A Brief Introduction to PowerSchool

What is this PowerSchool of which Nova Scotian teachers speak?

The datafication (a word I thought I’d made up but which turns out to be real) of P-12 education happened after my time in the Nova Scotia public system, so I had to do some reading (a little skill I picked up in a Nova Scotia public school) to figure it out.

PowerSchool is a producer of what is known as student information system (SIS) software — basically, big data for schools.

PowerSchool was launched by Greg Porter in California in 1997. He attracted $31.5 million in venture capital before selling to Apple Computer in 2001 for $62 million in stock. In 2006, Apple sold PowerSchool to Pearson Education for an unknown amount and finally, in 2015, Pearson sold it to Vista Equity Partners, a private equity firm, for $350 million. (And PE firms, as you probably know, always have the best interests of the children at heart.)

Under Vista’s ownership, PowerSchool has been hoovering up other tech companies, including Education Solutions, Haiku Learning, Tienet, Interactive Achievement, InfoSnap and SunGard (paying $850 million for SunGard’s public sector and education businesses alone). As PowerSchool CEO Hardeep Gulati told the Sacramento Bee in February 2017:

This acquisition expands PowerSchool’s reach. We now touch every other school and child in North America. We got 8 million additional students on top of our 24 million students we already have. We are touching 32 million students now. If you look at our user population, in terms of the parents, teachers and administrators, we are touching 100 million users.

(Okay, I get that he doesn’t actually go into schools, but Gulati really should know better than to use the expression “touching students” to explain what PowerSchool does.)

With the acquisitions, PowerSchool has gained software programs that help with virtually every function needed at a school — student assessment, special education, enrollment, behavior management and now finance, Gulati said.

The Sacramento Bee figures PowerSchool spent at least $900 million on its buying spree, so you can imagine the kind of return it will be expecting. (Gulati says the new software can be integrated with existing PowerSchool software, but the firm is currently working on a new release incorporating everything.)

Nova Scotia has done its bit for PowerSchool’s bottom line. As the CBC’s Michael Gorman reported earlier this month, the province has spent $9.4 million on the system since purchasing it in 2010:

Source: Nova Scotia completed access to information requests. https://foipop.novascotia.ca/foia/#/home

(Source: Nova Scotia completed Access to Information requests.)


Gorman’s story describes the system as “loathed,” “maligned” and “a source of frustration,” for Nova Scotia teachers (and that’s all by the end of the first paragraph) and it certainly came up frequently during discussions of workplace conditions — and not in a happy, followed by six smiley emojis way.

I am intrigued (and rather disturbed) by this software, and have started to look more closely into how it is used in Nova Scotia classrooms. I hope to have more details for you next week.


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