Changing the Game: The Federal Role in Supporting 21st Century Educational Innovation

View the policy brief » 

Executive Summary
To resolve dramatic disparities in educational achievement and ensure future American workers are globally competitive, the federal government needs, as it has in the past, to change the game in public education.

A robust new federal Office of Educational Entrepreneurship and Innovation within the Department of Education would expand the boundaries of public education by scaling up successful educational entrepreneurs, seeding transformative educational innovations, and building a stronger culture to support these activities throughout the public sector.

America’s Challenge
Significant educational achievement gaps and stagnating attainment threaten the nation’s ability to fulfill its promise of equal opportunity and successfully compete in the global economy. In both reading and math, fourth graders from urban public schools—whose students are disproportionately poor and minority—are roughly a year-and-a-half behind their suburban peers. U.S. 15-year-olds trail their peers in 23 other countries in math and 11 other countries in reading. Slipping trends in educational attainment point to a real possibility that young Americans today may be less well educated than the previous generation, and experience lower living standards as a result.

Limitations of Existing Federal Policy
Despite the progress that a growing generation of educational entrepreneurs has achieved in educating low-income and minority students, current federal efforts in public education fail to meaningfully support these entrepreneurs, or drive the innovation necessary to generate real increases in educational productivity. The No Child Left Behind Act’s accountability measures were not accompanied by the support necessary to spur real innovation to improve student learning. Political, funding, and programmatic hurdles hinder the effectiveness of existing federal initiatives to stimulate educational innovation. Federal support for much-needed educational research and development under-prioritizes the development aspect of implementing and scaling new models.

A New Federal Approach
The federal government should catalyze a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship in public education through a new Office of Educational Entrepreneurship and Innovation (OEEI) within the U.S. Department of Education. With a small and nimble staff and an independent review board, OEEI would strategically collaborate with entrepreneurs, innovators, philanthropists, and state/local governments to:

  • Scale up successful educational entrepreneurs such as charter school networks, human capital suppliers, providers of technology and out-of-school supports, and capacity-building intermediaries through a new Grow What Works fund of up to $300 million annually
  • Foster transformational educational innovations by investing $150 million annually into longer-term, high-risk but high potential payoff educational R&D through the new Education Innovation Challenge
  • Build a stronger culture of entrepreneurship and innovation at the federal level and nationwide by eliminating barriers to new and innovative educational approaches, highlighting educational issues of national significance, and building networks of educational entrepreneurs to help them exchange best practices; identify high-quality human capital; and realize potential synergies