Future Ready update adds new resources and PD for leaders

Future Ready overhaul coincides with the new national ed-tech plan

Last Thursday, The United States Department of Education held an event at the White House unveiling the 2016 National Education Technology Plan and celebrating the one-year anniversary of the Future Ready initiative. There, along with several partner groups, they announced several new commitments and initiatives to help schools become more digitally capable.

The main theme of the event was connectivity, but that extends far beyond merely connecting students to technology. Instead, the idea of connectivity envisioned for the future is that technology will serve as a means to connect students to teachers, and allow all students to experience the same access to their interests regardless of demographics.

“There’s an answer for every challenge out there,” said Daryl Adams, Superintendent of the Coachella Valley Unified School District, who attended the event. “United in purpose and mission, we can do anything.”

One of the major new commitments from the Office of Educational Technology for Future Ready moving into 2016 will be a set of professional learning resources to help district superintendents and their principals and teachers most effectively transition to digital learning. The main feature of this resource is a personalized playlist of bite-sized videos that will focus on the specific needs of a district. The videos highlight ideal, peer-based stories and practices from a wide range of Future Ready districts across the nation.

Additionally, the Alliance for Excellent Education has launched a new, independent website that will be a one-stop resource for ongoing Future Ready efforts, including ongoing professional learning opportunities such as workshops, partner events, online chats, mentoring and topic conversations all aligned to Future Ready Framework. All of this will be centered on a free online planning tool called the Future Ready Planning Dashboard which helps district leadership teams assess readiness, identify gaps, choose research-based strategies and create a customized digital learning action plan.

During the past year, more than 2,000 superintendents around the country have signed the Future Ready pledge and committed to sharing what they have learned with others. Additionally, more than 44 national and 12 regional partner organizations have committed to helping states, districts and schools become Future Ready. A total of 17 statewide Future Ready initiatives are set to launch as well.

Future Ready coalition partners have been asked to contribute resources that align to the four key focus areas of the initiative, which are Collaborative Leadership, Robust Infrastructure, Personalized Professional Learning, and Personalized Student Learning. Many partners are also launching extension programs such as webinars, workshops, mentoring programs, courses and toolkits to provide support for districts and states.

The Department of Education will also hold five regional summits for Future Ready district leadership teams in 2016, located in Austin, Texas; Boston, Massachusetts; Madison, Wisconsin; Seattle, Washington; and Tampa, Florida. Corporate partners Google, Microsoft, Apple and McGraw Hill have committed to provide support for 2-day regional summits and at least four 1-day dashboard training workshops.

“Through collaboration, a robust infrastructure and personalized learning, Future Ready district leaders are shaping the vision for how technology can transform learning for all students,” said Delegated Deputy Secretary of Education John King.

The national plan

The National Education Technology Plan is the flagship educational technology policy document for the U.S. Previously, it was updated every five years, but starting with this year’s plan, the online version will feature comments sections and will be updated over time in order to ensure that examples and language remain relevant.

The main principles outlined by the plan include equity, active use and collaborative leadership to make learning possible anywhere and at any time.

The plan includes guidelines for helping all students, regardless of background or location, stay connected to technology both inside and outside of the classroom. In order to create more money for this, the plan suggests a move away from traditional textbooks towards high quality open license education materials that will stay consistently up to date.

Indeed, even though there is still a need for greater equity of access to technology itself, the department took care to note that it was more important for educators to work to ensure equity of access to transformational learning experiences enabled through the technology.

“It is critical that we embed technology in everything that we do,” said Karen Sullivan, Superintendant of Indian Prairie School District 204. “We need to bring unique experiences to all students, not just families who have the means.”

Thus, one of the commitments most stressed by the report, as well as by many of the Future Ready superintendents in attendance, was the need to better support professional development for educators so that they can use technology to provide personalized learning experiences to students. This means shifting from a single technology course to thoughtful use of technology throughout a teacher’s preparation in order to set minimum standards for higher education instructors’ tech proficiency.

The White House event came just three hours after President Obama’s signing of the Every Student Succeeds Act, representing what the administration considers “unprecedented” alignment amongst federal education initiatives.

“Technology has the potential to bring remarkable new possibilities to teaching and learning by providing teachers with opportunities to share best practices, and offer parents platforms for engaging more deeply and immediately in their children’s learning,” said outgoing U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

“This year’s update to the National Education Technology Plan includes a strong focus on equity because every student deserves an equal chance to engage in educational experiences powered by technology that can support and accelerate learning.”

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