Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S8
EDUCATION WEEK n
April 15, 2015
Blended Learning: Breaking Down Barriers > www.edweek.org/go/blended-barriers
instructional coach at
J.C. Nalle Elementary
School in the District
of Columbia, works
with students Traci
Burton, left, and Nygal
Young during a lesson
using the blended
ST Math. The district
though not required,
schools to use the
for Education Week
Districts Weigh Control
Over Software Buying
By Benjamin Herold
s with most big-ticket items, school district central offices like
to control the purse strings when it comes time to shop for
new blended learning software.
But school procurement experts, education technology
vendors, and school leaders alike are increasingly convinced
that a more bottom-up approach offers a better chance for
solid implementation-and, they hope, big learning gains.
Across the country, districts and schools are confronting tension between
centrally controlled and site-based purchasing. In the pair of stories
that follow, Education Week looks beneath the hood of the experiences
of a large district and individual elementary school that each bought and
implemented the same product in recent years.
Steven Hodas, a practitioner-in-residence at the Center on Reinventing
Public Education, a research and policy-advocacy center at the University of
Washington, in Seattle, is among those who favor a decentralized approach.
"When it comes from the top, it's easy for people in schools to fold their
arms and wait for it to blow over," he said. "If you make sure the people who
are doing the work are not objects, but subjects, you're a lot more likely to get
their buy-in and their commitment to making [the software] work."
The challenge is that school-level purchasing is full of potential pitfalls, too.
And so the result is growing experimentation and variation in the
ways school systems buy blended-learning software and roll it out in
Take, for example, the starkly different approaches taken to buy st
Math, a popular blended-learning program from the mind Research Institute,
an Irvine, Calif.-based nonprofit, now used by 2,500 schools around
In Colorado Springs, Colo., the 385-student Pioneer Elementary School
is the only one in the 24,000-student Academy District 20-which has
made school-level autonomy a priority-to adopt the software.
"I've been in education since 1982," said Diane Quarles-Naghi, Pioneer's
principal. "At this point in my career, I would never want for someone
to say, 'You can only use this.' "
Across the country, the 46,000-student District of Columbia system sits
toward the other end of the procurement spectrum. Now in its third year
of a large, centrally led effort, it has pushed st Math out to 46 of its 70
"I definitely strongly encourage all schools to jump in," said John P.
Rice, the manager of blended learning for the district. "But we're not
going to schools and saying, 'You have to find the money to do this now.'
It's posed in a more positive way."
There's no solid research on which approach produces the best results
for students, said Steven M. Ross, a senior research scientist and professor
of education at Johns Hopkins University, in Baltimore. But it's clear that
most purchasing of educational software is still done centrally, he said.
Benefits of Centralized Expertise
A big argument in favor of that approach is that district-level technology
experts often know more than their school-level counterparts about
the range of ed-tech options available-and what research says about
their effectiveness. Most principals simply lack the time and expertise to
adequately vet the hundreds of products that vendors are trying to sell them.
Central offices also tend to have a better sense of the infrastructure and
hardware requirements necessary to implement blended learning. They
tend to have the expertise to handle challenging issues such as studentdata
privacy and interoperability between software systems. And there
can be benefits to using the same instructional materials across all schools,
particularly in districts with high student
mobility and teacher turnover.
But a big drawback of centralized purchasing
is that the people who matter
most-principals and teachers-may be less
likely to buy in if they feel a new technology
program is being forced on them or doesn't
meet specific student needs.
And the consequences of getting a big,
centralized software purchase wrong-in
terms of money, time, credibility, and, most
importantly, impact on students-are also
incredibly high, said Mr. Hodas.
"More and more schools understand the
value of making a lot of small bets instead of
one big bet," he said.
That's the approach taken in the New
Some see payoffs
in ceding power over
to individual schools
York City education department's office of innovation, which Mr. Hodas
headed until 2014.
In such "hybrid" software-procurement systems, the role of the district
central office is to provide schools with supports and services that are
either too difficult or too costly for them to undertake themselves, such as
writing contracts and conducting product evaluations.
But when it comes to selecting the software used in their districts' classrooms,
the aim is to involve teachers and school leaders from the beginning,
As software buying is increasingly "decoupled" from infrastructure-building
efforts and device purchases, such school-level involvement in blendedlearning
purchases should become easier for more districts, Mr. Hodas said.
"I think we can have the best of both worlds," he said, "which is somewhere
between 'everyone do what the superintendent says' and 'every
3rd grade teacher is on her own.' " n
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report
District Establishes Wi-Fi In Local Community
K-12 System Loans Hotspots For Connectivity
Businesses Sign Up To Give Students Online Access After School Hours
On the Road: Wi-Fi Access on Wheels
Districts Weigh Control Over Software Buying
Centralized Purchasing Brings Rewards for D.C.
District Allows Schools To Lead on Buying
Research Uneven, Tough To Interpret
Behind a Looking Glass: Teachers Help Peers Master Technology
A Charter School Designed For Ed Tech
Librarians Adopt New Role: Guiding Blended Learning, District Tech Efforts
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S2
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - Contents
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - K-12 System Loans Hotspots For Connectivity
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - Businesses Sign Up To Give Students Online Access After School Hours
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - On the Road: Wi-Fi Access on Wheels
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S7
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - Districts Weigh Control Over Software Buying
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S9
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - District Allows Schools To Lead on Buying
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S11
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - Research Uneven, Tough To Interpret
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S13
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S14
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S15
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - Behind a Looking Glass: Teachers Help Peers Master Technology
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S17
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S18
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S19
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - A Charter School Designed For Ed Tech
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S21
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S22
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S23
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - Librarians Adopt New Role: Guiding Blended Learning, District Tech Efforts
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S25
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S26
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S27
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S28