Education Secretary Arne Duncan said he hopes the new national ed-tech plan will finally unleash technology's potential to improve learning.

The final version of the new National Educational Technology Plan (NETP) includes a focus on individualized instruction and connectivity, and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said meeting the plan’s goals will help the nation’s students enter college and the workforce prepared to compete on a global level.

Duncan unveiled the final version at the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) Education Forum on Nov. 9, about eight months after the federal Education Department (ED) issued a first draft of the plan and solicited comments from ed-tech stakeholders.

“If we accomplish all of these goals, we’ll have realized the advance potential for technology to prepare students for success in the internationally competitive, knowledge-based economy,” Duncan said.

Duncan outlined the five main goals covered in the plan:

  • Using educational technology to fundamentally change the learning process by making it more engaging and tailored to individual student needs and interests;
  • Using ed tech to develop a new generation of assessments;
  • Connecting teachers with their peers and experts so they are always up-to-date on the resources available to them;
  • Building infrastructure that lets schools support access to technology in and out of the classroom; and
  • Harnessing the power of educational technology to increase school district productivity and student achievement.

Duncan noted that the federal Race to the Top program is supporting the creation of next-generation assessments in more than 40 states. These new assessments will be aligned with the Common Core standards in English and math, and they will take advantage of technology’s power to deliver instant results that more accurately reflect students’ abilities. He expressed hope that the new assessments, which are expected to be ready by the 2014-15 school year, will let teachers develop individualized learning plans for their students.

“I am convinced these new assessments will be an absolute game changer for public education,” Duncan said. “For the first time, millions of school children, parents, and teachers will really know if students are on track for college or careers—[and] if they’re ready to enter college without the need for remedial instruction.”

Duncan said many schools have yet to realize educational technology’s true potential to transform learning into a more personalized and productive process. He also said ed tech will never replace the need for great teachers.

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.”

One key action that ED is taking in support of the plan is to develop “Online Communities of Practice,” which aim to give educators a forum to share best practices, form relationships, and work together to improve education through the use of ed tech. The first of these communities will launch in mid-2011, ED said.

The department also is working closely with the Federal Communications Commission to implement its ed-tech plan in coordination with the FCC’s National Broadband Plan, Cator said.

The ed-tech plan, formally called “Transforming American Education: Learning Powered by Technology,” provides further details on how the administration plans to improve 21st-century education through the use of educational technology.