Special Report
Classroom Technology

Colo. System Lets Individual Schools Shape Ed-Tech Buying

By Benjamin Herold — April 13, 2015 2 min read

The 24,000-student Academy School District 20 in Colorado Springs, Colo., has long prioritized site-based autonomy for principals.

So when Diane Quarles-Naghi, a local principal, decided that ST Math was the best blended-learning math software for her school, Pioneer Elementary, it was up to her to figure out how to make the purchase happen.

“I loved the program,” said Ms. Quarles-Naghi, now in her 16th year as a school leader. “But I could not have paid for it out of my budget from the district. It’s pretty costly.”

The software, formally known as Spatial-Temporal Math and created by the MIND Research Institute, focuses on visual, game-based mathematics instruction. ST Math is perhaps best known for its central character: JiJi, an animated penguin that students must navigate through obstacles by solving math problems. Schools are typically expected to let students use the software for 90 minutes per week, often in some kind of “rotational” blended-learning model in which children spend regular time in computer labs or on personal devices.

The MIND Research Institute typically charges schools a large upfront fee to get started with the program, then a smaller recurring annual fee to continue.

In the case of Pioneer Elementary, that meant Ms. Quarles-Naghi had to come up with $11,000 to bring the software to her entire school.

That became possible when Pioneer was designated a whole-school Title I building prior to this academic year.

Common Reasons for Failure

Even procurement experts who believe in school-based decisionmaking acknowledge that it can be difficult for school leaders to meaningfully evaluate whether a software program is as effective as its vendor claims. Decisions made on first impressions and word-of-mouth referrals can easily end in disaster.

And when school-based software adoptions fail, specific factors are typically to blame, said James P. Lund, the vice president of education success for the MIND Research Institute, who oversees training and support for schools and districts implementing ST Math.

Two Approaches to Buying Blended Math Software:

Districts Weigh Control Over Software Buying

D.C. Favors Centralized, but Flexible Ed-Tech Buying

“It’s usually because whoever was initially involved in the purchase decision didn’t fully understand their school’s technical capabilities,” Mr. Lund said. “Either they don’t have the bandwidth or enough computers or projectors for teachers to use the software correctly.”

Academy School District 20 has safeguards against such potential problems.

The district’s information-technology staff, for example, will evaluate any proposed software purchase to make sure that the school’s network can support it, that the program is compatible with the district’s operating system, and that other options were considered.

It’s not a “free for all,” said J. Thomas Gregory, the district’s chief financial officer.

Neither is it a particularly efficient system, he added.

The district sometimes loses out on volume-based purchasing discounts, for example, and it can be challenging for IT staff to manage and support the panoply of hardware and software that different schools use.

But site-based software procurement allows schools to be more responsive to student needs and helps principals to better accommodate the desires of parents and skills of their staff, Mr. Gregory said.

For Principal Quarles-Naghi, that autonomy is worth its weight in gold.

“Sixteen years ago, when I was a brand-new principal just trying to get the lunch schedule right, I would have embraced [the choices] of experts up at the district,” she said.

“But [Academy School District 20] is different from other places I’ve worked in. They trust me to do my job.”

Coverage of trends in K-12 innovation and efforts to put these new ideas and approaches into practice in schools, districts, and classrooms is supported in part by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York at www.carnegie.org. Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.
A version of this article appeared in the April 15, 2015 edition of Education Week as District Allows Schools to Take Lead on Buying

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Equity, Care and Connection: New SEL Tools and Practices to Support Students and Adults
As school districts plan to welcome students back into buildings for the upcoming school year, this is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and our systems to build a
Content provided by Panorama Education
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Classroom Technology Webinar
Here to Stay – Pandemic Lessons for EdTech in Future Development
What technology is needed in a post pandemic district? Learn how changes in education will impact development of new technologies.
Content provided by AWS
School & District Management Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Strategies & Tips for Complex Decision-Making
Schools are working through the most disruptive period in the history of modern education, facing a pandemic, economic problems, social justice issues, and rapid technological change all at once. But even after the pandemic ends,

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Classroom Technology Opinion Getting Ed Tech Wrong Would Be a Bitter Pandemic Legacy
Bad ed-tech habits that formed during the shutdown risk compromising instruction and even slowing the return to school next fall.
3 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Classroom Technology Sponsor
Simplify K-5 Learning with Digital Content—All in One Place
Children learn best when there are fewer barriers to learning. Gale In Context: Elementary, matches how young kids naturally navigate online
Content provided by Gale
Gale In Context: Elementary replicates the way curious kids naturally learn, simplifying the experience
Gale In Context: Elementary replicates the way curious kids naturally learn, simplifying the experience.
Classroom Technology From Our Research Center During COVID-19, Schools Have Made a Mad Dash to 1-to-1 Computing. What Happens Next?
Districts that purchased devices for hybrid and remote learning will have to determine how to use them for in-person instruction.
8 min read
A line of volunteers carries iPads to be delivered to parents at curbside pickup at Eastside Elementary on March 23, 2020, in Clinton, Miss. Educators are handing out the devices for remote learning while students are forced to stay home during the coronavirus outbreak.
A line of volunteers carries iPads to be delivered to parents at curbside pickup at Eastside Elementary a year ago in Clinton, Miss.<br/>
Julio Cortez/AP
Classroom Technology From Our Research Center Most Students Now Have Home Internet Access. But What About the Ones Who Don't?
Here's what school districts, states, and the federal government are doing to improve at-home access to devices and the internet.
8 min read
Sam Urban Wittrock, left, an advance placement World History Teacher at W.W. Samuell High School, displays a wifi hot spot that are being handed out to students in Dallas on April 9, 2020. Dallas I.S.D. is handing out the devices along with wifi hotspots to students in need so that they can connect online for their continued education amid the COVID-19 health crisis.
Sam Urban Wittrock, left, an advanced placement World History teacher at W.W. Samuell High School, displays one of the Wi-Fi hotspots that were handed out to students in Dallas in April of 2020. The Dallas school district gave the devices to students who needed them to do schoolwork at home during the pandemic.
Tony Gutierrez/AP