Project Unicorn (Data Interoperability in K-12 Education)

Overview

Project Unicorn is a national initiative to improve data interoperability within K-12 education. Coordinated by InnovateEDU (Brooklyn based non-profit organization), the initiative works with a coalition of organizations representing stakeholders across the education sector that are committed to the secure, controlled interchange of data. Project Unicorn does not endorse a specific product or data standard—it is an educational advocacy initiative that works with a community of innovators who:

  • Determine shared priorities
  • Work in partnership with school systems and vendors to understand its importance and benefits
  • Create a demand side push for interoperability through partnerships
  • Educate buyers to consider the total cost of ownership through informed comparison of vendors.

The initiative provides a range of services:

  • Events, tools, and resources to educate K-12 buyers of educational technology products
  • Brings clarity to interoperability standards
  • Helps educational technology vendors meet the demand for data interoperability
  • Raises awareness of the importance of interoperability for understanding students’ paths to graduation regardless of income or zip code
  • Assesses the benefits to schools and students of interoperability of data.

Background

In 2016, more than 25 educators from innovative public schools in the U.S. convened for a first summit called “Data Whiz Summit.” The group created a number of projects to solve common challenges, such as being able to securely compare and analyze data that schools already collected in order to improve existing systems.

The group developed principles to guide data management and interoperability. The principles reflect concerns and priorities shared by many districts and schools, including:

  • data format
  • data-standard alignment
  • unique identifiers
  • human-readable vs. machine-readable files
  • continuous data vs. snapshots
  • data rights and access to data
  • data exchange options
  • method and frequency of transfer
  • privacy and protecting student data
  • sign-on
  • rostering and authorization levels
  • tiered specifications
  • best practices.

A rubric was created across these categories to allow side-by-side comparison of technology tools, and empower schools and districts with the language to demand from vendors secure, controlled interchange of data among tools.

The group of educators, school staff, and data experts considered these principles and honed their thinking about how to accurately define data interoperability, procurement, data standards, and the relevance of data to teaching and learning. This work led to action by an alliance of concerned organizations and teachers, schools, and districts.

Partners

Grant support: Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

2024 Resources

June 2024: TAC Series: Data Modernization in K-12 Education - Data modernization is a multi-step process that improves an organization's data infrastructure, tools, and practices. It involves moving data from legacy systems to modern technologies, often in the cloud, to make data more accessible. It involves adopting contemporary technologies and strategies to address outdated data management practices.  For K-12 organizations, including local education agencies (LEAs), state education agencies (SEAs), and education service centers, data modernization is a critical journey that enables them to use the power of data to drive better decision-making and improve student outcomes.

June 2024: LER Series: LER Credential Interoperability and Portability are Just the Beginning - Learning and Employment Records (LERs) are revolutionizing how to document and share learners’ skills and achievements. These digital records include academic transcripts, licenses, certifications, and informal experiences, offering a comprehensive view of lifelong learning.

June 2024: LER Series: Standards & Protocols That Ensure Credential Interoperability and Portability - LERs are comprehensive digital records that capture academic achievements, professional licenses, certifications, and informal experiences. These records are dynamic and offer a holistic view of an individual's skills and accomplishments, aiding them in their educational and career journeys. This resource covers credential creation and issuance, interoperability, secure sharing, and data privacy.

May 2024:  LER Series: A State's Perspective on Policy and Data Interoperability- Focusing on data interoperability, particularly within the state policy context, provides significant opportunities for individuals to benefit from access to their own information and for state systems to serve residents through program improvement better. Policymakers should keep in mind that other issues must remain a priority if they are to realize these outcomes. Data privacy and security, particularly in the K-12 space, must be considered alongside the advancement of technology solutions.

May 2024: LER Basics: Standards that Ensure Interoperability and Enable Lifelong Learning - LER stands for Learning and Employment Record. It refers to a collection of digital records that document an individual's learning experiences, skills, and achievements acquired both inside and outside of traditional academic settings. LERs provide a comprehensive snapshot of a person's educational journey, including academic transcripts, professional certifications, licenses, and informal learning experiences such as volunteer work or internships. The goal of LERs is to offer a dynamic and comprehensive tool for individuals to showcase their skills and achievements as they pursue opportunities in education and the workforce. (May 21, 2024)

May 2024: What is an API? - An Application Programming Interface, or API, connects data from different applications and helps facilitate interoperability between educational technology providers and district systems. It’s vital for school districts to understand what an API is and how it works to modernize data infrastructure to create safe ecosystems for student data.  This understanding enables districts to ask the right questions when procuring and implementing educational technology software.

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