish to have in a Student Information System. Alma_Whitepaper_Learned_vs_Earned is attached for reference. An approximate cost of implementation has been estimated as $5-10 to set up and train staff with a maintenance cost of $7-12 per student per year for our student population of 22, 000. Our contact at Alma is Anna Logan, if you have any further questions.
Therefore, Regina School Division request time in order to ensure that the system selected can interface with the Ministry’s reporting systems. The Board also requests that a liaison from the Ministry be provided in order to facilitate the change.
Thank you for your understanding,
Chair of SIS Overhaul Committee
Proposal to School Board:
Director Greg Enion:
The working committee of teachers convened to discuss whether or not a change in Regina Public’s Student Information System (SIS) is required have come to a decision.
Based on the corporate history of PowerSchool as a subsidiary of Pearson and currently as an acquisition of a venture capitalist firm concentrating on data mining, we have determined we cannot support PowerSchool or GradeBook with clear consciences.
An alternative, Alma, has been researched as a way to meet teachers’ needs, as they have indicated in the surveys sent out. Alma is an innovator in the field of student data management. They are responsive, independent, and are continually renewing their systems as a way to meet their customer’s’ needs.
Attached to this document are the survey results from the initial survey, the follow up survey, minutes from the committee meetings, and the quote for integration provided by Anna Logan, our contact at Alma. As well, our committee letter to the Honourable Don Morgan has been appended.
We appreciate you spearheading this move away from corporations that do not promote equality, good practice, and encourage monopolies on education.
Thank you for your consideration,
Chair of SIS Overhaul Committee
A Google survey has been created that would be disseminated to teachers (Regina Public is a Google division so use of Google apps is integrated. This means access issues to the survey should be curtailed as teachers’ RBE email address sign them into Google as well.) All surveys must be vetted by superintendents, so this jurisdiction’s participation and inclusion will be integral to the survey.
This first survey would be sent out in order to determine the direction of the change. If an overwhelming majority of teachers are against any change, then the SIS change would be dead in the water. Without the support of teachers, any change will not happen.
After results are gathered from this survey and enough teachers would like to see a change, then those who wished to be a part of the working group would be contacted.
Once the working group has come up with several options, a subset of interested teachers from a variety of schools would be contacted and asked to research the options to see how practical they are.
From these responses, a final proposal would be set forth to the Director of Education and to the Minister of Education.
Dear parent(s)/guardian(s) of Regina Public Students:
Regina Public Schools has undertaken a change in the way student information is collected, viewed, and maintained.
Previously, teachers, administrators, parents, and students used PowerSchool, a former subsidiary of Pearson Education. As you may be aware, Pearson Education has been under constant scrutiny regarding its business practices.
PowerSchool was acquired by a venture capitalist firm which specialises in data management. This is troublesome as the portfolio with this firm contains areas of potential consequence to student data.
Because of these concerns, a committee was formed in order to investigate alternatives. One has been selected: Alma.
Alma is a web-based information system, similar in features to PowerSchool, but it is an independent company.
The changeover to this new system will occur over the summer break, with learning sessions on the new parental controls during your school’s Open House in the first week of September.
We encourage you to explore Alma’s features by watching the videos posted on your school’s website.
Students will be walked through the changes to how they access their information in their classes. In elementary schools, students will be working with their English Language Arts teachers and in high school, students will be communicating with their homeroom teachers.
If you have any questions, please direct them to your school’s administration.
Thank you for your patience as we implement this change,
Chair of SIS Overhaul Committee
Below are guiding questions for teachers to discuss the genesis of the change and why corporate responsibility is so important.
These questions are geared toward high schools, but similar ones could be adapted for middle years students.
This plan of introducing a new SIS aligns with my current leadership style because I believe how I lead is deeply informed by Critical Theory. I like to believe that I educate in order to eradicate systemic inequalities in a way. I understand that these inequalities are much larger than me and have been entrenched for a very long time so I must work at a grassroots level in order to effect change from the bottom up. I believe it is my duty as a leader to interrogate what we do, what we use to do what we do and see if there are better, more equitable ways to do so.
I also understand that I am constrained by many things, chiefly money. Changes of this magnitude cannot be instigated without the input of many people because of the constraint on other places it places.
In terms of leadership strategies I would employ, I think the most important for this task is democratic/participatory and charismatic. The amount of input required for this shift is immense and cannot be attempted without some kind of leader who makes this change appealing. Someone who can speak well, has a good rapport with staff, and can clearly articulate why this is necessary is required as a figurehead to start the process. As well, sustainable leadership must also be used as this will be a change that is around for, hopefully, a long while. There must be a system of distribution of responsibilities so that the corporate memory for this change does not rest solely with one person, i.e., the charismatic leader.
Leadership styles that would not help in the change would be autocratic or bureaucratic. These two styles of leadership do nothing to make the case for this change. Autocratic leadership runs directly opposed to the rationale behind this change. The shift in SIS is to promote democracy and collectivism in the school community rather than more top-down decisions.
Unfortunately, though bureaucratic leadership may not be helpful, it may be necessary in the background. This is a huge change that requires some knowledge of how the “machine” works in order to make this change effective.
In the search for a new SIS, I consulted many sources in order to narrow down a final choice: Alma.
I selected Alma after reading reviews on EdTech, listening to an interview with their CEO, and examining their compatibility with current technology in Regina Public, namely Google Apps for Education. Further research on other tech-related websites shows that Alma is emerging as a competitor in the field of SIS.
I believe that Alma provides a genuine alternative for PowerSchool in terms of corporate responsibility, support, and potentially cost. I contacted both PowerSchool and Alma for an estimate, stating I was writing a paper comparing Student Information Systems. I sent both emails on July 11. I received a reply from Alma with an approximate cost, as indicated in the “letter” to the Minister. I have yet to receive a reply from PowerSchool, despite follow up emails on July 20, and 23.
If this were a real life scenario, I would collaborate with many levels of education: teachers, parents, administrators, guidance counselors, students, superintendents, and the Ministry.
Teachers need to include input as they are the ones that will be utilizing the system the most. Teachers use SIS every day, multiple times a day. The new system should be accessible and have minimal downtime.
Parents need to be consulted as this will directly impact how they access their children’s attendance and progress in school. The new system chosen should be easy to navigate with a minimal learning curve so that parents are not frustrated by the system.
Administrators have a unique perspective when accessing a student information system. They use it to access marks and attendance, similar to a teacher, but they also use it in order to build schedules, track student movement across the division, and to interface with the Ministry.
Guidance counselors use the system in a similar manner to administrators in that they track a student’s progress toward graduation and also need access to personal data in order to help a student.
Students should be polled to find out how and why they use an SIS. The SIS is, at the end of the day, designed for students so their thoughts should be included in the process. Elementary school students’ use is very different from high school students’ use, so the new system should be responsive to a wide variety of student needs.
Superintendents should be consulted, not because they necessarily use it, but because they are aware of the costs of integration and of breaking contracts. Superintendents have the most wide view of usage of a system and may have a more historical view on a change of this magnitude.
Finally, the Ministry of Education needs to be consulted, as at the end of the day, the Ministry is who employs everyone. The Ministry is ultimately in charge of all students and all final, legal reporting involving transcripts and student data. Any new system needs to be able to work with current software so that a changeover would be seamless.
For this change, I believe that all stakeholders will benefit, in the long term. By removing any association with such a problematic company can only help with the sense of community and aid in the cause of social justice within Regina Public. It is an opportunity to become a provincial leader in a sense by rejecting what is considered the norm and embracing a more “leftist” position.
I feel that by stating this as the objective in the change, there will be many, many people who will see this change as necessary for the cause of public education. The majority of supporters will already have an explicit understanding of Critical Theory, though many will have an implicit understanding: they know what constitutes good, equal teaching, though they may not have the vocabulary of Critical Theory to express it. It is from here that I would derive the base of support for the change. I believe that they would be champions for the change and would help campaign to assist the transition with detractors.
When I began this project I was really unsure of the direction I wanted to take. This project seemed so vast and hard to pin down because it was so open. I thought about utilizing tools like Twitter in my teaching, but it seemed so inauthentic because it is just one aspect of my teaching, and to be honest, I really don’t like Twitter all that much.
So, I started thinking about what I do during the day. As I was running through my daily routine, I stopped. There was one thing that had been coming up over and over again: the way I input data. So, I began reflecting on PowerSchool and our division’s relationship with it. I started to do some digging. I discovered that although PowerSchool had started as a Pearson subsidiary, Pearson began selling off assets and PowerSchool was one of them. I was surprised to learn that even though PowerSchool had become ostensibly its own company, it still had a parent. This parent worried me, as its key drive is acquiring data management software and not just educational software.
From there, I examined potential alternatives. I sent out exploratory emails requesting information about pricing, indicating I was writing a paper about alternative platforms. The company that got back to me that fastest and was entire honest about their ability to provide information was Alma. The one company that never did respond was PowerSchool, despite repeated attempts. That to me solidified my project as finding a new SIS.
I knew, from experience, the massive project it is to implement a new SIS and the amount of groundwork that needs to be laid in order to make the transition as smooth as possible. Because I was a brand new teacher when PowerSchool came to my division, I was easily able to switch over because I didn’t have much experience with SIRS. However, I witnessed the frustration and anger with which my colleagues met this change. Teachers with one or two years left before retirement were resentful of having to learn a brand new system for a year or two. This system was also entirely online and that made several teachers unfamiliar with cloud computing uncomfortable. The learning process for this roll out was huge.
Because of this experience, I knew that if Regina Public ever went into a new SIS that major consultation should take place. Fortunately, the change would only be in a software, not an entire sea change in how we manage student information.
I am fully aware of my position within the leadership environment and in this economic climate. I know that a change like this is entirely unfeasible at this time as we struggle just to pay enough teachers. However, it is my hope one day that I can propose a change such as this to people who do have power to implement this. I believe I have a strong reason for this change, as impractical in the short term it seems.
This project has opened my eyes to alternative ways of looking at student data and knowing that PowerSchool does not have a monopoly, that there are several companies out there that offer just as good, if not a better solution.