Teachers Are Paying For Ed Tech Out of Their Own Pockets, Survey Finds

Staff Writer

When it comes to providing technology for their students, teachers have dipped into their own pockets to pay for everything from lessons to apps to devices, a new EdWeek Market Brief survey finds.

It’s been widely known for years that teachers regularly fork over their own money to purchase school supplies that otherwise wouldn’t be provided by cash-strapped districts.

But the nationally representative survey, conducted in November by the EdWeek Research Center, reveals that this practice now goes beyond posters or markers.

As ed tech becomes more common in classrooms, educators say they’ve personally paid for those products, too.

When asked what ed-tech expenses they’ve paid for out of their own pocket, nearly half of the 846 teachers surveyed say they’ve covered the cost of individual online lessons or units.

Other top answers were: instructional content (42 percent), enrichment materials (36 percent), and learning-related games or apps (36 percent).

As many as 18 percent of educators say they’ve paid for remediation-related ed tech for students. Sixteen percent said they’ve paid for an exam or quiz. And 10 percent say they paid for a device such as a Chromebook or iPad that they use regularly in the classroom.

Only 21 percent of respondents say they’ve never paid out of pocket for ed tech for their classroom.

“It really relates directly to just the changing needs of teachers today,” said Abby Feuer, executive vice president of marketing and growth for DonorsChoose, a nonprofit that supports public school teachers in fundraising for their classrooms.

DonorsChoose, which sees as many as 60,000 fundraising projects at a time, saw a 20 percent increase over the course of the pandemic in requests for instructional technology — everything from gift cards to purchase curriculum to headphones, Feuer said.

The category now makes up about a quarter of the site’s fundraising projects.

That increase, along with the fact that teachers are paying for ed tech out of their own pocket, is a reflection of the changing needs of schools and what teachers prioritize in their efforts to provide for students, Feuer said.

“Teachers we talk to always say to us that despite what their district is able to provide them… there’s also always extra resources that they would want to go above and beyond to provide,” she said. “It’s important to us that we’re here to support on those items.”

Administrators May Frown on Spending

Many district administrators frown upon individual teachers taking up ed-tech products they’ve been offered by education companies without the school system’s knowledge.

Doing so can pose online security risks, and it can result in the district having dozens — even hundreds — of tech tools and platforms in use throughout the district that may not mesh with the district’s overall academic and technology goals.

It’s unclear whether the EdWeek Market Brief survey respondents were purchasing these products from an approved list or with permission from their district. Nonetheless, the survey found that many teachers are investing in ed-tech on their own.

The results show that elementary-level educators are more likely to use their personal money to pay for digital products than are middle or high school teachers.

Teachers from every level say they’ve paid for lessons, remediation, enrichment, games or apps, and instructional content. But a greater percentage of elementary educators have opened their wallets to spend in each of those categories.

More than half of elementary educators surveyed say they’ve paid for individual digital lessons or units, compared to 48 percent of middle and 38 percent of high school educators. And 28 percent of elementary educators have paid for remediation delivered via tech, compared to just 18 percent of middle and 8 percent of high school educators.

Those findings align with the way that teachers use the fundraising tools provided by DonorsChoose, Feuer said. The site sees high usage by elementary teachers compared to those at the secondary level, she said.

Correction: The original version of this story misstated who participated in the survey. It was a nationally representative survey of 846 teachers.

Image credit iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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