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An Associated Press (AP) analysis of public records found many of the largest school systems spent tens of millions of dollars in pandemic money on software and services from tech companies, including licenses for apps, games, and tutoring websites.
Schools, however, have little or no evidence the programs helped students. Some of the new software was rarely used.
The AP asked the nation’s 30 largest school districts for contracts funded by federal pandemic aid. About half provided records illuminating an array of software and technology, collectively called “edtech.”
Clark County schools in the Las Vegas area, for one, signed contracts worth at least $70 million over two years with 12 education technology consultants and companies. They include Achieve3000 (for a suite of learning apps), Age of Learning (for math and reading acceleration), Paper (for virtual tutoring), and Renaissance Learning (for learning apps Freckle and MyON).
“That money went to a wide variety of products and services, but it was not distributed on the basis of merit or equity or evidence,” said Bart Epstein, founder and former CEO of EdTech Evidence Exchange, a nonprofit that helps schools make the most of their technology. “It was distributed almost entirely on the strength of marketing, branding, and relationships.”
The Education Department urges schools to use technology with a proven track record and offers a rating system to assess a product’s evidence. The lowest tier is a relatively easy target: Companies must “demonstrate a rationale” for the product, with plans to study its effectiveness. Yet studies find the vast majority of popular products fail to hit even that mark.
Some districts plan to pull back contracts that didn’t work and expand those that did.
Some Las Vegas parents say software shouldn’t be a priority in a district with issues including aging buildings and more than 1,100 teacher vacancies. “What’s the point of having all this software in place when you don’t even have a teacher to teach the class? It doesn’t make sense,” said Lorena Rojas, who has two teens in the district.
Chris Ryan, a former edtech marketer, said that at the end of the day, no technology can guarantee results. “It’s like the Wild West, figuring this out,” he said. “And if you take a huge step back, what really works is direct instruction with a kid.”
This article was provided by The Associated Press.