A New Way to Help Schools From Losing Textbooks

Schoogle, a new app that monitors everything from tablets to trombones, can help districts save time and money.
by | April 23, 2015 AT 7:20 AM

When Nate Bronstein taught at a North Philadelphia charter school, he would note which student received which textbook on a note card and put them in a manila envelope, never to see them again.

Philadelphia's public schools have also struggled with tracking resources like textbooks, technology and musical instruments. Bronstein and three other University of Pennsylvania graduate students are proposing a mobile system they say will make it easier and cheaper for the district to digitally track resources.

The group is still in the process of designing their product, called Schoogle, a mobile interface that will scan items within a school and upload the information to a district-wide database, but Bronstein said they need to raise about $40,000 to build the alpha version of the system. They plan to launch in two schools this fall.

Principals are hard-pressed to find time to track their schools resources, he said. While the district designed a digital tracking system a few years ago, budget cuts have decreased the number of administrators available to track how materials move.

"We've figured out what principals are already doing and what they have to do for the state," Bronstein said. "We're going to take that whole process that they already go through and save them time and make more accurate accounting for resources, which saves money."

One principal the group has worked with walks around his school noting which materials -- all labeled with a serial number -- are actually in the school on a more than 300-page document, and then transfers it onto the database. While that school has found a way to track their assets, not every school has, Bronstein said.

Philadelphia's City Controller Alan Butkovitz said he suspected the mobile app, which has been named Schoogle for now, could make it easier for teachers and principals to track textbooks and other materials.

The district found about $196,000 worth of items missing in a fiscal year 2012 audit.

"Making it easier to do the work certainly helps," he said. "These people are hard-pressed for time, so anything that makes this more streamlined, combined with a real indication that the people at the top care about it, and we've already seen significant improvements. I think this Schoogle app looks like it would be a significant help."

The group hopes to expand to around 20 schools in fall 2016 and launch fully across the district the following year. After, they could expand to charter schools, use the data to create analytics, or grow to other districts that face similar challenges. Rochester, N.Y., for example, also has a history of unused and lost textbooks. The Los Angeles Unified School District found nearly $10 million missing in textbooks assets in 2010.

Robert Altman, another student working on the proposal, said he'd ideally like to bring the app to market, since many school districts and government organizations are challenged to track their materials.

"I'd like us to build something that will help save educators in Philadelphia a great deal of time and effort," he said. "It might be hard to monetize, but there is something to be said for saving principals and schools so much time."

Mary Ellen McIntire | Mary Ellen McIntire