Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, one of the world's largest textbook manufacturers, is launching a contest that it hopes will improve student achievement and result in new products.
The company is asking anyone over 18 to submit ideas for improving the way students learn. Contestants only need to write a few paragraphs on an online form describing a problem with education and a way they think it could be solved. The ideas are then posted to a message board where they can be discussed and improved upon. The contest started May 18 and will run through the end of July. A panel of judges that includes prominent education thought leaders, policymakers, and business executives will choose several winners in September, who will split $250,000 in cash and prizes.
Houghton Mifflin CEO Michael Muldowney says the contest, called the Global Education Challenge, has simple guidelines because he hopes people who don't usually have a voice in the national education debate will weigh in. "We left [the guidelines] broad intentionally. We're looking for creativity, adaptability, and scalability," he says. "There are pockets of innovation in education, but we're looking for something that can be scalable."
After the winner is selected, the company will have a nine-month window to negotiate a business deal with the winner, but the idea will remain the winner's intellectual property. "Hopefully, we can have a mutual arrangement that's beneficial to both parties," he says. "But there's no obligation on submitters' part to sell us their idea."
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The winner will receive $100,000 and $25,000 worth of materials to donate to a school of his or her choosing. Second place will receive $25,000 and $15,000 worth of materials to donate, and third place will receive $10,000 and $10,000 worth of materials to donate.
Muldowney says the company launched this initiative because education has been bogged down with old ideas. "This is the first generation of digital natives," he says. "Yet our education system [operates] how the [traditional] farming community functioned with regard to the schedule of the school day and the school year."