Edtech and the Public Trust

trust

Chris Lehman’s call to arms for those of us in education to remember that we have a responsibility to hold the public trust resonated with me. As a co-founder of an edtech company, LessonCast Learning, and curriculum and professional developer in a large district, I take this responsibility very seriously. I share Chris’ disappointment when this trust is violated, and unfortunately, as Chris indicates, it seems to happen too often.

Of course, cheating scandals, and covering up cheating scandals are clear-cut violations. However, when we’re not thoughtful about finding the best deal on buying simple supplies like markers, we’re also not taking the best care of the public’s limited resources.  When we waste teachers’ time by not carefully preparing professional development opportunities, we’re also not honoring precious resources.

Our work in edtech focuses on providing real solutions for real education problems because we care deeply about impacting schools.  I entered and have remained in education because I see it as a social justice issue.  I could have joined the business world and risen the ranks with an accompanying high salary. There are also significantly larger markets than education—for me, they’re just not as important, which is why I’m discouraged when folks enter the edtech community who care little about solving real problems in education. Too many see edtech simply as an emerging market with potential for high profits. (There are many notable exceptions! I’ve been deeply impressed with the integrity and dedication of many of my colleagues.)

For example, instead of thinking through how the new Common Core State Standards will impact student learning, the focus of some companies is on how this can be made into an opportunity to make money.  Schools are frightened and confused about how to meet the new demands and are too often willing to try anything that claims to be the solution.  If as an edtech company, we can support schools by providing meaningful services and products, then we are upholding the public trust. If we haven’t thoroughly researched and thought through our services, then we are not upholding that trust and essentially have become snake oil salesmen.

Now, I believe that edtech companies should make money—the value we contribute to a learning community should be compensated fairly. On a practical level, companies need to pay their bills, and we need funds to continue to improve our services to better meet the needs of schools.  Also, when schools pay a reasonable price for a product or service, they’re able to demand more from their partners and they’re able to depend on the product remaining available. Free services have no obligation to make adjustments to meet a school’s needs or even to remain free.  It’s important for a partnering company to have a genuine relationship with the school community it serves.

The big question each edtech company needs to ask itself is the product or service it’s offering worthy of public funds? Will it have enough impact on learning to warrant a school allocating precious funds from its limited budget?

If not, we’re abusing the trust placed in us by taxpayers, and more importantly, we’re essentially stealing from children who deserve a high-quality education. We’re not willing to do that, which is why our team keeps these questions at the forefront as we strive to make sure our services truly impact schools. (To learn more about the process we’re supporting in schools, read Nicole’s series on lean methodology and view our short video for principals.)

 

About the author

Katrina (@katrinastevens1), Community Developer for LessonCast Learning, has over 20 years experience as a district leader, professional developer, principal, adjunct professor, consultant, academic dean, department chair-- and throughout all of these roles—a teacher. She has worked in public and independent schools, from elementary through higher education. In Katrina’s recent role as ELA STEM Supervisor for Baltimore County, she led district-wide content literacy and transdisciplinary instruction initiatives to help prepare the district for the adoption of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). She also spent three years in Bermuda establishing a gifted and talented program through Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Talented Youth.

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