K-12 EdTech: The Recent Past, Present & Future
By: Tal Frankfurt, Founder and CEO, Cloud for Good
A Chat between Cloud for Good & Salesforce.org
There’s no doubt about it: It’s an extremely challenging time for K-12 schools and districts. Schools face challenges that didn’t exist 20 years ago. But administrators are utilizing new technologies to stay ahead, to address opportunities that range from recruiting students and retaining teachers to engaging in philanthropy to an ever-increasing focus on data and reporting.
While technology is not a silver bullet that can address all the challenges in our schools, we know that technology can be transformative when used properly. Salesforce changed everything we know about software and created a new category of software as a service, and Salesforce.org recently announced the Education Cloud.
I spoke with Omar Garriott, head of product marketing for K-12 industry solutions at Salesforce.org, about where K-12 technology is headed.
Tal Frankfurt: Traditionally, Salesforce.org focused on nonprofit organizations and higher education institutions. When did Salesforce.org start working with K-12 schools? Why focus on schools?
Omar Garriott: It makes so much sense. Salesforce as a company has actually long been committed to K-12 education. We believe education is a great equalizer, in line with one of the company’s four core values of Equality.
We’ve invested in future leaders to the tune of tens of millions of dollars—part of a long-term $100M commitment to school districts alone—and more than 25,000 employee volunteer hours to local schools.
So our philanthropy and employee engagement in K-12 are quite substantive. We’ve got real skin in the game. But our commitment to education goes even further. It extends to our world-class technology. As you allude to, we already work with thousands of youth-serving nonprofits and Higher Ed institutions. Building on these successes and know-how, affordably getting our technology in the hands of K-12 schools and districts—and customizing it for their specific needs—is how we’ll really serve them at scale.
This work is aligned to our ethos as a company, and more importantly, comes at the right time for K-12. It’s an increasingly dynamic sector that’s become much more rigorous and demanding of its technology. On the heels of several waves of edtech and ed reform initiatives (some of them flashes-in-the-pan), K-12 now has a firm grasp on the potential (and the limits) of tech. Salesforce certainly has a role to play; whatever a school, district or network needs to do, we can probably help.
Frankfurt: What else do you see happening in K-12 edtech?
Garriott: K-12 often gets the “Luddite” label. I don’t think that’s fair. Schools are complicated environments in which to deploy technology. But a culture of real innovation has swept through schools in the last half-decade in particular. Much of it was led by teachers on the front lines, to whom visionary district leaders gave license to experiment. It was a teaching-and-learning-focused revolution.
Now I think we’re at a point where Superintendents and CIOs are increasingly looking to spread this innovative goodness across entire systems—with proven solutions for data management and system interoperability versus the solely classroom-based recent legacy of edtech. This seems to be coinciding with a dearth of demonstrated use cases that direct-to-teacher tools can be profitable in the long run. Salesforce is not a startup; our platform is the best and most widely used in the world, and we’re here to stay.
Perhaps it’s a bit less sexy than some app that promises to change how teachers teach and students learn, but school and system leaders know that these enterprise-wide solutions are where scalable, quantifiable operational efficiencies can be gained.
Frankfurt: Salesforce.org has significant traction in Higher Education. Are the challenges K-12 schools face different than the challenges Higher Ed institutions are facing?
Garriott: To be sure, there are commonalities inasmuch as they’re both large, complex systems with a range of stakeholders—which can correlate with a propensity to have data silos. The value to both types of institutions in today’s world comes when they connect everything and everyone on a single platform across the campus or school/district. In both environments, across all of education, technology must put students and families at the center. They are the customers.
Frankfurt: K-12 schools are held accountable for student performance in a way that higher education institutions are not. What can schools do to increase performance or provide better data to evaluate the performance of schools?
Garriott: I think we’re seeing a relatively new phenomenon in K-12: Data proliferation. For awhile it was all about gathering student and constituent data. Then we all wrestled with how best to synthesize, report and visualize it. Now we’re moving towards how to actually use all of that in a collaborative way.
Salesforce doesn’t aspire to be a redundant or replacement data layer. We’ve seen a real need, and had many schools come to us seeking a way to get information—whether on academic performance, standardized tests, behavioral, family contact info, extracurricular, and more—to paint a more 360-degree (and real-time) view of how a student is doing. The promise of technology in K-12 now, it seems to me, is about managing towards holistic student success through K-12, college, and career—like the Boston Day & Evening Academy is doing (warning: video is likely to elicit goosebumps!).
We have other customers using case management solutions built initially with partners for human services nonprofits—and large charter networks such as KIPP tracking postsecondary enrollment and alumni whereabouts. Technology is a critical facilitator of that holistic management approach, which relies on collaboration and getting information out of silos.
Frankfurt: What can schools do to better collaborate and communicate with parents?
Garriott: When I was a third-grade teacher fifteen years ago, parental communication was relegated to those moments when interventions were sorely needed. I had my nightly call list, and you did not want to be on it! It was reactive, negatively biased, and urgent—not to mention intrusive and decidedly not on their terms (calling cell phones at dinner time). Times have changed, of course: Technology has made it much more possible to have bi-directional communication—real engagement—and via channels like email, social media and SMS.
It can be hard for schools to keep up with these changing times. But the reality is that parents are consumers like the rest of us—they now have an expectation to be proactively and personally engaged. Especially when it comes to that which they care most about in the world: their children. It’s no longer a nice-to-have for schools and districts. Data (and common sense) indicate that parental involvement is a meaningful contributor to student achievement, and in creating a vibrant school community. Schools who fail to engage parents leave valuable academic support, volunteer hours, and funding on the table. (Our recent “Connected Nonprofit” Report found that 65% of donors would give more money and 75% of volunteers would give more time if organizations they support knew their personal preferences.)
Salesforce can help schools more meaningfully engage with stakeholders; as we are with corporations, colleges and nonprofits around the world: Our tools for creating easily segmented marketing journeys are best-in-class; and our Community Cloud is an easy way to deploy private, secure portals for parents to interact with school/district staff (or each other!). Some schools are also exploring how to tap the power of our Service Cloud to address more routinized inbound parent questions.
Frankfurt: Admission officers know that it’s a highly competitive market place. And there can be many obstacles and barriers to finding, enrolling, and retaining students. Can technology help remove some of the barriers put in their way?
Garriott: For sure. Schools and districts not only have to strategically communicate with the families they already serve, as we just discussed—more and more, they also have to think of themselves as marketers who proactively engage families and students to join their school/district (in the way college admissions do). For example, Dallas ISD is undertaking a major branding effort to stem student enrollment losses.
We’re seeing some great work by partners such as Cloud for Good and others to bring more transparency to the admissions and enrollment process, helping parents make more informed choices. And across traditional public schools, charters and private schools, recruitment and family engagement is starting earlier and earlier. Many schools, like Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory in San Francisco, began using us as a platform for fundraising, and then extended that to record all their touchpoints with prospective and current families—preserving institutional memory and giving admissions officers everything they need right at their fingertips while they’re out in the community.
Frankfurt: Teacher pay lags far behind that of other professions with similar education levels. As a result teacher morale is low, teacher attrition is high, and the number of students interested in teaching as a profession is dropping. Can technology play a role in closing that gap?
Garriott: Part of the reason morale is dipping and we’re still seeing (and projecting) national teacher shortages is that teachers are also being asked to do more with less. Technology, while it won’t be a panacea, can certainly help classroom and school leaders save time, make better decisions, and collaborate around student success.
We’re past the phase of technology for technology’s sake—the phase during which it was thrust upon teachers and principals. No more dust-collecting devices or smartboards; no more management tools that don’t talk to other systems, failing to deliver their promised value. The only acceptable model will be subscription-based; the only widely adopted products will be open platforms that reduce administrative burden—so everyone, at every level, can get back to focusing on what matters: Teaching and learning.
About the Contributors
Tal Frankfurt is the Founder and CEO of Cloud for Good, a Salesforce Hall of Fame MVP and a Forbes Technology Council member. Cloud for Good works with nonprofit organizations, K-12 schools, and higher education to create transformation value with Salesforce. They are a certified B Corp, an Inc. 5000 honoree, a Great Place to Work and Pledge 1% member.
Omar Garriott leads go-to-market strategy and cross-channel execution for Salesforce’s emerging business serving K-12 schools and districts. A seasoned content and performance marketer, Omar started his career as a Teach for America teacher in Washington, D.C. and lobbyist for College Summit. He later led education marketing for Adobe, Apple, and LinkedIn after completing the full-time MBA program at UC Berkeley’s Haas School.
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