Project seeks to measure ed tech’s value

An ambitious new research project aims to revolutionize education by showing that well-implemented technology initiatives can save states money after an initial investment.

Project RED (for Revolutionizing EDucation) will examine the outcomes of educational technology initiatives using a cost-benefit analysis to determine which ed-tech programs and devices are having the most cost-effective impact for schools, parents, and states.

The project “seeks to define technology models that lead to improvements in student achievement when well implemented,” according to its summary. Project RED is led by ed-tech consulting firms the Hayes Connection and the Greaves Group, as well as the One-To-One Institute.

“The goal is a national study [to] … create a model detailing the technologies that contribute to improved learning [as well as] cost savings,” said Jeanne Hayes of the Hayes Connection.

The project comes at an opportune time for both state leaders and advocates of educational technology, as states are feeling the budget pinch and technology funds are often among the first education-related expenses to be cut. Very little research has been done to show the connection between educational technology and cost savings, Hayes said, adding: “Far too often, only the expense side of the equation receives attention.”

The project’s first phase will gather data from schools that have implemented ubiquitous technology initiatives. Project leaders have a list of approximately 3,000 such schools, which will be narrowed to about 500 schools for research purposes, Hayes said.  The data will be used to develop a framework for determine which programs and services are most effective in raising achievement.

Next, several partner states will join with Project RED to examine larger factors that may be influenced by ed-tech initiatives, such as the cost to society for high school dropouts, credit recovery and remediation costs, and how much money can be saved by using virtual learning.

The project’s final phase will deliver data and findings to stakeholders.

Professional development, online learning, and online credit recovery are three areas in which Hayes said she expects to see a significant return on ed-tech investment.

She said the project will not use any single metric for measuring this return on investment, but instead will apply “some statistical techniques to determine the highest-outcome technology uses” according to a financial model.

For instance, “if a program reduces dropouts by 5 percent, then we will calculate the savings to the state in reduction in costs to support high school dropouts and the revenue enhancement they will incur [through] higher income taxes,” Hayes said.

All of the project’s work will be based on per-student costs and savings, Hayes said, so that the formulas should be applicable in other states or districts using their own calculations on the same issue.

“For example, if professional development online reduces the [average] costs of substitute teachers by three days per teacher, per year, then the cost of that substitute teacher may vary by state or district, but [the savings] can be readily calculated,” she explained.