Graduation day: The Ed-Fi Alliance tackles the education data challenge head on

As executive director of the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, I’m often witness to the organizational and technological breakthroughs of our grantees and partners. In public education, however, the goal of achieving data-driven classroom insights for the mass of US educators has resisted such breakthroughs.

Six years ago, the foundation set out to systematically break down some of the barriers to that goal, launching a series of grants to introduce data solutions into districts and schools nationwide. The learning curve has been valuable but steep. Although we saw a number of successes in districts such as Charlotte-Mecklenberg and Denver, we also ran into obstacles–one of the most substantial of which was the inability of various data systems and teacher-facing tools to talk to one another.

But those obstacles only reinvigorated our determination to find a solution that could put effective data tools into teachers’ hands.

After putting our collective heads together, we arrived at a breakthrough idea: developing a free, easy-to-implement, CEDS-based data standard that allowed disparate backend data systems to communicate relevant student data to teachers’ desktops. The idea was thrilling: It represented the most promising potential breakthrough in education technology in a decade. We committed to it fully and never looked back.

After years of research and development work (including interviews with some 3,000 or so educators,) we launched the Ed-Fi Solution in 2011.

The real-world impact of putting education data in teachers’ hands

Once the solution was on the market, we quickly saw the real-world impact of delivering timely, actionable information into the hands of teachers. We also saw states’ appetite for a cost-effective, easy-to-implement solution that benefitted teachers and that also worked within—and enhanced the capabilities of—their existing legacy infrastructures.

Today, 10 states (Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Kansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas) license the Ed-Fi solution directly. Four others states benefit from Ed-Fi partnerships with inBloom and the Carnegie Foundation.

What does that mean in the real world of classrooms? Some 36 percent of K-12 students and 39 percent of teachers are poised to benefit from Ed-Fi solutions. What does that mean for the foundation and the Ed-Fi team? That it’s time for an organizational breakthrough. It’s  time to graduate the project and launch it as its own entity, the Ed-Fi Alliance.

The Ed-Fi Alliance marches forth as a free-standing, non-profit subsidiary of the foundation. Under the leadership of Lori Fey, a capable team will double down on the effort to ensure that educators get the tools they need to personalize education for each and every child in their classrooms.

Once the solution was on the market, we quickly saw the real-world impact of delivering timely, actionable information into the hands of teachers.

 A solution for the common good: Partnering to advance education data solutions that work for teachers

In the coming months and years, this new team will work to coordinate the larger Ed-Fi Alliance, made up of education agency representatives from states that are implementing the Ed-Fi solution. These Alliance members are fully invested in helping each other succeed by sharing enhancements, new ideas and innovations freely between and amongst themselves. They are also responsible for the continued evolution of the Ed-Fi tool suite as an elegant technology solution that incorporates ongoing evolutions of CEDS, and addresses market-based requirements and innovations.

The common good–of our kids, of our educators, of a nation that needs to find ways to put technological innovation to work in critical public sectors–has always been at the heart of the Ed-Fi solution. That’s why the technology is based on open standards and available via free license. That’s also why an open, collaborative approach is so critical to the Alliance’s work in the future.

I look forward to seeing the Ed-Fi Alliance advance that work going forward. Please join me in cheering the team on as they work, jointly with states and vendors, to get more and better tools into more teachers’ hands.

To learn more about the Ed-Fi Alliance and tool suite, visit