Schools spent millions on edtech: evidence shows it helped little

Schools spent millions on edtech: evidence shows it helped little

Schools spent millions on edtech: evidence shows it helped little |


As federal pandemic relief money started flowing into schools in 2020, technology companies swooped in. They bombarded administrators with pitches for new software, promising it would help students catch up after COVID-19 disruptions. Best of all, they said, it could be purchased with those very relief funds.

According to an Oct. 9 Associated Press report, schools spent tens of millions on tech products with little proof they worked. The investigation found many large districts utilized federal aid to buy software licenses and edtech tools, often with scarce evidence it would benefit students.

When the pandemic forced remote learning, the edtech industry exploded practically overnight. With educators desperate for solutions, companies rushed products to market.

Investors funneled billions into edtech startups as revenue skyrocketed. At the same time, advances in marketing technology enabled an onslaught of targeted promotions. Software sales teams barraged teachers and administrators with calls, emails, and online ads.

According to Chris Ryan, who left edtech sales to help schools use technology effectively, the combination of urgent need and aggressive marketing created a “tech gold rush” atmosphere:

“It’s probably predatory, but at the same time, schools were looking for solutions, so the doors were open.”

Many companies promoted software to help students catch up on learning loss, an alluring pitch after extended campus closures. But there was little proof those products delivered results. Bart Epstein, founder of the nonprofit EdTech Evidence Exchange, said most purchases weren’t based on academic merit or research:

“It was distributed almost entirely on the strength of marketing, branding and relationships.”

With little federal oversight, edtech companies have few incentives to scientifically validate claims of effectiveness. International researchers reported in September that technology has largely failed to live up to its promise in education.

According to their findings, the vast majority of popular classroom software lacks rigorous research backing even its basic rationale. The federal government has done little to intervene in the issue.

According to AP’s analysis, some of the largest school systems sunk tens of millions into edtech. They obtained contracts through public records requests, though about half of the 30 largest districts did not provide them.

Clark County, Nevada schools spent a minimum of $ 70 million on software. This included multimillion-dollar deals with companies like Renaissance Learning and Age of Learning. Parents have questioned the focus on technology when the district has over 1,100 teacher vacancies and aging buildings.

Many products went largely unused, like Clark County’s $ 2 million math app Freckle. The district declined interview requests.

In Maryland’s Prince George’s County, curriculum director Kia McDaniel prioritized tools with independent evidence behind them. However, she said for many products, such data simply doesn’t exist.

There appears to be little accountability for how Edtech contracts are performed. Jefferson County, Kentucky, allocated over $ 30 million to companies like Paper, FEV Tutoring, and Edmentum. The district did not provide records evaluating the purchases and said most were approved by officials no longer there.

According to Ryan, no technology can replace quality teaching. He stated bluntly that at the end of the day, “what really works is direct instruction with a kid.”

Featured Image Credit: Photo by Mary Taylor; Pexels; Thank you!

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Radek Zielinski

Radek Zielinski is an experienced technology and financial journalist with a passion for cybersecurity and futurology.