Digital Systems Interoperability

Aligned to goals:
  • 1.2: Make more data and information available to the public.
  • 1.6: Foster more transparency in the larger educational community.
  • 3.1: Enhance collaboration with other federal and non-federal agencies, the public, and non-profit and private entities.

Digital systems interoperability has been a design goal for many system architectures and standards groups for decades. Unfortunately, only limited success has been achieved to date. The Department of Education has an opportunity to assist in achieving more secure, interoperable digital systems, including those that manage student information, learning materials and financial data.

The benefits of interoperability are tremendous. It can permit schools and teachers to better exchange data with each other about students who move from one place to another. It can also allow educators to move past traditional paper-based textbook adoption models where every child must study and work from the same book, to purchasing content that is more specifically appropriate to each learner. Interoperability can also allow researchers to have access to more data and to integrate that data to analyze the education system in ways not currently possible, while still preserving strict privacy standards to protect students and others from inappropriate or unlawful access to their data.

Systems interoperability cannot be achieved by the federal government, but the Department of Education can play a role along with other federal agencies in fostering more interoperability and transparency, supporting a market-based adoption. The Department of Education is currently engaged with a number of other agencies in determining the best, collaborative ways in which the government can provide assistance and stimulus to the market. In addition, the Department is actively in consultation with State and local governments and private entities to help design the correct solutions.

By spring 2011, we plan to have a strong interagency collaboration under way, having selected initial interoperable digital content standards for use by the collaborators. By summer 2011, we plan to begin implementing these standards within existing federal content repositories held by various partners, as well as developing tools and resources to assist private parties in adopting similar standards if they choose. By the end of 2011, we anticipate a voluntary, large-scale adoption of these standards by a broad set of stakeholders within and outside of government, driving a reliance on these standards in the marketplace and delivering more flexible, targeted educational materials into the hands of teachers and students.

In addition to data, content and fiscal transparency, the Department is investigating how these interoperability standards can be used to streamline, simplify, and reduce costs for many of its data reporting requirements. Already EDFacts has been working with the reporting requirements to implement some standardized data formats, easing the technical and administrative burden on reporting agencies in some areas.

The Office of Education Technology is leading this effort.