Innovating for Education: Puget Sound Businesses Can Lead the Way

5/13/11

Educational reform is at the top of the national agenda, and it is a particularly salient issue for the tech industry. To lead the world in innovation, we also must lead in education. The U.S. already lags behind many other nations in math and science proficiency, and we have fallen to ninth in the proportion of young people with a college degree. As a hub for technological innovation, companies in the Seattle area are in a unique position to shape the future of education, helping ensure that Seattle and the U.S. remains competitive in the global economy.

State budget restrictions and accompanying budget cuts impacting our schools are creating an increasingly inequitable system. Never before have our educators been asked to do more with less. Our educators are now challenged to answer such questions as, “How do we enable teachers to work smarter, not harder, since they work hard enough already?” “How do we create scale for personalized learning experiences in a 1:many environment?” “How can we glean actionable insight from mountains of disaggregated data?” Substitute the words “staff” and “customer” for “teachers” and “learning,” respectively, and these questions become the same challenges companies in Puget Sound have been helping to solve for decades.

Though the education sector has been slow to adapt new technology, preferring localized homegrown solutions over standardized systems, government-backed initiatives, such as Race to the Top, are creating the impetus to explore more centralized, tech-driven approaches and making now an opportune time for Seattle’s private sector technology companies to apply their expertise to education. Much in the same way companies such as Amazon and Salesforce.com have transformed their industries through personalization and innovation, or the way the corporate sector has improved organizational efficiencies through ERP and CRM systems, the tech community has a growing opportunity to bring the same optimization and disruptive innovation to educating our children.

Puget Sound is already emerging as a hotbed of education and technology innovation. We are all familiar with the pioneering research and funding of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, but software companies big and small are beginning to find purpose in applying innovation to education reform. In instruction, DreamBox is a Seattle-based company that provides adaptive learning technologies for K-3 math curriculum. And we at GlobalScholar provide tools that help educators identify and share best practices, give students and parents the resources they need to be successful and help teachers gain insights that lead to more personalized learning.

Likewise, Seattle area school systems, such as the Bellevue and Federal Way school districts, are similarly leading the way in education reform with innovative use of technologies to, in part, support standards-based curriculum and make data-driven decisions. The Bellevue school district, for example, is leveraging technology to better manage the vast amounts of data generated by the district’s more than 16,000 students and to make better-informed decisions about each student’s education. They’ve set out to link assessment to the curriculum; in doing so, each teacher knows exactly what students need and has the tools to monitor and to assess each student’s progress on a daily basis. The impact has been profound and was only achievable in an efficient and measurable way through the use of technology.

If our school districts are being tasked to do more with less, education is in need of innovation on several fronts to ensure that every student gets access to high quality education. For example, how do we keep overachieving kids on an accelerated path while also helping kids who need corrective action? How do we ensure optimal parental involvement to help student performance? Or how do we support efficient sharing of best practices between teachers? The Seattle tech community not only has the know-how, but also the resources to shape the future of education on a global scale. So let’s get to work and make this vision a reality.

Kal Raman is an accomplished technologist and businessman and has held leadership positions at companies such as Amazon, Drugstore.com and Wal-Mart. Passionate about education, Kal founded GlobalScholar in 2006 to provide instruction management software to K-12 schools. The company was acquired by Scantron Corporation in January 2011. Follow @

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