Using Incentive Prizes to Tackle the Middle-School Math Gap

On Monday, New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and New York City Schools Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott launched a new software development competition for programs to help middle school students excel in math. The Gap App Challenge invites developers to submit applications, games, or other technology-based solutions that focus on middle school math and can be used by students, teachers, or parents. The winning solutions will be announced this June and will receive up to $104,000 in prizes and other services.

New York City’s inclusion of incentive prizes as part of their overall strategy makes good sense. Well-designed incentive prizes can yield a high return on the dollar and can reach beyond the usual suspects to increase the number of entrepreneurs and citizens tackling a problem. With such prizes, a purse is only paid to “solvers” upon proven performance against the targets set out in the prize’s rules and requirements. Incentive prizes are now a standard tool in every Federal agency’s toolbox to spur innovation and solve tough problems. With more than 200 prizes offered by over 45 Federal agencies so far, open innovation and incentive prizes are showing promise for catalyzing new solutions in the education sector.

In this competition, all submissions will be considered for school-based pilots as part of the New York City Department of Education’s Innovation Zone (iZone) program, which includes 250 schools that use new approaches to help students learn at their own pace. The iZone’s InnovateNYC Ecosystem is funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Investing in Innovation (i3) fund; this program is designed to drive smarter, scalable investments in educational technology by schools, districts, funders, and solution developers. The Gap App Challenge is the first in a series of challenges that the iZone and New York City will host to maximize the creative energy of the education technology community to bring new approaches to teaching and learning and meet the real needs of students.

This innovative challenge is a model that can be replicated by other school districts across the country. The NYC Department of Education is a member of the Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools, a unique coalition of 28 school districts in 18 states that serve more than 2.5 million students. Digital Promise and the League of Innovative Schools are committed to using incentive prizes to address barriers facing member school districts and advance the understanding about when incentive prizes work best in education.

We look forward to seeing the solutions and breakthroughs that result from the prizes and challenges offered by NYC iZone, the Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools, and education innovators across the Nation.

Cristin Dorgelo is Assistant Director for Grand Challenges at OSTP

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