Report Profiles School System/Vendor Partnership for Developing Relevant Ed Tech

Buy versus build is no longer the primary decision school systems have to make in meeting their needs for learning software. A new case study suggests a third alternative: true partnering. Clayton Christensen Institute has researched just such a relationship between a charter school organization and an education technology vendor, both of which were flailing in their efforts to scale up and find wider adoption of products they were sure could help students.

In "Connecting Ed & Tech: Partnering to Drive Student Outcomes," education researcher Thomas Arnett profiled the situation of Leadership Public Schools, a charter school management organization that operates three high schools in the San Francisco Bay Area, and Gooru, a non-profit ed tech company.

A teacher in the school system had created a promising personalized learning approach, and the charter operation wanted to scale that beyond its original pilot classrooms. Gooru had technology that was experiencing "slower-than-expected adoption" because the platform didn't "adequately" address teachers' use cases. Introduced by a mutual acquaintance, the leaders of these two organizations met over breakfast for more than a year before coming to agreement and deciding to tackle the work of redesigning Gooru's service in a way that would serve the schools in the same way its home-grown tool did.

As Arnett's report pointed out, generally, ed tech companies view partnering as helping to make "their existing technologies" meet the needs of the school. In this case, the school system wanted a partner "that would be genuinely interested in doing in-depth collaborative design" in order to create a technology aligned specifically with instructional strategies it had already developed for math.

In this case, Arnett said, the two organizations succeeded "because they created something much more collaborative and tight knit than a traditional partnership." For example, they formed an integrated team for testing and validating designs quickly and cost-effectively.

Also, their business models and revenue sources shared something in common. Their goals focused on impact in the classroom and on student outcomes, not on growth of user base, the typical interest of venture capitalists. In this case, the project was funded with grants, and both entities had other sources of revenue to sustain their on-going operations outside of the platform development.

Now both organizations are working to scale their technology and its associated personalized learning practices to other K–12 schools and teachers.

"Schools, technology vendors and entrepreneurs must ask themselves a simple question — what does your funding motivate you to do?" said Arnett. "The story of [Leadership Public Schools] and Gooru's partnership provides important insights for others in the field who are working to design ed tech tools that successfully connect teaching and technology to consistently deliver improved student outcomes."

The full study is freely available on the Christensen Institute website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.