The Schools Interoperability Framework (SIF) is due to be completed in early 2002. Supported by Microsoft and specialized education software developers, SIF creates standardized formats for programming language and data needs so that software written for K-12 education will work seamlessly within and across computer networks. Today, more than 100 companies, state education agencies, and education associations are coordinating activities under the SIF umbrella.

SIF pioneers have designated nine areas of initial focus: student information, curriculum, food service, gradebooks, human resources and financial information, library service, data warehousing and reporting, transportation service, and “customer involvement requirements communications and accords.”

Early pilot tests of SIF indicate that the results will be valuable. For example, Ramsey Elementary School (near Minneapolis) has tested the Zone Integration System created to help computer programs “speak” to each other. After some initial difficulties installing the still-unfinished SIF program, the school was able to integrate its student database, library system, and phone system. School officials report that their administrative work has been reduced and the accuracy of their records has increased. After the program is rolled out fully, the school expects to be able to access a wide range of student information instantly and to make this information available to parents on the web.

The ability to give parents real-time access to information about their children is one of the strongest selling points of SIF-compliant programs. School officials believe this will increase parental involvement in schools without burdening staff or teachers with additional requests.

Administrators who are familiar with the SIF project say they will implement it in one or two schools on a test basis next year. As more software is certified as “SIF compliant”–a designation that can be earned only through rigorous, independent testing–officials say they will expand its use.