By guest blogger Sam Atkeson
An internal audit conducted by the Fort Worth school district in Texas has uncovered more than $2.7 million worth of computer technology that was either unnecessary or unused altogether.
The recently released audit examined seven years worth of spending and what the authors identified as $1.8 million in wasteful hardware purchasing and $823,380 in misguided software buying. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were also spent to maintain the unused equipment, the Star-Telegram reports.
Kyle Davie, the district's chief technology officer, told the Star-Telegram that the school system expects to stop paying service fees associated with maintaining the technology, including a combined $85,000 to Plano, Texas-based software provider Tyler Technologies and Santa Clara, Calif.-based data management company SchoolCity Inc. this year.
The legal services department, he added, will be looking into the possibility of recovering some of the money that was lost to unnecessary fees.
The news comes as researchers and industry groups are reporting a growing demand for ed-tech products in school districts across the country.
Fueled in part by the common core's emphasis on technology-based standards and assessments at the national level, the increase in ed-tech market activity has also resulted from the efforts of individual school systems to implement technologies they believe will facilitate more personalized learning and increase student achievement.
But the costs of implementing new educational technologies—financial and otherwise—are high. And with great cost comes great risk.
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In Fort Worth, Davie is calling for more collaboration moving forward in order to ensure that the products purchased by the roughly 80,000-student school district are properly utilized by the individual departments themselves.
"While I do concur that all technology purchases should be fully used by the district," Davie said in a statement to Education Week, "it is also the responsibility of the individual departments to ensure they are utilizing the products we procure on their behalf. I will continue to work collaboratively with them to ensure we do this district-wide."
Keith Krueger, CEO of the Consortium for School Networking, says that these kinds of partnerships are necessary in order for school systems to ensure that what's purchased with tax payer dollars is being well used.
And while audits are also important, Krueger argues, they are not the most effective way to monitor that usage.
"The good news is that with so much of the digital content, apps and services that schools are purchasing today, you can track who exactly is using what," Krueger said. Unlike with physical textbooks, "schools can now track whether the licenses that they purchase are being used. And maybe they'll find they are buying too many."
But experts in the field agree that measures to avoid wasteful tech spending must also be taken before any products are purchased (see Ross Brenneman's article on asking the right questions before buying technology).
According to Samantha Becker, director of communications at the New Media Consortium, an Austin, Texas-based association that conducts research and advises K-12 schools and colleges on technology use, educational technology should serve to compliment teaching and learning styles.
"When considering making a purchase," Becker argues, "it's really critical to evaluate how that technology fits in to the pedagogy and the teaching style. If, for example, you are using a flipped classroom model—how is that technology helping students to learn the material at home, and then facilitating a more hands-on, immersive class discussion at school?"
Krueger stresses the need for schools to exercise prudence when considering the financial burden of a technology purchase—including both upfront and long-term costs.
"Before you purchase, you need to understand the total cost of ownership," he argues. "Secondly, you need to be able to articulate its value."
Only then, Krueger says, can a school come to calculate the ROI or "Return on Investment". In the business world, ROI refers to the profitability to shareholders, Krueger adds, but for schools, the term has a different meaning.
"What we're about is the value to the learning," he said, "So some of those benefits are intangible, but it doesn't mean they're not measurable."
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