Growing Momentum for Digital Promise

Less than a year ago, the White House and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the launch of "Digital Promise," a new national effort to accelerate innovation in education with technology.  In that year, Digital Promise launched the League of Innovative Schools, a partnership of 26 school districts in 18 states that collectively serve roughly 2.5 million students.

Yesterday, The Office of Science and Technology Policy joined superintendents from across the country in Digital Promise’s first Innovation Workshop, held in Washington D.C.  One of the topics discussed was “smart demand” – the use of the purchasing power of school districts to improve learning outcomes for students.  The League of Innovative Schools can:

  • Foster game-changing innovations by promising to buy them. Using what’s called an “Advance Market Commitment,” five countries and the Gates Foundation agreed to purchase large quantities of a vaccine that hadn’t been developed yet – a vaccine to immunize kids in developing countries against diseases such as pneumonia and meningitis. The private sector responded, and today that vaccine could help save the lives of 7 million children by 2030. Similarly, the school districts participating in the League could, for example, commit to purchase educational software that enabled a student who was two grade levels behind in reading or math to catch up during the summer.
  • Challenge America’s entrepreneurs to build the tools educators need to help every student succeed. Prize competitions have been used to drive breakthroughs in areas such as self-driving cars and commercial spaceflight. The League is exploring the use of prizes as a way of challenging entrepreneurs and others to build the tools districts need to meet their educational goals, from leveling the playing field for students with learning disabilities to making sure a district is preparing its students to meet the Common Core Standards.

In addition, Digital Promise gave an update on the exciting work they have already started within the League, including:

  • Demonstration Projects. As one of Digital Promise’s initial demonstration projects, Piedmont City School District (PCSD) in Piedmont, AL is tackling summer learning loss with a Summer Virtual Academy that’s being evaluated by the University of Chicago’s Urban Education Lab. In response to a challenge from Digital Promise, Meridian Joint School District #2 (Idaho’s second largest district) is working to redesign classrooms across the district to create a model of 21st Century learning that can be evaluated. And Utica Community Schools (Michigan’s second largest district) is working with an entrepreneur to develop a pilot that blends online and traditional instruction in kindergarten.
  • Superintendent-Driven Innovation Working Groups. Digital Promise established working groups of leading superintendents that are tackling procurement reform, the development of a common educator-driven research agenda, and the creation of a cloud-based platform that will allow school districts to select, evaluate, and scale up STEM tools that work.

Digital Promise has made significant progress since it was launched in the fall of 2011. It recruited a Senior Fellow for Open Education, helped design a $2.5 million partnership between the federal government and a League member district, York County Public Schools, in Yorktown, Virginia, already raised more than one dollar in private funding for every dollar of federal investment, and is poised to launch additional initiatives in the months ahead.

Tom Kalil is Deputy Director for Policy at OSTP, and Kumar Garg is Senior Advisor to the Deputy Director at OSTP

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