K-12 Districts Wasting Millions by Not Using Purchased Software, New Analysis Finds

Senior Writer

A new analysis of K-12 school district spending bolsters the notion that many ed-tech products and software purchased aren’t actually used or don’t have the intended impact.

Ed-tech company Glimpse K12 studied $2 billion in school spending and found that on average, 67 percent of educational software product licenses go unused. Glimpse K12 tracked 200,000 curriculum software licenses purchased by 275 schools during the 2017-2018 school year. The analysis found educational software was the biggest source of wasted spending in K-12 districts.

In some districts, up to 90 percent of purchased software licenses are not being used, said Glimpse K12 co-founder Adam Pearson. The analysis estimates that overall, the districts studied are losing about $2 million on these products throughout the school year.

In the U.S. K-12 education marketplace, where districts spend about $8.4 billion on ed-tech software a year according to the Software and Information Industry Association, that could mean over $5.6 billion wasted annually.

“This information is both insightful and alarming,” Pearson said. “We want it to help schools identify which resources are not effective, and which resources may be underutilized, and which with greater use” may improve student outcomes.

Better PD, and Making Goals Clear

Pearson said this data can help education leaders make smarter decisions about the ed-tech products they buy and retain. Some districts may decide to pare back the number of educational software licenses they purchase, for example, freeing up funds for other educational spending or initiatives, he said.

Glimpse K12 says its product also allows educators to link their ed-tech usage to student achievement information and goals to determine whether those tools are having the desired impact.

That information can help school and district leaders decide whether more professional development is needed around an effective piece of software to boost its usage, the company says. Or it could tell them that they need better communication goals around these tools, or that they need to home in on why software is not being used. A lack of devices or weak internet connectivity can contribute to low usage numbers, he said.

In fact, a new nationwide survey from Common Sense Media found that 31 percent of educators say they’re not able to use technology because of a lack of training, and 63 percent of teachers said district communication about the educational technology available for classroom use is moderate or non-existent.

Districts are increasingly tracking their usage of ed-tech products and using that information to determine whether to renew or scrap contracts. And a number of ed-tech companies, like Glimpse K12, are offering their services in monitoring usage to districts, with the promise of helping them get a handle on where they are paying for products and services that teachers and students aren’t using. LearnPlatform—among others companies—helps educators monitor usage data around ed-tech products.

Last year Mary Wermers, the K-12 curriculum director for the 3,500-student Danvers, Mass. school district told EdWeek Market Brief that information she gleaned through the use of LearnPlatform helped her determine where to spend professional development dollars, evaluate costs and determine future use of some ed-tech products.

“I was amazed at the differences in prices of applications and used this platform to evaluate whether a product is worth the cost,” she said.

Pearson, of Glimpse K12, said more districts are becoming aware of the importance of tracking usage data.

“Administrators are saying, ‘We’re investing millions of dollars into technology and we need to make sure we’re getting the benefit,’” he said. “The national conversation on this headed in the right direction.”

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5 thoughts on “K-12 Districts Wasting Millions by Not Using Purchased Software, New Analysis Finds

  1. Thanks for sharing this nice and interesting post, Michelle! The insights you have shared is very true and important. The educational institutions are adopting technology to impart productive and scientific learning. Varied apps and software are used for educational purpose, however, the apps or software are required to be secured and managed well with a mobility management solution for education to utilize educational software efficiently and productively.

  2. Wasted K-12 spending on ed tech purchases is nothing new, unfortunately. Why do ed tech purchases go un/underused? The users (aka teachers) are shut out of the purchasing process far too often. Shiny new ed tech toys still magically appear in classrooms without teachers expressing a need for them or agreeing they’ll use them. Administrators decide on purchases based on incomplete/poor data, relationships with vendors, seeing something new at a conference, etc. And as the article mentions, teacher access to professional development (esp. good PD) is missing. Too many teachers have been burned too often on poorly designed and delivered PD so that they don’t attend even good PD with incentives. “Good PD” is viewed as an oxymoron statement. Plus, when do teachers get time to attend? … before or after their workday, before or after the school year, staff development days scattered during the year…? The solution? Get stakeholders (aka teachers and students) involved in the entire purchasing process, from beginning to end (including doing a formal, professional evaluation). And adhere to using the three-part Gap Analysis (aka three-legged stool) process.

    1. As far as the percentage of unused software licenses mentioned in the article, I wonder if they took into account that it is often less expensive to purchase a district licence for software instead of purchasing individual licenses for those teachers that actually use it. We often purchased a district license for software that was only used in elementary schools, but saved money by doing that. The topic for my thesis (1995) was on technology staff development. I found that we had a large number of credits being earned by our teachers, more than 1 SH of credit for every teacher (over 500) in our district. But in doing more detailed analysis, only around 30% took one of our after school/evening/weekend/summer workshops. Those 30% averaged more than 3 SH of workshops which made our numbers look good. We dismantled our district staff development computer lab and took the PD to the schools by hiring six full time tech integrationists to cover 18 schools. They provide just in time, on demand instruction for the teachers during the school day and 100% of our teachers have some type of intervention.

      1. I also wonder exactly what they are counting. For example, if the license is included in your purchase of a text, you may not choose to use the feature. For example, the electronic copy of the text, or the online/electronic homework features. Just because it is tech does not mean that it should be used. Many of us do not use the workbooks that are provided with an adoption. Is that a waste of money or a conscious decision to not incorporate a particular feature? It appears to me that we are starting to try and tell teachers how to teach.

  3. The Key is why the softwares are not used?Because of the softwares themselves, not meet the need or the quality of them? Because the teacher can’t use them effectively,they did not get the right training? From you, the unused softwares really are big waster. How can we reduce this kind of waster.

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