PRESS RELEASE: Walton Family Foundation Backs Ambitious Coalition-Based Effort to Improve EdTech Data Collection

Planning grant will support new initiative to build a federated edtech data system led by the EdTech Evidence Exchange, ISTE, InnovateEDU/Project Unicorn, Digital Promise, and the Center for Education Market Dynamics

JUNE 15, 2022 – Arlington, Virginia – A coalition of five national education nonprofits today announced the launch of a new initiative that aims to dramatically improve the collection and distribution of data about education technology in America’s schools. Launched with an initial planning grant from the Walton Family Foundation, the effort will bring together some of the nation’s foremost experts on education technology — the EdTech Evidence Exchange, ISTE, InnovateEDU/Project Unicorn, Digital Promise, and the Center for Education Market Dynamics — to explore, and ultimately build, a federated data system designed to help educators efficiently access the information they need to make well-informed edtech decisions.

“Our nation spends tens of billions of dollars each year on education technology. Yet our teachers and school administrators lack access to the independent information they need to discern what to purchase,” said Walton Family Foundation K12 Education Senior Program Officer, Joanna Cannon. “We have a unique opportunity to spark a national movement focused on giving educators access to the edtech data they need to make better-informed decisions— and shape policymaking in the process.”

Research from the EdTech Evidence Exchange suggests that prior to the pandemic, the U.S. was spending between $25 and $41 billion per year on education technology — but approximately half of those purchases were used ineffectively, materially underused, or unused entirely. A key cause of this ongoing waste is that schools and districts currently lack the incentive and mechanisms necessary to learn from each other’s experiences.

In addition, there is a dearth of independent information available about education technology. What little we know about how products perform in different contexts, protect student privacy, align to state standards, interoperate with various learning management systems, are accessible to students with disabilities, and are grounded in learning science principles, is scattered across different platforms using different user interfaces. This fragmentation makes information very difficult for busy educators to find.

To address this challenge, the five coalition partners are joining forces to begin to close this information gap and bring greater transparency to the market. Each partner brings unique expertise to bear on the effort: 

  • ISTE will contribute expertise and data from the EdSurge Product Index, designed to help educators find accurate, up-to-date, and trustworthy product information to make the best technology choices for teaching and learning. The recently revamped Index now includes third-party certifications and other product validations to give educators the confidence and information they need in the product discovery and selection process.
  • Digital Promise has already certified nearly 100 edtech products based on its Product Certifications, co-designed with educators to provide straightforward information about the quality of edtech tools across dimensions that matter most for powerful learning. The research that went into the conception and development of the certifications, and Digital Promise’s experience assessing product application submissions, will also support in the planning process.
  • For two years, Project Unicorn, a project led by InnovateEDU, has shared how products line up against its rubric for interoperability and privacy. The organization’s expertise navigating the complexity of edtech data will enable the coalition to incorporate privacy and interoperability standards into its planning for the federated data system. InnovateEDU’s Educating All Learners Alliance, a coalition of over 100 organizations, is now leading in partnership with CAST to also drive accessibility and inclusivity in edtech tool design and use. Its experience and understanding of accessibility and inclusivity will ensure that the coalition incorporates those ideas and priorities into its planning.
  • The Center for Education Market Dynamics provides district leaders with research and contextualized data that helps them make decisions that generate equitable outcomes. Its experience and understanding of district leaders’ perspectives will ensure that the coalition incorporates those ideas and priorities into its planning.
  • The EdTech Evidence Exchange, a nonprofit affiliated with the University of Virginia, will serve as the facilitator of the project. The Exchange will bring to bear the data it is collecting from tens of thousands of educators who are reporting on the context, implementation, and performance of edtech tools. 

In the coming months, the organizations will convene regularly to explore key questions about the creation of a federated edtech data system, including financial requirements, data security and privacy protocols, strategies for engaging with the broader edtech industry, involvement of other edtech data sources, and coordination with industry, philanthropy, and the U.S. Department of Education.

“Today, the federal government collects almost no information about how education technology is used, or how it is successfully implemented in different schools. That lack of information leads to billions wasted on edtech that doesn’t work — and exacerbates systemic equity gaps in schools across the country,” said Bart Epstein, CEO of the EdTech Evidence Exchange and Research Associate Professor at the University of Virginia. “With the support of the Walton Family Foundation, we’re setting a standard for the ways that philanthropy and nonprofit partners can collaborate to address one of the most critical challenges facing students and educators nationwide.”

“Too many edtech decisions are made in the dark — or worse, on the basis of savvy marketing rather than contextualized research,” said Mindy Frisbee, ISTE’s Chief Research and Development Officer. “This is about shedding light on our nation’s complex and fragmented edtech market, to help educators and administrators make better-informed decisions about the tools they choose to bring to their students.”

“Education technologies hold considerable promise for accelerating learning and strengthening knowledge to build educator-student relationships, but systems are disconnected. This fails to empower educators, families and students with the full picture of the learning experience of a student because there’s no standardized way for different systems to talk to each other,” said Erin Mote, Executive Director of InnovateEDU. “The first step towards building a truly interoperable edtech ecosystem is to understand what technologies are out there and create clear market signals for buyers about what is aligned to their own ecosystem.”

“We know that technology has a profound role to play in building more effective, equitable learning experiences. But that only happens if we actually understand what technologies work best to support unique learners, and right now, too many educators have no way to answer that question,” said Sierra Noakes, Marketplace Project Director at Digital Promise. “Building a nationwide, comprehensive system of edtech information will help address this problem — and fulfill the potential of technology as an engine of learning and opportunity.”

“For too long, the edtech industry has lacked any incentive to rigorously research the impact of technologies in the classroom — and the federal government’s research capacity hasn’t been able to keep up either,” said Center for Education Market Dynamics Co-Founder Jeff Livingston. “Together, we’re stepping into that void to answer one of the most important questions facing the education community in the 21st century: what information do we need to make technology work for schools and students, and what will it take to get that information in the hands of the school and district leaders who need it most?”

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About The Center for Education Market Dynamics 

The Center for Education Market Dynamics (CEMD) is a newly launching organization focused on improving the quality of solutions adopted by school districts and increasing opportunities for Black, Latino, and ELL students and students impacted by poverty of all races and linguistic backgrounds.  CEMD will work to bring this approach to life by aggregating K-12 data regarding the products and making it available in ways that support clear and effective decision making. CEMD’s Solution Summits and Solution Labs are designed as a combination of professional learning for district level decision makers and collective problem solving among curated topics and leaders – as the right connections between people can turn relevant data into meaningful action.

About Digital Promise

Digital Promise is a nonprofit organization that builds powerful networks and takes on grand challenges by working at the intersection of researchers, entrepreneurs, and educators. Our vision is that all people, at every stage of their lives, have access to learning experiences that help them acquire the knowledge and skills they need to thrive and continuously learn in an ever-changing world. For more information, visit the Digital Promise website and follow @digitalpromise for updates.

About the EdTech Evidence Exchange

The EdTech Evidence Exchange is a nonprofit affiliated with the University of Virginia School of Education and Human Development that taps teacher insights to help schools make better-informed decisions about education technology. Powered by support from philanthropic organizations the Exchange is working to provide stipends to hundreds of thousands of educators who document their unique experiences with education technology via the EdTech Evidence Exchange Platform — enabling educators nationwide to learn from one another at scale.

About InnovateEDU

InnovateEDU is a non-profit whose mission is to eliminate the opportunity gap by accelerating innovation in standards aligned, next generation learning models and tools that serve, inform, and enhance teaching and learning.

About ISTE

The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) is a nonprofit organization that works with the global education community to accelerate the use of technology to solve tough problems and inspire innovation. Our worldwide network believes in the potential technology holds to transform teaching and learning.

ISTE sets a bold vision for education transformation through the ISTE Standards, a framework for students, educators, administrators, coaches and computer science educators to rethink education and create innovative learning environments. ISTE hosts the annual ISTE Conference & Expo, one of the world’s most influential edtech events. The organization’s professional learning offerings include online courses, professional networks, year-round academies, peer-reviewed journals and other publications. ISTE is also the leading publisher of books focused on technology in education. For more information or to become an ISTE member, visit iste.org.

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