SXSWedu Buzz: School Districts Wield Major Influence Over K-12 Marketplace

Associate Editor


One thread among the many themes swirling around here at SXSWedu this week is this: School district leaders often don’t understand how much power they have to influence the marketplace in which they purchase educational products and services. 

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That theme emerged in various panels and informal discussions, as company leaders, consultants, and educators compared notes about the challenges they face during a conference that has attracted nearly 6,000 participants

Student-Data-Privacy Concerns

Consider the issue of student-data-privacy, which is high on the agenda of concerns for schools and education companies. 

Companies often take shortcuts to save money and time, said Mark Luetzelschwab, the president of Eduphoric, an Austin-based firm that consults with ed-tech businesses. He was a panelist in a session titled “Student Privacy: Good Intentions Aren’t Good Enough,” which attracted about 100 people.

But Mr. Luetzelschwab told the audience, frankly, that “what the customer demands is what’s going to happen.”

When school districts convey that specific privacy policies must be followed, and that they won’t purchase software until the policies match their expectations, that’s when companies will change, he said. “The folks who are buying this technology are going to drive the bus,” he said.

Diversity Among Software Developers

Diversity will become an issue in education technology development when district leaders make it one, said Jeff Livingston, the senior vice president of Readiness and Intervention Solutions for the McGraw-Hill School Education Group. 

When district leaders begin deciding what technology they bring into their schools based on whether there was diversity among the developers who created it, that will increase diversity in ed tech, he said.

“If diversity becomes a business issue, not a social responsibility issue, it will change,” Livingston said, speaking as a member of the audience during a session called “Diversity Need in Education Technology.”

Realistically, “unless it’s a business issue, the needle’s not going to get moved significantly,” he said.

Requiring Alignment With Strategic Goals

The bottom line is that companies that want to sell to schools should do their homework, Baltimore County Schools Superintendent S. Dallas Dance told another audience. 

He advises any business to take a close look at a district’s strategic plan to see if its products align with the district’s needs before assuming they do.  

Dance was interviewed by my colleague, Sean Cavanagh, during a Q-and-A session announcing EdWeek Market Brief. Dance also discussed how he makes decisions about doing pilots with companies. 

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