Back in 2011, Congress created a non-profit which would allow education startups and software companies easier access to America’s public schools. The initiative was called Digital Promise.

From White House to Launch “Digital Promise” Initiative press release:

Transforming the market for learning technologies. With more than 14,000 school districts, and an outdated procurement system, it’s difficult for entrepreneurs to break into the market, and it’s also tough to prove that their products can deliver meaningful results. Meanwhile, the amount we invest in R&D in K-12 education is estimated at just 0.2% of total spending on K-12 education, compared to 10-20% of revenues spent on R&D in many knowledge-intensive industries such as software development and biotech. Digital Promise will work with school districts to create “smart demand” that drives private sector investment in innovation.

But how would the Digital Promise Initiative allow education hucksters, sorry – “entrepreneurs”- to break into the market and get around school districts’ outdated procurement systems?

Simple. Create another layer of well-funded, unaccountable bureaucracy and then encourage individual Superintendents to commit their districts to this system. No need to involve school boards or notify parents.

This additional layer of bureaucracy is called the League of Innovative Schools. Here’s part of the League of Innovative Schools Membership Charter:

The League is…

A network of superintendents and district leaders leveraging technology to improve student outcomes

A national coalition of public school districts partnering with entrepreneurs, researchers, and leading thinkers

A testbed for new approaches to teaching and learning

A representation of the diversity of public education in the U.S.

The League is action-oriented. League members:

Collaborate with colleagues to enhance learning for ALL students

Share successful strategies and adopt innovative teaching and learning practices

Solve challenges facing K-12 schools through learning technology and education research

Commit to equity of access to technology for all students

Upon joining the League, members commit to:

Attend biannual League meetings, which feature classroom visits, collaborative problemsolving, and relationship-building with peers and partners

Join working groups on a broad range of topics relevant to the changing needs of school districts

Engage with entrepreneurs to advance product development and meet district needs

Support research that expands what we know about teaching and learning

Participate in the League’s professional learning community by connecting with other members online, in person, and at each other’s school districts

In short, the commitment outlined in the charter allows our public schools to be the testing ground for new education products and our kids as the unpaid, software testers. No permission needed.

It also drops the pretense of public education being anything other than a talent and product development pipeline for corporate America. The League of Innovative Schools is a resource grab wrapped in the progressive jargon of innovation, 21st Century skills, and personalized learning for all.

As you can imagine, everyone wants in on the action.

The philanthropic supporters of Digital Promise includes The Gates Foundation,  Carnegie Corporation of New York, Chevron, Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, The Grable Foundation, The Joyce Foundation, The Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, The Overdeck Family Foundation, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Startup:Education, Verizon, and The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

If that list isn’t business friendly enough, here’s the actual corporate sponsors:


There’s only one small problem with this masterpiece of technocratic subterfuge: Getting people to buy the snake oil.

Even tech-happy EdSurge admits to this weakness:

But in a recent study of 450 educators, including district leaders, school leaders, teachers, private businesses and other groups from 46 U.S. states, the District of Columbia and multiple foreign countries, it became clear there is one thing everyone could agree on: The biggest challenge to personalized learning is getting others to buy into it.

Education entrepreneurs have another unstated concern: The value of online teaching software is questionable at best.

The success of the Digital Promise Initiative rests on districts quickly switching to online learning platforms before parents or school communities have a chance to question the benefit of this drastic change.

Currently, Washington State has three Digital Promise School Districts: Highline, Kent and Vancouver.

Parents, this is the time to speak up and make some noise. Ask the uncomfortable questions the education speculators don’t want to answer.

Teachers, what’s happening in your schools?  Are you being asked to incorporate personalized, online learning in your classroom?

What are  your stories?  Please share them with us at 

Final Thought

Edupreneurs think they can use our public schools as product development laboratories, our kids as guinea pigs and our teachers as market research assistants.

This is unacceptable. The time to pushback is now.

-Carolyn Leith