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How "EDUSTAR" Can Help Evaluate Tech in Schools

Platform and consumer-friendly ratings may improve efficacy, lower barriers

WASHINGTON -- Northwestern University’s Benjamin Jones and Duke University’s Aaron Chatterji have recommended creating an online platform, dubbed “EDUSTAR,” to evaluate K–12 education technologies that will use Consumer Report-like ratings, according to a new policy proposal released today by The Hamilton Project.

Education technology holds immense promise for improving outcomes in K–12 education. Yet tech tools have not been rigorously evaluated, making it difficult to select the most effective ones for learning and creating barriers to innovation.

The Hamilton Project’s new policy proposal, “Learning What Works in Educational Technology with a Case Study of EDUSTAR,” aims to accelerate our understanding of what works in educational technology.

The paper was co-authored by Jones, the Gordon and Llura Gund Family Professor of Entrepreneurship at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management and a faculty associate at the Institute for Policy Research, and Chatterji, an associate professor at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business.

Jones and Chatterji discussed their work Monday at the Hamilton Project educational policy forum on Strengthening Student Learning Through Innovation and Flexibility,” at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.

They were joined by leading experts, including James Cole, Jr., acting U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education; Allan Golston, president of the U.S. Program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; and Anthony Bryk, president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

The timing is ideal for the types of technology evaluations outlined in the proposal, in part due to the adoption of Common Core State Standards by the majority of states, the researchers said. 

In a 2012 Hamilton Project policy proposal, Jones and Chatterji first recommended creating an Internet-based, educational technology evaluation platform. They went on to launch EDUSTAR, a web-based program that has successfully conducted 77 product tests in randomized control trials in classrooms.

“Past research has found mixed results for schools that adopt new technology,” Jones said. “It is imperative that teachers, parents and schools have access to the tools that will help them make more informed choices about the most effective digital learning activities.”

The researchers propose that rigorous and continuous evaluation can spur innovation in the K–12 technology market. They also emphasize that implementing an intuitive star-rating system will permit the platform to deliver easily digestible results to non-experts, like parents. Following strict but transparent guidelines, such as those similar to Consumer Reports, which does not accept free samples or commercial advertising, would help promote trust in the results, the researchers said.

“The nonprofit platform will act as ‘connective tissue’ between innovators and school systems by promoting more rapid testing and quickly communicating results,” Chatterji said. “It will help unlock the true potential of education technology.”

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