A proposed nonprofit would evaluate educational technologies.

In a new paper, two researchers have proposed to create a new third-party ratings system for educational technology products, which would help link ed-tech buyers and sellers and offer reports on software’s effectiveness.

The proposed EDU STAR system, dubbed a “Consumer Reports” for educational technology, also could promote transparency in the ed-tech product market and encourage innovation.

In “Harnessing Technology to Improve K-12 Education,” published by The Hamilton Project, co-authors Aaron Chatterji and Benjamin Jones maintain that K-12 education has seen much less technological change when compared to other U.S. markets. Chatterji is an associate professor in the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University, and Jones is an associate professor of management and strategy in the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

“Despite broad attention to education, however, the United States sees little research and development in the K-12 education sector,” the authors write. “Overall, 2.9 percent of total final expenditures in the United States are spent on R&D. Yet in K-12 education, R&D accounts for only 0.2 percent of expenditure—one-fifteenth the average rate in the economy and one-fiftieth the rate seen in highly innovative sectors.”

Although most policy makers and stakeholders agree that, when implemented correctly, technology can help boost student engagement and achievement, little is known about the effectiveness of particular educational technologies. And schools, already limited by shrinking budgets, are unlikely to invest in technologies with unknown or obscure effectiveness.

“Our future prosperity depends critically on our capacity to educate,” Jones said, adding that the EDU STAR system would create an “ecosystem of innovation.”

The EDU STAR system that Chatterji and Jones propose would hold quick, inexpensive technology evaluations and then disseminate those results among the public in an effort to boost the market for educational technologies.

The system would focus on instructional software in particular. “Educational software should be a prime target for entrepreneurs; the demand for educational improvement is high, and writing instructional software has very few startup costs,” the authors write.

EDU STAR would focus on four goals:

  1. Link the ed-tech market with suppliers. The system would work with entrepreneurs who want to test their products and would make sure that products meet basic design criteria.
  2. Build a test bed by partnering with a group of schools or districts to test the new technologies. Each school would designate time for students to use the digital tools, and students would log into the EDU STAR system and then work with the specific products.
  3. Evaluate products as students use the technology. Students will be given a baseline assessment at the beginning of their designated time and a closing assessment after completing the program.
  4. Distribute results in the form of accessible reports published online. Each technology will receive a rating, and consumers will be able to browse products by different learning standards.

The system will build on the Common Core State Standards and will use the agreed-upon assessment questions and standards, Jones said.

“EDU STAR will work best for technologies that aim to teach discrete and easily measurable skills, such as solving a particular type of equation or spelling a word,” according to the report. “These skills, while covering only a limited set of core learning objectives, will provide teachers new tools to help students learn these building blocks, personalize education, and better manage their classroom.”

The authors propose creating the system as a nonprofit and estimate that they would need an initial $5 million to launch the EDU STAR system, which could go live within 18 months.

Initial funding could come from the federal Investing In Innovation grant, the proposed Advanced Research Projects Agency-Education, and private grants from groups such as the Gates Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, and Broad Foundation—all of which have previously invested in educational innovation and advancements.

Eventually, the organization’s operating costs would come from user fees in which companies are charged per product on a sliding scale that charges smaller companies less than larger companies.