NYC Department of Education CIO Departs, Will Focus on Procurement Issues

Hal Friedlander helped the Education Department support classroom technology, and plans to start a nonprofit organization that will tackle a major problem facing his field.

by Tanya Roscorla / January 22, 2016
The New York City IT staff now supports classroom technology from inside the Department of Education. David Kidd

The top IT leader for the New York City Department of Education will finish out his last week on the job in January as he prepares to tackle the big problem of procurement in K-12 education. 

Hal Friedlander started his job as chief information officer about three years ago and helped lead a major shift in how IT supported schools. At the time, the IT department spent most of their efforts on providing bandwidth, keeping the network running and handling student information systems, along with other infrastructure responsibilities. They didn't touch classroom technology at all and left that up to individual schools.

Under Friedlander's leadership, the IT and legal teams worked out a memorandum of understanding two years ago with Google Apps for Education, which represented their first foray into supporting classroom technology. The custom privacy agreement gave the city's official seal of approval for schools to use the service and secured privacy protections in writing, including an acknowledgment that Google does meet FERPA privacy standards and doesn't use data for purposes other than supporting students' work.

This type of language is now in the company's standard agreements with schools, in part because of the work done by the department's IT and legal teams. And use of the service has quadrupled in New York City schools since the department signed the memorandum.

"That was a big deal and sort of a proof of a model that we in the IT organization can follow in terms of facilitating classrooms technologies, 'cause really prior to that we kind of shied away from the classroom tech piece," Friedlander said. "We saw ourselves as the IT organization." 

Now that the 600-member IT team has expanded into classroom technology, they're able to use their technical expertise to support the 200 or 300 hybrid teachers who have become technology experts throughout the city — as well as support teachers who don't have the time to dive into technology. Because of these efforts, more schools now use up the bandwidth that the department provides instead of only using single digit percentages of it.

As Friedlander wraps up his time at the Education Department, he's moving on to start a nonprofit Technology for Education Consortium that will help school districts work through one of the major problems they face: procurement. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has given the consortium a $750,000 grant to tackle this issue. 

The problem with technology procurement is that it takes a long time, is complicated and focuses on technical specifications instead of instructional goals. Purchases that come out of these long procurement cycles can have mediocre or disastrous results, he noted, or could take so long that by the time they're nearly finished, a new board and superintendent are in place, and the technology no longer fits with their plans. But because they spent all that time on the process, they feel like they need to buy it anyway.

"If you know what the biggest problem is in the industry or the area you're working on, and you're not working on that problem, then you have to do some thinking about what you're doing," said Friedlander about his decision to start the nonprofit.

The consortium will collaborate with school districts and other organizations that are already tackling this problem, including Edtech Concierge from edSurge, Noodle, LearnTrials and Digital Promise. The idea is that the Technology Education Consortium will provide no-charge analysis and consultation to school districts to help them execute a procurement quickly. It will also create a decision checklist and tools that allow leaders to make technology choices that match the district's instructional goals. As CEO, Friedlander will use his first-hand experience with the procurement process to work on better ways for schools to buy technology.

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