Anxious to learn coding before college? There is a MOOC for that. Want to connect with parents daily? There is a free messaging service for that. Social media capabilities in the classroom? That’s available as an app, on Google Play or for Windows.
The rise of the edtech industry has completely transformed the K-12 experience for students. But what about teachers? Shouldn’t technological innovation be used to improve teacher performance, just as it is doing for students?
With a recent shift in education policy and reform focusing on teacher evaluation and accountability, there is a hole in the education technology market with potential for high returns. Edtech companies should embrace this shift to create tools not only for teacher training, but for evaluation and accountability, as well.
The trajectory of edtech investments in the past few years illustrates the lack of focus on teacher evaluation and accountability. In 2012, investors staked more than $1.25 billion in the edtech industry — a number that grew by 35 percent in 2013. Most of this investment was focused on companies creating MOOCs, tutoring platforms such as Khan Academy or learning software.
This trend continued into 2014 as the edtech industry reached $1.36 billion, with the largest sums going toward tech companies focused on improving professional, language and math skills. Setting aside professional skills for adults, K-12 tech investments in 2014 were almost entirely student-centric, with the exception of a $64 million investment in Teachers Pay Teachers, an open marketplace for educators to share resources.
There is much room for technological innovation to streamline and enhance teacher evaluation and accountability.
In September 2015, the largest edtech investments were $60 million into Civitas Learning for higher education and $13 million into Learn Zillion, a cloud-based curriculum meant to transition districts to the Common Core standards. Both Teachers Pay Teachers and Learn Zillion are extremely helpful to educators and can enhance teacher training, but they do not provide tools for evaluation of pedagogical growth and, by extension, accountability.
To truly transform education and enhance student performance, edtech needs to embrace calls for teacher evaluation and accountability — calls made by teachers, schools, researchers and administrators.
Teacher evaluation and accountability entered the education reform debate in 2010 when the Los Angeles Times published a series of articles describing significant differences in student performance tied to individual teachers. A 2011 study led by Raj Chetty further confirmed the findings reported in the Los Angeles Times: A high-quality teacher can improve a child’s educational and economic outcomes.
To increase teacher quality, stakeholders support robust teacher evaluation and accountability practices. Recent research out of Stanford finds that consistent evaluation can actually make teachers better at their craft. In high-performing schools and districts, teacher evaluation and accountability is often a priority, and is considered a best practice.
Importantly, the most powerful teacher’s union, the National Education Association, agrees that evaluation and accountability are imperative for enhancing student learning, as illustrated by their policy statement on the issue.
A few companies and nonprofits have recently started developing teacher evaluation tools, but they make up a very small share of the market. For example, the nonprofit Teaching Channel is an online platform for teachers to view and share teaching videos, which they then can receive feedback on from other teachers on the site. Kickboard is commonly used in schools via iPads to quantify school culture trends and evaluate teacher disciplinary actions. Whetstone is an adaptable platform where school systems can collect, analyze and provide feedback on teacher performance data.
To truly increase student performance though, these evaluative tools need to be paired with accountability capability, as this is what the research concludes, educators believe and policy-makers support.
At a time when investment in education is at its highest, and policy is shifting toward evaluation and accountability, it is an ideal opportunity for the edtech industry to take on the issue. Teacher development and training tools are an excellent start, but there is much room for technological innovation to streamline and enhance teacher evaluation and accountability.
The panoply of student-centric innovations provides access and opportunity in astounding ways. Now, let’s extend this technological revolution to the teachers leading the very students whose outcomes matter most.