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Survey: Most districts use cloud services

More than 65 percent of IT leaders say their district now uses productivity tools such as Google Apps for Education
The percent of school IT leaders who say they are using different cloud services has increased in the past year, according to CoSN’s 2015 “K-12 IT Leadership Survey.”
The percent of school IT leaders who say they are using different cloud services has increased in the past year, according to CoSN’s 2015 “K-12 IT Leadership Survey.”

A large majority of district technology leaders report moving some crucial IT services to the cloud this year, according to a March report from the Consortium of School Networking (CoSN).

More than 65 percent of IT leaders say their district now uses productivity tools such as Google Apps for Education that run through the cloud—a rapid increase over last year, when only 10 percent reported using these services, the 2015 “K-12 IT Leadership Survey Report” found.

“Districts are becoming more comfortable with cloud services—it’s just a natural evolution of the market,” says Bob Moore, project director for CoSN’s Protecting Privacy in Connected Learning.

School use of these programs is certain to increase, he adds.

Cloud services better enable mobile learning with devices because they don’t require students to have to pass through a district firewall to access programs. They also tend to be less expensive than other software, Moore says.

And when an outside company manages the technical side of the program, technology leaders have more time for working with teachers in classrooms instead of troubleshooting system problems, Moore says.

Security concerns

Nearly 39 percent of tech leaders say their district uses the cloud for student information services, while 45 percent say they use it for learning management systems— making data security a top concern.

Fast Fact

    Last year, U.S. schools bought $8.38 billion in software, digital content or training and assessments, an annual increase of over 5%.

    Source: Software & Information Industry Association

“If you’re going to trust cloud applications, you need to absolutely make sure you are asking the cloud service provider a lot of hard questions about the security provisions they take, and make sure that certain provisions are included in your contract,” Moore says. For example, some standard contracts do not require companies to notify districts when there has been a data breach.

Districts are also responsible for ensuring contracts comply with FERPA laws. Administrators should ask what the provider is doing with the data, and if it is shared with any third party, Moore says.

Administrators should also make sure the contract covers how the data is maintained, and what happens when a contract ends or if the company goes out of business.

However, many cloud services used by schools—such as Google apps—are offered with “click through” agreements rather than negotiated contracts. Such agreements allow districts to quickly click “OK” on a legal contract to get to a provider’s services, and could bind your school to terms that violate district security polices and even state or federal law.

CoSN leaders advise district administrators develop a policy to specify who has the authority to “click through” an agreement and accept the terms.

When proper security measures are in place, Moore says, the advantages of the cloud far outweigh the concerns.