News Feature | December 19, 2014

Solutions Providers, K-12 Schools Differ On Procurement

Christine Kern

By Christine Kern, contributing writer

Solutions Providers, K-12 Schools Differ On Procurement

A study of education technology procurement demonstrates that solutions providers and district officials often have very different perspectives regarding who is calling the shots.  Called “Improving Ed-Tech Purchasing,” the report from Digital Promise and the Education Industry Association identifies the key barriers and potential solutions in the procurement of K-12 personalized learning tools. 

Through a combination of 300 survey responses from district leaders, educators, and learning technology developers and a series of 50 in-depth interviews, the Johns Hopkins University Center for Research and Reform in Education collected the data for the study.

What the data revealed was a disconnect between schools and providers, as well as a series of inefficiencies in the procurement process. For example, only 6 percent of solutions providers were satisfied with current procurement processes, compared to 68 percent of district stakeholders.  However, although the majority of administrators were satisfied with the overall process, certain stakeholders did raise some concerns. Principals were dissatisfied with the teachers’ current role in decision making, while technology directors were the least satisfied with the credibility of evidence provided by providers. And superintendents stated that funding was the key challenge to ed-tech procurement.

Meanwhile, ed-tech providers are increasingly frustrated with the process, concerned about gaining visibility in an ever-increasingly crowded market, gaining need information from teachers and districts, and unveiling specific procurement procedures by district.  These concerns need to be considered by districts, since two-thirds of companies report that product development is directly affected by procurement rules. 

One of the issues uncovered by the report is that procurement policies were developed for print resources, and do not work as effectively when applied to the new, vast array of technological options available in the current marketplace.

Many districts are unclear about what their teachers and students actually need, how to find products in the marketplace, or how to evaluate the effectiveness of available products.  And providers report struggling with determining what districts want and their business models, forcing them to spend extra time on selling and compliance issues.

One assistant superintendent wrote in the survey, “If there’s a good vendor out there doing wonderful things, it’s hard to find that vendor.”

And on the flip side, one ed-tech provider replied, “It’s hard to identify which schools/districts are a good fit for us.”

The data led to a number of recommendations for facilitating the procurement process on both sides, including these listed by Digital Promise:

  • Clearer guidelines for conducting needs assessments and including end users in the process.
  • Faster methods of evaluation of products with facilitated result sharing
  • Simplified Request for Proposal (RFP) processes to ensure level-playing field with high-quality results
  • Pilot approaches to increase rigor and drive purchasing decisions without overburdening teachers
  • Performance-based  contracting and other incentives to urge providers to show evidence of successful results
  • Availability of websites that provide trusted information about ed-tech tools and district procurement policies that facilitate matching of providers/products with educators
  • Further research into funding strategies for the acquisition of ed-tech products.

The report concludes, “While barriers clearly exist between schools and providers, this research also shows that a more productive and efficient procurement process starts with focusing on both districts’ and developers’ needs.”