Helping Schools Keep Data Secure

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This article is intended to answer some of the common questions that parents, school staff, and others have about how we protect student data at Schoolzilla.

 

Why does Schoolzilla exist?

Schoolzilla was born in schools. Our founding team was originally part of the internal technology department at Aspire Public Schools, California’s largest and most successful network of public charter schools serving low-income students. Teachers and school leaders at Aspire were using a variety of tools to deliver a great education for their students. More than 96% of the staff reported on the annual survey that using data had enabled them to increase their students’ success, but they also reported that they spent too much of their valuable time gathering and manually linking that data. The problem was that most of the systems they were using didn't talk to each other, which made it nearly impossible for teachers and principals to use data to improve daily instruction and decision-making.

The people that later became the Schoolzilla founding team developed a tool that connected the data from Aspire’s disparate systems, and visualized it according to what the teachers and school leaders wanted. After several years of working closely and iteratively with staff to deliver tools that met their needs, other school systems began asking to use Aspire’s technology in their own schools, and the idea for Schoolzilla was born. In order to effectively serve schools and students across the country, Schoolzilla spun out of Aspire in early 2013 and has been growing quickly to meet the demand ever since.

Our customers are educators who are dedicated to providing their students with the best educational opportunities. Our customers crave insights that can help their students succeed, but the size and complexity of their data is often more than they can handle on their own. They partner with Schoolzilla because of our track record of success with other schools, and our commitment to supporting them and their students.

What kinds of data does Schoolzilla store?

A core part of Schoolzilla’s value to schools is that we connect data from disparate sources. Schools currently enter data in dozens of software systems in order to run their schools more efficiently, serve students better, and meet significant state and local compliance requirements. Schoolzilla connects a subset of the data that schools already store about their students. Each of our customers asks us to connect a slightly different subset of their data, depending on which pressing problem they are working to address to improve outcomes for students. So whether it is chronic absence, high suspensions, low graduation rates, ineffective teacher professional development, lagging academic growth, low family satisfaction rates, our customers use Schoolzilla to provide timely, accurate, and actionable information to the appropriate stakeholders and decision-makers in their schools to drive actions that will help their schools better prepare more students for college and career. Without Schoolzilla, all of that data would still exist; it would just be stuck in systems incapable of helping the students whom the data was collected to serve in the first place.

Who does Schoolzilla share your data with?

Schoolzilla never shares data about a district’s students with anyone outside of that district, unless an authorized person at the district specifically requests in writing that we do so for a purpose that will further students’ success or will allow the district to comply with regulations more efficiently. For example, we were recently asked by a grant-making organization to offer a benchmarking report to the schools they fund, so that each school could see how other schools performed on NWEA MAP, an assessment they all use. This benchmarking report will allow principals to reach out and learn from other schools who are doing particularly well with specific grade levels or subject areas. Schools have to opt-in to participate in the benchmarking, and the report will not include student-level data, only school averages.

A more typical scenario is district administrators using Schoolzilla to gather compliance data. For example, schools commonly have to report enrollment and attendance numbers to the state for funding and compliance reasons. Schoolzilla makes it easy to find that data in a matter of minutes instead of hours (or weeks). The amount of data shared doesn't change, just the effort required to get it.

We partner with other educational organizations to help them improve their own reporting and visualizations for the teachers and leaders they serve. It takes a lot of school experience to present data in a way that is useful without making it overwhelming or misleading. It also takes a lot of experience to provide appropriate scaffolding around reports so that our teachers, principals, and district leaders turn that data into decisions that improve outcomes for students. At Schoolzilla, we have that experience. The original team earned it by working within a high-performing public school system for five years. As we’ve grown, we’ve attracted amazing former teachers and administrators who joined Schoolzilla to ensure that others get these benefits.

Who has access to the data being stored by Schoolzilla?

Schoolzilla helps make appropriate sharing within districts easier by setting up automatic security management tools. These tools make it easier to share student data securely so that every teacher sees only their students when they look at a report. We found that in most districts, there is no easy way to do that - the choice is to copy and paste the appropriate student data into every teacher’s reports (which could take days or even weeks for a large district) or not to share student data with teachers at all. In many of the districts we’ve talked to, they chose the latter because it was just too much work to personalize reports for teachers. That means that without Schoolzilla, teachers have to spend a month at the beginning of the year figuring out which students are just learning English, which ones are 2 years ahead in math, and which ones skipped school every Friday last year.

Schoolzilla solves this problem with personalized class profile reports for every teacher that show their student’s key data, like prior year grades, test results, and attendance data. If a teacher is going to personalize instruction for students and help all students succeed, getting this information in a timely, accurate, and actionable manner is imperative.

Schoolzilla also makes it easier for districts to share data with the support professionals who help students in need of intervention, like reading specialists and the after-school program leader. In almost all of the districts we work with, before Schoolzilla these professionals didn’t have any access to data about the kids they serve, so they’re working in the dark to figure out what skills the kids need help with and what kind of help would work best. It’s like sending a sick kid to a medical specialist without sending their chart along. Schoolzilla gives district leaders the ability to create “custom rosters” that give appropriate data access to professionals who work directly with students but aren’t their official classroom teachers. That means students who need coordinated support from multiple adults at their school are getting more targeted help more quickly.

Internally, Schoolzilla uses data to help schools improve the quality of their data. For example, we check the data we store in order to make sure there are no obvious data-entry errors that might lead to bad decisions.

Does Schoolzilla sell student data?

No. We have not, do not, and will not (1) use student data for marketing purposes, such as targeting specific students or teachers with a particular product nor (2) share student data with other companies who intended to use it for sales, marketing, or promotional purposes.

How does Schoolzilla make money, and who are Schoolzilla’s investors?

Schoolzilla’s revenue comes from our relationships with school districts who pay us to provide ongoing data organization and reporting services and our relationships with education partners, who pay us to bring their analytic expertise onto the Schoolzilla platform so that more schools can benefit from that expertise. We have no financial designs on the contents of the data that we help our customers analyze.

In fact, we pursued and were granted certification as a “B Corp,” requiring us to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. You can learn more by visiting http://www.bcorporation.net/community/schoolzilla-inc.

Our investors are NewSchools Venture Fund, the Charles & Helen Schwab Foundation, Serious Change LP, and Kapor Capital. All of our investors are committed to social impact. More than 25% of the company is owned by nonprofit organizations, and less than 50% of the company is owned by for-profit organizations.

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