Like most states, Minnesota contains many school districts that are quite small; one district, for example, has just 500 students. Fortunately, the state is home to TIES, a joint-powers cooperative that is owned by 46 Minnesota school districts. TIES (which is actually a school district by charter in itself, though it doesn’t have any students) offers analytics packages to its members via Cognos, a company that was purchased by IBM in 2007.

TIES gives districts the opportunity to use high-powered tools they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to afford, said Ben Silberglitt, the organization’s director of software applications. “We help districts...

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