Tuesday, March 11, 2014


Howard County Public Schools Superintendent Renee Foose participated recently in a panel at sxswedu. I read the details here: In her talk Dr. Foose addresses the problem of various departments existing in silos, thus preventing them for working together to assess data and formulate it into something truly useful for classroom teachers.

This use of the word silos has become increasingly popular to describe "information silos" in business and other large organizations. For example,

Definition of 'Information Silo'

An information management system that is unable to freely communicate with other information management systems. Communication within an information silo is always vertical, making it difficult or impossible for the system to work with unrelated systems. (Investipedia)

It is quite true that who controls the information, and how the information moves, is critical to the success of an organization. That doesn't apply merely to Big Data. It also applies to little data, like changes in curriculum, changes in programming, changes in budgets, in salary negotiations.

As I reread Board Member Brian Meshkin's 2/25 blog post, the lack of specific details from the Superintendent leapt out at me. First, the lack of transparency about changes to the Title 1 Schools.

"Prior to the vote – in the afternoon session – we discussed the quarterly agenda of the Board of Education. When I had raised this concern during the worksessions, staff had said that they were looking at multiple options for expansion and would have a report later in the spring. So, since we were discussing the agenda for meetings “later in the spring”, I felt that it should be put on the agenda rather than swept under the rug, so to speak. This caused a measure of discomfort. Watch the meeting at http://www.hcpsstv.com and specifically the segment on the April-June 2014 Quarterly Agenda. I pushed hard to ensure that this will be on the agenda. The Board should review and approve such a substantial change. The Superintendent disagrees."

Second, the lack of data about budget issues."

Like anything, there are drawbacks in this budget. A major drawback was the lack of program details in the initial proposed budget. Gratefully, our PTA Council of Howard County and Operating Budget Review Committee successfully lobbied to have such information shared with the public. There are plenty of other downsides in this budget, like less specific program detail on spending year over year, difficulty in knowing what items are pre-funded with current year’s budget dollars, and certain uncertainties about how programs will be implemented (like the aforementioned expansion of world language in elementary school)."

Going back to our definition of information silo, "Information silos may also exist because managers control the flow of information and access to the silo, meaning that they have an incentive to maintain the status quo."

My experience as a parent with the Howard County Schools has been a positive one. Through the years I have seen countless examples of teachers, staff, and administrators sharing information to improve the educational experience of the students. I have seen multi-level cooperation between elementary, middle, and high schools. I have seen outreach between same-level elementary and/or middle schools that feed into the same high school.

Over the course of this year, however, it has become pretty apparent that control of information, and access to information, is becoming a critical issue we must address. Our problem is not multiple silos existing in isolation from one another. It is the one silo which maintains its immunity from transparency requirements and stakeholder input.If we don't get involved now to re-assert our rights to a healthy flow of information that silo may start looking a lot more like this.


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