Richard Culatta Resigning as Ed-Tech Director at U.S. Department of Education

By Sean Cavanagh — December 02, 2015 3 min read
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Richard Culatta, who directed the U.S. Department of Education’s office of educational technology during a time of rapid, if uneven, digital adoption in the nation’s schools, announced that he will resign from his post this month.

The department said that Culatta is leaving to take a position in state government, though they did not immediately identify the specific job.

His position at the agency will be filled by his deputy, Joseph South, who will serve as acting director for educational technology.

Under Culatta’s direction, the office of educational technology has overseen a number of efforts to try to encourage technology innovation in the nation’s classroom. Those included his advocacy for “open” educational resources, or materials created on licenses that allow them to be shared and reworked by teachers and others. He also urged private-sector developers to create tech tools that were useful to schools, given that K-12 systems are routinely bombarded with offers for ed-tech products, many of dubious or uncertain quality.

A few quick examples of Culatta’s interests: He was backed the development of the “Learning Registry,” an online information network designed to help vet and organize content for educators (he once called it the “human genome project” for open educational resources). And his office directed the publication of a guide for ed-tech developers, designed in part to inform them about the most pressing needs facing schools.

Under Culatta, the department also staged “Future Ready Regional Summits,” a series of events designed as part of a broader effort to help district leaders work more collaboratively to support learning through technology.

Karen Cator, the CEO of Digital Promise and Culatta’s predecessor in the education department technology leadership position, said he is “particularly skilled at navigating government and getting things done at a time it’s been hard to get things done.” Cator also acknowledged his work advancing the President’s ConnectED Initiative to bring high-speed broadband connectivity to 99 percent of the nation’s schools within five years.

Cator also praised Culatta’s work to sustain “the longevity of the office of educational technology” by increasing the number of career staff of people “who will carry on long after this administration is over, and long after political appointments are ended,” she said.

Culatta had experience in both the worlds of policy and technology before joining the Education Department. He was an education-policy adviser to U.S. Senator Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington state. He had positions as the director of operations for the Rose Education Foundation and the learning technologies adviser at Brigham Young University, where he helped redesign a teacher-preparation program.

As the Obama administration’s tenure winds down, leadership at the U.S. Department of Education has been in a state of flux. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, one of President Obama’s longest-serving Cabinet secretaries, earlier this year announced his plans to step down this month.

Lan Neugent, the interim executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association, praised Culatta’s work, including the department’s recently announced #GoOpen campaign.

As part of that effort, the department put forward new regulations that would require any new intellectual property developed with grant funds from the agency to be openly licensed. Representatives of the publishing and software industries have voiced reservations about those efforts, questioning whether they would produce high-quality educational content.

“From my perspective he’ll be missed,” Neugent said, calling #GoOpen, “a great start.”

Susan Patrick, the CEO of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, said the department’s intellectual property plan made sense, reasoning that if federal dollars are being used to create something, it should be open and made widely available. She called the department’s focus on open resources “an incredibly positive development.”

Patrick, who led the department’s ed-tech office during George W. Bush’s administration, credited Culatta with helping to guide the conversation in digital education circles from a focus on “hardware to empowering people to effectively [utilizing] ed tech.”

Staff Writers Michele Molnar and Leo Doran contributed to this story.

This post has been updated to include the comments of Karen Cator, CEO of Digital Promise, and Susan Patrick, CEO of iNACOL.

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