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May 14, 2013 3 min read
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‘Ed. Design Studio’ to Link Entrepreneurs, Researchers

A new project at the University of Pennsylvania will attempt to give promising education startups and entrepreneurs targeted advice and other help, including access to academic researchers, so that those organizations grow and succeed.

The university’s graduate school of education unveiled plans to launch the program, known as the Education Design Studio Fund, at its campus in Philadelphia, last week. The announcement came on the same day the graduate program announced the winners of a competition that will provide a combined $145,000 to education-focused entrepreneurs, money designed to help them either launch or build on what they already have.

The design-studio fund is meant to create an “ecosystem” of entrepreneurs, investors, researchers, and education practitioners, with the goal of fostering innovations that can help schools, officials from the graduate school said.

The fund is one part of the school’s overall effort to bridge the gaps that separate K-12 entrepreneurs, academic scholars who could potentially inform their work, and school officials who might benefit from new ideas and products.

Startups and other companies and organizations who are selected for the program will be given access to researchers from the graduate school, who will receive honorariums for time spent helping the entrepreneurs refine their ideas in the studio, said Barbara “Bobbi” Kurshan, the executive director of academic innovation at the graduate school.

A substantial portion of the design studio’s work will be conducted and made available online, Kurshan added.

Four projects won seven prizes during this year’s competition, from a pool of 250 applications from 17 countries.

The big winner was Raise Labs, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that envisions a system for offering students “micro-scholarships” for college, which they can begin earning as early as 9th grade. The organization won three prizes worth a combined $75,000.

— Sean Cavanagh


Teachers’ Group Opposes Machine-Scored Writing

One of the major assumptions underlying the common assessments is that the writing portions will be computer-scored. This capability is pivotal in managing their cost and producing results quickly enough to provide valuable feedback for teachers.

The national association representing English/language arts teachers has come out against machine-scoring of student writing. Earlier this month, the National Council of Teachers of English issued a statement saying that machines just aren’t able to score the aspects of writing teachers prize most.

As we reported previously, some scholars are circulating a petition opposing machine-scoring of writing as well. At least one study has found that computers can rival humans in scoring student writing.

In its statement, the NCTE says that artificial intelligence assesses student writing by only “a few limited surface features,” ignoring important elements such as logic, clarity, accuracy, quality of evidence, and humor or irony.

Computers’ ability to judge student writing also gets worse as the length of the essays increases, the NCTE says. The organization argues for consideration of other ways of judging student writing, such as portfolio assessment, teacher-assessment teams, and more localized classroom- or district-based assessments.

The viability of artificial-intelligence scoring on the common assessments is a powerful cost manager for the two groups of states that are designing tests for the common-core standards. If they decide that humans must score the essays, the expense of the tests soars. And cost is, of course, high on states’ radars as they weigh their continued participation in the two groups.

— Catherine Gewertz

A version of this article appeared in the May 15, 2013 edition of Education Week as Blogs of the Week


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