the WHITE HOUSEPresident Barack Obama

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The White House
For Immediate Release

Fact Sheet: Digital Promise Initiative

“Digital Promise” Factsheet

Digital Promise is a new national center created by Congress with bipartisan support to advance technologies that can transform teaching and learning. It is being launched today with startup funds and support from the Department of Education as well as the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

Answering the President’s call to action, a number of prominent leaders in education and technology will help lead Digital Promise. Board members, who were appointed by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan based on recommendations from the House of Representatives and United States Senate, include John Morgridge (Chairman Emeritus of Cisco), Larry Grossman (former President of NBC News), Irwin Jacobs (co-founder of Qualcomm), Gilman Louie (founder of In-Q-Tel), Eamon Kelly (President Emeritus of Tulane University), Mark Dean (IBM Fellow and Vice President), Shae Hopkins (Executive Director and CEO, Kentucky Educational Television), Vince Juaristi (CEO & President, Arbola, Inc.), and Shirley Malcom (Head of the Directorate for Education and Human Resources Programs, American Association for the Advancement of Science).  For more information, go to:

To realize the potential of learning technology, Digital Promise will work with leading educators, researchers, technology firms, and entrepreneurs on three key challenges:

  • Identifying breakthrough technologies. For years, researchers have been working on developing educational software that is as effective as a personal tutor.  Preliminary results from a DARPA/Navy “digital tutor” project suggest that we can reduce the time required to become an expert in IT from years to months.  Achieving similar results in subjects such as math would transform K-12 education.  Digital Promise will begin its work by partnering with technology firms and researchers to map the R&D landscape,identifying opportunities for breakthroughs in learning from the cradle through a career.
  • Learning faster what's working and what's not. Internet startups do rapid evaluations of their sites, running test after test to continually improve their services. When it comes to education, R&D cycles can take years, producing results that are out of date the minute they're released.  Digital Promise will work with researchers and entrepreneurs to develop new approaches for rapidly evaluating new products.
  •  Transforming the market for learning technologies. With more than 14,000 school districts and outdated procurement systems, it’s difficult for entrepreneurs to break into the market and it’s also tough to prove that their products can deliver meaningful results.  Meanwhile, the amount we invest in R&D in K-12 education is estimated at just 0.2% of total spending on K-12 education, compared to 10-20% of revenues spent on R&D in many knowledge-intensive industries such as software development and biotech.   Digital Promise will work with school districts to create “smart demand” that drives private-sector investment in innovation.

Other Initiatives Being Announced with the Launch of Digital Promise

Creating a League of Innovative Schools:In partnership with Digital Promise, leading schools, school districts, and networks such as the District of Columbia Public Schools; Mooresville Graded School District, North Carolina; High Tech High in San Diego, California; York County School Division, Virginia; E.L. Haynes in Washington, DC; Malden High School, Malden, Massachusetts; and the New Tech High Network, are coming together to launch a League of Innovative Schools. The League will be a coalition of schools dedicated to innovation in learning technologies and significant improvements in educational outcomes. The League will explore key steps it can take to help the learning technology market, including:

  • Rapid testing of promising new technologies.Internet companies like Netflix and Amazon don’t make decisions on the basis of hunches.  They use rapid, low-cost experimentation to continually improve their products.  Similar opportunities exist for learning technologies. Schools with the flexibility to try new things and the data systems to capture the results offer opportunities for trials, both identifying what works and doing rapid prototyping to refine new tools. Working together, these schools can accelerate the pace of learning and innovation.
  • Creating a buyers’ consortium to demand better prices and higher quality.New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island, and Maine formed a consortium called the New England Common Assessment Program to buy testing materials together, getting a higher quality product at a lower cost.  Members of the League can band together to improve their purchasing power for emerging solutions.
  • Encouraging entrepreneurs to develop game-changing innovations by promising to buy them.By 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 is on the market and could help save the lives of 7 million children by 2030. Similarly, a consortium of schools and school districts could encourage entrepreneurs to develop new solutions that deliver dramatic improvements in student learning outcomes.

New Investments by NSF on Cyber-learning:  In support of the Administration’s initiative, the National Science Foundation will announce $15 million in new awards to support research that is developing next-generation learning environments.

Innovative research projects and prototypes include:

  • "GeoGames" that help students analyze data across geographical areas to solve real-world challenges;
  • Robots that use non-verbal cues to teach vocabulary to kids;
  • Systems that create augmented reality for students with hearing disabilities;
  • Tools for family learning about energy management using data from home thermostats; and
  • Online tutors that assess a student's real-time comprehension and tailor learning strategies.

New Analysis by Council of Economic Advisers on Learning Technology Market:  A well-trained workforce is essential to economic growth and competitiveness, and the skills of the entire workforce depend critically on the educational foundation established during the K-12 school years.  Well-designed instructional software can provide personalized learning, adapting to the needs of individual students and evolving as the student progresses, which can be an important complement to other educational reform efforts.  Educational technology holds the promise of substantially improving outcomes for K-12 students, but there are significant challenges in bringing new products to market.

A new analysis by the Council of Economic Advisers, to be released in conjunction with the launch of Digital Promise, examines the learning technologies market and steps that could be taken to reduce barriers for entrepreneurs. The CEA analysis found substantial promise for education technology, but identified two key challenges for entrepreneurs: (1) it is difficult for producers of these technologies to demonstrate the effectiveness of their products to potential buyers, and (2) market fragmentation creates barriers to entry by all but the largest suppliers. The CEA analysis concluded that the spread of broadband Internet and Common Core State Standards have improved the landscape for educational technologies, but these factors alone are likely insufficient for a “game changing” advance.  Additional steps are needed to identify measures that could provide local school systems with greater access to good information about the effectiveness of various educational technology products and give prospective developers of these products access to customers on a scale sufficient to encourage entry into the market.

Leading Researchers Working Together to Determine What Works in Learning Technology:Supporting the goals of Digital Promise, the Urban Education Lab, hosted by the University of Chicago’s Urban Education Institute, will launch a new national alliance of over 35 of America’s top education-policy researchers intended to help improve the educational outcomes of our country’s most disadvantaged children. The new Urban Education Lab will seek to:

  • Assemble inter-disciplinary teams of leading education-policy researchers and practitioners to carry out randomized controlled trials of the sort common in medicine, to provide “gold standard” tests of a wide range of policies that have the potential to be fundamental for improving schooling outcomes in U.S. urban areas;
  • Combine the results of these randomized experiments with benefit-cost analysis to help policymakers ensure that investments in education generate the greatest possible social returns;
  • Help disseminate new research findings with the goal of having every school and child in the country benefit from “best practices” identified by rigorous social science analysis.

Affiliates of the new Urban Education Lab already have numerous studies underway, including how to improve classroom learning environments through better use of technology.

Launch of 2012 National STEM Video Game Challenge:In partnership with Digital Promise, a coalition of leading technology companies, community-based organizations, and educational non-profits are today announcing year two of the National STEM Video Game Challenge.  The competition harnesses the appeal of making and playing video games to foster motivation for STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).  The Challenge—inspired  by President Obama’s Educate to Innovate campaign—was developed by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop and E-Line Media and is sponsored by the AMD Foundation, Entertainment Software Association, Microsoft X Box 360 and the CPB-PBS Ready to Learn Initiative.  Outreach partners include the American Library Association, the American Association of School Librarians, Boys and Girls Club of America, Girl Scouts of the USA, the George Lucas Educational Foundation, One Economy Corporation, International Game Developers Association, and BrainPOP.  

Leading Video Game Company Establishes Education Prize: Valve, creator of best-selling video game franchises and leading technologies, is stepping into the educational arena due to interest from teachers, students, researchers, and fans after the release of Portal 2, a brain-challenging puzzle game.  Valve will run a competition next year where middle- and high-school students and teachers can create levels of Portal 2 to be used in the home and classroom while competing for prizes worth $250,000.  As a start, Valve will be giving out free copies of Portal, the first in the series, which is rated for teens.  For more information, go to:

 The Nature Conservancy and Morgridge Family Foundation Partnering to Create Digital Content for Kids:  The Nature Conservancy is announcing a $2 million gift from the Morgridge Family Foundation to support the development of new digital educational content based on its conservation science. The Nature Conservancy has more than 500 scientists working on conservation around the country. Through this program, the Conservancy will make their research available to hundreds of thousands of students and educators, taking its messages and content into the classroom and the home at scale. The platform will launch in the spring of 2012 with plans to translate content into other languages. 

Tech Firms Providing Recommendations and Support for Digital Promise: To further the goals of Digital Promise, TechAmerica Foundation – through an effort dubbed the Recommendations for Education and Advancement of Learning (REAL) Agenda – will assemble a commission of leading technology leaders and outline a set of initial R&D and policy priorities for the inaugural years of Digital Promise. The TechAmerica trade association will also publicize the effort and identify funding sources from among its 1,000 member companies.  In addition, the Information Technology Industry Council (ITI) has committed to helping incubate Digital Promise by providing counsel from education technology experts, identifying funding sources, and partnering to promote the mission of the initiative. The Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA) will provide counsel on the initiative’s agenda, promote industry and investor involvement and funding, and disseminate information on its efforts to support the development of innovative learning technologies.