Special Report
Classroom Technology

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

By Benjamin Herold — April 13, 2015 3 min read
Kim S. Burke, the principal at J.C. Nalle Elementary School in the District of Columbia, shows enthusiasm during an open house to explain blended learning software to teachers and leaders from other schools, as Kevin Wenzel, blended learning specialist for the school system, watches.

John P. Rice, the manager of blended learning for the 46,000-student District of Columbia schools, wants every elementary school in his district using ST Math.

But he’s stopped short of centrally mandating that principals adopt the program, instead going with an opt-in model—and regular doses of friendly encouragement.

“If I had told all 70 schools three years ago they had to do it, I have no idea where we would be now,” Mr. Rice said. “This way, schools are banging on my door to get [ST Math.] It will probably happen in every school soon, but it won’t be forced.”

During the 2012-13 school year, as part of a larger effort to change mathematics instruction to better reflect the goals of the Common Core State Standards, the district adopted the software. ST Math’s developers, the mind Research Institute, lined up corporate partners to help cover the hefty initial sign-up cost: $34,000 for schools with fewer than 350 students and $48,000 for schools with 350 students or more.

Thirty-one of the city’s 70 elementary schools opted to use the software that school year.

But just 11 of those schools met the mind Research Institute’s criteria for “full implementation": 85 percent of students getting at least halfway through the syllabus.

One major obstacle: balancing the student-computing time needed to use ST Math effectively with the demands of three other blended-learning math-software programs the central office had also recommended.

“It was definitely a function of overload,” Mr. Rice said. “Some schools just had a hard time being able to regularly get [students] in the computer lab.”

Such challenges are fairly common with district-level blended-learning-software adoptions, said Steven M. Ross, a Johns Hopkins senior research scientist.

But in a study released in 2014, Mr. Ross and colleagues found that most district superintendents, chief academic officers, technology directors, and other high-level officials still preferred centralized procurement of instructional software.

That was particularly true when it came to buying software sought for core instruction, as opposed to a supplemental or enrichment tools.

“The bigger the product gets, the more value there is to [purchasing] being centralized,” Mr. Ross said.

One reason: Large urban districts in particular have very high student-mobility rates, and it can create problems when students are expected to start with a brand-new curriculum and software if they switch schools midyear.

Hybrid Option Favored

Like Steven Hodas, a practitioner-in-residence at the Center on Reinventing Public Education, Mr. Ross favors “hybrid” procurement approaches in which district central offices play important, but limited, roles in selecting blended-learning software.

The District of Columbia system has increasingly moved in that direction.

The elementary schools that fully implemented ST Math in 2012-13 saw significant gains: The proportion of students scoring “proficient” or “advanced” on standardized tests rose 19 percentage points, compared with 5-percentage point growth for non-ST Math schools.

Those results—and some creative professional development (and marketing) by the district—have helped encourage other schools already using ST Math to go all in on the program, and helped persuade schools that did not opt to use the software to reconsider.

In February of this year, for example, Mr. Rice arranged for J.C. Nalle Elementary, one of the schools that embraced the new software most fully, to host an ST Math open house for teachers and leaders from other schools.

Kim S. Burke, Nalle’s eighth-year principal, said she appreciated the balance of autonomy and guidance that the district had given her in implementing the new blended-learning model.

“Principals don’t always have all the latest cutting-edge information,” Ms. Burke said. “It’s really helpful when you have a technology office trying to stay on top of those things and saying, ‘You might want to consider this'—so long as you’re not forced” to adopt software that isn’t a fit for your school.

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 Centralized Purchasing Brings Rewards for D.C.

Let us know what you think!

We’re looking for feedback on our new site to make sure we continue to provide you the best experience.

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
Future of Work Webinar
Digital Literacy Strategies to Promote Equity
Our new world has only increased our students’ dependence on technology. This makes digital literacy no longer a “nice to have” but a “need to have.” How do we ensure that every student can navigate
Content provided by Learning.com
Mathematics Online Summit Teaching Math in a Pandemic
Attend this online summit to ask questions about how COVID-19 has affected achievement, instruction, assessment, and engagement in math.
School & District Management Webinar Examining the Evidence: Catching Kids Up at a Distance
As districts, schools, and families navigate a new normal following the abrupt end of in-person schooling this spring, students’ learning opportunities vary enormously across the nation. Access to devices and broadband internet and a secure

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Great Oaks AmeriCorps Fellow August 2021 - June 2022
New York City, New York (US)
Great Oaks Charter Schools
Great Oaks AmeriCorps Fellow August 2021 - June 2022
New York City, New York (US)
Great Oaks Charter Schools
Data Analyst
New York, NY, US
New Visions for Public Schools

Read Next

Classroom Technology How Online Teaching Needs to Improve—Even After the Pandemic
The vast majority of teachers say they’ve gained skills in the last year that they’ll continue to use after the pandemic ends.
4 min read
Mary Euell helps her sons, Michael Henry, left, and Mario Henry, work through math lessons remotely in their Erie, Pa., home.
Mary Euell helps her sons, Michael Henry, left, and Mario Henry, work through math lessons remotely in their Erie, Pa., home.
Christopher Millette/Erie Times-News via AP
Classroom Technology 'No Going Back' From Remote and Hybrid Learning, Districts Say
The slow rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, a staffing crunch, and demand from some parents mean remote live-streamed instruction is here to stay.
13 min read
Teresa Vazquez, a teacher in Fort Wayne, Ind., remotely teaches a Spanish 1 class to students at Monroe High School in Albany, Ga.
Teresa Vazquez, a teacher in Fort Wayne, Ind., remotely teaches a Spanish 1 class to students at Monroe High School in Albany, Ga.
Courtesy of Elevate K-12
Classroom Technology Why Remote Learning Would Have Been Perfect for Me
Virtual education would have spared her the pain of trying to fit in during some difficult middle school years, writes Alyson Klein.
4 min read
A childhood photo of Alyson Klein, just before the start of 6th grade.
A childhood photo of Alyson Klein, just before the start of 6th grade.
Courtesy of Alyson Klein
Classroom Technology Digital Games: Powerful Motivation Tool or Not So Much?
Students are far less likely than teachers to say digital games make learning more interesting.
8 min read
Image shows two boys playing online games.
E+/Getty