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.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

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.

Two Approaches to Buying Blended Math Software:

Districts Weigh Control Over Software Buying

Colo. System Lets Individual Schools Shape Ed-Tech Buying

“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.

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
A Whole Child Approach to Supporting Positive Student Behavior 
To improve student behavior, it’s important to look at the root causes. Social-emotional learning may play a preventative role.

A whole child approach can proactively support positive student behaviors.

Join this webinar to learn how.
Content provided by Panorama
Recruitment & Retention Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Why Retaining Education Leaders of Color Is Key for Student Success
Today, in the United States roughly 53 percent of our public school students are young people of color, while approximately 80 percent of the educators who lead their classrooms, schools, and districts are white. Racial
Jobs January 2022 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.

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 A Digital Divide Haunts Schools Adapting to Virus Hurdles
As more families pivot back to remote learning, reliable, consistent access to devices and home internet remains elusive for many students.
5 min read
Isaiah Schneider, 9, left, and his brother Adam, 7, complete a level on their learning game played on a tablet computer, in their bedroom, Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021, in the Brooklyn borough of New York. Their mother April Schneider says she is lucky her two oldest children attend the same school and can share technology. "When one computer is down, we can us the other," said Schneider. "There needs to be more computers. More staff. More outreach."
Isaiah Schneider, 9, left, and his brother Adam, 7, complete a level on their learning game played on a tablet computer, in their bedroom in the Brooklyn borough of New York. Their mother April Schneider says she is lucky her two oldest children attend the same school and can share technology. "When one computer is down, we can us the other," said Schneider. "There needs to be more computers. More staff. More outreach."
John Minchillo/AP Photo
Classroom Technology Spotlight Spotlight on Interactive Technology
This Spotlight will help you consider what changes are on the horizon with the metaverse, parent privacy concerns, and virtual SEL options.
Classroom Technology Schools Are Battling Tech Fatigue. How Are They Responding?
Blended learning—a mix of face-to-face and online instruction—is declining in popularity, a Christensen Institute survey shows.
2 min read
Conceptual image of an in-person classroom in front of a virtual class
Bet Noire/iStock
Classroom Technology Opinion How Schools Can Stem the Toxic Tide of Technology
Students' relationships, motivation, mood, sleep, and safety—all are at risk, writes researcher Andy Hargreaves.
Andy Hargreaves
5 min read
Illustration of girl using computer
Yulia Sutyagina/iStock/Getty Images Plus<br/>