Why K-12 School Districts Should Look To Purpose-Built, Real-Time Data Analytics Platforms Instead Of Repurposing Expensive Enterprise Data Platforms

By James Stoffer

As data analytics comes of age for the K-12 sector, educators are increasingly turning to data insights to help identify students’ learning abilities and areas of opportunity, enhancing operational efficiencies, and helping teachers’ professional development. Naturally, administrators are often enticed to engage powerful, enterprise-grade solutions like PowerBI or Tableau. After all, if it’s good enough for a Fortune 500 company, it’s good enough for a school district, right? 

Not so fast.

While there’s no arguing that enterprise-grade data analytics solutions are powerful, administrators need to consider how the approach taken to harness their data’s potential can significantly impact outcomes in the long-term. For example, enterprise-grade solutions often come with expensive seat licenses and overbuilt software that make it costly and complex when it comes to extracting insights from data.

Instead, school district administrators should consider real-time data analytics platforms specifically designed and customized for K-12 education. These platforms are typically customized for student data and provide real-time information that can make a real difference in a student’s education. 

Here’s what school administrators need to know about making an informed decision when it comes to implementing a data solution.

Legacy Enterprise Platforms: A Mismatch for K-12

Besides being expensive and overbuilt for education, there are a few reasons why legacy data platforms are ill-suited for K-12. Cost and scalability are two major factors. Enterprise platforms are expensive, and scaling beyond 20 users will exponentially increase costs that are not feasible for even large school districts. In effect, it would limit data access to only a few administrative employees. 

School administrators considering legacy data platforms might also be underestimating the technical expertise needed to operate these systems. Typically, legacy platforms require skilled data scientists to manage complex data warehousing, integration, and to extract actionable insights from the data. Few districts possess the in-house expertise—or have the budget to hire a team of data scientists—to make the data work. 

Finally, consider the limited focus of legacy data platforms. Data analysis delivered by legacy systems is often limited to assessment and accountability, such as grades, test scores, and attendance. They are not built for providing holistic student performance evaluation, and they certainly do not have the ability to provide “whole child” data, such as emotional health and behavior.

The Power of Real-Time Data Analytics

On the other hand, real-time data analytics management platforms built for K-12 school districts are everything that their legacy counterparts are not. Affordability and scalability are the biggest advantages. Instead of needing an expensive team of data scientists to customize a platform, an education Data-as-a-Service (DaaS) subscription outsources data management to experts who enable scalability at a reasonable cost. This helps data come to life for education easier and more effectively by providing ongoing support, including building custom dashboards that put real-time data front and center. 

A DaaS subscription combined with a data management platform can automate data movement and make data accessible to the people who need it without expensive licenses. This enhances education decision-making by ensuring the right people—such as administrators, teachers, counselors, students, and even members of the community—have access to the latest data.

Real-time data analytics also delivers valuable holistic insights that can help educators make the right decisions for students. By centralizing data on academics, behavior, attendance, and teachers, stakeholders gain valuable insights that promote a better understanding of the “whole child.” 

So instead of a counselor submitting a request to download data that is already months behind, an education data management platform, combined with DaaS, will provide real-time data that can enable the counselor to provide better student guidance. Or teachers can look at a student’s historical MAP score data to see which areas that student might need help with so they can provide tutoring or other support.

Successful Integration Strategies

A successful implementation is an ongoing process because school districts consistently gather data from multiple sources. Whether it’s at the behest of their board, teachers, educators, or families, there will inevitably be additional data needs or requests to fine-tune the district’s approach. That’s why administrators should maintain an open mindset and follow a long-term strategic approach that includes:

  • Data ownership: Take ownership of the district’s data—after all, it’s the school’s data, not a vendor’s. The right vendor will collaborate with districts to centralize data for better analysis and action. 
  • Gain leadership buy-in: Superintendent and board support ensures successful district-wide adoption. Engage decision-makers early-on to secure resources and begin driving cultural change. On the operational side, engage teachers to act as early-adopters and evangelists for the data solution—they are on the frontlines and know what approaches will serve students best.
  • Acknowledge data challenges: Start with knowing your pain points—recognize where you currently have limitations and gaps in data utilization and work toward finding a solution that can solve those challenges. This is not the time to compromise, so keep interviewing partners until you find the one who can meet your needs.

Harnessing the Power of Data

Data management platforms for K-12 education present a revolutionary approach to incorporating seamless collaboration and data sharing in school districts that can drive student learning like never before. By arming administrators, teachers, counselors, students, families, and even members of the community with the same data, data management platforms can reshape the landscape of K-12 education by providing actionable insights into the whole child. To harness this potential, administrators need to work with partners who understand K-12 education and understand the importance of purpose-built, real-time data analytics. With this approach, educators can get the most out of their data and help students get the most out of their education.

James Stoffer is CEO of Abre, a leading modern data solution that delivers software and services designed to be easily adopted and used by everyone in the learning community. With a passion for leading and scaling social impact companies, James has spent nearly 20 years in education technology.

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