University of Virginia’s EdTech Evidence Exchange analysis finds that edtech spending is between $26 billion and $41 billion per year; reinforces urgent need to understand which technology tools are working, where, and why
March 17, 2021 – The U.S. federal government, states, and school districts collectively spend between $26 and $41 billion per year on education technology materials, according to a new analysis released today by a coalition of education nonprofits led by the EdTech Evidence Exchange. These estimates reflect a troubling lack of understanding about how much the country actually spends on edtech, and also suggest that even according to the lowest estimates, the country spends at least twice the $13 billion figure often previously cited by industry analysts and policymakers.
“We are spending billions of dollars on technology with almost no information about which tools actually work, where, and why,” said Bart Epstein, CEO of the EdTech Evidence Exchange and a research associate professor at the University of Virginia School of Education and Human Development. “We know that technology can have a profound impact on educational outcomes, but thousands of tools and programs used by schools are creating confusion for educators and administrators, not to mention students and parents. When poorly selected or implemented, they waste teacher time and energy and rob students of learning opportunities. Making good on the transformative potential of education technology starts with listening to, and learning from, people who are actually using it.”
Conducted in partnership with Whiteboard Advisors, and endorsed by the American Association of School Administrators (AASA), International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE,) the Consortium of School Networking (CoSN), State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA), InnovateEDU, and ASCD, the comprehensive analysis found that between $5.4 billion and $8.1 billion is spent each year on digital instructional materials alone. Another $15.5 billion is spent on hardware and network support in K-12 schools, and approximately $2.7 billion is spent annually on digital assessments. While there are no reliable estimates of how much is spent on professional development (PD) related to edtech, the research suggests that as much as $15 billion could be spent annually on PD that is either technology-dependent or technology-focused.
“It’s a gift and a curse,” said Daniel Domenech, Executive Director of AASA. “The sheer scope of the ballooning edtech market is exciting for all of the tools and innovations it can bring to education, but it also makes leaders’ jobs exponentially more complex when it comes to discovering and implementing the right products from this vast ocean.”
“Educators believe in the power of technology. They are using technology to stem gaps and build a more equitable recovery. But we’ve got a long way to go in our efforts to use edtech well,” said Erin Mote, Co-Founder and Executive Director of InnovateEDU. “Before jumping in with both feet on technologies that don’t yet have evidence of their effectiveness, it’s critical that we listen to the voices of teachers and administrators to understand what actually works.”
“One of the biggest things standing in the way of effective educational technology usage is lack of consistent implementation information. Professional learning supporting the use of technology in the classroom needs to be more targeted and assessed to ensure that these valuable resources are being used efficiently,” said Ranjit Sidhu, CEO of ASCD. “Helping teachers access and use the technology tools that are the best fit for their classrooms is essential if we want to ensure that significant financial investment improves student success.”
“Every decision-maker, at every level of the school system, is making what they believe are the best choices for students,” said Doug Casey, Chair-Elect, SETDA Board, and Executive Director, Connecticut Commission for Educational Technology. “But given the current state of fragmentation and heavy workloads, those decisions are rarely made with complete information. We need better ways to access quality research that can inform decisions about which tools are purchased and how they are implemented.”
“These findings can help anchor district leaders’ efforts to ensure that those charged with delivering on the promise of education technology have what they need to do it right,” said Keith Krueger, CEO of CoSN. “Sometimes the status quo feels like the wild west -- which is why it’s critical that we equip educators with the information they need to make the right choices for their classrooms.”
“When chosen thoughtfully and implemented well, technology can be a powerful tool to help power up learning for all students,” said Joseph South, Chief Learning Officer of ISTE. “That’s why we urgently need to facilitate more knowledge-sharing among educators, so that they -- and the technology companies who serve them -- have a clearer understanding of what works.”
With support from philanthropic and social impact organizations including the Strada Education Network, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, and Carnegie Corporation of New York, the EdTech Evidence Exchange is a nonprofit affiliated with the University of Virginia School of Education and Human Development that taps teacher insights to help schools make better-informed decisions about education technology. The Exchange is working toward providing stipends to hundreds of thousands of teachers who will document their unique experiences with education technology, share feedback with peers in similar contexts, and contribute to a platform that enables educators nationwide to learn from one another at scale.