Colorado School District Aims to Turn Government Mandate into Money, What’s Wrong with That?

Published August 18, 2016

The passage of Colorado Senate Bill 10-191 in 2010 established new rules for evaluating teachers. The Douglas County School District (DCSD) took the mandates and ran with them, creating its own software system called InspirED Innovation. DCSD is now reportedly marketing the software for profit and is facing backlash for its proposed business venture, but critics should think twice before complaining about a school district that has found a way to educate, innovate, and potentially earn money that could be used to improve children’s education.

The DCSD website brands InspirED as “Born by mandate. Inspired by best practice.” DCSD, finding no perfect solution in the market to “meet the requirement of implementing an evaluation system aligned to state guidelines … [created] a custom set of 21st century tools that would integrate to support the work of teachers and leaders,” the DCSD website says.

Journalist Susan Greene, writing for Colorado Independent, reported earlier in August the DCSD “already has sold licensing rights to the software to Mile High Academy, a Christian school in Highlands Ranch. The sale, like the pilot project itself, took place out of the public eye, and is now raising questions about the legality of a public school district launching a for-profit business.”

Green also says opponents to DCSD’s plan question the validity of the claimed $5.6 million development price tag, but even if the figure is correct, many critics say public schools shouldn’t be spending money on what amounts to product development.

Greene quotes one such critic who says InspirED has been “diverting millions of dollars from educating our children into a product we know nothing about.”

This claim, while common, is not based on any available data. In fact, there hasn’t been any research at all showing DCSD’s plan has negatively impacted student achievement. Further, Gautam Sethi, DCSD’s chief technology officer, says DCSD can use InspirED to “potentially generate additional revenue to meet district budget needs.”  

It would seem then the sticking point here is not compliance with government mandates or the expense of the program. Rather, critics seem to have a problem with the shocking notion a public institution could actually earn revenue.

But if critics of InspirED are upset there isn’t enough money for students, shouldn’t they be in favor of the district actually making money? If anything, the critics’ anger should be directed at the state’s legislature, whose laundry list of mandates resulted in the need for the software in the first place.

Critics have also failed to address how much it would cost DCSD to hire an outside firm to develop the necessary software or how inferior such a product might be. Isn’t having the people most intimately involved with education—school district personnel—create the needed education materials preferable to a third-party software company doing so? Look what happened when we let non-educators develop the Common Core State Standards.

Furthermore, it’s not as if DCSD board members are selling drugs and spending the profits in Vegas. InspirED was developed “to assist teachers and leaders in delivering a World Class Education to more than 67,000 students,” the website states. Potential profits will presumably go back to the school district, making it more self-sufficient and possibly lowering taxes. Why the insistence on taxpayer dollars only? Is money made by selling a software system somehow tainted in a way taxpayer funds are not? 

What DCSD is attempting to do hits a little too close to privatization for progressives. With privatization comes independence, and with independence comes a loss of Big Government’s control, which is something public school proponents fear more than anything else.