Microsoft Helping Schools Attract Stimulus Funding

Earlier this week, The Wall Street Journal reported that Microsoft has been training its education sales teams to help schools identify and apply for stimulus funding opportunities. In a Tuesday interview with, Anthony Salcito, general manager of U.S. education business at Microsoft, explained that the vast intricacies of ARRA necessitated this effort.

"The stimulus is very complex, and there are lots of nuances to the funding buckets and program focuses that will be applied down from the federal level to the states and districts," Salcito said. "We've spent time decoding the stimulus plan, and have been doing that with customers and partners directly."

But instead of pushing its products and technology, Microsoft is providing schools with processes for obtaining stimulus funding and using it in a way that will lead to broad, long-lasting changes to the education system as a whole. Technology will be part of this, but not the sole focus, Salcito said.

"Technology is part of a journey of exploration, but technology alone doesn't transform schools, and it doesn't change the way they use data to maximize learning potential," Salcito said. "The decisions schools are making now about stimulus will afford us opportunities to transform schools over the next 20 to 40 years."

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Salcito's insistence on downplaying the role of Microsoft products is understandable when one considers the software giant's tenuous historical relationship with the U.S. government. His stance contrasts with that of Cisco CEO John Chambers, who isn't shy about pointing out how some of Cisco's large government and educational projects help the public and help Cisco move more hardware.

However, software will clearly have a role in Microsoft's plan to help schools attract stimulus funding. As The Wall Street Journal noted in its report, Microsoft believes its software, which helps schools track student performance, will be eligible for stimulus money. Salcito said this type of measurement would help schools adhere to the accountability and transparency provisions that have been baked into ARRA.

"The tone of the country is shifting to one of accountability and transparency from a punitive perspective, to a world where schools will be encouraged to show transparency and data to get more resources," said Salcito.

Using software to show accountability is one of Microsoft's greatest strengths, said Jeff Parker, president of Directions On Microsoft, a Kirkland, Wash.-based research firm.

"Microsoft is a whole culture of metrics; it's embedded in the DNA of the company," Parker said. "If there's any one company that can help schools prove that they put this money to good use, it's Microsoft."

Microsoft also feels its experience in the realm of public-private partnerships will help it assist schools attract stimulus funding. In 2006, Microsoft and the School District of Philadelphia opened the School Of The Future, a $50 million facility located in one of the poorer sections of the city that was intended to represent a new approach to curriculum and school design, and aimed to infuse technology into the educational process.

During this effort, Microsoft developed what it calls the 6i Process (introspection, investigation, inclusion, innovation, implementation, insight), which uses critical questioning to get to better outcomes, according to Salcito.

"We have a formal process for schools to think through all the elements of education, including teachers, tools in the classroom and the physical environments of buildings," Salcito said. "Fundamentally, we don't see it as an opportunity for products or technologies specifically, but a much bigger commitment schools need to make for the future."