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Policy Proposals

Harnessing technology to improve K-12 education

September 27, 2012


The Problem

Despite the facts that innovation has spurred increases in productivity in many sectors of the economy and that there is consensus on the importance of improved educational outcomes for publicly educated students, research and development around technology-based innovation in educational has been scant. When innovations are developed, they often suffer from sluggish adoption rates by school systems that cannot accurately gauge the benefits to students, and therefore cannot justify the cost or time investment.

The Proposal

To promote tech-enabled innovations within the education sector—particularly in the face of opportunities presented by the Common Core State Standards and broadband accessibility—a national, nonprofit EDU STAR system could be created to undertake rapid yet scientifically rigorous evaluation of novel approaches and new systems. The resulting analysis, made broadly available nationwide, would allow educators and administrators to make timely and informed decisions about a particular innovation’s ability to meet the needs of their student populations.


Technological progress has consistently driven remarkable advances in the U.S. economy, yet K–12 education sees little technological change compared to other sectors, even as U.S. K–12 students increasingly lag behind students in other nations. This proposal considers how we can take a signature American strength—innovation—and apply it to K–12 education. We argue that the advent of Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and broadband Internet create promising opportunities for developing new learning technologies but that a fundamental obstacle remains: the effectiveness of learning technologies is rarely known. Not surprisingly, when no one knows what works, schools are unlikely to buy, and innovators are unlikely to create. Our proposed EDU STAR system will solve this problem by (a) undertaking rapid, rigorous, and low-cost evaluations of learning tools and (b) reporting results to the public. Coupling Internet-based real-time evaluation systems (demonstrated daily by many leading companies) with trusted reporting (modeled by Consumer Reports and others), the proposed EDU STAR platform will help schools make informed learning technology decisions and substantially reduce entry barriers for innovators. EDU STAR will bring together K–12 schools, teachers, and innovators and continually improve this critical foundation for economic prosperity.