One of the education world's newest trends is using technology to help schools function with the sort of efficiencies normally found in the business world. Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) packages were among the first tools to move from the business world to the education world. ERP

systems, with their combination of financial, human-resources and procurement functions, are now being used by many educational institutions to streamline complex administrative functions.

Schools are also looking to technology as a means of measuring accountability. The Ohio Department of Education (ODE) is one of the pioneers in this area.

In 1998, the Ohio Legislature enacted SB 55 to improve school accountability. Specifically, SB 55 required the ODE to generate "report cards" measuring district and building-level performance in 18 different areas for all 611 school districts in the state. In doing so, the department and state lawmakers hoped to more easily compare and contrast schools with state performance standards and to identify which institutions were excelling and which were falling behind.

The assignment was a difficult one, admitted the department's chief information officer, Rob Luikart. "The report cards required us to collect data from schools and from proficiency-testing companies. But even after all the data was collected, giving it meaning within the confines of a paper report was not easy. You could see the data, but making sense of it and giving it real value was going to require a lot more."

When Luikart began working for the department earlier in 1998, the organization stressed to him its goal of developing a technology plan and data architecture. Luikart, therefore, decided that a technical approach to the report-card dilemma might be the perfect solution.

"Like many Fortune 500 companies, much of our financial and management information was locked up in legacy systems that didn't talk to one another," he said. "We needed to take a more enterprise view of that information, so we undertook a project to build a data warehouse. That was sort of a watershed event for the agency."

The first function of the new data warehouse was to compile the ODE's school-report-card information. Not only would the system efficiently compile all the components from the districts, it would also allow the department to build an interactive version of the report card to be placed on the Internet.

"We wanted to create an e-government environment, meaning we could make this information -- which is important to constituents, the public, legislators, school boards, administrators, parents, teachers and sometimes even kids -- easily accessible to all of them. We also wanted to add value to it," Luikart said.

Putting it in Place

Once the department decided what it wanted, it went looking for strategic partners and best-of-breed practices in warehouse design and implementation. The ODE utilized the expertise of several consulting groups, chose partners and began building the system.

Today, the department's report cards are compiled electronically and available to anyone at its Web site . There, visitors can view a report card from any Ohio school, examine proficiency-test information, attendance and enrollment data, student achievement statistics, teacher qualifications, graduation rates or annual spending per pupil. They can also instruct the system to compile sophisticated reports. "It allows people to look at trend information. It reveals trends on a given district's three-year performance and shows how well it performed in comparison to similar districts and the overall state average," said Luikart. "It provides data that wouldn't be easy to display on the paper report card because it would take up too much space. Things you can't do with paper can be done easily on the Web, using decision-support software and other tools."

According to Luikart, access to student data at the individual school level allows everyone involved in education to make better decisions for Ohio's