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The Most Essential Features Districts Want in Social-Emotional Learning Products

EdWeek Market Brief surveyed district officials on which features of SEL products and programs are most important to them.

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6 Mistakes Education Company CEOs Need to Avoid in Their Relationships With Boards

Many education companies face a critical moment as they attempt to transition out of the pandemic and point their businesses on the path to growth. For CEOs of those companies, finding and maintaining a strong relationship with their board members is a step they can’t afford to overlook.

Board members can be important contributors to a…

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Spending on Tech-Based Curriculum Jumps During the Pandemic, New Survey of IT Leaders Finds

K-12 curriculum software and subscription spending grew at a higher rate than any other technology budget area for school districts last school year, as their IT budgets mostly increased from the previous school year.

In a survey of 170 district technology leaders by the Consortium for School Networking, 62 percent of participants reported their schools’ funding for curricular software/subscriptions rose between the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years, with 56 percent also noting a spike in cybersecurity investment.

Another 56 percent of respondents said their district’s overall IT budget expanded, with 12 percent citing a “major” increase, according to a summary of the report.CoSNGraph

District technology leaders ranked cybersecurity as the top unmet technology need, followed by home access connectivity and interoperability.

“In a situation where even well-funded corporations in the private sector struggle to address cybersecurity issues, poorly funded districts are at a disadvantage,” CoSN said. “One respondent called the need for more cybersecurity funding as ‘desperate.’”

Cybersecurity has been a focus area for CoSN, which is one of several organizations that endorsed the Enhancing K-12 Cybersecurity Act. That bill would set a path for the federal government to guide best practices for K-12 cybersecurity and provide cybersecurity grants to schools that could benefit certain education companies.

Congressional lawmakers have not acted to advance the bill.

Big Investments in Hybrid Learning

In addition to greater curricular software and cybersecurity spending, the majority of those surveyed also noted new technology initiatives, with 64 percent saying that they added classroom technology to support simultaneous hybrid learning, such as rotating cameras, microphones and speakers; and 60 percent reporting that they now offer a remote-only instruction option.

Further, 37 percent of tech chiefs said they added “district-wide student-facing Cloud-based applications,” such as learning management systems, to their digital ecosystems, and 23 percent of districts gave devices or extra monitors to educators for home use.

Only 2 percent of participants reported not supporting new IT initiatives or existing IT efforts that weren’t already supported pre-pandemic.

Almost all district leaders are looking to the federal government for technology funding help.

About three-quarters of those questioned plan to request support from the Federal Communications Commission’s Emergency Connectivity Fund for Wi-Fi hot spots, while 90 percent of respondents said infusions provided through three stimulus bills enacted over the last 17 months significantly helped remote-learning or related IT initiatives in their districts during the pandemic. (See EdWeek Market Brief’s recent, nationwide survey showing how district officials plan to spend the new, $7 billion connectivity fund overseen by the FCC.)

The three COVID stimulus packages heaped an overall $189.5 billion financial windfall on U.S. K-12 schools. Districts have until Sept. 30, 2024, to commit the last bit of that money.

Compared with the CoSN review, a recent EdWeek Market Brief survey found a slightly lower percentage – 62 percent – of 280 district administrators interviewed, planned to seek ECF reimbursement for Wi-Fi hot spots for home use. However, the CoSN survey did not specify that the hot spots sought for reimbursement pertained only to home use.

“There is a marked shift in how school district IT leaders are preparing for this fall, compared to the back-to-school survey results from last year,” CoSN CEO Keith Krueger said in a statement. “While the federal government delivered critical funding when school districts needed it most, we must now invest in cybersecurity and ensure sustainable, secure and equitable home broadband access for students and educators into the future.”

Image by Getty

Graph provided with permission from the Consortium for School Networking


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Florida District Seeks Mental Health Services; Washington State System Pursuing Online Tutoring Supports

Mental health services, speech therapy services, online tutoring support. A Florida district is looking to invest in mental health services for students and families, and a Texas district is looking to acquire speech therapy services. Further, a district in Everett, Wash., plans to buy online tutoring support.

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4 Ways for Education Companies Working Globally to Protect Their Intellectual Property

Lawyers, consultants, others advising education companies say there are clear steps businesses can take to protect their intellectual property abroad.

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Delaware District Searches for Substitute Teaching Services; Minn. School System to Buy New SIS

Substitute teaching services, student information system, and parent-teacher conference scheduling software. A district in Delaware is seeking a substitute teaching services, while a district in Minnesota is soliciting bids for a K-12 student information system. Further, a district in Utah is looking to purchase parent-teacher conference scheduling software.

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10 Variables That Matter Most in Making New Ed-Tech Successful

The success or failure of implementing ed tech in a school district is determined by factors including the culture of the staff and decision-making power given to teachers, a new report contends.

Researchers for the EdTech Genome Project identified 10 variables they believe matter most to schools’ successful selection and implementation of new technology — a framework they say ed-tech companies can also use to gain insight into their K-12 customers.

The research, led by the University of Virginia and nonprofit EdTech Evidence Exchange, aims to give educators and ed-tech providers a common language and context for talking about what tools do or do not work, a standard that can help inform future purchasing decisions, according to the report.

The goal is to help districts make better choices for their students about the sea of ed-tech options, and help companies better support district partners, said lead researcher Emily Barton. Ultimately, the project aims to decrease the number of ed-tech products being used ineffectively or not at all, she said.

Researchers found about 60 percent of pre-pandemic purchases — worth at least $26 billion annually — failed to meet usage goals set by schools.

“We simply do not have enough information to support educators’ decision making around ed-tech,” said Barton, an assistant research professor at UVA. “A key piece of that is understanding … that the ‘right’ technology to bring into one environment might be very different than the right technology to bring into another environment.”

The Genome project was born from the EdTech Evidence Exchanges’ expressed mission to help educators make better-informed decisions about the technology they use. A steering committee of teachers, administrators, researchers and association leaders identified the 10 most significant variables based on existing research and lived experience. A working group assembled for each variable spent six months refining their definitions.

The key variables that determine whether ed tech is implemented successfully, according to the report, are how well it aligns with the following in a district:

  • Vision for teaching and learning
  • Selection processes
  • Teacher agency
  • Infrastructure and operations
  • Implementation systems and processes
  • Staff culture
  • Teacher beliefs and knowledge
  • Strategic leadership support
  • Professional learning
  • Competing priorities

The report doesn’t offer a “right” or “wrong” vision, culture, or selection process. Rather it defines the dimensions of each variable and what questions districts and companies should ask themselves when implementing ed tech products.

For example, the report argues that weighing teachers’ beliefs about ed tech includes considering their feelings, knowledge, and experience toward technology; and their understanding of how students learn.

Barton said teachers’ beliefs can be “make or break.” If a company representative is walking into a room of educators who are generally skeptical about technology and haven’t had great experiences with digital tools in the past, they may want to spend extra time during training explaining how their product can benefit students to lay a better foundation.

“Understanding the beliefs of the educators they’re working with could really shift and color the way that they present that professional development opportunity,” she said.

As a next step, the Genome project researchers are testing a database, known as the EdTech Evidence Exchange Platform, which would allow educators to look up whether an ed-tech tool or program is successful at a district similar to their own based on the 10 variables. The data for each district would be captured by surveying multiple teachers.

A release date has not been set yet, Barton said.

This comes after the pandemic forced a surge in demand for ed-tech products while schools turned to remote learning and as districts prepare to spend federal stimulus aid money aimed at improving connectivity outside of school.

“We are trying to create this really incredible evidence source for educators who are out there making decisions,” Barton said. “At this point we really recommend educators take a look at these variables and start having conversations with colleagues [and] engage with potential vendors: Where might they have strengths and weaknesses?”

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