District Ed-Tech Purchasing Data, Pricing to be Shared, Compared on Platform

Associate Editor

Two organizations have announced that they will be working together to help U.S. districts make better procurement decisions by sharing data about the ed-tech products they buy, the prices they pay, how well they like those products, and additional procurement details.

The Technology for Education Consortium, a nonprofit that wants to “bring transparency, efficiency and collaboration to K-12 schools” for ed-tech purchasing, announced at ISTE that it has entered into an agreement with Lea(R)n to use the latter company’s technology platform to collect and analyze data around ed-tech purchasing, including the RFPs and contract terms that go with the purchases.

The new online presence at tec.learnplatform.com will allow TEC to automate its work so districts can quickly share procurement information and make more informed decisions faster and save money, according to Hal Friedlander, co-founder and CEO of TEC. He said the consortium is now working with 40 school district members representing more than 3 million students. The districts range in size from the five largest in the country to one that has 500 students.

District expenditures on computing devices last year amounted to $4.9 billion, and are likely to be about $5 billion in 2016, according to Linn Huang, the research director of devices and displays with IDC, a market research company.

The last time the software industry association asked its members about their revenues for digital content and software for pre-K to 12 products, it amounted to $8.4 billion–and that was for 2012-13, according to the association’s Education Technology Industry Network.

Districts have shared advice about purchasing decisions via informal networking or within professional organizations, but otherwise public education agencies have had limited ability to “see” the prices, terms and outcomes of their peers in procurement processes.

Probing Inconsistent Pricing

TEC wants to address that knowledge gap by shedding light on inconsistent pricing across districts, among other goals.

Its most recent report, which is for its members only,  researchers found that the four most popular Chromebook models are selling at price differentials ranging from about $50 for one model to $119 for another. They also studied 612 projector models sold in 14 districts, and found that one manufacturer’s interactive projector model ranges in price from $1,049 to $2,166, depending upon where it was sold, although price variations among other projectors in that category ranged from $11 to $227.

“We’re trying to even the playing field,” said Friedlander, whose organization launched in March at the SXSWedu conference with a report about iPad purchases, which my colleague Sean Cavanagh looked at in-depth.

Districts are “just under-resourced to do the kind of analysis they need to do against an ed-tech industry that is really behemoth,” said Friedlander. “Many of the individual ed-tech providers have significantly more resources to bring to bear when it comes to contract negotiations.”

Bringing the work of comparison-shopping onto Lea(R)n’s LearnPlatform means that TEC will no longer have to collect and distribute data through a manual process using surveys, phone conversations, emails and newsletters, as it has for its early reports. The LearnPlatform will allow TEC to configure the workflows and reports in an organized way that is streamlined and useful for K-12 officials, he said.

The LearnPlatform is an ed-tech management platform intended to allow educators to simplify the discovery, procurement, implementation and measurement of their ed-tech products.

“Part of the reason this partnership makes so much sense is that our platform already holds most of the functionality and workflows that will be needed for TEC,” said Karl Rectanus, CEO and co-founder of Lea(R)n, which launched in 2014 and counts 10,000 educators among its users. A former charter school CFO, Rectanus said this is exactly why we created” the platform with its configurable modules.

Contracts, More Being Shared

Membership in TEC is free, and Friedlander said districts are asked to share information in return for the insights they gain. “If another member asks for information, we want them to provide as much information as they can,” he said, including procurement materials: RFPs, contracts, and the evaluation matrix used for a specific purchase, which could save districts time so they can modify an existing one rather than creating a new one themselves.

The organization is also looking for any member feedback, from implementation to customer satisfaction data about how the product works.

Central to the sharing arrangement is the knowledge for districts that their identities will be kept confidential in any reporting that comes out of it. ““There’s a lot of sensitivity about what prices districts pay, and what contract terms they negotiate,” Friedlander said.

“No one wants to be called out or pointed to as having done something wrong, and our point of view is that districts aren’t doing anything wrong,” they’re just overburdened.

Next Studies: Digital Content Providers

Besides hardware, TEC is gearing up to do a study of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s classroom products, and has 23 products identified, of which 11 are online only. The others are a hybrid of print and digital. Friedlander said an analysis of the top 10 titles in its research is underway.

The organization is also starting to conduct research on the prices of Discovery Education’s Techbook licenses. It is beginning that work with the company’s price list and 12 state contracts.

TEC, which started with seed funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, will continue to update its data as more districts join, and release quarterly reports for hardware while it expands its analysis of digital instructional content. (The Gates foundation provides financial support for Education Week’s coverage of the implementation of college- and career-ready standards and the use of personalized learning. The publication retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.)

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