Let me begin by thanking Andy Rotherham for the opportunity to begin my blogging career on Eduwonk.com. I’m happy to have this opportunity to use technology to share a new white paper about technology based on what we’ve learned during the roundtables we hosted this year along with Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin.Today, no group is embracing new technologies more than our young people. More than 8 out of 10 teenagers, including my own daughters, report having helped a struggling adult to do something online that the adult could not do for him or herself. But many students will tell you that when it comes to technology, school is the least advanced part of their day. Our country has done a great job of wiring our classrooms, but we have yet to realize technology’s potential to transform the way education is defined and delivered. As the U.S. Chamber of Commerce put it, “Most schools preserve the routines, cultures, and operations of an obsolete 1930s manufacturing plant.”
Harvard economists Claudia Goldin and Lawrence F. Katz note in their recent book, The Race Between Education and Technology, that “in the first half of the century, education raced ahead of technology, but later in the century, technology raced ahead of educational gains.” It’s high time to balance the equation by using technology to amplify educational opportunity.
Over the past 18 months, Kevin and I have held a series of conversations on educational technology with educators, executives, and students. Participants included Sun Microsystems Chairman Scott McNealy, IBM Foundation President Stan Litow, Teach for America Founder Wendy Kopp, Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs, and Milken Institute Chairman Michael Milken.
From all we heard, we identified five key areas where federal, state, and local governments can better collaborate:
1. Online Learning and Virtual Schools,
2. Transforming Data into Knowledge and Action,
3. Broadband Connectivity,
4. Research Efficacy and Impact, and
5. School Leadership and Professional Preparation.
First, online learning and virtual schools. New technologies are helping students to access customized instruction anytime, anywhere, at any pace. K-12 distance learning enrollment has risen 60 percent over the last six years alone. In light of this rapid growth, there is still much to learn about how online learning can be most effective. While schools and districts are determining how best to make these rigorous online experiences available to as many students as possible, the federal government can expand its research to help provide information and guidance on the most effective ways to deliver online instruction and prepare teachers to harness these new teaching opportunities.
Second, transforming data into knowledge and action. With No Child Left Behind, for the first time, we are beginning to use objective data to drive decision-making in education-just as in science, medicine, business, and other fields. Now that student achievement is measured annually, the next step is to transform raw data into information that educators can act upon. By leveraging the Schools Interoperability Framework to standardize the way data is defined and shared, all levels of our education system can improve quality, accessibility, reliability, and efficiency. In addition to providing real-time feedback to help teachers customize instruction, we have invested significant funds to help states develop more sophisticated data systems to strengthen partnerships between K-12 and higher education and make the overall education enterprise more agile and more responsive.
Third, broadband. Neither online learning nor data transmission is possible without high speed internet access. Many people are familiar with the FCC’s E-rate program, which provides telecommunications discounts to schools and libraries. After a decade of investment, this program has succeeded in wiring our nation’s schools. To ensure E-rate is ready to meet future needs, the Department and the FCC should jointly evaluate what the program is doing well and where it needs updating.
Fourth, research. Many of our greatest innovations have come about with the help of the technology community’s exceptional ability to take risks and explore new ideas. Now that so many new tools and strategies are emerging, it’s time to apply rigorous research to maximize their effectiveness in the classroom. Now, there is also a need to advance the kind of systematic and comprehensive research agenda the federal government engages in, to not only understand what works, but to provide innovators with information and insights they can use to build new quality pedagogy and new products.
Finally, school leadership and professional preparation. Successful technologies are guided by capable human hands. The transformation of our education system won’t be complete until stakeholders from throughout the education community unite to create new models of leadership. By working together across disciplines and governmental levels, we can all support twenty first century educators in meeting new practical challenges posed by technology. Most importantly, we can support them in helping schools deliver high-quality, more personalized instruction to help our children succeed in the twenty first century.
—Guestblogger United States Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings