Special Report
Classroom Technology

Colo. System Lets Individual Schools Shape Ed-Tech Buying

By Benjamin Herold — April 13, 2015 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

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

Jobs Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
English-Language Learners Webinar English Learners and the Science of Reading: What Works in the Classroom
ELs & emergent bilinguals deserve the best reading instruction! The Reading League & NCEL join forces on best practices. Learn more in our webinar with both organizations.
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
Teaching Webinar
Challenging the Stigma: Emotions and STEM
STEM isn't just equations and logic. Join this webinar and discover how emotions fuel innovation, creativity, & problem-solving in STEM!
Content provided by Project Lead The Way

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 From Our Research Center Will AI Use in Schools Increase Next Year? 56 Percent of Educators Say Yes
Some districts are already looking for ways the technology might help save educators' time.
1 min read
Illustration of a network of laptops around a chatbot
iStock/Getty
Classroom Technology Opinion Ed Tech Can Be an Invaluable Tool for Teachers. Here’s How to Use It Best
Ed-tech tools can enhance student learning. But teachers need to ensure they can prove meaningful and promote fact-based knowledge.
10 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
iStock/Getty
Classroom Technology From Our Research Center Does Your District Ban ChatGPT? Here's What Educators Told Us
More than three-quarters of educators say their districts haven't banned ChatGPT and other AI tools.
1 min read
Vector illustration of the letters AI partially breaking through the red circle and slash symbol representing it being banned
iStock/Getty
Classroom Technology From Our Research Center Where Does AI Belong in Education? Teachers and Administrators Have Some Strong Opinions
A survey of educators across the country generated a wide range of opinions about the role of AI in teaching and learning.
2 min read
Conceptual technology illustration of artificial intelligence brain
iStock/Getty Images