NYTimes- Measuring the impact of tech in the classroom?

In case you missed it over the long weekend The New York Times’ look at education technology deserves reading. On a positive note, it’s great to see some classrooms addressing the need for combining technology (gadgets) and support services (instruction, project-based learning activities,) rather than just distributing laptops and expecting to see results. ”The digital push here aims to go far beyond gadgets to transform the very nature of the classroom, turning the teacher into a guide instead of a lecturer, wandering among students who learn at their own pace on Internet-connected devices.”

But isn’t the bigger issue instructional quality and the assessments we use?

While the Matt Richtel touches on the point of the ‘teacher as a guide,’ he fails to emphasize the deeper, well-established lesson that instructional quality matters. I believe that schools/districts that focus on the combination of technology and support will see the results this article laments are absent. But are results really absent?

The larger issue here are the assessments themselves. Many of the learning gains, “learning to use the Internet to research, learning to organize their work, learning to use professional writing tools, learning to collaborate with others,” as well as student engagement, are not captured in the current metrics, but significantly impact long term academic success. Once we improve assessments to address the whole child, all the pieces of this puzzle will come together.

Wow! Kudos to Cathy Davidson for so clearly articulating the point around the archaic assessment systems we are using to measure student achievement and the impact of technology in schools.

“It is not the test scores that are stagnant. It is the tests themselves.   We need a better, more interactive, more comprehensive, and accurate way of testing how kids think, how they learn, how they create, how the browse the Web and find knowledge, how they synthesize it and apply it to the world they live in. “

I highly recommend reading the full response.

Tech in the classroom

Barriers in the EdTech Movement

As I begin to explore the EdTech sector more deeply, my first goal is to figure out what efforts have been successful and what are some of the key challenges around product design and implementation. Larry Berger and David Stevenson’s piece, “K-12 Entrepreneurship: Slow Entry, Distant Exit,” from 2007 is one of the most helpful resources that succinctly captures some of the structural, cultural and systemic issues that have prevented large-scale results from initiatives that have been working to improve education through technology for the past 20+ years. While I attempt to provide a quick overview of the 11 Barriers below, I highly recommend reading the full 22-page chapter to digest their examples and suggestions for overcoming these barriers.

  1. The Education Sector Does Not Invest in Innovation- Out of every dollar spent on education in 2005, only 3.5 cents was spent on materials, tools, and services.
  2. Oligopoly- “Big Edu” (the three dominant educational publishing companies) that control 85% of the K-12 textbook market
  3. Decentralization- With 50 State Education Agencies, 16,000 districts, intermediate units in most states, and 65,000 schools, there are a lot of decision-makers.
  4. Vicious Sales Cycles- Slow sales cycles make things hard for entrepreneurs who need capital to keep operating, and who need to prove to investors that they have created something worth supporting.
  5. Pilot Error- Many promising start-up companies have been killed by early interest in their product from people who were not quite ready to purchase it at a scale that is economically viable.
  6. No Return- The return on investment mindset that drives other sectors to replace expensive labor with technology, and that sees the logic of scaling such efficiencies rapidly, does not come naturally to K-12.
  7. Viewing Teacher Time as a Sunk Cost- But even if the education sector is not interested in reducing headcount, it would still be good for the teaching profession, and for the ability of entrepreneurs to articulate their value propositions, if the education system started to quantify the value of a saved teacher hour in terms of its increased instructional output, including the impact on retaining good teachers.
  8. Short-Lived Superintendents-  The tenure of superintendents in large districts, while not as brief as has been popularly reported, averages fewer than five years.
  9. The Vendor Wall-  There are no “business development” people in education, and this sort of close partnership is rare indeed.
  10. Start-Up Capital-  The barriers to entry described in this chapter constrain the size of a potential return in the sector, and education companies require too long – 5 years, at least – to garner a meaningful return. (Because venture capital funds are measured by their internal rate of return, the timing of the return matters a lot).
  11. Free Things – The dual status of education as both a public good and a private industry leads to uncertainty about what aspects of education should be addressed by market forces and what should be addressed by government or philanthropic funding.

This is a slightly longer post than usual, so thanks for reading! If you have experienced and/or overcome any of these barriers, I’d love to hear from you.


New Schools Venture Fund Celebrates Edupreneurs

Today, NewSchools launched a new video series celebrating education entrepreneurs. The kicked the series off with a video of entrepreneurs talking about the qualities that make the entrepreneur unique. The second video in the series is an interview with Sal Khan of They are planning to launch a new video each week and I am really looking forward to this series and the exposure it will provide to creative thinkers in this space. I think Sal Khan captured the essence of Edupreneurs well describing them as “small teams of slightly crazy people trying to do something disruptive.” Stay tuned!

Two new videos added on 9.6.11 – Alexandra Bernadotte, founder of Beyond 12, and Scott Given, founder of Unlocking Potential Schools.


Where to begin?

There are tons of amazing people all over the world working on seriously innovative solutions to help improve education for all the world’s children. Truly inspiring endeavors…but the challenge is finding out who is doing what, where and how can we really understand what is going to make the biggest impact on education reform and if we can help achieve their mission? My goal is to share all the nuggets of information I’ve discovered in my search to understand the EdTech space in hopes to encourage collaboration across similar initiatives and shift the culture of nonprofits to embrace sharing their failures (I mean pivots) the same way entrepreneurs have been since the beginning of time. And so it begins…