Education Opinion

Creative Cluster: Silicon Valley

By Tom Vander Ark — October 22, 2012 4 min read
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The 20-mile stretch from Stanford University to San Jose, Calif. produces more innovation than any place on the planet. As Richard Florida noted, the unique confluence of a great R1
University, venture investors, tech talent, and great quality of life make it a creative hotspot.

By itself, Silicon Valley is just short (by my index) of Manhattan for top innovation hotspot. If you add San Francisco and Oakland (considered last week), the Bay Area is by far the
most important creative cluster of learning innovators on the planet.

District innovation?
Unlike New York City schools that blossomed as a source of innovation under Joel Klein, Silicon Valley districts appear less innovative. One reason for
this Creative Cities project is to explore the limited and slow vertical innovation diffusion--the interplay (or lack thereof) between the layers in the
innovation stack.

One district program I appreciate is Esther Wojcicki’s journalism program at Palo Alto High.
It’s the kind of writing and new media publishing experience all young people deserve. (Let me know about other innovative schools and programs.)

The Valley is world headquarters for open educational resources (OER). Nonprofit content providers are expanding options and exerting price pressure on the
big guys. Consider a partial list:

  • Khan Academy
    : 3100 instructional videos and counting. Perhaps more importantly, Sal is teaching us how competency-based learning works

  • Google
    : Free email, productivity tools, course developer, maps, and more

  • CK12
    : Free secondary math and science flexbooks and test prep content

  • Gooru Learning
    : Grade level resources; and

  • Curriki
    and OER Commons: Libraries of more than 40,000 open resources.

EdTech Central.
Mountain View accelerator ImagineK12 has supported the development of 30 edtech startups including Class Dojo.

Learn Capital
(where I’m a partner) has an office in San Mateo and has supported 30 startups including 11 locals including leading social learning platform Edmodo, professional development platform Bloomboard, online study group OpenStudy, and peer-to-peer language
tutoring site Verbling.

is a Bessemer backed higher ed social learning platform that started on the Stanford campus. Education Elements in Santa Clara is a pioneer in blended learning solutions. Their single sign-on platform allows
schools to combine web 2.0 content with a single front end and reporting system.

The presence of tech giants Google, Hewlett Packard, Cisco, Intel and the like make the Valley the biggest concentration of tech talent in the world--a
great resource for startups.

Creative CMOs.
It’s been said that necessity is the mother of invention; that’s why California charters have been more innovative than their east coast colleagues in part
because they operate at relatively low funding levels. Rocketship Education: the best example of an elementary rotation
blended learning model (read The Inside View).Summit Public Schools is an innovative charter management organization (CMO) with a great teacher development system with
schools in Redwood and San Jose that feature Khan Academy. Downtown College Prep and Alpha Public Schools are San Jose blends.
EdElements helped Alpha design and implement an NGLC winning group rotation model (I’m an NGLC reviewer).

Last week, with a big grant from the Fisher Fund, Brian Greenberg launched Silicon Schools to support blended
school networks. The Schwab Foundation supports Bay Area charter networks
including KIPP and Rocketship. The Mozilla Foundation is promoting adoption of badges to recognize

The Hewlett Foundation, on Sand Hill Road in Menlo across the street from the greatest confluence of venture funders on the planet, supported the explosion
of OER in the last decade and is inspiring deeper learning in this decade. (I’ve been
running assessment prizes for them.)

Nonprofits & Advocates.
Disrupting Class
author Michael Horn leads Innosight Institute efforts to frame the emerging dialog with
their reports about blended learning. Scott Ellis is building a Blended
Learning Accelerator. The HenryNate team supports folks developing
special needs apps.

The IQ Collective connects innovative emerging economy schools to innovative solutions. Strive for College connects high school kids with college mentors. (I’m on the board of both.)

The combination of great weather, lots of investors and a talent magnet like Stanford is hard to beat. What’s new is that a lot of those smart kids want to
work in education.

While Massively Open Online Courses have been around for a while, it was Andrew Ng’s AI course that was the MOOC inflection point last; the massive
enrollment spurred formation of Coursera, Udacity, edX, and other free online course providers.

A state of spite.
All of this innovation happens in spite of a state with an uncompetitive business climate--a testament to how strong the other factors are that maintain the
amazing gravity of the innovation universe that orbits Palo Alto.

State education policy is pretty dismal, funding is terrible. EdVoice and the Charter Association have made some progress on statewide authorizing for high
performers. Online schools are limited to contiguous counties. Digital Learning Now!
details the gaps in state policy against the 10 Elements of High Quality Digital Learning.

The opinions expressed in Vander Ark on Innovation are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.