Education Department Invests in Education Business Research
Even the most compelling education research usually takes years—or even decades—to make it into practical use in classrooms. The U.S. Department of Education is pushing academics and entrepreneurs to translate emerging research from studies and papers into usable, commercial education products faster.
The Small Business Innovation Research Program provides roughly $2 billion in grants each year across 11 federal agencies, with the Institute of Education Sciences awarding more than $1 million a year. While IES' pot of money is small, program officer Edward Metz said the education program has been drawing more interest since 2010.
The program has three main levels of projects:
• Phase 1 provides up to $150,000 over six months to support developing a prototype and studying whether it functions well in the lab or the classroom;
• Phase 2 provides up to $900,000 over two years to fully develop a product, refine it, and conduct a pilot to study the program's use and effectiveness in improving student or teacher outcomes in schools.
• Phase 3, which does not receive a grant from the program, involves taking the product to market.
For fiscal 2013, IES received more than 220 proposals and awarded 10 phase 1 grants (as well as an additional grant for a special "education games" competition); six phase 2 grants; and three "fast-track" grants to combine prototyping and full development. This year's projects run the gamut from history and math learning games to support devices for students with autism-spectrum disorders.
"The program really picks up where venture funding won't go, in very high-risk areas," Metz said.
Of the 64 projects that have gone through the program's full development process since 2010, 41 have been completed, Metz said. Thirteen of those have successfully launched a product that is now being used in schools and have a viable plan to sustain their businesses; another nine have developed a product and are working to launch it now. Nineteen completed development but had no success in the market.
That success rate is pretty good by venture capital standards, according to Judith Singer, an education professor at Harvard Graduate School of Education and member of IES' advisory board. "Essentially you have a very small venture capital fund with much higher success rates than most venture capital funds, so maybe you are on to something here," she told Metz during a briefing this week.
IES has also launched a YouTube channel to showcase some of the products that have resulted from the research so far, including:
• A quick benchmarking test for prekindergarten-3rd grade students in math and literacy assessment:
• A tool that allows teachers to quickly write, graph, and manipulate algebraic formulas:
• And a game to teach students appropriate social skills:
Competition for the next cycle of education small business grants will open this fall.
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