Ed Tech Trends

Last Year 'Highest Spend Year on Record' for Digital Content in K-12

Almost nine in 10 schools and districts (86 percent) expect to spend more on digital curriculum this year than last year. More than half (56 percent) of the teachers in those sites rely primarily on paid resources over free open education resources for their digital content. Billions in curriculum spend haven't been shifted from paper textbooks to digital material.

Those are a few results from the latest Digital Curriculum Strategy Survey produced annually by The Learning Counsel, a California-based organization that researches the shift in education to online curriculum. A total of 708 U.S. schools and districts responded to the survey in 2016.

Each year the counsel invites schools and districts to use a survey and assessment tool that queries them on tactics related to their digital curriculum, coverage models, policies, organizational practices and related elements.

According to the results from 2016, more than three-quarters of respondents (78 percent) reported that their students have access to a device for a "good portion" of the school day. Tablets are "losing popularity" among schools, and Chromebooks have gained and will continue to do so. Researcher David Kafitz found "no agreement among schools" regarding what the best device is based on the age of the student. But across the board, although respondents said they enjoyed between 79 percent and 91 percent of network coverage in their classrooms and common areas (depending on whether the site was an elementary, middle or high school), it's still not enough. Most teachers find the networks "unreliable."

In curriculum outlay, K-12 spent about $9 billion in the last school year. That will inch up by an additional to $10 million in this school year to $9.01 billion, 57 percent of which will be spent by districts and the remainder by schools and teachers.

Kafitz reported that 2016 turned out to be the "highest spend year on record" for digital content — jumping by $1.5 billion due to state legislation forcing the curtailment of textbook purchases. The result was that the market for digital curriculum flipped by a total of $2 billion, weighted more in organizational spending than individual teacher spending for the first time. This is one of many signs the market is maturing, he noted.

The top two obstacles preventing the transition to digital matter involved professional development, tied first to classroom pedagogy and second to instruction or curriculum design.

Among respondents nobody reported using free resources exclusively. Thirty percent use free resources three-quarters of the time and paid resources the rest of the time. Twenty-five percent said they split resource usage half and half among free and paid. Another 31 percent said that a quarter of the resources they use are free and the remainder are paid for. And 17 percent said they didn't know what the mix was.

A summary of results is available on the company's website here. An extensive report issued by the counsel with full results is available for $325.

About the Author

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