In the United States, K-12 schools spend more than $13 billion a year on edtech.¹ And more often than not, products are selected and purchased with little collaboration between stakeholders. Recently, International Society for Education (ITSE) published an Edtech Buying Guide (in collaboration with Project Unicorn) highlighting the broken buying process and shining a light on several case studies. Most notable was the concept of utilizing an edtech playground — a safe place (free from vendor sponsors and product champions) to vet products and document efficacy all before making costly investments.
“What we advocate for in the buying guide is a deeper, more formal partnership between classroom and district leaders.” The premise being a lack of coordination between what educators want, what they need, how they’re acquiring solutions and how the district is acquiring solutions,” says Joseph South, ISTE’s chief learning officer.
The guide outlines five key areas of consideration:
Alignment with students learning goals and standards
The importance of research and evidence
Data interoperability and student privacy
Challenges of implementation, use, and ongoing support
Educators as purchasing partners
While ISTE offers these recommendations for teachers who are in charge of buying products, but these recommendations can also be applied to district-level or organization-level buying decisions.
In order for administrators to draw conclusions based on effectiveness, research and opportunities for digging deeper into edtech tools are necessary. “Popularity is not the same thing as effectiveness,” says South. “It’s really important that educators … are equipped to take a deeper dive and really look at those solutions, see whether they are based on principles of learning science or if there is third-party verification of their efficacy claims.” Another option, South suggests, is to pilot a tool before committing to the purchase. This can often be the best indicator of whether a tool is the right fit, he says.
This methodology helps steer the course and ensure educators are making the right investments. Additionally, it equips administrators with data insights to support expanded investments. At SchoolMint, we’ve seen districts implement pilot programs for a select group of schools in order to prove efficacy in their unique district.
This choice season in Denver Public Schools (DPS) was built on success from previous years, when families matched to their most-preferred schools at very high rates. For example, 89% of incoming kindergartners and 93% of sixth-and ninth-graders were matched with their first- or second-choice schools. And included in their success was the continuation of their enrollment pilot aimed at building more integrated schools that reflect the diversity of their communities. Because we know (and research shows) all students benefit from diversity in their classrooms, utilizing SchoolMint’s highly configurable lottery, higher-performing, lower-poverty schools were able to prioritize enrollment for students eligible for free- and reduced-price lunch.4
Last year, Hernando County Schools in Florida implemented SchoolMint’s Application + Lottery for their magnet schools and are currently in the process of expanding their purchase to include all 22 district schools based on these key outcomes:
Saving 400 hours a year communicating lottery results
Using real-time data to accurately advise stakeholders
Complying with Controlled Open Enrollment state laws
In Chicago Public Schools, GoCPS powered by SchoolMint, an online platform for applying to the city’s 140+ schools, data insights revealed in year one that the majority of high school students who used GoCPS ultimately got one of their top three choices. And research conducted by the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research and the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago following their first year reports the solution is working as it was designed, including uncovering that there are too many open seats across their high schools. CPS CEO Janice Jackson said the new data presents a full, centralized inventory and will help the district “have the kind of conversations we need to have” with communities. Asked about what kind of impact the report might have on that decision-making, Jackson said that “part of my leadership is to make sure that we’re more transparent as a district and that we have a single set of facts on these issues.”³
With collaboration, research and more information proof of concept exploration is possible. It is possible to change the course of edtech buying practices and effectuate game-changing solutions that pave the way for diversified classrooms and data to support legislative compliance and difficult community decisions.