The vision of Project Tomorrow is ensure that today’s students are well prepared to be tomorrow’s innovators, leaders and engaged citizens of the world. We believe that by supporting the innovative uses of science, math and technology resources in our K-12 schools and communities, students will develop the critical thinking, problem solving and creativity skills needed to compete and thrive in the 21st century.
Speak Up is a unique research project designed to collect and report on the authentic, unfiltered ideas and views of K-12 students and their parents, teachers and administrators. The primary focus of the Speak Up project has been on education stakeholders in the United States though schools in Australia, Canada and around the world have participated in the surveys for many years.
In general, Speak Up has three primary objectives:
While a variety of different labels can be used to describe Speak Up, no single label fits all of the outcomes or benefits that we provide. For example, Speak Up is a research project in that a large collection of survey data is analyzed and shared for the public good. Speak Up is also a service offering for schools and districts that provides local education leaders with invaluable data and insights from their stakeholders to inform their own local plans. Speak Up and its outputs are also a convening mechanism that facilitates a way for many different stakeholders in the education community to think about the use of technology within education. At Project Tomorrow, we are very mindful of all of these aspects and try to always provide good stewardship of the data and the process for all of our stakeholders: the students, educators and parents who share their ideas with us, our partners who help us with outreach, the companies that partially underwrite the expenses associated with Speak Up through their donations, and our Board of Directors who provide the vision and direction to our mission. We also understand that depending upon your point of view you may view Speak Up with a particular bias – as a research project, as a service offering or as a discussion convener. We believe that the multi-functionality and multi-impact of Speak Up is in fact representative of a very effective and innovative program.
Speak Up was started in 2003 as an outcome of a national AmeriCorps program that was developed and managed by NetDay (the predecessor organization to Project Tomorrow) in five highly challenged communities in the United States. The AmeriCorps program uncovered a “digital disconnect” between how students wanted to use technology for learning, and how their teachers were using technology in the classroom. This discovery was further investigated and validated through a series of national focus groups with students in those five communities; Detroit (MI), Oakland (CA), Santa Ana (CA), Rosedale (MS) and Mercedes (TX). The first Speak Up online surveys were thereby funded by a small grant from the US Department of Education that was interested in infusing some student views into their National Education Technology Plan under development at that time. Subsequently, additional Speak Up surveys have been developed to provide opportunities for teachers, librarians, technology coordinators, administrators, parents and pre-service teachers to share their voices as well.
The project methodology includes both reading level appropriate online surveys and focus groups. Any school or district that wants to participate in Speak Up is eligible to do so including private as well as public schools, charter schools, parochial schools, virtual schools etc. While the online student surveys are only currently available in English, the parent survey is available in English or Spanish. The online surveys are facilitated through cooperating schools and districts who sign up to participate in Speak Up, select their own specific password, and monitor the survey taking process. The only demographic information collected from the students is grade and gender. Other demographic data is asked on the parent, teacher and administrator surveys but those are noted as optional questions. All data collected is 100% confidential and no single individual can be identified from any submitted survey. The online surveys are open for input typically in the fall and are available through any internet accessible computer, at schools, in libraries, in community centers and through personal access at home. Speak Up is not a typical, textbook model research project as it is fundamentally a convenience sampling; though the participation selection is not at the individual level but at the school or district level. Each year we also conduct 15-20 face-to-face focus groups with students and educators to inform our data analysis. Since 2003,over 3.4 million online surveys have been submitted through Speak Up and the national, state and local data has informed numerous policies, programs and initiatives around the use of technology in education.
Each spring, Project Tomorrow creates national reports on the aggregated US survey data. The data analysis and the resulting reports is done 100% by in house Project Tomorrow staff. The US national reports are released in a series of Congressional Briefings in Washington DC and through numerous conference presentations, webinars and meetings with federal agencies, state education agencies, associations, organizations, research groups, think-tanks, business groups, and policy organizations throughout the year. This past year, our CEO, Julie Evans, presented Speak Up data findings in over 50 conference presentations. Additionally, every participating school and district receives free access to their own local Speak Up aggregated data reports (which includes all of the survey questions and their own respondents’ data totals) along with the national data totals to use for benchmarking. All of the local data is secured for the “eyes” of the Speak Up contact person only at each school or district; these special contact people have a unique password to access that data. It is the discretion of the Speak Up contact person if they want to share their aggregated data with others at their school or district.
Speak Up is funded by a combination of corporate sponsorships/donations and Project Tomorrow’s own discretionary, unrestricted funds, with approximately a 50/50 split between corporate and Project Tomorrow funds. All funds targeted for Speak Up are restricted funds and used accordingly to underwrite the operational expenses of the project. Corporate sponsors are specifically identified and invited to support Speak Up by Project Tomorrow’s CEO, Julie Evans. There is no wholesale solicitation of sponsors, no public advertising of sponsorship opportunities, no corporate memberships associated with Speak Up and great discretion is used in selecting the companies to approach for donations. To be invited to become a Speak Up sponsor, a company must meet specific criteria including: support the mission of Project Tomorrow and Speak Up; value the importance of including student voices in national, state and local discussions about education and respect the sanctity of the research process and data. In many ways, the “sponsorship opportunity” for Speak Up is not like any other sponsorship that a company may consider and does not fit neatly into the typical sponsorship formula for a conference, a program or a report as Speak Up is first and foremost a service offering to the schools and districts that participate. The backend resulting data is used for the national reports and presentations but it is the sharing of the local data with the schools and districts that is the driver in the operations at all times. As such, Project Tomorrow does not pay schools or districts to participate, does not provide incentives for participation, and does not charge any fees to the participating schools and districts for the resulting local data and reports. We believe that it is a critical component of our nonprofit mission to provide this service and the resulting data as a means for improving education for all children.
We provide our corporate sponsors, our national champion outreach partners (SETDA, NSBA, CoSN, ISTE, iNACOL, NSDL) and many others with the nationally aggregated data totals per question, but we never share the raw data or any individual school or district data with any of these companies or organizations. The data that is shared is simply the straightline, national data totals such as “23% of high school students say their tech skills are advanced compared to their peers.” This is the same kind of data that we share in our national reports for public use. We do not share any information about who participates in the survey by school name or district. We do not share any specific data related to any particular school or district. We share this same level of straightline, national data totals with researchers who contact us, advocacy groups who use it for policy analysis, media organizations writing articles or reports about education, schools and districts that do not participate in Speak Up, teacher preparation programs at universities, authors, and others with legitimate requests. We have found that people use the Speak Up data for many purposes. We have a standard citation policy and agreement that all recipients of the data totals must agree to prior to release. In general, we want people to use the Speak Up data findings and thus we have a policy of being very generous and open with the national data totals. We want people to use the Speak Up data because we believe that it helps to advance our mission and the goals of Speak Up. The more access that people have to the Speak Up data, the more that our data is used to inform policies and program, the more that the importance of including student voices in local, state/provincial and national discussions will be valued. The sharing of the data is a critical component is the advancement of our nonprofit mission.
The development of the Speak Up topics and questions is a year long, extensive and complicated process. Our staff is constantly on the lookout for the topics that are of the most interest to school and district leadership right now so that we can ensure that the Speak Up data that is given back to the schools and districts is of maximum value. To supplement our own efforts we reach out to a wide and varied collection of thought leaders, industry leaders, policy researchers, state education agency professionals, nonprofit and association leaders and members, practicing teachers and administrators, parents and even students each year to get ideas for question topics. Listening to their responses gives us an invaluable insider perspective on the types of questions and topics that will provide the most benefit to the participating schools and districts. We believe that our “wide net” approach to question development and specifically getting the input from our diverse and varied network of friends, colleagues, educators, students, thought leaders and sponsors is the best approach to ensure the ongoing relevancy of the surveys and the resulting data. The development of the actual questions and the topics on the surveys is wholly the work and discretion of the Project Tomorrow team. We consider the survey vehicles including the specific questions and responses to be 100% the intellectual property of Project Tomorrow and copyrighted as such.
The Project Tomorrow staff is always happy to answer specific questions about our organization and the Speak Up project. Please feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org with your questions.
Thank you for your interest in our organization and our work.