Expert Viewpoint

5 Common Ed Tech RFP Mistakes That Make It Less Effective

In the post-pandemic world, many school district administrators are taking the time to reevaluate the education technology purchased in a hurry in March 2020. They are carefully considering how to use the last of the ESSER grant money and how to streamline tools to make them more effective. But it’s not always easy to engage and select those tools and vendors.

The request for proposal, or RFP, process can be daunting and can include dozens of pages of documents, as required by law. We have received hundreds of RFPs and can share best practices to help administrators streamline the process. To create an effective RFP, there are some basic pitfalls to avoid that will help you save time, and in some cases, even save money.

1) Unclear Objectives

Some RFPs simply fail to state what ed tech solution they seek and why. If a committee is seeking a technology to help with reading, they must make that clear to obtain the necessary information from each company providing reading solutions. That can include buyers’ guides that spell out the technology’s features and pricing.

Before starting an RFP, think about what the primary objective is in the first place. Is it to provide supplementary resources for students struggling with math? Is it to raise reading scores? Is it purely organizational to help teachers with lesson planning? By defining the objectives, the RFP will yield the information school districts need to move forward on an ed tech purchasing decision.

2) Not Changing the Template

Administrators creating an RFP abide by strict laws set in place by the state as well as the district. This often results in a template that saves time. While convenient, it can also be problematic. If using a template, administrators should check carefully to ensure that old information is not in there.

An RFP asking for a single sign-on solution should not have any details about math books. We ask students to proofread their work. The same goes for RFPs. Vendors are unable to act on RFPs that have incorrect information, and sometimes, broken links or missing documents. When that happens, ed tech vendors must contact the district and request a redo. If administrators must backtrack to fill out an entirely new RFP, it can cost the district valuable time in finding the ed tech solutions they need.

3) Conflicting Data

Another common mistake is conflicting data within the RFP. Vendors must provide key pieces of information for administrators to consider before they move forward on a purchase. If the guidelines are unclear or not specific enough, they will be unable to provide the correct information. This can include mismatched deadlines, such as asking for a response within 60 days, and 20 pages later, asking for a response within 90 days.

It is critical to lay out the decision criteria for all vendors to avoid any conflicting data. While technically illegal, RFP requests that are targeting specific vendors do exist. If other vendors do not fit into the district’s requirements, they will be unable to meet the request from the district. The options for ed tech then become more limited which then impacts the effective tools available to students.

4) Too Much Jargon

Using plain language is one of the best ways to communicate with ed tech vendors. Jargon can make it extremely difficult for a vendor to send the necessary information for an RFP. While ed tech vendors are experts in their own respective fields, complex language can sometimes be confusing.

Simplicity can be the ticket to a better RFP, and a better template, if districts are using one. Administrators should look at the language in the RFP and ask if a stranger walking down the street would understand it. If not, there might be too much jargon. It is imperative that vendors understand what the request is for and what is required of them to submit one.

5) Unprepared To Buy an Ed Tech Solution

An RFP takes effort on the part of a school district, as well as an ed tech vendor. It is not the first step in the process to secure ed tech solutions to help with learning challenges and it is certainly not the last. Administrators who are unprepared to make a purchase should not make a request for proposal.

After identifying that funding is in place, whether through federal ESSER money or state grants, preliminary research might not be enough to narrow down the companies that will receive an RFP. Administrators should reach out to a sales contact who can help guide them through product details, and even provide a demonstration or free trial. An RFP should only follow if administrators are confident they are ready to purchase one of the technologies.

While an RFP is a laborious process, it can lead to technologies that result in better student outcomes. District administrators should take time to ensure their RFPs are free of mistakes, jargon and information that is conflicting or reused from old templates. Avoiding these pitfalls will enable districts to receive the best RFP responses possible which in turn will allow them to choose the best solution for their students.

About the Authors

Angela Arnold is the general manager of OverDrive Education, where she leads a team of account executives, account managers, and librarians who build customized reading experiences for K–12 schools and districts.

Sarah Lintern is a lawyer and proposal writer at OverDrive Education and has responded to hundreds of grants, RFPs, and tenders throughout her career.