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Top 3 Barriers to Data Interoperability in K12


What steps should you take to activate efficient and consistent data-based decision-making in your district?

For district technology teams, this is not an easy question to answer. Central to the idea of data-based decision-making is the concept of data interoperability, the practice of allowing for the seamless sharing of data across different ed-tech systems within your organization. Without interconnected data and a solid, district-wide understanding of how to leverage it, staff can’t have confidence in the decisions they’re making.

Adding to the importance of interoperability is compliance, including ESSA’s equity-focused mission, which necessitates that school districts have a decision-making process in place to help staff use data to rapidly respond to students’ needs.

However, for districts that use multiple software systems and ed-tech tools, true interoperability can often seem just – or extremely – out of reach.

New survey results from the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) and the Education Week Research Center reveal the current barriers to interoperability, as reported by district technology leaders.

Here are the top three.

1. Budget constraints challenge interoperability goals

Nearly half (49%) of CoSN survey respondents cited “budget constraints” as either extremely or very challenging in terms of achieving interoperability.

“The greatest challenge for all districts is being able to fund, maintain and preserve all our programs and services, faculty and staff. That’s the biggest challenge. State aid is at an all-time low, and we’re asked to do more with less. Districts now are looking towards alternate funding sources, whether it’s through grant writing, corporate sponsorship or a whole series of other things to supplement the budget.” – David Healy, Superintendent, Toms River School District

The survey also found that more than a third of district technology teams (36%) allocate 10% or more of their budget to network security.

2. Lack of widely agreed upon technical standards in schools

Secondary – but only slightly – to worries about budget constrains were concerns about the lack of widely agreed upon technical standards blocking interoperability efforts. Forty six percent of respondents shared this view, rating the lack of common standards as very challenging or extremely challenging. And it was the factor most rated as extremely challenging by technology directors.

“I think clarity in the standards space is essential,” said Erin Mote of Project Unicorn, an initiative to promote interoperability in schools, in this Education Week article. “Part of what needs to happen is improving understanding of which standard does what, based on different use cases, because there’s not one standard for everything.”

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3. Lack of staff expertise in technology-focused school staff

The third biggest hurdle reported by technology leaders was lack of staff expertise. Thirty seven percent mentioned that lack of expertise in technology-focused staff was extremely or very challenging when executing on interoperability goals.

According to the survey results, many concerns about interoperability are greater in lower-income districts, while others are bigger concerns in more affluent areas.

The lack of staff expertise hurdle is a good example. The average district poverty rate among technology leaders who are extremely concerned about a lack of staff expertise is 53%. Leaders whose efforts to improve interoperability are not at all hampered by levels of staff expertise are from districts with an average poverty rate of 39%. It could be that more impoverished areas are less able to attract as many qualified tech-focused staff.

Takeaway: The Costs of Siloed Data in Schools

A lack of interoperability raises the risk that school districts with siloed data will miss critical opportunities to help students thrive. It also increases the risk that districts will lose money and fall out of compliance along the way. Eighty nine percent of technology leaders agreed that interoperability would save their districts money.

You can download the full CoSN and Education Week Research Center survey results here.

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Danielle Simbajon

Danielle is part of the global, award-winning content team at Frontline Education. She graduated from Emerson College with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Writing, Literature and Publishing, and has developed content to empower the education community for over 10 years.