iZone @ Education Innovation Clusters Convening

The Education Innovation Clusters Convening is organized by Digital Promise and the US Department of Education. The 2015 convening was co-hosted by LEAP Innovations, a non-profit organization that, similar to the iZone, supports innovative practices in Chicago schools. iZone’s Alana Laudone and Kara Chesal share about their #EdClusters experience.

This summer in Chicago, the city of the celebrated vanilla bean sculpture, the ideas flowed as freely as hot chocolate syrup. National representatives of Education Innovation Clusters, defined by the US Department of Education as groups that “accelerate the pace of innovation by bringing together education, research, and commercial partners”, convened for two days of panels and discussions.

We all (quite professionally, we assure you) screamed for our version of ice cream—the things that are delicious and refreshing to those of us hungry for education  innovation: research frameworks, common terminology, locally-based funding, and high-quality edtech products.

Over 30 regions self-identified as an Education Innovation Cluster this year including other big cities like Chicago and Austin. Insightful leaders also emerged from more unexpected places like rural Kentucky. It was evident that bringing together diverse stakeholders who want to leverage tech to improve education, while it may take on different forms for each local context, is relevant for educators and the wider education ecosystem regardless of geography.


To paraphrase Richard Coolatta Culatta of USDOE, not everyone is a cluster, but everyone should have access to cluster activities or the innovations that come out of them. Clusters come in many flavors, and here’s a spoon-sized sample:

Sundae: one group from LA sees themselves as curating a cluster, convening a mix of ingredients around a shared goal.

Single scoop: a rep from Baltimore talked about starting with small-bite ideas to infiltrate existing barriers, first breaking down ‘microwalls’ and then tackling larger walls after initial wins.

Double cone: Austin counts its Chamber of Commerce amongst cluster partners, helping the district advocate for edtech from the business side

Build-your-own: #NYCEDU doesn’t have an owner, since no one owns a hashtag, but has open doors to all toppings at any amount.

The convening was a great opportunity to connect, learn, and share with a diverse group of people from around the country who are working on similar edtech challenges like building authentic communities, finding funding, and defining research outcomes and goals.The iZone collaborates nationally with two other organizations piloting edtech products in research-grounded, teacher-centered ways. With our pilot, the Short-Cycle Evaluation Challenge (SCEC), we’ll continue to be part of and to build out this national movement.

We’re excited to explore how we might better support educators and school leaders in finding what works for their stakeholders when it comes to edtech implementation. This requires an evaluative mindset for everyone involved. With a fresh cohort of twelve SCEC schools piloting this fall, we have a great opportunity to co-design the next generation of pilot evaluations that place educators and schools leaders at the center, while also inviting private partnerships to push our thinking, like many of those organizations we met at the convening.

Read more about the Education Clusters Convening from Digital Promise and check out the #EdClusters conversation on Twitter.