A landmark report from TNTP, a nonprofit organization, estimated that the 50 largest U.S. districts invest $8 billion annually on professional development. Some of those teachers spend upwards of 150 hours every year on training sessions, workshops and conferences that sometimes resemble what many students experience in the classroom: listening to a lecture and taking notes.
Yet the effectiveness of this model is hard to measure. In some cases, results are simply nonexistent—or a “mirage” according to the TNTP study, which “found no evidence that any particular kind or amount of professional development consistently helps teachers improve.”
To tackle this major problem, Digital Promise, a nonprofit founded in 2008 with authorization from Congress, has been steadfastly working on a framework for “micro-credentials.” These digital badges aim to signal that teachers can perform or demonstrate the skill for which they were awarded. Classroom videos, student work samples and lesson plans are among the materials—which are accessible via the badge—that serve as evidence.
So far eight states have approved Digital Promise’s micro-credentials—meaning that they can count towards Continuing Professional Education units. These allow educators to renew their teaching certificates, get promoted and, in some cases, enjoy a pay raise. As many as 20 other states are currently in discussion to recognize micro-credentials.
In Nov. 2015, Digital Promise tapped BloomBoard to create a platform where school leaders and teachers can research and earn micro-credentials. That would mark a turning point for the San Francisco-based company, which launched five years ago selling teacher observation and evaluation tools to districts. Today it offers 250 micro-credentials, from “Analyzing Student Misconceptions” and “Makerspace Safety” to “Foundations of Student Data Privacy” and “Writing Publicly to Influence Parents,” built by more than 20 providers using the nonprofit’s framework.
To support this transition, BloomBoard recently restructured its team—starting at the top: Sanford Kenyon, who joined the company in October 2015 as its Chief Revenue Officer, is now assuming the CEO post. Former chief executive and co-founder Jason Lange will remain on the team as an evangelist, building relationships with states and international partners.
The shift is “not a pivot” but rather a continuing effort to “align better with the momentum that we’re seeing in the market for educator mico-credentialing,” Kenyon tells EdSurge in an interview. Prior to joining BloomBoard he was an executive at Blackboard and CEO of Reliance Communications, the parent company of SchoolMessenger (now owned by West Corporation).
Focusing on micro-credentials meant scaling back resources previously dedicated to earlier products, including its teacher observation tools and a marketplace, launched in 2015, where schools could purchase professional development resources from nearly 100 providers. The idea was that data from the evaluations could help schools find the right resources that each teacher needed.
The company also downsized personnel but Kenyon did not share further details.
BloomBoard is currently working with the six states at the department of education level, and aims to rapidly expand its adoption beyond the “3 to 4 percent of the addressable market” of overall U.S. districts, according to Kenyon. Earlier this year the company did announce a deal with Spring Branch Independent School District, where more than 2,400 Texas educators will use the platform. There are also a handful of users overseas, he adds.
Describing Digital Promise as the “steward that assures the fidelity and quality of the micro-credentials,” Kenyon says a “nominal stipend” of the licensing fee that BloomBoard receives from districts goes to the nonprofit.
Beyond micro-credentials, the company also bundles professional development content in playlists that resemble Pinterest boards. There is also an online hub where teachers and coaches within a school or district can share artifacts and offer feedback.
The multi-year deals that BloomBoard signs with districts also include coaching and teacher training services from a team of learning strategists that include former principals, chief academic officers and superintendents. They can help districts choose, for example, the appropriate playlists and micro-credentials to prepare all teachers to support English language learners. Or, teachers can also pick their own learning paths.
Micro-credentials are hardly a new idea in education. For years high-profile organizations including Mozilla and MacArthur Foundation have rallied around digital badges. Yet what they often lacked was credibility—who would verify or attest to their authenticity? One answer, it seems, may rest in the ongoing efforts led by a Congress-backed nonprofit, supported by the likes of BloomBoard and green-lighted by state departments of education.