Schools, Organizations to Compare Notes on Education Innovation Clusters

Associate Editor

Education innovation clusters—in which various groups join forces with schools to support students’ learning—will be the focus of a national meeting on Aug. 11-12 in Chicago, sponsored by Digital Promise, a nonprofit dedicated to improving education through technology and research.

Clusters “accelerate the pace of innovation by bringing together education, research, and commercial partners.” according to the U.S. Department of Education. Participants working with schools can be foundations, colleges, ed-tech companies, researchers, and community members, as well as investors like the NewSchools Venture Fund.

“To address the big needs/problems in education, we need new, inclusive, collaborative modes of problem solving,” said Sara Schapiro, director of the League of Innovative Schools at Digital Promise, in an email. “School districts don’t have to do this work alone.”

Digital Promise’s goal is to bring together “startups, policymakers, investors, researchers, and community groups who care about similar educational issues and seldom work together,” she said. Companies that participate will not be permitted to formally present their products or services.

Education innovation clusters that have organized in the U.S. and abroad are at varying degrees of development. The greater Pittsburgh area has one of the largest and most established, as my colleague Ben Herold described in this story. (The interactive map below, developed in March 2015, shows where various clusters have formed, and describes how they are evolving.)

Last year, a national meeting similar to this one was held in Pittsburgh. This year’s conference is expected to be larger, said Steven Hodas, who is the innovation cluster lead for Digital Promise. Hodas was part of one such cluster in New York City, when he was executive director of Innovate NYC Schools, a district initiative to discover and expand educational technologies with high potential for transforming classrooms toward more personalized, student-centered models. (We wrote about Hodas’ work there when he was named an Education Week Leader to Learn From in 2014.)

Hodas expects the “themes coming out of this meeting will be played out in cities all over the country over the next year,” he said in an interview. Topics that will be discussed include an overview of education innovation cluster theory and practice, operational and finance issues, professional development, and product testing. There will also be an exchange of ideas for teaching and learning.

Interested parties are invited to attend, whether they are seeking to launch an education innovation cluster in a particular city or region, or if they already have one underway and want to share lessons learned. “We believe any city can benefit from organizing its own cluster, and we will similarly put forward these communities so that others can shorten their learning curve,” Shapiro said.

I’ll be attending this event, so watch this blog for news from the convening. Learn more about it on the Digital Promise blog.

Map credit: Digital Promise and Education Week

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