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)  
Tags: , ,

44 Comments

  1. Schools interested in having freedom/control over their school administration software should check out SchoolTool.

    • Thanks for the update! I’ll be sure to look into that.

  2. X2 Aspen provides you with flexibility to run your district and your schools the way you want to.

  3. Because their code isn’t GPL and they didn’t respond to your rantish emails, they’ve committed some sort of crime and they don’t care about education? Those are some pretty big accusations.

    The GPL is an idea, not a law or a religion. You haven’t made a good case against either the software or the company behind it. You’ve only exposed that it is not open source, GPL specifically, which was no secret to begin with. Your examples of not being able to customize the code are surely valid, but hardly deal breakers. Perhaps instead of emailing them to demand that they GPL their code, you could email them and ask if they’ll be implementing the features you want.

  4. This is a cute post – although I don’t quite understand what you are complaining about…

    You spent the entire blog bitching about a major corporation who provides a tool that hundreds of thousands of teachers use to do those “administrative” tasks like take attendance and grades – hence “streamlining the education process” as advertised. Then, once the teachers are done fulfilling those tasks they can GET BACK TO TEACHING. Novel concept, I know… but I think that’s what matters the most in education is the ability to teach effectively, and getting those tasks out of the way quickly is key.

    So what does having an NDA have to do with teachers teaching students? That remains to be seen, I think you’re rant is more anti-corporation based and extremely short sighted. You should have written a blog complaining about how crappy your internet is.

    I once had PowerSchool which is a Pearson Product – if you want to have a field day you should write a blog about them. I HAD to write so much code just to get the damn thing to work and I would NEVER do that again, so I will gladly sign an NDA to get real functionality.

    You’ve now wasted 10 minutes of my time I will never get back…

    • LOL. Charlie Kratch… you kill me.

  5. […] Attention Schools: Beware of Infinite Campus […]

  6. “Where’s the beef?” So far all I’ve seen in this rant is a student upset that they can’t monkey around with the SIS software. Are you contracted by the school to do tech support? Are you interested in changing data in the SIS for your own good? Where are the solid (data supported) examples of Infinite Campus negatively affecting the school? Right now, there is nothing of importance to this blog.

  7. I think you’re right to question this proprietary SIS software. Keep it up!

    Free Software is a basic necessity, whether the staff, parents and students realize it or not. It’s up to specialists like you to teach them why they need to care about their freedoms!

    • I agree with Adam! Free software is a must in this evolving technological world. All information should be free.

      • This is a ridiculous comment. All information free? Why don’t you tell me your trade secrets then and I’ll tell you mine and we can get our jollies the way the socialists do. C’mon man….

  8. The problem with Infinite Campus’ gradebook is that a lot of teachers have already used much more user-friendly gradebooks in the past. These gradebooks did not require “Infinite Clicks” in order to input assignments, grades, etc. This software does not make my job as a teacher easier– it complicates it.

  9. I am doing a paper on how infinite campus is not a good idea for the school I go to. This post helps a lot but does any one know what the base price for there system is so I can include it in my paper?

  10. @Doug –
    I’m not sure what the prices exactly are, but I know they differ based on the size and location of the school.
    Though it doesn’t apply directly to your paper, you may be interested in my post “10 Reasons why Free Software and GNU/Linux should be used in schools”. (https://trombonechamp.wordpress.com/2008/06/23/10-reasons-why-free-software-and-gnulinux-should-be-used-in-schools/)

  11. What FOSS systems comparable to Infinite Campus do you recommend?

  12. With a budget crisis at hand, we’ve saved hundreds of thousands of dollars purchasing an off-the-shelf system compared to something which is open sourced and requires hours and hours of time to customize to even come close to what our SIS offers. Along with the time and effort it takes to make it work for our district, it is impossible to get support if/when it breaks down since it is so customized there is no real schema to follow in order to fix it. In the end, we’d have to plug so much 3rd party crap into our “free” open source system the cost becomes a wash.

    We use Infinite Campus by the way – we love the company and the product.

  13. We have been using Campus in our district for 8 years. I have no idea what you mean by “proprietary source code” or the illusions you have regarding the inability for a district to modify the Campus software code or database to change it in just their district.

    If our district Campus user group (made up of teachers, administrators and techs) wants a change to the software that is just for our district, our IT staff can make that change no problem with no permission from Campus. It is our district policy that only IT staff can modify the code internally. We have highly customized Campus for the processes in our district. Updates to the product do not overwrite our work either.

    Additionally, we are free to connect Campus to any of our other systems (Versatrans, PCS) via a SIF connection as the ZIS (Zone integration server) tools to do this are available in the Campus software. This SIF functionality and the ZIS is included in the product at no extra charge. We are also free to connect to the database via MS Access, MS SQL, Excel, Filemaker Pro, or any number of spreadsheet or database software that support an ODBC connection.

    Honestly, early on, it was very important to us to be able to customize the software since it was pretty new and not as robust as we needed. As the software has matured and more functionality has been added, our need to change the code has decreased.

    We previously used SASI and we currently use Skyward for our finance system and there is no way that I am aware of to edit the code in either of those. They provide no database schema and connection to their database is limited.

    Next time, check your facts before whining.

  14. […] Company “Infinite Campus” Lies Recently, there have been two comments on my blog about Infinite Campus, both of which praise the quality of Infinite Campus.  They were both made within an hour and a […]

  15. Regarding the last two comments, see my new post Software Company “Infinite Campus” lies for the truth about the identity of “Jeff” and “Happy Campus Admin user”.

  16. […] A student’s blog, in which the writer criticizes Infinite Campus for keeping their codes secret so no other company can offer what they do. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Ebonics becomes official in one school district7 Motivation Articles from Education WorldHigh School Secretary Changes Daughter’s Grades ElectronicallyIs Cheating the New Studying?   Leave a Comment […]

  17. OpenSIS and SchooTool are two other software programs for school use. Does the same and/or better without the $6 per student cost.

    A Free Society requires Free Software to transcend the educational system.

    • What a school district spends on Infinite for one year can be better used by hiring a programmer to modify OpenSIS or SchoolTool or Centre SIS for the district needs. If they ask for volunteers to work on the code, thats even better.

  18. How many teachers out there have to learn a new system or gradebook just about every year? It seems that every year we switch to the newest craze? Shouldn’t district’s do their homework before investing into these products, only to say that there is a much better one the next year? Am I just an old timer?

    • As a teacher, I agree Chuck. I don’t like having to learn software (lack of time), but I do like better functioning applications. That is what this student is arguing about. He believes FOSS which is continually updated will give better functionality and be more innovative. Why a student is arguing about this, I don’t know. He is obviously very liberal minded and passionate. I like a few of those in my classes. I think FOSS will be a positive inlfuence on the classroom. You will be able to find some kind of application to fit your desires. But is there a time when there is too much? Application overload? When the technology takes away from the content and meaningful discussion?

      • I wonder what we need to do as educators to keep the balance between the opportunities FOSS provides and the needs for social-emotional development in our students–the kind that goes beyond making them computer wizards to being wonderfully balanced human beings.

  19. Like Chuck, I think it is important for Districts to research products before purchasing as well as try them before purchasing with teachers and students. It is important for teachers and students to give feedback before investing in something.

    This article is a lot of complaining and I am not sure why a student has so much to complain about. Ad administrator who uses the system would be better able to critique the system with some validity. My experience has been that students do not use SIS systems. I use our SIS database for PSAE planning and central office is in charge of the system. I think FOSS can add to the education environment because it gives students various opinions to read about; however, it is important that they recognize the difference between opinion and research based articles.

    • It is really hard to comment on people’s reactions when no one except Chuck and I have written anything…I am done with homework for the night so…see you all tomorrow.

      • I do have to use Infinite Campus to register for classes, check grades, etc. however that is beside the point.

        The point I tried to make in this article is that Infinite Campus tries to position itself as this angel in the field of educational software, when it really only hurts the world’s knowledge. When schools begin using this software, it is a gigantic effort to stop, as they clearly point out on their website. Schools aren’t allowed to make changes to the software. As a result, no innovations in this field will ever take place unless Infinite Campus is the one to do them. Take scheduling for example. This is one area that could be done much more efficiently. Tweaks could be made by individuals (myself included) that wanted to improve the education of all students. Schools that decided these changes were important enough to spend money on would have no problem hiring a developer to make the changes. But Infinite Campus is blocking this. Schools everywhere blindly put every little bit of their information into a huge machine they don’t have any control over at all. That is the biggest problem I have with Infinite Campus. Putting one company in charge of a school’s SIS system is to the school’s technology infrastructure that same thing as putting the federal government completely in charge of every individual school district. But because technology was born in the age of the consumer-based society, the former seems much less absurd.

  20. I do agree with this student to some extent. In our “democratic” society, we want to have things “our” way. Schools should have the ability to customize their SIS systems to their needs. FOSS would do this, and would make education more innovative and our students more competitive in the global workplace. However, the author does not present a clear case of how, if Infinite Campus provided their source code, they would remain an economically viable company. This means a loss of employment. What does the FOSS revenue stream look like and is it comparable to a closed system?

    • Take a look at Red Hat. They are remarkable in that they have continued making more and more money. Then, take a look at how much software they sell. They make their money selling services for the software. A little known fact is that most of the money for most middleware software companies comes from services, not the sales prices. I have personally met more than one millionaire who made his fortune from free (libre) software.

  21. I’m not sure I have a complete and accurate picture of the program, Infinite Campus. I have only read this one high school student’s opinion, so I am not versed in all of the stregths and/or weaknesses of the program. However, from an English teacher’s perspective, anything that will save time in the classroom is something that may be well worth exploring. It seems as if new technologies often induce fear upon the recipient, but from the comments I’ve read, I would certainly consider Infinite Campus.

  22. Seems like a student with an agenda. I think Infinite campus has infinite possibilities but like with everything their will be glitches and a learning curve

    • Yes, Eric, it was hard to get past the anger and hear a clear argument. I agree with you.

  23. Perhaps this student can design an open source product to replace the “Model-T” and turn these complaints into a flexible innovation.

  24. Hi there!

    I’m new to this forum and just wanted to say hi. So Hi!

    bye!

  25. Hi there max, I really enjoy reading your blog, and I find this extcract very interesting, and you are on your way to success. Keep going no matter what anyone says to you, keep it up kiddo

  26. In our district, we have changed our grading system numerous times and at times, complicate the process more than help.

  27. Ridiculous.. article is just pointless. It is like complaining about MS not releasing the source for Windows 7!? Unless they are under the GPL why would you expect to access this code?

  28. From a teacher’s point of view, Infinite Campus seems to be a fine tool for managing attendance and student info, however using it as a gradebook and a means of communicating assignments and grades to parents and students is a nightmare. Considering that in Schoolloop, teachers can post an assignment and it automatically goes to their gradebooks (and each period the teacher selects), the students’/parents’ portal, to a nightly e-mail students get, AND a class calendar, and to do this in IC would take at least half an hour if not more, it’s a terribly inferior product. In addition, IC’s abbreviation system and general interface is sloppy and user unfriendly. I am not sure how our steering committee chose this. They probably did not see Schoolloop at all.

  29. I agree. infinite campus is the worst.

  30. IC has a number of faults that are so astounding that it blows my mind anyone uses it.

    1) An address record is stored in one place only. Yes, IC is relational to a fault. You have to define an address and then add boundaries to it(no way to group them..must be done per address) and then you can attach that address to a household.

    2) The system will allow you to save an address with just a number. No street, city, state or zip required. You can add the same address as many times as you want. No integrity checking.

    3) The gradebook is a complete piece of crap and is lamented by teachers across our district. The monkier “Infinite Clicking” and “Infinite Frustration” has been kicked around recently.

    4) Support cases are routinely put into what is called “IDEA number hell”. You report a bug, they route it to development with an IDEA number. No timeline on when the bug will be addressed.

    5) State reporting(at least in AZ) is poorly written. AZ-SAFE is 100% not in compliance at this time, as IC does not support incident based discipline reporting

    6) IC hashes passwords but won’t reveal the method on how to generate the hash, thus, if you write some Java and/or SQL to automate things like user account creation, you cannot hash a user-specific default password. You have to write a known hash value in, meaning, all new users get the same default password.

    7) The stock reports (report card, credit check, etc) are garbage, and are built with a tool that customers are not given. Thus, you need to make your own SSRS reports, from scratch, rather than try to put some improvements into a hastily-written very generic report.

    8) IC level one support techs are some of the worst support people I have ever encountered and I’ve been doing this for over 15 years now. They speak english, that’s about their only redeeming trait.

    Of course none of this should surprise anyone as the CEO of the company hates schools.

  31. Bottom line people; the government is monitoring you, your child. What he/she eats for lunch, what grade he/she received in Math, when he/she went to the bathroom, what he/she ate for lunch, what courses he/she took in high school. As stated, all of this info goes to the government as it is…. an information system to transform.


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