Online Identity Management: Identity and Access Management Is Introducing Significant Instructional and Security Efficiencies in K12 Districts

By McLester, Susan | District Administration, January 2012 | Go to article overview

Online Identity Management: Identity and Access Management Is Introducing Significant Instructional and Security Efficiencies in K12 Districts


McLester, Susan, District Administration


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The increasing incorporation of digital materials and resources into school and district portals and repositories has given rise in recent years to a new focus on the issue of identity management in K12 education. The need for multiple usernames, passwords and separate logins for each user can be a nightmare for staff, inhibit the use of software programs that benefit student achievement, and overwhelm increasingly smaller district IT departments, say technology administrators in reports such as the Consortium for School Networking's "Single Sign-On, Multiple Benefits: A Primer on K-12 Federated Identity and Access Management," published in May 2011.

Identity management authenticates the identity of district users in all roles and presets their access to appropriate resources. For instance, a teacher may have access to an online grade book and the teacher's edition of a textbook, a student may have access to the student edition of the textbook, the school psychologist may have access to student health records, and the human resources department may have access to each employee's pay stubs and other personal information. In the absence of a single identity management program, access to materials remains in the hands of disparate users scattered throughout the district, each of whom may have multiple usernames and passwords depending on the materials they use in the course of their day. Costs for implementing an identity and access management (IAM) system are directly relational to the number of users it serves, says Deborah Karcher, CIO of Miami-Dade County Public Schools. For a district of Miami-Dade's size, with upwards of 500,000 users, upfront investment costs can be roughly $3 million dollars, she says.

Though technically different functions, identity management and access management are increasingly paired in solutions, as they're greatly interdependent. "Identity management dictates which resources you have access to, and access management is the key to the door," says Karcher.

A primary benefit to identity management solutions, which are supported through a range of software tools offered in part by Oracle, Microsoft, IBM, Computer Associates and Amazon.com, is that it decreases the risk of security breaches. "After a few accounts, people tend to start using sticky notes on their computers to remember passwords," says Sammie Carter, systems architect for the North Carolina Education Cloud (NCEdCloud), a pioneering statewide initiative funded by Race to the Top that includes an identity and access management plan for schools. "With an identity management solution, which allows districts to aggregate all data about users into a single "gateway" sign-in service, users only need to remember one username and password," he adds.

Still a fairly recent topic in the K12 education space, IAM is more familiar in the higher education world, where instructors and researchers need to collaborate across different campuses, states and countries, says Carter. But recognition that the kinds of efficiencies being realized in the higher education world can also benefit K12 is driving the trend downward. Following North Carolina's lead, statewide IAM initiatives currently in different stages of implementation in Alaska, Colorado, Florida and Nevada attest to the growing interest in IAM in K12 environments.

Many school districts across the nation, especially the larger ones serving hundreds of thousands or even millions of users, are finding that IAM is coming to the rescue during times of shrinking budgets and staff layoffs by instituting significant financial, instructional and security efficiencies across a broad range of areas.

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Financial and Time Savings

Although not one of the nation's larger districts, North Carolina's rural Rockingham County School District, with 13,500 students, is notable as one of two pilot sites for the precedent-setting NCEdCloud program. …

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