Obama to Host Ed-Tech Summit for Superintendents

By Benjamin Herold — November 14, 2014 3 min read
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Hoping to call attention to district leaders’ role in promoting the use of educational technology and build upon his ConnectED initiative to improve schools’ broadband infrastructure, President Barack Obama will host a White House summit of superintendents and other educators on Wednesday, according to administration officials.

The goals are to encourage the sharing of ideas and best practices when it comes to the digital transformation of schools, highlight the work of exemplary superintendents, and get system leaders to sign on to the department’s “Future Ready District Pledge.” During the summit, President Obama is also expected to host a digital ceremony in which more than 100 superintendents sign the pledge.

In a related effort, the federal education department also intends to soon release guidance around how funds associated with Title I, Title II and other programs can be used to support technology improvements in schools, according to Richard Culatta, the director of the U.S. Office of Educational Technology. Further details are not yet available.

The “Future Ready” pledge involves a commitment to digital learning and technologies, ensuring sufficient infrastructure for high-speed Internet connections for students and teachers, improved access to quality digital content and related professional development, and even a tie-in to First Lady Michelle Obama’s Reach Higher campaign to promote expanded access to college.

In an interview last week, Culatta said the idea for the summit grew out of the department’s work last year in supporting “Connected Educators month.”

“One of the questions we asked teachers was, ‘What supports do you need to make the transition to using education technology effectively?’” Culatta said. “The answer that came back resoundingly was, ‘We need leaders who understand how to lead this transition.’”

Such leadership means making sure there is a coherent vision and strategy for providing access to digital devices and high-speed Internet connections to all students, Culatta said.

Ensuring a strong technology infrastructure needs to become as essential as making sure school buses run on time, he said—particularly given President Obama’s commitment to improving broadband access for schools.

The FCC recently overhauled the federal E-rate program to ensure more federal money goes to broadband and wireless infrastructure improvements, and the administration has also been drumming up extensive private sector technology contributions to K-12.

“If [superintendents] simply keep doing what they’ve always been doing, that investment is not going to have the impact we’re looking for,” Culatta said.

The main barrier to a commitment to ed-tech in the past has been a lack of resources, Culatta said. District leaders were reluctant to invest in classroom technologies without adequate infrastructure in place.

Now, though, it’s about training and support around developing an effective vision, he believes.

That’s why part of the goal of next week’s summit is to encourage mentoring and collaborative relationships among district leaders. The department will host a series of regional summits for district leaders in the coming months, as well.

See also:

An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the date of the White House event. The correct date is Wednesday, November 19.

Photo: President Barack Obama looks at a student’s iPad project during a visit last year to the Buck Lodge Middle School in Adelphi, Md., where he spoke about his ConnectED goal of connecting 99% of students to next-generation broadband and wireless technology within five years. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.