School districts getting ripped off with expensive edtech, new report finds


Schools are getting seriously swindled on educational technology, according to a recent report.

Districts across the country are being overcharged by at least $3 billion on hardware and software every year — equal to 54,000 first-year teacher salaries, according to an explosive report by the Technology for Education Consortium, a nonprofit.

The organization, which was started by a former New York City Department of Education chief information officer, found that schools spend an estimated $13.2 billion on edtech products annually. Data was analyzed from 130 districts around the country.

Broken down further, that amounts to $4.9 billion on tablets, laptops and desktop computers, and $8.38 billion on instructional and non-instructional software content. The report’s authors attribute the massive overselling to “lack of price transparency” around companies that do not make price tags visible, and schools that lack resources to investigate and compare them.

The report’s authors argue that districts could save at least 20 percent on their current purchases if they had access to what other districts are spending. In a snapshot of district spending, a school district in the Northeast with more than 300,000 students spends $72 per student out of an edtech budget of $75 million, while a charter school with fewer than 500 students in the same region spends $40 per student out of a $20,000 edtech budget.

That leaves a significant amount of money that could have been spent on alternative programs or resources for the classroom, the report’s authors argue.

“Quantifying the amount of money that districts can save is another step toward a level playing field,” said Hal Friedlander, co-founder and CEO of TEC. “Vendors are able to overcharge school districts because it’s incredibly difficult for district administrators to know if they are getting a good price with the existing convoluted pricing structure. We need more transparency in the edtech market.”

The study hones in on a tool that is being bought up by districts in droves: Apple’s iPad. Schools cleaned out 1.1 million iPads just between April and June 2015, according to the report — but administrators and tech purchasers may not be aware of the cost differentials.

The per unit price of the popular tablet ranged between $112 and $115 for common models like the iPad Air 2 16GB and the 64GB. If districts saved by purchasing on the lower end of the price spectrum, that would save them a whopping $500 million, according to the report.

The same goes for Chromebooks — districts could save and reallocate roughly the same amount of money saved from iPads if schools were more savvy about steering clear of the new, more expensive models, and gravitated to older models that have the same tools and functions. For example, the price for an HP 11 decreased by about $13 from March to November 2016.

To combat the lack of transparency around pricing, the consortium has created the TEC Data Platform, an online library of how much school districts are paying for edtech. Districts will be able to see the actual price paid for both hardware and software products, and connect with each other for potential group purchasing.

It is free for districts to join TEC, which currently partners with more than 190 member districts representing 4 million K-12 students and $400 million in edtech spending.

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