My, how times have changed. Mostly.
The first National Education Technology Plan was published in 1996, when Netscape ruled the web browser market, Apple was an afterthought, and America Online barraged our mailboxes with silvery streams of CD-ROMs for dial-up Internet service.
When the National Education Technology Plan of 2010 came out, plenty of schools were still connecting to the Internet at 1990-style speeds—or not at all. The plan was ambitious and laid out five high-level goals. But the federal government didn’t expect to carry out the plan alone. Instead, the department learned over the years how to corral a fragmented ecosystem of government agencies, schools, companies, research institutions, foundations and other education institutions around a powerful vision.
Five years later, the Department of Education is due to release its 2016 plan on December 10. The plan will outline a vision for how technology may shape the learning experience for the rest of this decade. It will be up to the entire community to make it happen.
On the eve of the new plan, here’s a look at how we’ve done on the goals articulated in 2010.
|Goal||Pace of Change|
1. Learning: Engage and Empower
“All learners will have engaging and empowering learning experiences both in and out of school that prepare them to be active, creative, knowledgeable, and ethical participants in our globally networked society.”
2. Assessment: Measure What Matters
“Our education system at all levels will leverage the power of technology to measure what matters and use assessment data for continuous improvement.”
3. Teaching: Prepare and Connect
“Professional educators will be supported individually and in teams by technology that connects them to data, content, resources, expertise, and learning experience that enable and inspire more effective teaching for all learners.”
4. Infrastructure: Access and Enable
“All students and educators will have access to a comprehensive infrastructure for learning when and where they need it.”
5. Productivity: Redesign and Transform
“Our education system at all levels will redesign processes and structures to take advantage of the power of technology to improve learning outcomes while making more efficient use of time, money and staff.”
“Goal: All learners will have engaging and empowering learning experiences both in and out of school that prepare them to be active, creative, knowledgeable, and ethical participants in our globally networked society.”
While the opening goal of the 2010 plan is also the most broad, it also articulated a need to “revise, create, and implement standards and learning objectives using technology for all content areas that reflect 21st century expertise.”
The words “Common Core” only appears once in the document (as a reference). But clearly the department was nudging for the creation and adoption of a set of consistent academic standards across all subjects. Aside from establishing a baseline for what students are expected to know, the standards have also been a linchpin of the edtech industry: many online tools and services for math and English subjects claim they are “Common Core aligned” to some degree.
Since its release in June 2010, the Common Core standards have been a subject of debate and controversy. Forty-two states, along with the District of Columbia, remain committed. But there are plenty of detractors: politicians, parents and comedians have criticized the standards as a case of federal overreach and, at times have scoffed at unfamiliar— and befuddling—questions.
Science also got new standards as well: Next Generation Science Standards, released in 2013, has been adopted by 15 states and the District of Columbia.
The government has also staunchly promoted science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) as a driver of the nation’s future economic growth. STEM education has its own five-year plan, supported by new efforts such as the STEM Master Teacher Corps to prepare 100,000 STEM teachers over the next decade. The President has also lauded public-private partnerships such as IBM’s work with the City of New York to create P-Tech, a school model that offer students (grades 9 to 14) both a high-school diploma and an Associate’s degree in STEM fields.
“Goal: Our education system at all levels will leverage the power of technology to measure what matters and use assessment data for continuous improvement.”
Digital assessments promise new ways to probe deeper into how well students understand something (beyond filling in the right bubble). Many new tools make it easy to deliver formative assessments and exit tickets and analyze results. The department has been particularly keen on games, having hosted its first “ White House Education Game Jam” and “Games for Learning Summit” to explore new—and possibly even entertaining—ways to test and measure skills.
But deployed at scale, online assessments have had plenty of growing pains. The first year of the highly-anticipated online Common Core tests had plenty of hiccups. In spite of months of preparation and pilots, the estimated 12 million students who took Common Core tests in 2015 suffered from technical glitches, server crashes along with design interface issues and confusing questions.
Over time, technology implementation issues, along with parental and political pressure, have led states to back out of the two multi-state consortia that received $330 million in federal funding to develop the tests with companies including Pearson, CTB/McGraw-Hill and Measured Progress. Some states, like Massachusetts, now want to develop their own assessments.
Recognizing that new assessment tools can collect and analyze more data than ever before (sometimes even without the knowledge or consent of students and parents), the department also addressed the need to update laws like FERPA to safeguard student privacy. Poor communication can fuel distrust over how student data is stored and shared—leading to the demise of multi-million-dollar projects and even tripping up giant corporations like Google.
“Goal: Professional educators will be supported individually and in teams by technology that connects them to data, content, resources, expertise, and learning experience that enable and inspire more effective teaching for all learners.”
The plan recognized that teachers needed the tools and networks to support the use of technology in the classroom. Many have already built online professional networks. For instance, tens of thousands of teachers partake in Twitter chats, such as #edchats, allaround the world. (Outgoing Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, moderated one such session.) The department has helped create Connected Educator Month, a series of online events and webinars that bring teachers together virtually to learn, network and share lessons and resources.
In-person networks and training matter as well. But traditional, lecture-style professional development sessions are getting a makeover. Educators are flocking to EdCamps, “unconference”-style gatherings organized by teachers, for teachers. Since the first session in 2010, more than 950 Edcamp events have been held around the world— including at the offices of the US Department of Education.
Grassroots efforts led by teachers, however, are not enough. Adopting technology at scale across schools and districts requires leadership. To this end the department launched the Future Ready Initiative, a network of superintendents who regularly convene, access and share resources and lessons learned as they prepare their districts for digital learning. Since its launch in November 2014, the Future Ready pledge has been signed by more than 1,800 superintendents.
“Goal: All students and educators will have access to a comprehensive infrastructure for learning when and where they need it.”
Digital learning does not happen without reliable Internet connection. In 2013, only 30 percent of K-12 districts provided sufficient Internet access speed to support digital learning, defined by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) at 100 kbps per student.
Remedying that shortfall was one impetus behind President Obama’s ConnectED initiative, a public-private effort that called on districts and companies to connect 99 percent of America’s students to high-speed, wireless broadband by 2018. Recent reforms to E-rate program, which subsidizes the cost of Internet in schools and libraries, opened up more funds to districts looking to upgrade their infrastructure.
Some progress has been made. Whereas some 40 million US students lacked sufficient broadband in 2013, that number has been slashed nearly in half, according to a 2015 report by the EducationSuperHighway. More than 20 million students, many of whom reside in rural communities, still have a tough time getting online. But the private sector is also kicking in: Along with in-kind support from companies, Mark Zuckerberg has recently given $23 million to support its work—a gift that the White House applauded.
“Goal: Our education system at all levels will redesign processes and structures to take advantage of the power of technology to improve learning outcomes while making more efficient use of time, money and staff.”
Shaking up the labyrinthine structures embedded within the district, state and federal education levels is no easy feat. And nowhere is this more evident than in the procurement process, as a Digital Promise report has revealed.
How schools and districts choose and buy technology is a laborious process for entrepreneurs and educators alike. But across the country, several coalitions of schools and organizations are attempting workarounds. iZone, a unit within the New York City Department of Education, ran a “Short-Cycle Evaluation Challenge” that connected teachers with developers to pilot technology tools. In California, the Silicon Valley Education Foundation and NewSchools Venture Fund have teamed to run three-month efficacy trials. LEAP Innovations is also steering similar efforts in Chicago.
The federal department is listening. In August, the Office of Educational Technology, released a Request for Proposal for “Rapid-Cycle Tech Evaluations” that districts and schools can use to assess quickly—and cheaply—whether a tool “works” for them.
What “works,” however, is often a function of what teachers need. Surveys from nonprofits including Joan Ganz Cooney Center, PBS and Pew Research Center and the offer glimpses of how teachers use technology to improve their instructional practices—and to what effect. Just getting tech into the classroom isn’t the goal. Instead educators are focused on identifying the right kinds of tools for their needs—and getting the proper training and support. A recent edition of Gates Foundation’s “Teacher Knows Best” report found that just 56 percent of educators believe that technology makes them better teachers.
Broad as they may be, the 2010 goals invited education stakeholders across different industries and backgrounds to play a role. These initiatives shared above represent only a sliver of all projects undertaken during the past five years. Some efforts, such as expanding the availability of open educational resources, have made considerable headway. But other, such as the creation of data interoperability standards (so that information from different systems can be translated and read) still remain a work in progress.
One area that we bet will get much more attention in the new plan: data privacy. The authors of the 2010 plan could hardly have anticipated the public backlash and concerns that have accompanied the rise of personalized learning tools. In 2015 alone, 182 bills were introduced in 46 states, all aiming to protect student data, along with three federal student privacy bills have also been proposed at the federal level. But much work remains to be done in arriving at a common definition and protocols for securing and protecting student data. Even privacy interest groups who espouse the same interests disagree over the proper safeguards.
The 2010 plan ended with an ambitious vision for “integrated” systems that can personalize and scaffold content for all learners, assess “21st century expertise and competencies,” and can mine and share data across different platforms. No such single system exists, but the pieces are being built. Putting the puzzle together will require plenty of collaboration—and compromise—between technologists and teachers, policymakers and parents.