Are Education Innovation Clusters Working? - Digital Promise

Are Education Innovation Clusters Working?

April 6, 2015 | By

Those of us who invest ourselves in Education Innovation Clusters believe they present unique opportunities to improve many aspects of the ed ecosystem. EICs are local communities of practice that bring together education stakeholders across the usual boundaries that separate them.

We expect that these clusters will directly or indirectly help:

  • teachers and administrators improve their practice
  • vendors and investors to build and finance better products
  • funders and policy makers to evolve smarter theories of action
  • local communities to have more confidence in schools’ abilities to respond dynamically to current and future challenges

All of this, we believe, will help improve the outcomes for kids and families and enhance the legitimacy of the public school enterprise.

But how will we know if they do? What will we observe, document, and measure to test our hypotheses and iterate our own practice?

We all know there is a dearth of appropriate research on even the familiar inputs to learning, let alone on the kinds of complex behavioral and cultural shifts that underlie these innovative communities of practice. The question is: What are we doing about it? What kinds of research are we collectively designing, undertaking, and sharing that can help us do a better job in our clusters and support modern school ecosystems?

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is funding the development of testbeds, platforms, and research models for product evaluation and feedback that should yield a lot of great lessons. Others organizations are developing new frameworks suited for next–gen teaching and learning models. But the cluster promise is broad and complex.

It goes beyond the classroom to encompass goals like procurement reform, educator professionalization and autonomy, and economic development. Are we studying those things too? If so, how? If not, why not and how can we get started?

At Digital Promise we want to understand how those of you involved in innovation clusters are documenting and analyzing your work. You can help with that by completing this brief survey. And if you’re working on a cluster and haven’t already told us about it, please do so here.


Steven Hodas leads Digital Promise’s Innovation Cluster Network. He was most recently Executive Director at the New York City Department of Education’s Office of Innovation where he launched InnovateNYCSchools. He is currently practitioner-in-residence at

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