The Learning Accelerator Blog/Exciting New Initiatives Provide Hope for Improved Edtech Purchasing Across K-12 Schools


Exciting New Initiatives Provide Hope for Improved Edtech Purchasing Across K-12 Schools

by Daniel Owens on June 25 2018

Education purchasing should be simple, right? If you need some pencils or paper, you can get them at the nearest supply store. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. We often overlook everything a district needs to buy – from mundane things like clocks to more symbolic items like school buses. The broad spectrum of purchases a school district makes in any given year, which encompasses massive quantities for some items, stretches purchasing budgets into six figures for small districts and well in the billions for the largest ones. This transforms purchasing into procurement, a process that many public institutions have to follow to ensure public money isn’t being spent poorly or in a fraudulent manner (a rarity in K-12 education). After several years of research in the space, one of my main concerns is that procurement has led to the exact opposite of its intended purpose: higher prices.

The complex and often outdated set of procurement rules and procedures established by states, districts, and supporting organizations makes it harder for schools to buy almost anything, and buyers rightfully look for ways to save time using pre-approved contracts. Information is rarely at a purchaser’s fingertips, resulting in cumbersome calls with sales representatives and extreme difficulty in comparing prices of similar items. Everyday items can require a lot of time to purchase properly, and the time function increases exponentially with the complexity of the items (such as technology). Individuals or teams are paid to make these purchases, and this lengthy process can take up a substantial amount of their time – resulting in higher costs for the district, overall. The process, as it stands, is stagnant and frustrating to all those involved. Recent developments, however, have provided more support for procurement officials, lowering the time and dollar costs of purchases.

The first of these innovations is the LearnPlatform (Learn), which helps administrators and educators analyze their classroom technology to improve instructional, operational, and financial decisions. Educators can’t purchase directly from the platform, but they can see contract data and network discounts received by other users. It also provides them detailed information about how their technology is being used. If previously purchased technology isn’t being used, or isn’t being used in the correct way, then its value diminishes significantly (far more than any purchasing savings). The platform also has a crowd-sourced review feature, which helps educators better understand the value of the products before they purchase them.

Similar to Learn, the newly formed Jefferson Education Exchange (JEX) helps educators make better purchasing decisions by considering how best to use technology products. They provide insights and documentation about how various education technology products are used. Data is often inconclusive about a variety of edtech products, which is likely the result of confounding variables during the research. JEX is working to illuminate why certain edtech products work well in some environments and not as well in others. This enables educators to see the various situations for which each product is most appropriate, empowering them to make better buying decisions.

The Technology for Education Consortium also provides meaningful data to technology purchasers. They collect information on software and hardware purchases from schools and districts, analyze it to determine pricing information, and then share the information back. Collecting data en masse helps districts see what they should be paying for items like laptops, helping them negotiate discounts that can save millions of dollars when considering the high cost and quantity of these items. They’ve also added more clarity to the conversation on technology purchasing and its importance, as the education technology market is estimated to be $13 billion annually – a staggering $3 billion of which is money that did not need to be spent and which could have been reallocated to many other pressing needs in education.

Perhaps most exciting is Amazon’s foray into school purchasing. EdSurge recently featured an article on how schools are using Amazon Business accounts, highlighting how they can save time and money. The mere idea is really powerful. Amazon leverages technology to enable comparison shopping and quick purchasing, while also ensuring that purchasing regulations are being met. The time and cost savings, multiplied across purchasing budgets across the country, could go a long way in freeing up scarce dollars that could be repurposed towards instruction.

It remains to be seen the impact that each of these organizations will make, but is incredibly exciting nonetheless. Purchasers are no longer alone – they have supports and services that help them do their job better and hopefully save money along the way. The purchasing process has been overly complex and time-consuming, and these organizations are all working to reduce the burdens purchasers face every day. I look forward to their progress, and to see who else might try to make an impact in this space. Given districts’ limited resources and the demands on overworked educators, every bit of time and cost savings matters.

About the Author

Daniel Owens is a Partner at The Learning Accelerator. Email comments to [email protected].