John Bailey, the nation’s top educational technology administrator, has resigned his post to become deputy policy director for President Bush’s reelection campaign.

Bailey’s tenure ended Jan. 30 after two years as director of the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education (ED). Deputy Director Susan Patrick took over as acting director of the office Feb. 2.

In an interview with eSchool News, Bailey said he hopes he’ll have the chance to take the promise of educational technology to an even higher level in his new position–the White House.

“I was very content with my job and very excited working with Secretary [of Education Rod] Paige,” Bailey said. “I think this is a great opportunity for me personally and for the issues we’ve been discussing for the last three years. It’s great for education and great for ed tech.”

Bailey said he was most thankful during his tenure to play a role in implementing the new education law, No Child Left Behind (NCLB). “Love it or hate it, it is changing the way people talk about education,” he said.

In speeches and visits to schools across the nation, Bailey consistently emphasized ways in which technology could aid in fulfilling the accountability and achievement requirements of NCLB.

Because the law places a strong value on research-based methods, Bailey helped steer funding to 28 new research projects, worth $54 million, to study technology-related topics such as the effects of one-to-one computing initiatives in schools, virtual schooling, and conditions for using technology effectively in the classroom.

“I’m proud that we’ve launched these research studies. What it means is that schools will have a range of studies coming in the next two to three years,” he said.

But as ED’s educational technology director, Bailey’s most significant task was to oversee the writing of a new national ed-tech plan with the help of students and of state and local education officials from across the country.

Bailey is leaving before the plan is complete, but because of the groundwork he laid, it is sure to have his fingerprint. Unlike previous plans, Bailey made sure the public could submit comments online and that it reflected the needs and opinions of today’s students. As a result, at least 400 people have contributed to the plan’s development online, and more than 210,000 students contributed through the National Speak-Up Day organized by the national nonprofit group NetDay.

“He placed such an emphasis on student voices. To listen to that millennial generation is important,” said Irene Spero, vice president of the Consortium for School Networking and director of external relations at NetDay. “The millennials are growing up using the technology everyone else is learning how to use.”

Mark Edwards, superintendent of the Henrico County, Va., Public Schools, which last year launched a groundbreaking laptop program for some 20,000 students, said he was impressed that Bailey brought in different stakeholders and convened a series of focus groups to look at the national ed-tech plan. “I feel that even though he’s accepted this new challenge, he’ll still want to make sure in working with Susan that the plan is finalized,” Edwards added.

Don Knezek, chief executive officer of the International Society for Technology in Education, also liked the outreach effort that Bailey helped organize. “That’s a real legacy to John: He began asking students what they think,” Knezek said.

With $1 million in ED funding, Bailey also invested in the formation of SETDA, the State Educational Technology Directors Association. “When I was a state ed-tech director [in Pennsylvania] for nearly eight years, we never had a group like that to get together and talk and share. That’s what SETDA does,” Bailey said.

“John has been such a supporter for SETDA. He was such an advocate. As a former ed-tech director himself, he really saw the need,” said Melinda George, the group’s executive director.

Educators and colleagues alike say they will miss Bailey’s leadership and approachability most of all.

“It’s a sad loss for us because he was a real advocate for us, he was really accessible,” Spero said.

Though ISTE and the Bush administration disagreed philosophically about the need for federal leadership in preparing new teachers to integrate technology–at Bush’s request, Congress last year pulled the plug on the $62.5 million Preparing Tomorrow’s Teachers to Use Technology program, a move supported publicly by Bailey–Knezek said Bailey was a tremendous leader who gave honest feedback and insisted on authentic evidence of educational results.

“He wasn’t overboard on hype, and he wasn’t overboard on skepticism,” Knezek said. “He was the right man for the job at the right time.”

Said Julie Young, executive director of the Florida Online High School: “John has a level of passion for education you don’t always find. I see him as somewhat of a change agent. He tried to bring the focus to kids instead of computers.

“He has a way about him that makes you think that he’s not an untouchable bureaucrat. He’s approachable, and he’s available. He would answer his eMail and answer his phone and be available for people. I think he’s been a wonderful role model.”

ED declined a request by eSchool News to interview Patrick, the acting successor to Bailey, but educators and industry leaders said they are confident in her ability to make a seamless transition.

“She’ll be able to pick up where he left off. She’s up to date on all the issues,” Spero said.

Bailey, too, said he’s not worried that national ed-tech leadership will suffer from his departure.

“Ed-tech leadership is much bigger than just one person and this office,” he said. “It’s really reflective of a community of individuals who are passionate about this topic.”

Links:

U.S. Department of Education
http://www.ed.gov

George W. Bush’s Campaign web site
http://www.georgewbush.com

State Educational Technology Directors Association
http://www.setda.org