The pace and quality of innovation in K-12 education may increase and improve, thanks to a significant new initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and led by Chicago’s LEAP Innovations.

Around the nation, organizations aim to transform teaching and learning to better prepare students for the 21st century, often by personalizing learning and leveraging education technology. Edtech helps teachers differentiate instruction more powerfully than ever before. Its promise has spurred an $8.4 billion edtech boom, but little beyond marketing hype is known about how well the products work.

In response, LEAP Innovations helped start a movement to evaluate edtech, piloting products and techniques that personalize instruction to each student’s level, interests, and goals so districts can quickly scale effective innovations. This new grant enables LEAP to drive collaboration among a growing number of edtech evaluators from across the country, creating much needed national industry standards and sharing of best practices.

“In 1987, then Secretary of Education Bill Bennett called Chicago’s public schools the worst in the nation,” said Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. “Today, I am proud to say we are leading the country in education innovation. Thanks in large part to LEAP Innovations, Chicago is becoming the national hub for education technology and personalized learning. We are leading a national movement to develop and scale education innovations that work.”

The new initiative builds on previous investments by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in approaches to evaluate edtech tools. It aims to cultivate a nationwide network of edtech test beds that puts teachers and school decision-makers at the center of the shift toward personalized learning, lowers risks and barriers to all parties of adopting new, potentially transformative practices and products, and encourages the rapid development of a healthy, transparent ecosystem for highly effective learning technologies.

Edtech test beds accelerate education innovation by connecting developers and educators to try new things, evaluate them independently, and ultimately expand the use of learning practices and products that work for students and teachers. They help entrepreneurs overcome obstacles that can keep innovations from even getting in the school door. And they help districts quickly scale only what works.

“In the year since we launched, we’ve been working to make Chicago the education innovation hub for the country, creating a model that bridges the gap among our schools and innovators,” said Phyllis Lockett, Founder and CEO of LEAP Innovations. “This award officially puts Chicago on the education innovation map. It builds on an emerging ecosystem rooted in the foundation of great work with partners including The Chicago Public Education Fund, 1871, forward-thinking principals and teachers, edtech investors and so many others committed to advancing public education in our city.”
In the coming months, several national groups involved in ed innovation are coming to Chicago to learn about LEAP and the innovations taking root here, including the U.S. Department of Education Innovation Clusters, Next Generation Learning Challenges, and The Philanthropy Roundtable, America's largest network of charitable donors, which is hosting its 2015 Fall Forum on Breakthrough K-12 Giving here.