White House Wants Input About Creating Ed-Tech Challenges

Associate Editor

The Obama Administration wants input from the ed-tech community, educators, and others about how it could shape competitions to produce learning technology and other success-oriented solutions for K-12, higher education, and lifelong learning.

Unlike agencies that award grants, contracts or tax incentives for such work—all of which involve government payments regardless of the outcome— agencies that initiate a “pull” challenge want to create enough excitement about an opportunity that inventors, technologists, and other creative thinkers will get to work speculatively, with the hope of winning an incentive-based prize or stimulating a market.

The public has until March 7 to weigh in on the administration’s approaches to this initiative via a Request for Information (RFI) from the Science and Technology Policy Office

“Currently, there is a large gap between the relatively modest impact that technology has had on education, particularly in K-12, and the transformative impact that it has had in many aspects of our economic and social life,” the request for information states.

The federal government’s idea sounds strikingly similar to the Gap App Challenge conducted by New York City schools’ Innovation Zone last year. The challenge generated 170 eligible submissions, and the chance to win more than $100,000 in cash and web-hosting space, as well as the opportunity to pilot the technology in classrooms.

But it’s not just technology that the government is interested in. Social impact bonds are another way that people can be paid for outcomes, whether or not they use technology to achieve them. Although the RFI refers to examples in the United Kingdom and Ethiopia, a U.S.-based example is unfolding in Utah, where Goldman Sachs is investing in preschool education, with the potential for a payoff if fewer students require remedial services when they progress through the K-12 system.

The federal government is no stranger to pull challenges. In fiscal 2012, the energy department offered $100,000 in prizes to software developers for the best new apps to help utility customers make the most of certain electricity usage data. And the Department of Labor asked developers to help build innovative tools to improve employment opportunities and outcomes for people with disabilities. There were three winners.

Examples of educational challenges identified by the government are:

  • Dramatically reducing the gap in the number of vocabulary words understood by children from wealthy and poor households;
  • Helping middle- and high-school students outperform their international peers in math and science;
  • Giving non-college-bound students an “industry skills” certification in areas such as literacy, numeracy, or the ability to use charts and graphs), that would an industry skills certification or set of cognitive skills (such as literacy, numeracy, or the ability to understand and use charts, graphs, and diagrams) that would be a ticket to a middle-class job, increasing their employability and their annual incomes by $10,000 to $20,000 or more in less than a year; and
  • Teaching students via tech in a way that is as effective as a personal tutor and as engaging as the best video game.

 More information about how prizes can be designed is available here.


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