Ed Tech Explainer

7 Questions About PowerSchool's New Data-as-a-Service Platform, Connected Intelligence

VP Shivani Stumpf Explains Why Data Matters and How CI Will Help and Keep Data Secure

Keeping up with the thousands of ed tech solutions available to K–12 schools is challenging; startups and well-established providers alike are frequently announcing new features and integrations, expanding into new lanes, or contracting to focus on the areas in which they see the biggest impact for students.

THE Journal’s “7 Questions: Ed Tech Explainer” series gives ed tech leaders an opportunity to summarize their solution(s), explain how their product helps educators and schools, and give a quick overview for K–12 decision-makers — sort of an extended (but not too extended) elevator pitch.

PowerSchool Group Vice President of New Solutions Shivani StumpfFor this installment of “7 Questions,” THE Journal asked PowerSchool Group Vice President of New Solutions Shivani Stumpf to explain their new K–12 Data-as-a-Service product, Connected Intelligence, in more detail. Find more info at PowerSchool.com.

THE Journal: What will Connected Intelligence offer that is not commonly available now, and how do you envision it helping improve K–12 education?

SHIVANI STUMPF: Each state is committed to developing a statewide P20W State Longitudinal Data System. This holistic data system will integrate data from early childhood, K–12, post-secondary, and workforce development systems to maximize education attainment and workforce participation. Using this data, policymakers and inter-agency stakeholders can make decisions that drive policy and investments that will positively impact the lives of their millions of constituents.

For example, the state can identify future workforce needs and align K–12 and higher education systems to develop and invest in curricula and skills training that will prepare citizens for future careers. This will have a transformative positive impact on economies and the livelihoods of citizens.

With Connected Intelligence, using our Data-as-a-Service platform powered by Snowflake, districts can unify all sources’ system data in one place, integrate the data, and have on-demand access for research projects, for downstream integrations, to better understand operational and analytical trends as well as to perform ad-hoc queries and run machine learning and artificial intelligence models.

COVID-19, as an example, has exacerbated the need for policymakers and researchers to understand the mental, physical, academic, social, and emotional impacts on students, staff, and communities. Unifying and enabling near-real-time access to historic, current, and future data that was either previously unavailable or underutilized will help inform policy and investment required to rectify the decline in post-secondary enrollment rates nationally, measure and act on learning loss long-term, and meet each student where they are by providing personalized supplemental learning opportunities.

PowerSchool web image showing the benefits of its new Connected Intelligence solutionTHE Journal: Can a school that does not use PowerSchool for anything else sign up for Connected Intelligence?

STUMPF: Yes. Connected Intelligence is source-system agnostic. The solution aims to address data concerns that have been top of mind for educators and policymakers, by providing the first all-inclusive data platform. It provides school districts and education agencies with a unified, global, fully managed, and secure platform. With Connected Intelligence by PowerSchool, school districts retain sole ownership of the data and have the ability to collaborate with internal stakeholders and external partners efficiently and securely.

THE Journal: Will Connected Intelligence work with data from any and all ed tech platforms?

STUMPF: With the proliferation of systems in ed tech, no single platform, standard, or a subset of systems has been able to deliver on the promise of democratizing data, leaving decision-makers in a bind, and worsening pre-pandemic inequities. Our answer to these daunting yet critical problems is Connected Intelligence, a solution family offering a P20W data solution, and education’s first Data-as-a-Service platform, powered by Snowflake. The foremost purpose of Connected Intelligence is to work with any and all ed tech platforms unifying the information necessary for policymakers, district leaders and educators alike to make the best, equitable decisions for all kids and keeping data security, governance, and privacy at the forefront.

THE Journal: How is PowerSchool keeping student data safe?

STUMPF: PowerSchool is committed to being a good custodian of student data — taking all reasonable and appropriate countermeasures to ensure data confidentiality, integrity, and availability. We believe the safe collection and management of student data is essential to student success within the 21st century digital classroom, and that’s why it was the top priority of our Connected Intelligence initiative. Like our other ed tech products, PowerSchool certifies the application, database and infrastructure security of our software solutions, and the school districts retain sole ownership of the data.

THE Journal: Can you share some of the steps that PowerSchool has in place to ensure safe collection and management of student data?

STUMPF: PowerSchool is committed to protecting the security and integrity of our applications — including security by design, third-party penetration testing, and a responsible disclosure program.

  • PowerSchool invests in industry-leading security protocols to protect our customer cloud, including intrusion detection and prevention, web application firewalls, advanced endpoint protection, and 24x7x365 eyes-on-glass monitoring by our Security Operations Center.
  • For CI, stringent, role-based access control (RBAC) will be applied so that a user has precisely the least amount of privilege that is necessary to perform their job. This RBAC is controlled by the customer who will determine which users need access to which data sets.
  • PowerSchool will maintain audits on who has accessed which data sets, with a full audit history maintained of every login and access. For PowerSchool personnel, SSO is enabled with Active Directory 2FA.
  • All data is encrypted end-to-end both at rest as well as in transit.
  • Dynamic data masking, tokenization, and anonymization techniques are applied to sensitive data sets making data unreadable to anyone without the proper privileges, removing sensitive data by replacing it with an undecipherable token and scrambling data that cannot be linked back to an individual respectively.
  • All communication is secured using TLS 1.2 with HSTS enforced for all client communications and controlled by Network Policies.
  • Connected Intelligence staff are required to participate in mandatory security training to ensure all development follows industry best practices to secure customer data.

THE Journal: Some student privacy advocates argue that interoperability and/or integrated data stored anywhere by anyone is a threat to student privacy and more dangerous than the current widespread system of “data silos.” How does PowerSchool address such concerns?

STUMPF: Data security, governance, and privacy are our foremost responsibilities. Lack of interconnectedness among early childhood, K–12, postsecondary, and workforce development data sources makes it increasingly difficult for education agencies — as well as for students, families, and communities — to identify needs and resources needed to support all children equitably with effective P20W data systems.

Current state data limitations including the ability to link data across sectors and answer the state’s most pressing questions — and those linkages have implications for several signature proposals laid out in the president’s FY 2023 budget request. To ensure that the programs in the Department of Education’s proposed budget can be implemented effectively, states will need data linked across sectors. This cannot be accomplished with state data systems as they currently operate.

One of the primary reasons for partnering with Snowflake is its superior technology platform and built-in data security and privacy features. By leveraging the best and most secure technology platform, combined with PowerSchool’s expertise, for the first time, educators can have the data they need to make critical decisions for all students while having peace of mind that their data is secure.

THE JOURNAL: Can you give us an example use case for how a school district might benefit from integrated and more accessible data?

STUMPF: District A has data on students that can tell a true, whole child story. It has their grades, demographic information, attendance, behavior, and assessment history, and more. Yet the district’s systems are not integrated, and therefore the district cannot access all of this data in one place and cannot pull this data from source systems easily for reporting. For example, a district may find that — by viewing data from the district assessment solution and student information system — that students living in a particular part of the community are more likely to be chronically absent, which impacts their math proficiency scores. With this information, the district can target specific interventions, such as text-based communications and attendance awareness campaigns, to families with students residing in this community.