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Report Outlines Strategies for Streamlining District Procurement

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A pair of organizations is urging school districts and private-sector entrepreneurs to work more closely together to streamline and improve the process through which school systems choose and buy educational technology.

Digital Promise, a nonprofit authorized by Congress to support innovation in education, and IDEO, a design firm, released a report this week offering suggestions for districts on how they can use procurement to bring more innovative, and more useful tech products to administrators, teachers, and students.

The document is meant to offer ideas for an improved process, and to collect new ones from districts, private-sector vendors, startup officials, and others. One major frustration of ed-tech entrepreneurs is that its hard for them to know what kinds of innovations school districts want, or will accept. That leads to the development of a lot of cool-seeming products that don't help educators, and to school officials seeking tech innovations but not knowing where to find them.

Here's how the League of Innovative Schools, the flagship initiative of Digital Promise that brings together district officials, startup companies, and others, describes the prevailing disconnect: "The K-12 market represents a significant—but daunting—opportunity for service providers. The combination of uninformed purchasing decisions, a highly disaggregated market, and a byzantine procurement process stops innovative tools from making their way into the classroom."

The new report is based on survey of district officials from the league, as well as nonprofits and other organizations. It also draws from a March workshop with district leaders and technology advocates, designed to gather ideas about how procurement could be improved.

The document makes several suggestions for improving the procurement process. One suggestion is to make the process more transparent, and simplify it, by explaining it to school officials, vendors, and the public through maps, case studies, and other means, to increase their understanding of how products enter K-12 systems.

The authors also suggest that schools should become more involved in working with ed-tech entrepreneurs. Districts can give entrepreneurs and startup company officials more direct access to school employees and students, in exchange for discounts, or privileged access to products, the report suggests. (This process occurs to some degree when districts allow beta-testing in their systems, with varied results, as described by Education Week in a recent story.)

In addition, district procurement officials can take more of a "bottom-up planning approach," the report says. That mean working more closely with teachers and administrators so that they have more direct input in how districts buy technology, and so procurement more closely reflects what those employees' need, and what they can do without.

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