Attention Schools: Beware of Infinite Campus

My school uses a SIS program called Infinite Campus.  The SIS (Student Information System) is the backbone for any school.  It manages everything from grades to lunch money, from registration to lesson plans, and everything in between.  If you use, are employed by, and/or have high regards for the Infinite Campus company, I strongly advise that you not to read this post, as it may smash your high-held opinions about this fraud into little tiny shards.

On their homepage, they state, “With the future in mind, Infinite Campus is focused on the long term to help you transform K12 education. … Infinite Campus delivers out of the box functionality, proven rapid implementations, through training and ongoing support so you can focus on what really matters – improving education for all students.”  That’s a load of crap.  Really.  Lets look a little bit more closely at this statement for a second.

They use the phrase “transform K12 education”.  Quite honestly, there is no way you can transform education if you are forced to sign an NDA and promise to never look at or modify the source code.  Lets say, for instance, that a District wants to transform education by matching teachers to students more closely in the scheduling process.  That would be pretty darn transformational, but schools can’t do it because Infinite Campus doesn’t want to serve it up on a silver platter for them.  Just like with all proprietary software, schools cannot help themselves, they must wait to be served.  Will this feature ever be added?  Maybe, but probably not.  However, this is just one of many features that schools will eventually need to be able to teach more successfully.  This quote also said their piece of proprietary software allows you to “focus on what really matters – improving education for all students.”  What if some school needs to have different grading methods for different parts of a single school, or to vary the number or type of classes based on preselected student groups to fit the “small learning community” style that is starting to become popular in education today?  New research is constantly coming out, and schools will want to start using it faster than some company can read it, let alone interpret it and implement something to promote it into its software.  Most of this research, however, will never be read nor interpreted by the company.  The only thing schools can hope for is that Infinite Campus is reading this research and applying it to their software.

They claim their mission statement is “Transforming K12 Education™”.  I believe I have already explained enough to show why this is the stupidest statement any proprietary software company can make.  How can anyone transform something if they can’t access it?  Could have anyone improved upon the Model-T automobile if Ford had only made a few of them, and then offered rides to people when it was practical for him?  In the same way, can anyone improve software if the malevolent company that “owns” the software forces that person to treat its use as a privilege?

Infinite Campus has three “goals”.

  1. Streamline Educational Processes
  2. Promote Stakeholder Collaboration
  3. Individualize Education

Number one sounds reasonable.  Lets streamline the process of what most schools go through.  An issue in education today is how to meet every student’s individual needs, but software companies serving schools don’t need to even think about the fact that all schools, just like people, are different.

Number two is fine.  The description below this goal is, “Using information technology, this weakness [of having too many people to manage] can be turned into a strength.”  With this goal, Infinite Campus can lock more people into their system more easily.  (They even brag about their 99% lock-in rate in the “History” section of their site.)  Since nobody is allowed to look at their code, nobody knows if they have hidden spyware in their software that sends the data of “more than 4 million students in 42 states” back to the Infinite Campus server, or included a back-door that allows them to access any school’s site anonymously.  There is no way for anybody to tell.

Number three is outrageous.  How can any proprietary software company claim to say their software is individualized?  Can any school ever really individualize any piece of software under an NDA?  NO!  There’s more, though.

The key beliefs of the company are as follows:

  1. Public education exists to serve society, its customer. All aspects of society are being transformed by information technology.
  2. In order to prosper, educators must employ modern information technology to meet the demands of its new customer, the information society.
  3. Information technology should streamline administrative tasks while enabling new and innovative educational processes.

Number one – That has to be one of the easiest ways to serve society: write a piece of proprietary software.  That way, anyone who wants to make improvements to benefit all of society will be unable to do so.  Perfect!

Number two – Yes!  You are correct!  Educators do need modern technology to prosper!  Opinions on the definition of “modern information technology” will vary from person to person, though.

Number three – There is nothing that helps innovation like an NDA does.  NDAs work so well to disallow anyone to even think about making a worthwhile change to their source code that would improve the quality of education for all students in the world.  In many cases, NDAs go as far as prohibiting anyone who has signed them from making contributions to the code that would help other people who have signed them and and thrown away their rights too. I am not aware of how far Infinite Campus’ NDA goes, but I can guarantee you it isn’t very forgiving.  How the heck can any school innovate this way?

I contacted Infinite Campus about this major problem.  I explained to them why they should GPL their code, and explained why.  They didn’t respond to me.  Instead, they contacted someone of “power” from my district and reminded him to abide by the NDA.  What?  Did they really think I would be able to do so without being caught by one of those back-doors that they may have put in there?  I emailed them again, clarifying my first email.  Surprisingly, though, I never received a response to either email.  Could this fairly large company not think of anything to say to my arguments, or did they just think I was some stupid kid who knew nothing about “how business works”?

Do they justify their crimes by saying they are necessary, because nobody would be motivated to write the software in the first place if they “didn’t get paid”?  As if they wouldn’t get paid just because their flagship product is available under the GPL.  They would probably get paid more, considering many schools would probably rather use GPL’ed software than sign away all of their rights.  Their user base would grow to be enormous!  Plus, most schools will end up buying the “premium service” subscription because if something goes wrong, it needs to be taken care of immediately, especially in a large school or school district.  I can’t even begin to explain the havoc that ensues when my district’s network goes down for an hour or two!  In addition, they should hire developers, representatives, and executives that actually care about education in the first place.  It takes true devotion to learning and the well being of the world to be a teacher.  Studies have said that teaching is one of the most time consuming jobs out there, yet a huge number of teachers show such an unbelievably large amount of devotion to their students.  Teachers are, in my opinion, the most important job in the world by far, yet they are given far less attention and appreciation than they deserve.  If the developers and executives in Infinite Campus actually cared about what was best for education as much as teachers, maybe they would actually GPL their code.  I don’t know of any teachers that are in the field of education to serve their own self interest over the interests of society and education as a whole.  You would think that someone who writes software for education would have the same views, but unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to be the case here.  The false belief that proprietary software is the only way to make money overrides the desire to do good in the world.

Do you think it is ironic that the CEO of this education company “vowed to never set foot in another school” after high school, and never went to college as a result?

I don’t.

Also see Software Company Infinite Campus Lies

Published in: on November 23, 2008 at 7:35 pm  Comments (44)  
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