Educational Software Business Model Failure is Problem for Educators


Tom Hoffman suggests that a company with “a failed business model” isn’t his problem. Tom made his reasoned comment about the Fort Worth Independent School District’s canceling the remainder of it’s contract for math instructional software programs with JRL Enterprises.

I disagree with his conclusion. Here’s what I suggested.

You offer a reasonable point about not wanting to support a business model.

But, with due respect, I suggest that any business model that addresses educational achievement is your’s, mine, and other educators’ problem or advantage, depending on how we make the model work for student achievement.

Businesses generally have difficulty generating and then sustaining profits when working with schools with state-of-the-art products.

Maybe government purchased licenses would reduce costs to schools for awhile. I’ll think that through again.

I want to elaborate my response, because I think Tom brings up a good point about differences between public education and private businesses. I’ve held responsibilities in both public and private sectors. These operations use different models.

As an educator, I wanted anyone (I didn’t care who or what) to supply me with whatever resources I decided to use when I decided to use them with each student I decided needed these resources to achieve more than that student achieved without them. I really thought that the good of the public school students was greater than the legal obligation (which I usually did not know or understand then) to the creators and distributors of products that might benefit students in my classes.

I continue to hear and read about educators using updated versions of this same logic.

As a private business partner selling products to schools, businesses, and highly talented individuals, I learned to distinguish and distribute costs across products and clients. Most clients were optimistic, direct, and considerate with both our company’s time and products. About five percent of clients raised costs of products to all clients by their demeanor and demands that went far beyond contractual obligations.

Try as best our team knew how to make it different, educators more likely than not fell into the five percent. They used versions of what I call the Educator’s Business Model and Logic.

Simply stated, a private business should serve public education, not profit from this service. Public schools, at the expense of tax payers and private businesses, should rightly demand and receive the best products and services for the least cost.

I know business people who sell only to schools. They profit from these sales and proudly describe their strategies and some tactics to address the Educator’s Business Model and Logic. These business people know about school budgets and the apparent fact that most of it is spent on personnel, including six figure salaries for principals and senior administrators, far above average household incomes for their communities. So, successful sales people wine and dine school executives, board members, elected representatives, and community opinion makers in the style to which each aspires in order to obtain these contracts.

It’s called good business. Educators may call it a good meeting. Some may object to the forum.

But business people expect that time will change public school personnel and boards. And these changes may bring an end to contracts and profits. So, business people try to gather profits as close to up front as possible, in order to cover their immediate and possible future costs with schools.

If this business model appears to fail, then I wonder if it is because of misplaced confidence by the business in contracts and in reduced openness of personnel to resolve disagreements.

I think educators are obliged to work through differences with businesses rather than jump contracts.

A first step would be to document how much it costs for the school to achieve the same results as with the business’s services and products. What does it cost for a student to learn to read “a” (or whatever other content a software package offers) with current school instructional procedures?

From a business standpoint, every principal should be able to report that amount for each teacher, every year. Failure to provide it complicates any business successfully completing and justifying its service contract.

Next, compare that amount with what it costs to achieve the same result with the (proposed) software and support services. Every vendor should be able to report that amount before a school enters into a long term contract with a business. Failure to provide it complicates justifying service contracts with schools.

At least that’s my thinking at the moment. The education and business models consider different dependent variables, and maybe neither offer sufficient individualized data to justify their position. Hmm. This is interesting. I’ll come back to this topic again. I don’t think it’s provocative.