Policy & Funding

Feds Seek For-Profit Applicants for $1.1 Million Ed Tech Grants

The U.S. Department of Education has grant money to issue to for-profit ed tech companies. The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program awards funding to organizations for "the research, development and evaluation of commercially viable educational technology products." Funding is made available in two phases: up to $200,000 for prototype development and evaluation in the first phase, and up to $900,000 for "full-scale" development of the product and evaluation in the second phase. Applications for the first phase are due by March 3, 2020.

Those projects that have been funded have introduced numerous forms of education innovation, including gaming, adaptive assessments, virtual and augmented reality, 3D-printing, simulations, virtual worlds, AI adaptive tutors, data dashboards and assistive technologies. All have gone through rigorous levels of research with the expectation that they'll be eventually be commercialized.

Proposals are accepted in three areas: education products for grades pre-K-16, supporting student learning, teacher instruction and classroom management; special education products for pre-K-12; and products for school administration for K-12.

Among the success stories are these:

  • Attainment Company's Early Reading Skills Builder and Access: Language Arts were both blended learning programs for teaching English language arts to students with intellectual disability and/or autism. During the first phase of the grant, the company tested its software in classrooms with individual students. When that showed success, a second phase was funded to continue the testing in more classrooms, among a greater number of students. By 2017, according to the company, the programs had been adopted at 800 districts across the country and was used with 40,000 students.

  • Children's Progress developed Children's Progress Academic Assessment (CPAA), adaptive testing that helped educators assess early literacy and math for students in grades pre-K-3. For teachers, the program delivered real-time formative assessment information in graphical, progress and narrative reports to help them pinpoint and address specific areas for individualized instruction. Parents also received reports that would explain the assessment results in user-friendly terms and suggest targeted activities that could be done at home. The platform was co-developed with a team of Columbia University researchers and developers at MIT. The company ran a pilot in 32 schools among 2,400 students in three states. That was later expanded to a fourth state and another 800 students. By 2012, CPAA was in use in 1,200 schools in 40 states. By April of that year, the Northwest Evaluation Association had acquired the company and incorporated the technology into its own suite of products and services for student assessment.

  • IRIS Connect is a professional development tool that helps teachers to analyze, share and reflect upon their instructional practices. The camera system lets educators record their teaching and student responses simultaneously. The videos are relayed to a web platform, where teachers can share their videos, collect feedback and data and watch their recorded interactions. A big question for the company was which technology would best capture the audio and video in classroom settings. An education nonprofit in Seattle tested the use of IRIS Connect to bolster its teachers' learning in K-12 and several institutions of higher education has researched its use too. By 2015 35,000 educators in 12 countries were uploading a daily average of 1,700 hours of recorded classroom video. The technology has also shown up in numerous research projects run by Harvard University, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the University of Michigan, the Kentucky Department of Education and Baltimore City Schools, among others.

To learn more about the current funding program, visit the Small Business Innovation Research website. The application is available on the federal contracting website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.