Education Technology: Hamilton Project Report Calls For EDU STAR To Evaluate Tech In Schools

BERLIN, GERMANY - SEPTEMBER 03:  A trainee uses software simulating a milling machine at a Siemens training center on Septemb
BERLIN, GERMANY - SEPTEMBER 03: A trainee uses software simulating a milling machine at a Siemens training center on September 3, 2012 in Berlin, Germany. Nearly 400 trainees began their apprenticeship training programs today at an in-house educational facility at the Siemens factory in Berlin. (Photo by Adam Berry/Getty Images)

In a new paper for The Hamilton Project, Duke University’s Aaron Chatterji and Northwestern’s Benjamin Jones propose establishing a third-party ratings organization dubbed “EDU STAR” that would evaluate education technologies.

The proposal aims to encourage innovation in the education sector — which has seen relatively little new technologies compared to other industries — and provide new methods to help students learn.

While instructional software can offer personalized learning for students and potentially complement a teacher’s skillset, little is known about the effectiveness of learning technologies. According to the report, schools often have no way of knowing if a product works, and collecting such information or running their own tests requires investing both time and money.

In their paper, Chatterji and Jones write that their proposed nonprofit organization would bridge the information gap between market suppliers and schools, test software-based learning tools, and disseminate ratings and other measures of effectiveness online — similar to the publication Consumer Reports.

EDU STAR would begin by focusing on instructional content, which it would evaluate based on one or more of the Common Core State Standards. The organization would also collaborate with entrepreneurs, screening their products before they go into schools.

According to the report, EDU STAR plans to partner with a group of schools or school districts to test new technologies. The idea is that every school would set aside time for students to engage in digital learning, during which they would log into the EDU STAR system and work with the products that are being evaluated.

Chatterji and Jones estimate that one large school district would be enough to provide comprehensive results. In the event that there is not sufficient interest from schools, EDU STAR may offer incentives like discounts on software or compensation.

When it comes to disseminating results, the organization would be responsible for creating easily accessible reports detailing the effectiveness of various products and publishing these reports online. EDU STAR would rate each technology on a scale of one to five stars, and would also include supplemental information like how many students have used the software, how it was tested, user ratings from both students and teachers, and how effective the product is for different types of students.

The paper states that the organization would seek $5 million in start-up funding from a combination of U.S. Department of Education grants, such as the Investing in Innovation fund and foundation grants. EDU STAR would gradually transition to being financed by user fees paid by the technology companies, and would hypothetically be launched by a consortium including the Department of Education, private foundations and private sector partners.

“Technological innovation could be a potent weapon in the fight against stagnating achievement in the U.S. education system,” the report’s conclusion states. “However, before it can be used, both school systems and entrepreneurs must overcome a proof of effectiveness challenge.”

A poll by the Leading Education by Advancing Digital Commission released earlier this month found that over 90 percent of K-12 teachers and parents support greater use of technology in education, and believe that school systems should do more to improve access. More than half of both audiences also believe that technology will play a much bigger role in educating students during the next decade.

When it comes to investing in resources for students, 89 percent of teachers and 76 percent of parents would rather spend $200 per pupil on an Internet-connected device, than $200 for new science textbooks for each student.