3 ways edtech and administrators can strengthen outcomes together

Purchasing an edtech platform shouldn’t be another checkbox on a district’s to-do list, but an intentional, strategic process that ensures solutions are implemented with fidelity.
James Stoffer
James Stofferhttps://abre.com/
James Stoffer is CEO of Abre, a modern data solution that delivers software and services designed to be easily adopted and used by everyone in the learning community. With a passion for leading and scaling social impact companies, James has spent nearly 20 years in education technology.

When investing in new edtech solutions, school administrators put their trust and their students’ futures in the hands of vendors. It can be hard to rest easy between the significant financial cost and the endless hours spent onboarding and training—all in the hopes that a solution will deliver on its intended promises.

Most districts currently pay upfront for edtech solutions at the beginning of their fiscal year in July and sign a minimum of a 12-month contract. Unfortunately, if a platform fails to live up to expectations and the vendor does nothing to alleviate the issues, they’re trapped until renewal time, draining budgets and leaving students in the lurch.

To ensure the best for our students, our collective industry—which includes district leaders and edtech providers alike—needs to better hold ourselves accountable and revamp how we approach our partnerships moving forward.

Better the edtech vetting process

In the rush to reverse learning loss, many district leaders get ahead of themselves, landing on a “feel good” solution before identifying the challenges they’re trying to solve. They focus on the end result without considering how they’ll track performance along the way.

Purchasing an edtech platform shouldn’t be another checkbox on a district’s to-do list, but an intentional, strategic process that ensures solutions are implemented with fidelity. All essential stakeholders should be involved to establish educational priorities, determine the district’s return on investment and identify variables for success. If they can’t agree on all three, there are bigger issues at hand that no platform can resolve.

Just as overwhelming is finding the right partner among the 12,000 vendors in the edtech market. Administrators need to use their own qualitative information and experience to identify gaps in data utilization and find compatible partners. And just as important, they should seek feedback directly from districts with similar student demographics to learn how the solution worked for them.

Hold vendors accountable with real-time results

Many edtech vendors promise the world to administrators desperate to quickly move the needle in a positive direction. Yet, these bold claims are rarely tracked at the individual vendor level. And if they are, the evidence is drawn only from data that identifies correlation without taking into account causation, such as learning differences, mental health concerns and socioeconomic factors. Researchers also find that because there’s minimal federal oversight of the edtech industry, vendors have little incentive to prove their solutions work.

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Before diving into a partnership, the district and provider need to mutually agree on performance metrics to gauge the success of platform integration. The vendor must dedicate the time to craft customized, data-driven solutions that deliver the answers administrators are seeking and create a feedback loop to quickly identify what’s working and what’s not in real time.

With the right data-as-a-service solution, administrators don’t have to wait months or even years to determine its validity. Administrators have a comprehensive picture and actionable insights to ensure the district’s strategic goals are being met in real-time and if not, determine where and how things need to change immediately.

Revisit the edtech pricing structure

For years, the enterprise-grade solutions revenue model has been centered on paid, up-front contracts and multi-year licenses. Districts believed that a one-time investment was better for budget planning and that a long-term contract would allow administrators and educators to become accustomed to the platform.

In reality, districts have found themselves scrambling to fix financial and implementation holes. Increasing seat licenses to ensure all stakeholders had access to information sent budgets reeling, and districts often paid for overbuilt software that made it costly to extract the data insights they required.

It’s time administrators shift from up-front, per-unit billing to a combination of consumption and performance-based pricing. By agreeing on predetermined metrics with vendors, the district can “pay as they go,” either monthly or quarterly based on what’s being used and ideally, what’s working. If an issue arises, the vendor is incentivized to make real-time adjustments, rather than shrug it off until renewal time.

For Ector County ISD in Texas, the outcomes-based model helped the district determine the best tutoring platforms for their students. Multiple partners were compensated based on the level of academic growth students experienced, and those that delivered the most powerful results secured an ongoing contract.

Finally, if edtech vendors truly want to demonstrate they are invested in student success, they must follow best practices and offer a money-back guarantee. Sales representatives can talk a big game, and their companies can walk away without repercussions if reality doesn’t live up to expectations. Guarantees help administrators determine who has skin in the game and who values sales over students.

By centering on a guaranteed, performance-based pricing structure, districts and vendors become true partners in using data to shape student outcomes and create long-term (and profitable!) relationships that last for years.

With all the critical student issues administrators are focused on, from chronic absenteeism to poverty and hunger to school safety, edtech solutions should take extra work and stress off their shoulders. By moving away from the standard, transactional relationship toward a mutually beneficial partnership, vendors can become the dedicated allies today’s administrators and students need for greater academic outcomes.

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