In March, the Education Department (ED) released a draft version of its new National Educational Technology Plan, and after collecting responses from the public, the department issued a final version of the new plan in November.
The plan calls for engaging and empowering learning experiences for all students; standards and assessments that measure key 21st-century skills and expertise; a shift to a model of “connected teaching,” in which teams of interconnected educators replace solo classroom practitioners; always-on connectivity that is available to students and teachers both inside and outside of school; and a rethinking of basic assumptions, such as seat time, that limit schools’ ability to innovate.
Julie Evans, CEO of the nonprofit organization Project Tomorrow, said the plan provides some “long-overdue recommendations” for how technology can enhance education.
“The plan accurately sums up that hard realization that today’s classroom environment for most students does not mirror they way they are living their lives outside of school or what they need to be prepared for future jobs, and that this disconnect is actually creating a relevancy crisis in American education,” Evans said.
Realizing the plan’s goals will require state and local policy makers to remove some current barriers that hold back the promise of digital learning, such as archaic school funding formulas and seat-time requirements. Toward that end, the Digital Learning Council (DLC), a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy group led by former governors Bob Wise of West Virginia, a Democrat, and Jeb Bush of Florida, a Republican, formed in 2010 to advocate for change.
The DLC on Dec. 1 introduced its “Ten Elements of High-Quality Digital Learning,” a blueprint for how digital learning can transform education. The blueprint echoes many of the themes in ED’s new national ed-tech plan.
Having a sound plan with broadly articulated goals is a good start, but providing the funding needed to carry out this plan is another matter altogether. In its budget request for fiscal year 2011, the Obama administration recommended folding ed-tech funding into a new initiative called Effective Teaching and Learning for a Complete Education—a move that has some ed-tech leaders concerned.
According to federal officials, this new initiative would “include a focus on integrating technology into instruction and using technology to drive improvements in teaching and learning” throughout all subject areas. Most of the money would be awarded through competitive grants to state and local education agencies, but ED also would set aside money for national activities, such as grants to support research and technical assistance, grants to “strengthen the use of technology in the core academic subjects”; and a competitive grant program to encourage the development of “high-quality digital educational content for children.”
But ed-tech advocates say that’s not enough—and Congress should continue funding educational technology through its own dedicated funding stream, they say.
“We know that providing all children with a high-quality education that will enable them to succeed in a global economy predicated on knowledge and innovation is both a moral imperative and critical to America’s economic future,” stated several dozen state and national education groups and high-tech companies in letters to House and Senate lawmakers, urging them to continue funding the Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) block-grant program in fiscal 2011.
“Educational technologies are mission critical to this purpose. Congress included EETT as a core provision of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act … to ensure a sustained, systematic, and coordinated investment in educational technology leadership needed to drive education innovation and continuous improvement,” the letters said.
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