Texas’s Fort Worth Independent School District (K-12, enr. 78,000) has brokered a creative deal with two software companies that takes advantage of the competition for school technology dollars. Riverdeep Interactive Learning of Cambridge, Mass., and JRL Enterprises of New Orleans each have offered their software and computers to the district for a free 18-month trial. If the software helps increase Fort Worth’s math scores, the district would buy the programs for $3 million each and also help promote the companies’ products.

“This came about because we were looking to see what we could do to provide more materials to our schools, so we started talking to Riverdeep about what they could offer us. When JRL heard what we were doing, they made a counter-offer,” said Mildred Sims, mathematics director for the district.

According to Sims, the deal that Superintendent Tom Tocco negotiated with Riverdeep said the company would provide 300 computers and software to the district for a trial period of 18 to 20 months.

“The software package they’ll be providing is tutorial teaching software for math, but Riverdeep also produces software for social studies, English, and science,” said Sims.

District officials hoped the trial period would begin in early January. “That’s when we hope to have the computers installed, the furniture set up, and the courseware delivered,” said Sims.

JRL Enterprises has been providing math courseware and has installed computers in several Fort Worth middle schools for some time, district officials said. When news of the deal with Riverdeep came out, the New Orleans company made a counter-offer.

“What happened was that JRL heard the district was initially going to install Riverdeep labs in all the middle schools that did not already have JRL labs. When they heard that, JRL said, ‘No, we want JRL in all the middle schools, and we’ll provide that [for] free, at least for a trial period,'” explained Sims.

JRL is offering the district a complete instructional package. “We’re getting 30 stations in seven middle schools. It’s a total teaching package for middle school pre-algebra. We also have the algebra CD-ROM software in the high schools,” said Sims.

The JRL software package is called I Can Learn, and the company has offered to place seven entire computer labs in the middle schools, including computers, furniture, and the JRL CD-ROM courseware.

But Tocco decided the district could “have its cake and eat it, too,” by accepting trial periods for both companies.

“The 300 Riverdeep computers will go into labs in elementary schools, grades three to five,” said Sims, who added that the district is not sure exactly how many schools will receive the Riverdeep labs yet.

“The figure we know for sure is that we’ll be receiving 300 computers, and Riverdeep’s idea was that we’d make 10 computer labs with 30 computers in each lab. But we have leeway to decide how we want the labs distributed, if we don’t want to do that,” she explained.

What happens to the equipment if Fort Worth decides it doesn’t want to keep it after the trial period?

“If we decide not to stay with JRL after the trial period, they have the option of taking all their stuff back,” said Sims. Schools currently paying for licenses of JRL products will not be affected by the deal.

According to Sims, Riverdeep has promised that the district can keep its equipment free of charge should Fort Worth not be satisfied with its product.

“Even if we decide we don’t want to keep their courseware, we get to keep the computers, depending on a few factors. Our district’s lawyer and Riverdeep are working together to draw up an agreement that lays out those details,” Sims said.

Sims thinks the type of highly competitive deal that occurred in Fort Worth may become more prevalent in district dealings with high-stakes vendors.

“I think we’ll see more of this [type of deal] because a lot of education vendors are starting to view school districts—especially big ones—as large corporations,” she said. “The approach is changing. The vendors want to prove their products, and those with good products will be more willing to take this kind of risk.”

Links:

Fort Worth Independent School District
http://www.fortworthisd.org

Riverdeep Interactive Learning
http://www.riverdeep.net

JRL Enterprises
http://www.icanlearn.com