Saturday, August 23, 2014

Voices from the field: The MiSiS CRISIS + smf’s 2¢

The Associated Administrators of Los Angeles Weekly Update | Week of August 25, 2014 |

21 August 2014  ::  On August 12, 2014, LAUSD opened the school year using a new student information system, MiSiS (My Integrated Student Information System). The result has been chaos at secondary schools, where administrators, counselors and clerks have become frustrated and exhausted by software that simply does not work.

A counselor assigns a period 3 class to a student missing one on the schedule prepared by MiSiS, but MiSiS does not retain it, no matter how many times it is input. Students new to the school, but not to LAUSD, are programmed by hand, but MiSiS does not retain their information. These flaws affect perhaps 25% of secondary students. LAUSD says that 99% of students are in class and learning, but MiSiS cannot tell how many students are in each class, whether they are on campus or, in an emergency, where students may be found.

To create basic reports, which were built into the old systems, users are told to export data to Excel and then perform a mail merge in Word. Yes, that’s crazy. The system performed so poorly that, on the third day of school, teachers were denied access to the system and told to take attendance on paper.

Functions that schools would normally be performing at this point, such as balancing class sizes or changing schedules of students who made the football team, are not being attempted. The fall master schedule and class rosters may be finalized weeks late, which will damage this semester’s teaching and learning. Was this the fault of Chief Information Officer Ron Chandler, who attempted to take the blame in an email sent to all employees on the Saturday before the school year began?

For the past eight years, LAUSD has run two systems simultaneously—the Student Information System (SIS), which dates from the 1980s, and the Integrated Student Information System (ISIS), which was partially implemented in 2006 as a replacement for SIS. LAUSD never fully implemented ISIS because it did not believe it would work. LAUSD did not want to repeat the unfortunate experience of Prince George’s County, Maryland, where the same software resulted in the kind of disastrous opening of school we’ve just witnessed in LAUSD.

In 2012, the decision was made to walk away from the investment in ISIS—more than $100 million— and create a new system based on software developed by Fresno Unified using Microsoft software tools. The decision may have been the right one, but LAUSD showed little interest in input from the administrators, teachers, counselors and clerks who would use the system—the people who know the nuts and bolts of how to operate schools.

From December 2012 through April 2014, AALA organized eight meetings, which included school-site administrators and experienced members of United Teachers Los Angeles—a total of 22 hours—to discuss the status of ISIS and development of MiSiS. In the latter meetings, LAUSD was represented by Chief Strategy Officer Matt Hill and high-level staff from its Information Technology Division. Concerns about the system, training and implementation were discussed in detail, with summaries of each meeting published in AALA’s newsletter. LAUSD’s school-site administrators and teachers went on the record with specific, serious concerns. While many of the concerns were addressed, the MiSiS system continues to be plagued by serious problems. Among these problems was the decision to turn off the old systems, SIS and ISIS, prior to implementation of MiSiS. This meant that if Plan A didn’t work—and it hasn’t—there was no Plan B.

With all the discussion about accountability in education, who will be held to account, and with what consequences, for implementing a computer system at least three to six months before it was ready? The trainings conducted last spring were mostly inadequate because MiSiS was nowhere near ready. Besides, training doesn’t help if software doesn’t work.

Board Member Tamar Galatzan has called for an investigation of the failed implementation of MiSiS by LAUSD’s Inspector General, whose office has been decimated by budget cuts. We recommend an investigation by someone outside of LAUSD, such as Controller Ron Galperin. There must be consequences for whoever gave the green light to implement a system so critical to the operation of schools, with software that was clearly not ready for prime time.


AALA has received many emails and calls from secondary administrators concerned with the myriad MiSiS mishaps they experienced as they opened the school year. The MiSiS crisis has dramatically increased the workload of administrators who have spent many evenings and weekends trying to make the system work on behalf of students. Here are a few of their concerns.

“Hate it!!!” “Frustrating” “Overwhelming”

“200 students were not programmed. Teachers were unable to take attendance and unable to retrieve a Master Program via MiSiS.”

“Untold hours were spent inputting data, which were then lost. It’s hard to trust the system when it keeps breaking down. Experts all had different answers to the same problem.”

“We were unable to get an accurate enrollment count. The MiSiS program lacks consistency—shuts on and off. Worse yet, MiSiS doesn’t retain data from one day to the next. Students are not always programmed correctly. Staff time consumption for programming is beyond belief!

“Opening school went fairly smoothly, except that the effort expended was five times greater than prior years. MiSiS is very unreliable; we are unable to make program changes and unable to get an enrollment count. The system kicks in and out. When it goes out, you need to start all over.”

“Most all students were programmed, but many were not programmed to the correct classes. This issue raised considerable concern by both students and parents. Staff had to go “old school” (paper and pencil) to modify students’ programs. Teachers were unable to take roll due to the MiSiS system turning off and on without warning. Access is very slow.”

“This was one of the hardest school openings ever because of MiSiS!”

2cents small I learn new things everyday. I knew that the $100 million ISIS System was abandoned without being fully implemented because it was feared it wasn’t robust enough – but it wasn’t until I read: LAUSD did not want to repeat the unfortunate experience of Prince George’s County, Maryland, where the same software resulted in the kind of disastrous opening of school we’ve just witnessed in LAUSD  that I began to see the dots that wanted connecting,

“Self,” I said to myself, “Why is it that Prince Georges’ County, Maryland rings a bell?”

And the answer, gentle reader, is that John E. Deasy, Ph.D. was once Chief Executive Officer and Secretary/Treasurer of Prince Georges’ County Public Schools.

So I looked up the Prince Georges’ County Public Schools ISIS Plan 2006 online [ ISIS REVISED TODAY: ] to see what that was all about, and I found this:

  • At the request of the Chief Executive Officer, a revised reporting and accountability structure for schools identified for improvement has been designed to promote the implementation of school improvement initiatives and student achievement.
  • The Intensive Support and Intervention Schools (ISIS) initiative will identify pathways to high achievement by decentralizing resources to the Regional Offices in direct support of identified schools. The level of support will be individualized, structured and coordinated to provide a clear focus for schools. It will also include tight accountability measures.

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls - Let me translate: ISIS was Deasy’s initiative - written in Deasyspeak boilerplate  and its roll out in Prince Georges’ County was an unfortunate experience, a disaster.

And MiSiS?  The same in L.A.

To repeat, because it is through repetition that we learn: The ISIS software in PGCPS resulted in the kind of disastrous opening of school we’ve just witnessed in LAUSD.

To quote Vin Scully: “Experience is the art of recognizing your mistakes when you make them again.”

…or as Britney Spears put it so wisely: “Ooops …I did it again!”

THE SCENE: Early morning - A hotel room in Punxsutawney, PA. on the morning of February 2nd.
CLOSE UP: A clock radio on the nightstand. It clicks ON as the digits switch from 5:59 to 6:00
MUSIC UP: I Got You Babe by Sonny and Cher:


They say we’re young and we don’t know…

We just keep repeating it ‘till we get it right.

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