In the last 15 years alone, Duncan said, technology has revolutionized how we communicate and do business—but it hasn’t yet transformed education in the same way. The key lesson schools should take from the business world, he said, is that technology’s true power is unleashed only when organizations fundamentally change their processes. For the most part, we haven’t changed how our schools function, he explained, noting that education systems need to make changes such as moving from measuring seat time to competency.

Duncan set a deadline for meeting the ed-tech plan’s five goals by 2015, which he termed “ambitious.”

However, he told SETDA attendees that “this is no time to think small—the sense of urgency is too great.”

That urgency is magnified by the fact that the United States no longer leads the world in the number of college graduates as a percentage of population.

“Just one generation ago, we led the world with college graduates. But while we’ve stagnated, we’ve flatlined, other countries have simply passed us by. Today, we’ve fallen to ninth. This is unacceptable; this is not who we should be as a country,” said Duncan.

He also addressed SETDA members’ concerns about ed-tech funding in President Obama’s 2011 budget proposal, which would combine the largest single source of federal funding for educational technology equipment and training into a larger grant program.

“What we want to see is technology integrated into everything we’re doing. … Everything we’re doing, we want technology to be a piece of that,” Duncan said. “So it won’t be that one pot [of dedicated ed-tech funding], which makes it a little harder, but if you look at this huge opportunity we have, we’ve never had so much discretionary funding.”

Duncan also talked about the need for more access to educational technology.

“We want to focus on closing the digital divide by increasing community and home access, in addition to access at schools,” Duncan said. He said ED has been working with other agencies in Washington, D.C., to bring broadband to schools in small towns and rural areas across the United States.

“We can only get there with technology. Together, we must work to make sure every single child in this country has access to a world-class education; one that prepares them to live, to learn, and work in our increasingly interconnected world,” Duncan said.

In an interview with eSchool News, ED’s director of educational technology, Karen Cator, said many ed-tech stakeholders responded to the draft version of the plan by asking: What do we actually do to meet these goals? As a result of this feedback, the department included a section in the plan’s final version called “Getting Started Now.”