Education officials persist with plans for an education portal despite public and political objections to InBloom's cloud-based data warehouse. But will it work?
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Despite controversy and politics, education data dashboards based on the InBloom cloud data warehousing service will be available to New York educators this fall, according to the New York State Department of Education (NYSED).
If the system works in production, the big question is whether it will impress anyone as having been worth all the fuss. The dashboards are part of the EngageNY portal the state is creating partly to secure a $700 million federal grant under the Obama administration's Race To The Top program, which encourages the adoption of digital tools to improve education.
One of the payoffs is supposed to be to create competition between the developers of the data dashboards to do the best job of delivering useful data analytics. InBloom's role is to provide a cloud service with application programming interfaces that each of the dashboards -- and many other applications -- will be able to tap into, eliminating the need for a lot of custom application integration.
NYSED is offering three dashboard choices to school districts, charter schools and resource pooling associations known as Boards of Cooperative Educational Services: DataCation from ConnectEDU, myTrack from eScholar, and Schoolnet from Pearson. All three participated in a demonstration roadshow in August, and districts are making their choices now. The dashboard service was supposed to be ready to go live in October, and NYSED says it will go live this fall.
"That's absolutely our intent, and we believe we're on track for doing so," said Amrit Singh, the EngageNY portal project manager, in an interview earlier this month. The plan is to do a staged rollout, he explained, beginning with a dashboard to allow educators and administrators insight into student performance and a version for parents and students to come by next summer, subject to quality assurance checks at each stage. The portal also includes a series of educational content management services that are independent of InBloom.
"The project is going well -- it's in the green," said Sharren Bates, chief product officer for InBloom. "You will see production dashboards in the fall."
However, eScholar CEO Shawn Bay said he is still waiting for a chance to test his product against a complete production instance of the cloud service. "What I could say on the record is it's not in production today," he said in an interview in late August. Since then, he and other vendors have been directed by NYSED not to talk to the press about the progress of the education data portal project. However, Bay confirmed Monday that he still has no access to a full-featured production version of the back-end service to test against his dashboard front-end. That makes him nervous about delivering results on schedule.
Singh said the roadshow demos were run against a live version of the InBloom service, but with data stripped of identifying information for demonstration purposes. He is confident InBloom is ready to deliver a production service -- although he conceded that the version of the dashboards that goes live initially may not dazzle the first users who access it.
"The tools in some ways are only as good as the data that's supplied to power them," Singh said. To get good operational analytics back, districts will need to get into the routine of providing updates to the repository on an ongoing basis rather than only periodically. The data will also become more interesting when other applications used by the districts begin to both feed the repository and take advantage of the data it has collected.
The true value of the service will become apparent only when teachers or parents can log into a new educational application that wasn't possible before, according to NYSED's Ken Wagner, who oversees the program as associate commissioner for curriculum, assessment and educational technology. That's not going to happen instantly, he admitted, but he remains convinced that service providers, tools and standards are converging in "a magic mix that hasn't come together before."