2018 Education Innovation Clusters Convening: Looking to the Future - Digital Promise

2018 Education Innovation Clusters Convening: Looking to the Future

August 2, 2018 | By

On July 16-18, Digital Promise held the fifth annual Education Innovation Clusters Convening (#EdClusters18) in Philadelphia, with our co-host the ExCITe Center at Drexel University. #EdClusters18 brought together nearly 100 leaders from more than 20 regions and 48 organizations across the country working to advance future-facing teaching and learning.

#EdClusters18 focused on clarifying the future vision, tools, and action steps for education innovation. (See the full agenda here.) We asked ourselves these guiding questions: What can we do to improve and expand our work in communities across the country? How can we adapt EdClusters for long-term sustainability? Which strategies and tools can ground our work in equity, increase edtech efficacy, and develop stronger networks?

#EdClusters18 helped us look to the future with:



Over the past year, Digital Promise staff has refined our vision and goals for collaborative networks of education innovation across the country. Kim Smith, Executive Director of the League of Innovative Schools at Digital Promise, presented a new vision for EdClusters, which will guide our work into the next year:

Galvanize networks to design, validate, champion, and scale effective, innovative learning opportunities to advance equity and excellence for every student.

Katrina Stevens, Director of Learning Science at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, also shared a vision for how mature EdClusters can collaboratively design, evaluate, and scale promising tools and practices.




Several EdClusters at different stages of development shared their successes and challenges from work on the ground:



In keeping with an ongoing critical dialogue within EdClusters networks, the convening strove to elevate the conversation on educational equity:

  • Attendees self-assessed the state of equity in their work and partnerships using Digital Promise’s Equity Audit 101, the beta version of a forthcoming tool.
  • Kareem Edouard of the ExCITe Center shared research on equity in maker learning, and gave us seven strategies to make makerspaces more equitable for students who are underrepresented in STEM.



Around the country, EdClusters are developing tools and implementing initiatives to improve the reach, quality, and equity of their impact on learning in their regions. Many of their ideas are connecting stakeholders across sectors and building programs that are scaling nationwide:

In order to improve their work, EdClusters are also seeking to understand the strength, health, and nature of their networks – to inform what gaps and opportunities exist in their partnerships, in order to better advance innovative education for all students.

  • Members of Digital Promise’s EdClusters Research Cohort (which includes Kathe Crowley-Conn of WeThinkBig in Madison, WI, Daniela Fairchild of EduvateRI in Rhode Island, and Carly Croman of LeadLocal in Tucson, AZ) discussed the successes and challenges of conducting social network analysis on their regional networks.

#EdClusters18 also showcased strategies and tools for improving the research-based practices educators use in schools – and the role EdCluster leaders can play in supporting and scaling them.

  • Sean Talamas, VP of Research at The Character Lab, which was founded by Angela Duckworth, talked about ways in which researchers and practitioners can more effectively collaborate to evaluate learning and practice.
  • LEAP Innovations shared their newly developed framework for personalized learning practice.



Part of ensuring the reach and impact of digital technology-enhanced learning in our ecosystem is about building the kinds of cross-sector collaborations and systems that help us assess what is working and what isn’t.

  • Experts from ISTEthe Jefferson Education ExchangeMathematicaLeanLab Education, and Lea(R)n discussed the hurdles in navigating and evaluating efficacy in the edtech space in ways that are responsive to practitioner needs and timing but also rigorous.
  • These same organizations and Digital Promise researchers led breakout sessions that offered deep dives into specific tools and strategies that can be employed to support more evidence-based evaluation and decision-making in edtech.

Learn more about the conversation in this EdWeek article.



Based on results from a live survey of #EdClusters18 attendees, we took a deep dive into five challenge topics around teaching and learning in EdClusters across the country:

  • Authentic, formative assessment tools and practices
  • Personalized learning implementation
  • Reaching traditionally underrepresented/disadvantaged students
  • Teacher professional learning, training, and practice
  • Workforce development, college and career readiness

Breakout groups analyzed root causes of the challenges in these areas and also strategized safe-to-fail experiments that can be employed in the short-term to improve our work in these areas. We are excited to track the ways in which these concrete actions will help spark change and foster discussion across the EdCluster network.

These and other challenge topics will also populate a “Challenge Agenda” that will inform the development of Cohorts and Challenge Collaboratives (see our blog here) to address these topics over the next couple of years.



During our three days in Philadelphia, our co-hosts at the ExCITe Center at Drexel University and their partners gave us a first-hand view of what authentic, community-based education innovation looks like for students, teachers, and administrators in the City of Brotherly Love.

Site visits on day one brought us to:

  • The Workshop School, where students engage in real-world learning through hands-on, project-based challenges and career pathway work;
  • The Village of Arts and Humanities, where students and community members create collaborative art projects that foster creativity and healing within the neighborhood; and
  • PSTV Education Channel, where students are encouraged to explore media production through the medium of a 24-hour TV station.

Otis Hackney, Chief Education Officer for the City of Philadelphia, kicked off day two by talking about the kinds of culture, leadership, and practice changes required to equitably scale effective innovation for all students.

On our second night, Youngmoo Kim, executive director of the ExCITe Center at Drexel University, hosted us at the Center for an inspiring evening, during which:

  • Dr. William Hite, Superintendent of the School District of Philadelphia, illuminated how he’s pushing his district to see innovation not as the ultimate goal, but rather as a means for pushing better learning. (Hear more about his remarks in this EdWeek Market Brief piece on #EdClusters18.)

As we move forward in this work together, #EdClusters18 reminded us that we have the collective power to take actions that will improve education across the country. By centering equity in our work, building relationships with local partners, and improving our tools, we can be the “somebody” that advances powerful teaching and learning for our students and our communities.

We thank our #EdClusters18 attendees for sharing their hard work with our community. We also want to express our gratitude to this year’s funders—the Carnegie Corporation of New York and regional Philadelphia funders The Barra Foundation and ember at Spring Point—for making this convening possible. Stay tuned for information on #EdClusters19 by signing up for updates here!

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