When Hal Friedlander was chief information officer of the New York City Department of Education, one of his routine frustrations was the lack of easy access to pricing information about ed tech products. It could take a month to adequately respond to a question about software options for better supporting English learners.
Since leaving the New York City Department of Education last January, Friedlander has gotten serious about solving that problem.
The nonprofit Technology for Education Consortium, of which Friedlander is co-founder and CEO, has created a database for pricing and procurement data. Its core membership is 35 geographically diverse districts that range in size, and the platform is open now to districts nationwide who can join for free with the promise of sharing their own data.
Thanks to a partnership with LearnPlatform, membership also gets districts access to reviews of thousands of software titles. Friedlander says districts can compare pricing, look at reviews and put hard data behind their ed tech planning.
“It’ll give them the ability to produce a coherent strategy,” Friedlander said.
Already, the Technology for Education Consortium is seeing variation in pricing for the same product, purchased in the same quantity, of 20% to 30%. That can mean the difference between scaling up a successful pilot and abandoning a product altogether.
During a breakout session at a recent Future Ready Schools conference, Friedlander heard from a district participant who had purchased a reading tool for a small group of students with a licensing cost of $11 per child. When she called the vendor to talk about expanding use of the tool, the sales representative quoted a new cost of $19 per student. The district couldn’t pay that amount and told the company so, only to hear a few weeks later that the company was willing to maintain the $11-per-student price.
“Stuff like that happens all the time,” Friedlander said. “And when she said that price, everyone else’s jaw dropped because they were already paying significantly more than that $19-per-student she thought was too expensive.”
There often seems to be no logical explanation for the discounts some districts get on certain products. Transparency in pricing is virtually nonexistent.
Friedlander sees very traditional sales dynamics creating a type of wild west. Software providers try to make their money on commission, quoting higher prices when they think they can get them and, at other times, offering deep discounts to meet sales quotas.
Besides helping districts plan ahead for their ed tech purchases, pricing information from the TEC Data Platform can arm administrators with extra bargaining power with sales reps.
“That becomes a number that you can bring to the table,” Friedlander said.
Just like Education Superhighway shed light on the amount districts were spending for bandwidth, TEC will bring transparency to the conversation around devices and software. Already it has aggregated information about iPads, Chromebooks, projectors, Discovery textbooks, Read180, Accelerated Reader and Accelerated Math into its data platform. As more districts participate and contribute their procurement data, more information will be made available to members.
Friedlander wants to make districts feel safe about sharing their data. Reports are anonymized so nobody can get called out for overspending.
For more information about membership or to apply, visit tec.learnplatform.com.