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U.S. Releases National Ed-Tech Action Plan

By Ian Quillen — November 09, 2010 | Corrected: February 21, 2019 4 min read
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Corrected: A previous version of this article misquoted U.S. Director of the Office of Education Technology Karen Cator. She said, “Goals and recommendations are great.”

The U.S. Department of Education intends to pay for research to study online professional-collaboration communities for teachers and other educators, according to the action plan in the final version of the Obama administration’s National Education Technology Plan.

The final version of the plan, unveiled Tuesday by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, also pledges to finance development of open-source educational resources and launch an initiative dedicated to defining and increasing educational productivity. Mr. Duncan spotlighted the plan in a speech at a conference of the State Educational Technology Directors Association, held at the National Harbor complex in Prince George’s County, Md., just outside Washington.

“Our team here ... is absolutely committed to doing the work necessary to bring this plan to life,” Mr. Duncan said. “We’re going to need the effort of everyone—parents, teachers, students, business leaders—to create the digital learning experiences that will prepare our students for success.”

Those measures, as well as the creation of a national online-learning registry—which was announced in July and is expected to be operational by early 2012—are all included in the action plan, which may be the most significant addition to the document since a preliminary draft was issued in March.

“Goals and recommendations are great,” said Karen Cator, director of the federal education technology office, which headed up the effort. “But from a sense of ‘What should we do?’ ‘Where should we start?’ ‘How should we think about this?,’ that was the impetus between really focusing on that section.”

Among other objectives, the action plan outlines an initiative to underwrite design research on online professional-collaboration communities for educators with a similar focus, and then to extend that research to at least six different educator specializations. The idea is to improve teaching, assessment, learning, and educational infrastructure through Web 2.0 technologies, such as social networking. The action plan also makes other recommendations for the Education Department to help further the national plan, though most involve the department in the role of a facilitator rather than a provider of improvement measures.

Goals for 2020

The final document is structured similarly to the preliminary draft, with the plan organized into five portions: learning, assessment, teaching, infrastructure, and productivity. Its executive summary still states the same goal: to use technology to raise the percentage of American students graduating with two- or four-year college degrees from 39 percent to 60 percent by 2020, and to narrow racial, socioeconomic, and geographic discrepancies among those graduating students.

“We are at this really pivotal point where more people are understanding, ‘Yes, we are in tough economic times, so we better look around and leverage every possible resource,’” Ms. Cator said. “And technology holds great promise for improving the opportunities for way more people to learn.”

Advocates for educational technology had lauded many recommendations in the earlier draft, such as its emphasis on putting a computing device in the hands of every student and its insistence that technology use in schools must resemble technology use in the workplace to prepare college- and career-ready students. (“U.S. Ed-Tech Plan Urges Rethinking In K-12 Schools,” March 10, 2010.) But at the time, such advocates doubted whether the goals could be met without heightened federal funding for educational technology.

Since then, President Barack Obama has continued to move forward with his proposal to eliminate the federal Enhancing Education Through Technology, or EETT, program and wrap it into a larger “Effective Teaching and Learning for a Complete Education” initiative. The latter’s price tag of just over $1 billion includes $450 million for literacy; $300 million for science, technology, engineering, and math, or STEM, subjects; and $265 million to support a “well-rounded education.”

Some educational technology advocates are worried that rolling ed-tech funding into that initiative would dilute investments in K-12 ed-tech programs.

But the Federal Communications Commission voted in September to index the $2.25 billion E-rate program for inflation for the first time in its 13-year history, a move some technology advocates said signaled that the federal government is serious about supporting more and better uses of technology in schools. (“Revisions to the E-Rate Viewed as a Step in the Right Direction,” Oct. 6, 2010.) The E-rate helps provide subsidies for school purchases of hardware and service to increase Internet connectivity.

“We definitely see the right vision,” said Keith R. Krueger, chief executive office of the Washington-based Consortium for School Networking, or CoSN. “I think [the ed-tech plan] moves us in a direction. Certainly from CoSN’s perspective we’re concerned about whether districts and states will have enough resources to do this. While this particular vision is powerful, we had many concerns around the original blueprint.”

Any proposals requiring new federal funding could face a difficult political climate on Capitol Hill, where Republicans who won control of the House of Representatives and gained seats in the Senate in the midterm elections are likely to push for cuts in discretionary federal spending.

A version of this article appeared in the November 17, 2010 edition of Education Week

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