Education technology, or edtech, is a pretty big business these days, but it had more humble origins. In the beginning, teachers were simply talking to each other about the best hardware and software that they had found.
But now that school districts are getting in on edtech and buying large quantities of hardware, especially iPads and Chromebooks, that communication has largely dried up. School districts aren’t really talking to each other about purchases, and that’s costing some of them a lot of money.
According to a recent report from the New York based Technology for Education Consortium (TEC), school districts aren’t getting the same deals on the same hardware, and in fact some are actually paying above retail prices for such devices.
“We had all these resources at these large districts: money, expertise, and staff,” said Hal Friedlander, TEC’s co-founder and chief executive. “We still had a hard time making good choices.”
TEC is a nonprofit founded in February 2016 specifically to help educators and school districts make more informed edtech buying decisions. At this point, they’re focused on gathering data from the 50 school districts nationwide, and giving those districts opportunities to get information from one another on the best options and deals.
Part of the problem is on the business end. Apple, for example, makes districts buy directly from them, but doesn’t have a system in place to handle those purchases across the board. Different sales reps can provide different deals, seemingly varying from region to region, which results in a wide variety of prices being paid for what amounts to the same products.
Chromebooks, because they’re made by a variety of manufacturers, can be tailored specifically to schools, which means they don’t have to cost as much. It means that the Chromebook market is competitive, so they can get better deals. Apple, meanwhile, does not allow retailers to make deals with schools, so they have to buy iPads from Apple or not at all.
Friedlander says that there are more than 17,000 school districts across the U.S., and he hopes that more of them will contribute their data about purchase prices for edtech. That way, the organization—and school officials across the country—will have more information at their disposal to make informed decisions.