being a teacher

On ISTE and Its Cost

Sunday night, I went to register for the annual ISTE conference in Chicago, excited that the conference was so close to my own home that I could drive there.  Excited that I get to present on digital literacy with a powerhouse team that included Kristin Ziemke, Teri Lesene, Donalyn Miller, Sara Kajder, and Franki Siberson.

I booked my hotel a long time ago, talk about sticker shock, even with the ISTE negotiated rate, it came to $862 dollars for four nights.  I knew parking would be on top of that.  I knew meals would be on top of that.  I knew I was looking at more than a $1,000 conference experience.  A cost that I pay for myself like so many other educators.   A cost that in my head I try to justify and yet it takes my breath away.

So as I went to register, the cost according to ISTE would be $565 for me.  $565. …I was in shock to say the least, so I tweeted out the following IMG_3292.jpg

And then watched all of the comments come in; people who like me couldn’t believe the cost.  People who were saddened they couldn’t go.  People who told me what the cost should be.

Quickly a pattern in the conversation occurred; are conferences outpricing themselves for regular educators to attend?  Is there even space for educators to come to these conferences any more or are they so outside of our ranger that our presence is no longer needed?

The following day I was contacted by ISTE who explained that part of the reason why my registration cost was so high was because of an email mistake on my end.  Upon further inspection, the price for me now to attend would only be $440.  But $440 for a conference registration is still a lot of money.  Is still really high.  And so my questioning continued.

Today I received the following email from ISTE, who once again did an awesome job of trying to be a part of the dialogue.

Hi Pernille,

 I hope you know how much we value educators like you here at ISTE. I have worked for ISTE for the last 13 years and wanted to personally reach out to you in response the concern you shared on Twitter.  

 Each year, we strive to present the highest quality professional learning experience for educators at the best value. At the scope and scale of ISTE with both educator-driven content and a robust expo, we definitely have constraints and price realities that are not a factor in more intimate venues. Still, we understand the value in having more accessibly priced options and will be introducing a series of focused regional events later in the year, that will come in at a much more modest price point.

 This year, we are thrilled to be in Chicago for our annual conference, within reach of educators across the midwest — a region where we have not been in quite a while. As you might expect, hosting an event in Chicago comes with some added expenses over and above even a typical conference year. We tried to pair our pricing model up with new discounts such as a presenter discount and member loyalty discount to make attending as within reach as possible for as many as possible.

 ISTE is working diligently with the host city and venues near the conference center to create the best experience at the best price possible for our educators. Air travel is less expensive in and out of Chicago (than other ISTE conference destinations), so we are hopeful that this will help offset the registration price increase for many attendees and their bottom line costs will not increase.  

 We also provided additional value for members and presenters, responding to requests to include as much content as possible within a single registration price, eliminating additional individual costs for workshops. We’ve added a flat fee premium registration option for pre-conference workshop content, and folded the workshop content during the main session days (M-W) into the regular program at no additional fees. We’ve also and added a full day of crowdsourced content on Sunday, and we hope this helps attendees make the very most of their time at ISTE.

 I hope that by explaining a bit about the cost increases we’re up against and how we’ve tried to mitigate them, you’ll have a better understanding of the registration fees for ISTE 2018 . I understand from our registration team that the pricing you received was due to some email login confusion and that you weren’t receiving the much lower presenter pricing that you should have been.  If you’re still having any issues with pricing, please let me know so I can help you get it straightened out.

 Regarding education funding, at the core of our mission is advocating for ed funding at the national and state level, and in fact our CEO and chief learning officer have spent two days on the Hill in the last few weeks meeting with congressional staff to discuss the need to safeguard ed funding in the next budget, particularly for professional development. Next week we are co-hosting an Edtech Advocacy & Policy Summit brining educators together to do more of this important work.

 I know you’ve been a frequent ISTE conference attendee and speaker, and that you’re also very generous in sharing your expertise for the ISTE Blog and member magazine. All of us at ISTE are extremely grateful for your dedication.

I appreciate the outreach, but I also wanted to open up this discussion to those it affects.  What do you think?  I sent the following response back and am still torn; can I justify a conference expense of more than $1,400 to my husband, to my kids, to myself?  Why the disconnect between educators and conference pricing?  Who are they really trying to get to come?  Because it certainly doesn’t feel like educators like me.

My response:

I appreciate you taking the time to reach out to me and explaining your philosophy and what is happening behind the scenes.  I hear you, I do, but the reality is this, even with the corrected price, my hotel for 4 days is $862 – that is the ISTE negotiated rate.  I can drive there, which means parking is an additional cost, as well as meals for those four days.  If I eat for $40 a day, which would be a miracle in Chicago terms, I am still looking at more than $1,400 for a four-day conference experience.  That is with my member and presenter discount.  That is an incredible amount of money for one educator to pay to attend ISTE and that is only based on me getting discounts because of presenting and being a member.  That is simply an amount that is so beyond the scope of most people’s budget, even school districts.
I get the ramifications of holding it in Chicago because it allows Midwest attendees to finally make it, but it also feels like ISTE is not as in tune with what educators need.  Knowing how expensive Chicago is, the registration fee should have been lower to make up for the increase in cost of hotel and food.  Creating regional events are great but will not have the same level of presenters because they will not be going at the same rate since the benefit for them is not as great as going to the national conference.  I love that you are advocating on a national level, but how about implementing more steps in your own pricing as well?  Could there be a discount for being an in-classroom teacher or coach?  Could there be a discount for having attended multiple years?  Could there be an actual presenter discount rather than just locking in early bird pricing?
I fear ISTE is losing touch with the everyday educators who are the ones creating the change.  Who are the ones bringing in the tools.  Who are the ones that would benefit so much from being able to attend.  
This is a discussion that has taken place on both Twitter and Facebook, I am grateful for your response but also saddened at how many stellar educators even within the Chicagoland area are telling me they cannot go because of the cost.
As for me, I am still deciding.  I want to go, I love ISTE which is why I put in proposals and am a member, but at the end of the day it is hard to justify that big of a cost.
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31 thoughts on “On ISTE and Its Cost”

  1. As a veteran educator (30 years), I agree with you. Even with my district providing $500 toward conferences/PD each year, major events like ISTE become out of reach, especially for those who are the early end of their careers, or the middle when they have so many expenses with families, etc. I recently attended a state level conference. The registration fee ate up my entire budget for the year, so the travel, hotel and meals were on my dime. Luckily, parking was free!!! If the target is truly the every day educator, then something has to shift with the fee structures for these conferences.

  2. Well said. In all likelihood this will be my last ISTE conference. My school district has been sending a group since 2013. This year we have significantly reduced our group # and have been told to look for alternate conferences for next year. I cannot pay for it out my own pocket. One thing that is GREAT about ISTE is the timing. It is SO much easier to send admin/staff in the summer than during the school year. Those “other” conf opportunities don’t usually occur in the summer. As a midwest school district, we were excited for Chicago as well, but had sticker shock with the hotels. The same thing happened when the Conf was in Denver. Food and hotel was so much higher than we anticipated not to mention the $40 per day parking fee for those of us who drove. I also agree that as a former presenter, only getting the “early bird” discount doesn’t give any extra benefit to the preparation and planning that goes into place for presenting at a national conference. You make a good point that the average educator can’t afford this on their own, and the average district has to make quite an effort to spend thousands of dollars on ONE conference. Thanks for writing about what MANY of us have been thinking.

  3. While it’s cool that ISTE reached out, the response still amounts to “Yep, it’s expensive. But look at what we’ve done to make it so expensive!” I think we’re reaching a tipping point where we as educators need to be having the loud conversations, like you are starting, about the cost/value of these conferences. Nearly $600 is unreal for a conference. For $600 every single session, in a room or on a poster, better be worth my time and stellar. And we know they aren’t.

  4. I know it is my choice to work in a Catholic school setting, and I accept that. That also means I accept the fact that I cannot attend conferences at this price. My two week take home pay is just shy of $1000. I cannot justify a month’s pay to attend a conference to make me a better teacher. There’s an example of irony.

    1. Same here. I try an attend local conferences, but even that is getting more expendiv . I pay for the conferences and I can no longer justify the costs.

  5. Pernille, I appreciate you taking the time for the dialogue. As an educator in CA, the airfare is about $600 right now to add to the already high costs. While ISTE is trying to justify the “Experience” to their pricing model, to me, it just doesn’t make enough sense to price many of us out. So, you work in a district that has a ton of money to send people to these conferences. You save your own money, and don’t take a family vacation. Or…? What a rip off and truly not worth it for me.

  6. I have always appreciated your posts that advocate for students and quality learning experiences for all, but now I can add to the list of things I admire about you! You are also an advocate for teachers and our professional learning opportunities. Perhaps because you are well-respected in the educational community and you are such a quality writer, you will be able to make a difference. Due to school district budget constraints, teachers are not often given the chance to attend training outside of their district. All the while, many teachers have not received pay increases that meet cost-of-living increases (if at all), making the likelihood of paying with our own funds even less likely. It seems as though many larger conferences/conventions cater to administrators or those who make purchasing decisions in districts. Are vendors only interested in selling their products and services on a large scale? Are such decisions being made without the input of the teaching professionals who will be implementing them ultimately? Big business has no business trying to corner the market on the already dwindling dollars going toward educating our youth.

  7. Pernille, it is comforting to know someone is sharing my thoughts on the cost. I have heard so much about ISTE, but never attended. Since it was within driving distance this year, I too had contemplated attending…many times. Like you, I was shocked by the total expense. I even researched VRBOs to find a cost saving alternative to lodging. However, I’ve heard about the extensive networking that occurs during the event outside of the actual presentations. Staying away from the conference center, by myself, would eliminate all of those networking opportunities…plus there is the Chicago driving hassle and parking expense. February 28 I closed the ISTE registration page.

  8. Oh, Pernille! I completely agree. I stopped going after Denver, because I just could not justify the expense when it makes such a huge dent in the family budget. In addition, some of the BEST and MOST ENGAGING presenters I know have been shut out of presenting for several years, which makes me distrust the new process of session selection. I counted myself as lucky for several years when I was accepted, then I totaled up the cost, the odd way choosing presenters, the fact that workshop presenters no longer get a stipend, and I’m done. I can’t do it.

    I feel your pain.

  9. Thank you so much for posting about this! I have been going to ISTE every other year for the past 8 years (only every other year because that’s all I can afford). The past 3 times I’ve attended my proposal for presenting has been accepted – I present several times at each conference. Yet, the only benefit is early bird pricing and that pricing is still too much for me. Like another poster, I considered going simply to network and not enter any of the presentations but I decided that I still just couldn’t justify it this year. My belief on all of this is that as the expo hall has grown, so has the expectation that the people who attend are not teachers but people who have purchasing power. The items in the expo hall are more and more about whole district purchases and vendors asking who they can contact to make purchasing decisions. One of my favorite parts of ISTE at this point is going to all the poster presentations where you can actually talk with teachers and it’s personal. I’ve been fortunate to be a part of ISTE in the past and believe in technology education, integration, and all the exciting things I’ve been able to do with technology as a tool for me and my students….but I will miss it this year.

  10. This is such a good conversation to have. On the one hand (and it’s a big hand), I totally agree with you. On the other hand, the price for the conference itself is either equal to or less than other conferences and workshops I’ve either attended or thought about attending. I don’t know of any workshop or conference that isn’t focused on local educators and local teachers that isn’t crazy expensive like this. I’m not sure what the solution is, nor where the money goes. (I’d assume presenter fees–and generally I feel like those amazing presenters deserve whatever fees they’re paid–though maybe I’m wrong.) Or maybe I don’t know about the inexpensive conferences?

  11. Regardless of what happens with the conference pricing, I’m just blown away by your bravery. I love that you are unafraid to speak your mind, and you say what needs to be said. You speak for so many who may not have the courage or the right words to speak for themselves. I hope you can go to the conference because I think you have so much to offer to other educators. And although I won’t be there, I will continue to be a faithful reader of your blog! Keep speaking out!!

  12. Pernille, I learned when I applied to present to an organization I’d been a member of for years, that I had to pay to present at a conference in California. And since I had writers club people to bring along to present on my Memoir Project, plus a teacher, I had a team. Well, they had never had non-teachers before, or so they said, so I had to almost beg them to get the writers to come for free. Then, the teacher had to become a member of the organization, we both had to register and pay that fee, we all had to pay for parking, and my husband and I decided given Carmageddon (announced in the newspapers) on the freeway there, we would spend the night. No one from the organization sat in to hear the presentation. Would business do this? Your conference people should have recruited you and paid you for your presentation and book signing. Educators should put up a major objection to this.

  13. Before reading any other posts I would like to respond to your concerns in regard to ISTE conference prices. While I’m thrilled that ISTE gets to go to The Hill to advocate for education, I am stunned at the price of the conference in addition to meals and hotel accommodations. It seems to me that the only people who can afford to attend are higher level administrators or those directly employed by tech companies.. In order to attend the Michigan Reading Association Conference, I needed to pay the registration fee, hotel, meals and travel expenses myself. My district “hadn’t budgeted for popular conference such as MRA or MACUL” and Title 2 monies had to be spent a certain way. I proposed that I pay half. Since I’m going Saturday and Sunday, there’s no need for a sub. Conference $215, Accommodations for one night, $160, Lunches with authors, $60, two other meals, $24-30. Gas, $20-25. Total approximately $480. My principal kindly offered to pay half of the registration fee out of our building budget. $480-$107.50=$372.50 out-of-pocket. MRA will be worth every penny I’m certain, but I can’t imagine paying the ISTE registration price! At the same time that teachers’ salaries shrink, that we pay more for healthcare, that education dollars continue to be diverted elsewhere; professional development is becoming the financial responsibility of individual teachers. I don’t know of another profession that requires employees pay for their own training in order to benefit the company. I wholeheartedly agree that if you spend the time and effort it takes to present, you should receive a significant discount, and also that the registration fee is out-of-reach for most teachers I know.

  14. I, too, was shocked by the sticker price of this conference. I would love to not only go, but to go with a team fro school so that we can talk, network, and collaborate….things that we do not often have time for at school. At this price, that would not happen. I would rather go to a smaller conference with a team that a super-conference alone.

  15. Agreed-First time at ISTE & likely only because of cost. Only going because I can drive in each day 2+ hours. I am a classroom teacher-we are the ones making & being the change we want for our students.

  16. Hi Pernille! Access to professional learning is an equity-related issue that has been in existence for a very long time and is not talked about very often, so thank you for bringing this topic up. I run a free online global education conference and I’m always stunned by the number of attendees who are thankful for the opportunity to interact with educators and other experts at our event as their locations and potential travel costs would never allow for them to attend a face-to-face event.

    At any rate, McCormick Place (and downtown Chicago) is notoriously expensive when it comes to hosting conferences due to union costs from what I understand. I also have talked to people at ISTE over the course of the year, and my *impression* is that the current ISTE leadership team did not choose Chicago as it had already been contracted when they arrived. And, I’ve also been under the impression that they are just hoping to break even this year due to the costs and are interested in doing smaller regional events throughout the year. I could be wrong with my impressions; my guess, either way, is that it will be another 20 years before ISTE is here again!

    That said, if you do come, consider not staying near the venue. Stay out by O’Hare or in the suburbs and take the train in to save on hotels and parking. Also, try finding an Air BnB; I went this route at ISTE in San Antonio and stayed in a beautiful house 5 others and it was much more fun than being close to the conference action. Maybe others can share tips for saving money here, too.

  17. Thanks for writing this, Pernille. I’ve been an ISTE/NECC member since 2006 and have attended the conference every year since then. When I worked in Tech/Staff Development, my conference registration, membership fees, and all travel were paid for by my school district. When I returned to teaching (same district), I had to pay my own way. Even after I left that district, I’ve paid my own way. This year, I’m not going. I simply cannot justify the cost any longer. In service to ISTE, I’ve presented every year since 2009, volunteered, acted as a social media ambassador, mentored, held “what to expect” hangout sessions for Newbies… in other words, I’ve done my best to be helpful to ISTE and their membership. I have never asked for favors (or a “media” pass), but it would be nice to feel heard. Pricing out teachers from attending the conference shows who is valued as an attendee and who is not, regardless of what is intended.

  18. Doesn’t this also speak to how out-of-touch educator salaries and school district budgets are within the rest of the working world? I imagine there is only so much negotiating ISTE can do with expo halls, hotels, transportation, etc rates. If some other business is willing and able to pay more, then naturally they will book who is paying the higher rate. And making it easier for some (like those who live within daily driving distance), will make it more difficult for others no matter where it is held.

  19. ISTE has grown so much they had to move to cities that can accommodate the sheer number of attendees, including larger conference venue and available hotel spaces (lol Chicago with limited hotels close by). The growing number of attendees automatically knocks out many cities that have hosted it in the past. There is also a rotation; if you hold conferences in the same location every few years, you can do so at a cheaper rate. I have a lot of conference planning experience, and the events typically don’t make a lot of money. It takes a lot of cash flow to cover speaker costs, staff, venue, wifi/infrastructure, etc. And I agree that this event is targeted more at people with buying power. I love the idea of teachers attending, but that’s a luxury many districts (sadly) don’t have. When I was in the classroom, I paid out of pocket to go to ISTE, drove 16 hours by myself. At a state level technology conference (that I helped the Dept of Ed plan AND I was a presenter) I was docked a day of pay for missing work. 😦 For budgeting purposes, we plan on average around $2K to send someone to a multi-day national conference (including airfare, hotel, food, conference registration…). It’s not cheap. Regarding the selection process for presenters, that’s mostly handled by the individual PLNs. Volunteers rate session proposals based on a rubric, results are compiled together to pick overall sessions. I would love free presenter registration or a significant discount. 😀 Doubt it will happen though! Thanks for a great post. Hope to see you at a future conference somewhere!

  20. Pernille,
    I totally understand your frustration with the high cost of ISTE attendance. That breaks my heart, because ISTE is where I find my tribe. It’s at this face-to-face experience where I truly feel like other educators “get me”, and it’s where I feel most supported, but also, most challenged in what I do. It is the highlight of my year. It’s also the main way that ISTE can support all that it offers year-round: the networking, communities, webinars, standards, and so much more.
    The fact is: ISTE isn’t a small, regional conference. It’s the premier international technology in education event…and I can’t afford NOT to be there. To compare, registration for the International Literacy Association is over $700, NCTM Conference registration is over $400, and it would cost over $1000 to attend ASCD. Although national conference attendance is expensive, the experience, even if only every few years, is (as they say) priceless.

  21. I stopped looking at ISTE when I found out that presenters weren’t being comped for their registration. The presenters are one of the biggest reasons people attend conferences, the very least the organizers could do is not charge them registration.

  22. I cannot tell you how much I appreciate you taking the time to point out to them the issues! Their reply seems still really disconnected and it makes me not want to go. I had the chance to go last year but had to give up my seat bc I moved to another state. The current district just doesn’t have the funding that my old district has and they aperently have not funded conferences for many years bc of budget cuts. Many teachers I have been talking to say they pay out of pocket and although it’s amazing, it is a burden for their families. That is crazy to me that already underpaid teachers that often come out of pocket for countless other things that directly benefit their students.

    Thank you for taking this up!

  23. Pernille,

    Bravo on your post and letter. With three small children, it has been a heavy cost each year to attend ISTE, even when it was in my hometown of Philadelphia a few years back. The question comes up … Did ISTE reach out to you because of your social reach or did they reach out to a teacher who was concerned over not being able to attend an amazing learning experience. Would others get this type of “we would love to help you get here even if you don’t have the money” response?

    We discussed this topic and your post on the podcast tonight and the audience was also concerned that many educators would be attending the event in Chicago but not actually or officially buying a ticket to get inside due to the large number of off campus learning experiences.

    Thank you for the inspiration tonight.

  24. It isn’t just these large conferences that have become so expensive, it’s also the day conferences that come out of Heinemann and other sources. At $200, or more, for a classroom teacher, and the cost of a substitute, is a great cost to a district. As a coach, I can’t afford to take more than one from a team anymore. Sending teachers out to hear the experts in the field firsthand is so motivating. Being able to collaborate with a teammate enriches the experience for everyone. We really have to choose carefully with limited resources.

  25. thanks for discussing this topic. I have always loved attending conferences and coming back all excited about a new idea or technique to try in my classroom. But as a classroom teacher, I do not make that much money. There are no funds from the district to send, plus these conferences quite often happen during the school year and the district would also have to pay for subs, so attending a conference is most likely not going to be happening anymore. About the only thing available for us to attend (in Iowa) is the state conference and even then the school will only allow us to attend every 3-4 years.

  26. OK, now I’m wondering: How many people get a ton out of these huge conferences, anyway? I’ve mostly been to smaller ones (and now my district doesn’t give out money OR professional days for even smaller ones), but even then, it could be overwhelming how many choices there were. I got some good ideas and like the community, but I don’t feel like anything’s ever been life-changing in the way that some PD books have been.

    To put it another way: I’d love to see Donalyn Miller speak, but The Book Whisperer was what changed my teaching, and I’m not sure how much I’d get out of seeing her live.

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