Industry Change

Ambitious Ed Tech Data Initiative Launched by Coalition of Nonprofits and Walton Family Foundation

EdTech Evidence Exchange to Spearhead Project to Create Central Source of Info on How Solutions Work

Editor's Note: This article has been updated to clarify the initiative's information-gathering goals.

Five national education nonprofits today launched a new initiative that aims to centralize data about ed tech products serving U.S. public schools, aiming to help educators make better decisions about technology decisions and purchases. The effort, which will not involve student data and will focus on centralizing information about the ed tech solutions themselves, is funded initially by a Walton Family Foundation grant, according to a news release.

With the help of education and technology experts from leading ed tech organizations including the EdTech Evidence Exchange, ISTE, InnovateEDU/Project Unicorn, Digital Promise, and the Center for Education Market Dynamics, the initiative plans to build a “federated data system designed to help educators efficiently access the information they need to make well-informed ed tech decisions,” the Walton Family Foundation said.

The announcement cited research from the EdTech Evidence Exchange showing that prior to the pandemic — and the ed tech boom that school shutdowns ushered in — the nation’s schools were spending between $25 billion and $41 billion annually on ed tech solutions, yet about half of the products purchased by schools were “used ineffectively, materially underused, or unused entirely.” The study cited a lack of incentives and mechanisms that would enable local education agencies to learn from others’ experiences.

“There is a dearth of independent information available about education technology,” Walton Family Foundation said in its announcement. “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.”

University of Virginia-based nonprofit EdTech Evidence Exchange will serve as the facilitator of the project, according to the announcement, using its data collected from tens of thousands of educators on the context, implementation, and performance of ed tech tools.

Each nonprofit participating in the initiative will contribute the following expertise and support:

  • ISTE: The initiative will lean heavily on data from the EdSurge Product Index, which offers up-to-date and trustworthy product information and third-party certifications to help educators make technology choices, and the expertise of the index’s creators.
  • Digital Promise: The initiative will incorporate data and research expertise from the Digital Promise Product Certifications platform and its creators.
  • Project Unicorn led by InnovateEDU: The initiative will rely on the data and expertise from Project Unicorn’s rubric for data interoperability and data privacy, and its reviews of ed tech products compared to those standards. The Walton Family Foundation emphasized that Project Unicorn’s expertise navigating the complexity of ed tech 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: The coalition of over 100 organizations will lend its expertise in accessibility and inclusivity in ed tech tool design and use.
  • The Center for Education Market Dynamics: The initiative will incorporate the center’s expertise on district leaders’s perspectives and decision-making processes, leaning on the center’s research and contextualized data on generating equitable learning outcomes.

Throughout the remainder of this year, the participating organizations will explore the fundamentals required to "close the information gap and bring more transparency to the market," including “financial requirements, data security and privacy protocols, strategies for engaging with the broader ed tech industry, involvement of other ed tech data sources, and coordination with industry, philanthropy, and the U.S. Department of Education,” the Walton Family Foundation said.

“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 ed tech 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.”

InnovateEDU Executive Director Erin Mote said that the disconnection of ed tech systems and solutions fails to provide an efficient or complete learning experience to educators and students because “there’s no standardized way for different systems to talk to each other. 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.”

Digital Promise Marketplace Project Director Sierra Noakes noted that education technologies can provide more effective and equitable learning but only if the evidence showing what technologies work best is broadly established and accessible to all educators. “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,” Noakes said.

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About the Author

Kristal Kuykendall is editor, 1105 Media Education Group. She can be reached at [email protected].