A while back I commented on the lessons the Financial Services industry data standardization process might offer to the Healthcare industry.  Since then I’ve become actively involved in another standardization effort, this time in K-12 education.  At the recent annual summit of the Ed-Fi Alliance, I was reminded again of the early days of expanding SWIFT messaging standards to cover a broader range of financial transactions and more complex sets of data to allow for “straight through processing” or STP.  While the similarities with education are not as close as with healthcare, there are some parts of the experience that do apply.  I’ll come back to that in a minute.

The Common Education Data Standard (CEDS) has provided a basis for the industry to build from, even going beyond where SWIFT was at the start of the Financial Services transformation.  The efforts of the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation through the Ed-Fi Alliance have provided the technological wherewithal for many of the constituents involved to inherit the expertise necessary to get started. One lesson of the STP experience however was that it was focused on one particular goal – eliminating manual processing – that ultimately allowed the industry to scale dramatically.  Data standardization in Education up until recently has been focused on a narrower objective: state and federal compliance. Other organizations such as the Data Quality Campaign (DGC) are working to change this and make better use of data.

Earlier efforts to standardize education data such as the Schools Interoperability Framework (SIF), now called Access 4 Learning, have had some success but have not captured a critical mass of organizations.  There are a lot of barriers, not least the diverse nature of the ecosystem at the school district level, the fragmentation in the way data is collected and stored, a plethora of popular student information systems or SIS (one of Ed-Fi’s architects confided in me that a new generation of SIS is required; more on that in a future post).  All of which are complicated by privacy concerns and attempts to regulate them.

And yet the benefits of standardization as witnessed by the success of the Financial Services industry (and tantalizingly observed on the ever receding horizon in the Healthcare industry) are potentially great. Technologists need to show the way here by guiding would-be adopters toward sensible, effective implementations that can deliver on the promise of a better experience for students and parents.  The trend is encouraging: this year’s Ed-Fi summit was oversubscribed and a number ambitious initiatives are going on around the country.  I am participating in one of these that I hope to have more to say about in the future.