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.