Making a Digital Promise to our Students

Cross-posted from the White House Blog.

Over the past two decades, technology has dramatically transformed the way we live and work. Yet despite this progress, technology has yet to have a transformational impact in the classroom.

I’m a big believer in the promise of learning technologies, and it isn’t just about doing things online that we used to do with pen and paper. Technology can be an extraordinarily powerful tool for helping teachers teach, and for helping students learn. It can provide teachers with powerful new ways of identifying where their students are struggling, and how to reach them before it’s too late.

Technology can personalize and accelerate instruction for students of all educational levels, and it provides the capability of reaching students around the country who otherwise would be stuck attending sub-standard schools.

Countries around the world are pushing the boundaries of what’s possible with learning technologies and are far ahead of the United States in creating the classrooms of the 21st century. Education technology is not a silver bullet for improving the United States’ stagnating student achievement, but investing in significant improvements to educational technology has the potential to rapidly advance learning, and to keep Americans competitive.

I’m proud to announce that the Obama Administration is taking an historic step in putting the United States on a path to become a leader in educational technology. Today, the U.S. Department of Education launched a new unique public-private partnership entitled Digital Promise.

Digital Promise is a bipartisan initiative that is championed by a coalition of educators and business leaders. Digital Promise is an independent nonprofit that will help spur breakthrough learning technologies that transform teaching and learning in and out of the classroom, while creating a business environment that rewards innovation and entrepreneurship.

If America is going to continue to succeed in the global economy, it is vital that we transform the use of educational technology. With technology, we can more rapidly increase opportunities for excellence and equity, as well as provide a world-class education for America’s students. And that’s a promise we need to keep.

Read the fact sheet to find out more about Digital Promise.

Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education

A Network of Strong Supporters for Brown Street Academy, Milwaukee

Many senior staffers at the Department of Education hit the road last week as part of Secretary Arne Duncan’s back-to-school bus tour. On Thursday, ED’s chief of staff Joanne Weiss, visited Brown Street Academy, a designated Investing in Innovation Fund (i3) school in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I was lucky enough to accompany Weiss and several members of the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships on a tour of this facility. Later we met with educational stakeholders who are deeply invested in Brown Street’s success.

Walking into the school quickly took me back to my own elementary schools days some 35 years ago. Bright sunshine streamed in through the tall windows as the sound of our shoes echoed on the polished wood floors. I peeked in through open classroom doors to see butterflies on bulletin boards, desks in neat rows, and students peeking back out at me. I began to wonder, “What is so special about this school?”

At the conclusion of the tour, we were led to a room where fifteen individuals were eagerly waiting to share the ways they are engaged in improving reading proficiency at Brown Street Academy. Representatives from non-profit and business groups, parent organizations, teachers and others described their contributions to the i3 Milwaukee Community Literacy Project–now located in seven elementary schools. Students identified as struggling readers are assigned to an AmeriCorps tutor. The tutor is trained by and works closely with the site teacher and University of Milwaukee facilitators. Parent liaisons open up and maintain the lines of communications with parents. Business partners and non-profits augment grants with additional funds to keep everything running smoothly.

Weiss seemed impressed by combined efforts and commented, “I challenge you to continue to promote community connections…and scale up and share what you’re doing with other communities.”

Yes, community partners such as the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee and Milwaukee Public Schools are working together to increase reading proficiency, but they are also promoting a sense of ownership in the process. As Tom Devine, Executive Director of Wisconsin AmeriCorps said, “We are interested in the test scores but we are also really interested to see if these kids volunteer at a later date. When we see neighbors helping neighbors, that’s a success story.”

Leah Lechleiter-Luke

Leah Lechleiter-Luke is a Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow who teaches English and Spanish in Mouston, Wisconsin.

See an article on the OII homepage about early learning projects supported by the i3 Fund by clicking here.

College Access Gets a High Tech Boost

YPSILANTI-There was a field trip on just the third day of the school year at Ypsilanti New Tech High School @ Ardis, but it wasn’t students doing the traveling.  Instead, the school itself was the destination, for Greg Darnieder, Education Secretary Duncan’s senior advisor on the College Access Initiative, who visited the school as part of ED’s back-to-school tour through the Midwest.

As one of ten schools in Michigan’s New Technology High School Network, Ypsilanti New Tech @ Ardis employs the system’s Project-Based Learning (PBL) approach to “use technology and inquiry to engage students with issues and questions that are relevant to their lives,” according to promotional materials.

The public school, in just its second year of operation, is funded in part by more than $1.2 million in Federal Title II support to the state of Michigan that has helped seed six New Tech schools.

Darnieder toured several classes at the school, including Geo(graphy)Tech and PhysicsTech, guided by sophomores Kelsey Scott and Zachery Roberson.

While the campus bristles with high-end technology like high-definition cameras, flat screen TVs and laptop computers, school officials say the goal is for students to embrace technology – in all its forms – as a tool to advance learning.

Scott and Roberson enthusiastically endorsed the approach, describing a class project from their freshmen year where students put together a multimedia project on the Roaring 20’s, including producing a newspaper, videos and class presentations built around research into the technological developments, significant events and important figures of the time.

“It’s a really fun way to learn,” Scott said, “and you don’t even realize until later how much you have learned.”

Holly Heaviland, director of the New Tech network in Michigan’s Washtenaw county, explained to Darnieder that the school strives to “marry innovations with other things kids need,” including strategies to increase college access.  She introduced him to two teams of College Advising Corps members from the University of Michigan and Michigan State University.  Together, the teams provide valuable college counseling support to 33 Michigan urban and rural schools.

“You guys are in a key role,” Darnieder told the group, mentioning President Obama’s goal of reaching 8.2 million new college graduates by 2020.  “I want to thank you for stepping out there and venturing into the land of young people.  So much of success in this area is about building relationships.  It’s about academics, too, but especially for first generation college-going students, success revolves around relationships.”

His point was echoed by Joilyn Stephenson, a member of the University of Michigan college advising corps.   “A lot of people don’t realize that these students are helping us as well,” Stephenson said.  When we can see some of the challenges they’re overcoming, it encourages us to do our best.”

-Daren Briscoe
Office of Communications and Outreach

Red Jackets On, City Year Supports At-Risk Students

Todd Marsh, center, and several dozen other City Year Cleveland corps members attended Wednesday's forum on community partnerships.

CLEVELAND-You know them immediately by their red coats. And their enthusiasm. They are City Year corps members-young Americans who serve for a year in urban communities throughout the country, including in Cleveland and its public schools.

On Wednesday afternoon, City Year corps members cheered for guests as they arrived at Cleveland’s East Technical High School for a forum featuring Secretary Duncan. On any normal school day, you would find them cheering for 9th graders in the city who are at risk of getting off track and dropping out of school.

City Year just began its second school year of involvement on some of Cleveland’s lowest-performing campuses-five schools this year, all of them undergoing a turnaround funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s School Improvement Grant program. Corps members serve as mentors and tutors to cadres of students whose grades have slipped and who show the indicators of becoming high school dropouts.

City Year focuses on the ABCs-Attendance, Behavior and Coursework. The day for corps members can start as early as 7 a.m., calling students’ homes to make sure their charges will show up for school.

“The first battle is getting kids into the schools,” said Phillip Robinson, executive director of City Year Cleveland and a native of the city. “Then we work on behavior…and coursework.” Last year, Robinson said, Cleveland students supported by City Year saw a 10-point increase in their attendance. Focusing on the non-academic factors that affect school performance “allows the principals and teachers to focus on teaching,” he said.

What City Year is doing in Cleveland is also happening in 20 other cities around the country, including other stops on Secretary Duncan’s “Education and the Economy” tour: Detroit, Milwaukee and Chicago.

In exchange for their year of service, corps members receive a $5,550 education award to defray the costs of college or graduate school, plus a modest stipend for living expenses. Funding comes from public sources, including the Department’s School Improvement Grant program and the Corporation for National and Community Service’s AmeriCorps program, as well as contributions from corporations, foundations and individuals. City Year is also a partner in a five-year, $30 million grant from the Department’s Investing in Innovation (i3) program that is focusing on turning around “dropout factories” in 14 school districts. For every $1 in government funding, Robinson said, City Year tries to raise $2 from private sources.

“We’re a higher-yield, low-cost human growth strategy,” he said. Donors are “investing in the transformation” of Cleveland and the other communities where City Year is at work.

Todd Marsh, a 24-year-old Ohio State University graduate who was among the dozens of corps members filling several front rows at Wednesday’s forum, is staying on for a second year with City Year, as a team leader assigned to an academy set up just for 9th graders.

“As much as you’re giving back to a community,” Marsh said, “you’re also developing your own professional and leadership skills.” And developing similar skills-plus others-in those students whom City Year is helping to graduate.

Office of Communications and Outreach

Back-to-School Bus Heads to the Great Lakes

During last week’s #AskArne Twitter Town Hall, Sarah, a third grade teacher, asked if it is possible for Arne to “tour and sponsor real town halls with educators.” This week, ED announced that Secretary Duncan and his senior staff will be holding more than 50 such events next week.

Secretary Duncan stops in New York during last year's back-to-school bus tour.

Starting on Wednesday, September 7, Secretary Duncan and senior ED staff will head to the Great Lakes Region for a Back-to-School Bus Tour. Arne will be making stops in Pittsburgh, Erie, Cleveland, Toledo, Detroit, Merrillville, Ind., Milwaukee and Chicago, and senior ED officials will be hosting dozens of events throughout the Midwest. The theme of the tour is “Education and the Economy: Investing in Our Future.”

Arne will be meeting with educators and talking with students, parents, administrators, and community stakeholders. Among the topics that Secretary Duncan and senior staff will discuss include the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge, K-12 reform, transforming the teaching profession, civil rights enforcement, efforts to better serve students with disabilities and English Language Learners, Promise Neighborhoods, the Investing in Innovation (i3) fund, STEM education, increasing college access and attainment as well as vocational and adult education.

Click here for additional details on Secretary Duncan’s back-to-school bus tour stops.

You can follow the progress of this year’s Back-to-School tour right here at the ED Blog, by following #EDTour11 on Twitter, and by signing up for email updates from ED and Secretary Duncan.

Kicking Off ED’s Leadership Mega Conference

Yesterday, I had the great opportunity in joining Melody Musgrove, director of the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), and Jim Shelton, assistant deputy secretary for Innovation and Improvement, in welcoming over 1,000 attendees to the Department of Education’s second annual OSEP Leadership Mega Conference in Arlington, Va. This year’s conference is entitled “Collaboration to Achieve Success from Cradle to Career,” and, runs from August 1-3, bringing together state directors of special education, lead agency early intervention coordinators, data managers, parents, state interagency representatives, Technical Assistance center staff and many others. The conference was designed to provide up-to-date information regarding Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) indicators, data analysis, student outcomes, early intervening services, Response to Intervention, Universal Design for Learning, service coordination and collaboration.

Mega Conference logoWhile my opening remarks were brief, I took the opportunity to give a heartfelt thanks to everyone present for all their hard work in meeting the needs of our infants, toddlers, children, youth with disabilities and their families. I also provided a brief update on the status of the IDEA Part C regulations, reminding the group of the common quote: “you usually have to wait for that which is worth waiting for.” I also shared information regarding the power of leadership and I was honored to share a story written by my son about the importance of “not quitting.” My son’s story spoke to the importance of commitment and goal setting and how both helped him to succeed as a high school football player.

The opening session also included a brief video on the 35 years of IDEA followed by an update from Melody Musgrove on the continuing work of OSEP and our continued progress towards collaboration with “general education,” including collaboration with the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE), Title I and the Office of Civil Rights (OCR).  Shelton described the new educational environment that focuses on individualization and personalization for all students and how general education is looking towards special education as a model, since individualized education is not only a requirement, but a priority in how we teach our students.

The rest of the conference is filled with information and insight ranging from innovation, transformation, collaboration and more. I want to extend tremendous gratitude to all of the participants for all that they do to support the success of our students.

If you would like more information, please see the OSEP Mega Conference website at

Alexa Posny is the Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services at the Department of Education.

Launching the FY2011 Investing in Innovation (i3) Competition

Today, the U.S. Department of Education launched the 2011 Investing in Innovation (i3) competition.  This second round of i3 makes $150 million available to school districts and non-profit organizations to continue support of innovative approaches that significantly improve teacher effectiveness and student achievement, engagement and attainment.

In 2010, the i3 competition received an unprecedented response. Nearly 1,700 applicants vied for $650 million in funding, and 49 organizations received awards ranging from $3 million to $50 million dollars. Information about last year’s applicants is available at

This year’s competition has changed to take into consideration feedback from the field, what Secretary Duncan has called the “new normal”—the need to do more with less—and the administration’s focus on preparing our young people to win the future by improving STEM education.

The 2011 i3 competition marks an important milestone in realizing the full vision of the program—to find and fund the best ideas of educators and non-profits throughout the country in order to create a robust portfolio of innovative solutions with evidence of their effectiveness.  The design of i3—three levels of grants, from $3 million to $25 million, based on the simple notion that promising ideas with little evidence can receive limited funding and proposals supported by a lot of evidence can receive substantial funding—reinforces the Department’s conviction that evidence matters and the goal of creating a pipeline of promising solutions that grows what works.

In response to substantial feedback from prior applicants and other stakeholders, the Department has simplified the i3 competition for 2011. The simplifications include fewer selection criteria and a smaller percentage of required private sector matching funds.

The Department also has included new priorities in the i3 competition that reflect key areas of reform. STEM education, a cross-cutting Administration priority, is now an absolute priority. In recognition of the need to improve educational opportunities for rural students, improving rural achievement is also now an absolute priority. Two new competitive preference priorities, improving productivity and improved use of educational technology, reflect the “new normal” and the need for schools and districts to improve performance with flat or declining budgets.

Other key design components that remain from the 2010 competition include:

  • Requirement to implement practices, strategies, or programs for high-need students;
  • Emphasis on sustainability and scalability; and
  • Rigorous independent evaluations of all grant projects.

To support potential applicants, the Department will be hosting three pre-application workshops and webinars.  The Development, Validation, and Scale-up application packages, including the competition notices and supporting materials, and information on the pre-application workshops, can be found on the i3 webpage.  Applications for the 2011 i3 competition are due on August 2, 2011, and awards will be made no later than December 31, 2011.

Increasing Educational Productivity: Innovative Approaches & Best Practices

Expectations for students and school systems continue to rise while many states face the toughest financial challenges of recent history. These dual realities mean that policy makers and practitioners must do more with the resources they have during these difficult budget times. Though this “new normal” is certainly a steep challenge, it is one that presents opportunities for states, districts, and schools to innovate, increase efficiency and effectiveness, and accelerate reform.

Increasing educational productivity by doing more with less will not be easy. It will mean graduating a significantly greater number of students—with higher levels of mastery and expertise—at a lower cost per outcome. This will require leaders at every level—from the classroom to the statehouse—to work together to rethink the policies, processes, tools, business models, and funding structures that have been ingrained in our education system for decades.

In March, to help states meet the challenge of doing more with less and to protect public schools from counterproductive cutbacks, Education Secretary Arne Duncan released promising practices on the effective, efficient, and responsible use of resources in tight budget times. Building off of this work, the Office of Innovation and Improvement has compiled additional information to help schools, districts, and states increase educational productivity.

This information has been pulled from a variety of resources, in particular the work of leading thinkers in the field. The information assembled is not intended to represent a comprehensive list of efforts. Instead, it is a collection of ideas and actions from different places and serves as a starting point for additional investigation into the methods being pursued and implemented across the country. To further this work, we would like leaders to share with us the strategies and practices in place to help increase educational productivity. Broadening the dialogue around successful steps to achieve more with less is a critical component of this national conversation.

The information compiled is organized into 10 reform categories, each aligned with various strategies, practices, or approaches that seek to increase productivity by:

  • Improving outcomes while maintaining current costs;
  • Maintaining current outcomes while lowering costs; or
  • Both improving outcomes and lowering costs.

These strategies seek to invest in what works, make better use of technology, reduce mandates that hinder productivity, pay and manage for results, take advantage of existing opportunities, and make short-term investments for long-term results. Guiding these strategies are two underlying principles: putting student learning first and protecting the neediest children and communities. While some of these strategies will have a greater impact on budgets and spending than others, each nonetheless represents a potential opportunity to contribute to improved productivity at the school, district or state level.

Productivity Categories:

Improving Student Achievement

1. Competency-based learning or personalized learning
2. Use of technology in teaching and learning
3. New and alternative sources of student support and funding
4. Better use of community resources

Improving Processes, Systems, and Resource Allocations

5. Process improvements
6. Pay and manage for results
7. Flexibility to ease requirements and mandates

Improving Human Capital

8. Organization of the teaching workforce
9. Teacher professional and career development
10. Teacher compensation

Resources on Framing Educational Productivity

Cross-posted from the OII homepage.

National Online Teacher of the Year Spends a Day at ED

I recently had the rare opportunity to spend a full day shadowing Karen Cator, Director of the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education.  It was a day absolutely crammed with meetings but also with deep learning.  As we ran from venue to venue, I wrote down the ideas and phrases that really resonated with me, hoping to not lose any of the great thoughts that are swirling around at ED—thoughts I want to come back to and explore further within my own practice.  I share some of these concepts below in the hopes that they will stretch your thinking too.  Perhaps they’re not the perfect answers but they’re a way to begin the conversation about the future of education and where innovation and research is needed.

The first concept I wrote down was that we need to “find a road between self-paced and a cohort model of online education.”  I had always thought about online education as an either-or proposition.  Either students are completely self-paced or they move together in a cohort model with other students at the same grade level.  However, perhaps it’s possible to create a vision for something in between.  What if students have a “learning positioning system” that guides their learning within a course?  It shows them which standards are their weaknesses and which tasks they need to complete in order to improve on those standards.  They come together with other students to focus on a particular concept and then move away from that group to other areas where they are weak.   This type of model could blend the strengths of a self-paced program (individualization and customized pacing) with the strengths of a cohort program (group projects and collaboration) in a way that’s truly unique for each student.  What a remarkable challenge for our future but also one that has immense potential for student learning.

From left to right: Myk Garn, Director of SREB Educational Technology Cooperative; Kristin Kipp; Karen Cator; and Matlea Parker, SREB Research Associate.

The second concept I wrote down was the idea of “differentiated roles within education.”  One of the things I love about my job is that I get to do it all.  I’m a fully online teacher who is involved in course design as well as working one on one with students, teaching whole group webinars, and customizing for each student’s needs.  Unfortunately I’m realizing that model won’t be scalable on a larger level.  Perhaps we need to consider allowing educators to differentiate their roles.  Some might focus on developing stellar courses.  Then other educators can focus on teaching those courses, modifying for the needs of each individual group of students.   In an increasingly specialized world, the future of education might hold even further specialization for teachers, leading to a completely new way of teaching and learning.

The final concept that I wrote down was the concept of a “teacher-heavy” online learning environment.  The term shocked me at first.  I had never considered myself to be in a “teacher-heavy” model.  Don’t all programs rely heavily on the teacher?  Unfortunately, some don’t.  I think that moving forward it’s a great lens to use in thinking about the quality of online education programs.  Those programs that are “teacher-heavy” a.k.a. have low teacher-student ratios, high teacher-student contact, and high individualization based on student needs are going to be those programs that have the highest level of success.  Students need good courses and good systems but they also need good teachers who are guiding their learning.

As I said, these ideas are just the beginning of the conversation.  I hope that we can work together to merge technology and high quality teaching, ultimately creating truly customized solutions for maximizing student success.

Kristin Kipp is the SREB/iNACOL National Online Teacher of the Year.  She teaches English for Jefferson County’s 21st Century Virtual Academy in Golden, Colorado.  Her blog can be found here.

Read the US Department of Education’s National Technology Education Plan.

Challenge to Innovate: Tapping the Potential of Mobile Technologies for the Classroom

When personal computers first emerged in the classroom more than two decades ago, the tools they offered to teachers and students were limited in scope, and some of us may only remember dying of typhoid while playing the educational game The Oregon Trail. Today’s students often have access to powerful computers with exciting communication and learning capabilities. These computers aren’t just the ones in the back of the classroom, they are also the handheld smart phones found in a student’s pocket.

Smart phones provide ample opportunity for educators, which is why the NEA Foundation and the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) have teamed up to issue a new challenge seeking your ideas on how mobile phone technology can transform teaching and learning.

The Challenge to Innovate (C2i) initiative is open to public school educators, students, and other creative thinkers with an interest in improving public education. In June, the NEA Foundation will award up to five individuals $1,000 for the best ideas posted on the C2i page on ED’s Open Innovation Portal.

How it works:

  • Submissions will be accepted from April 4 – May 13, 2011.
  • A proposed solution must effectively incorporate smart phones or cell phones.
  • Portal registrants can also review, comment and vote.
  • In June, up to 5 solutions will be awarded $1,000 from the NEA Foundation.
  • The solutions selected will be shared by the NEA Foundation and CoSN via multiple outlets.

Get started and submit your idea today.

Keeping Pace With The 21st Century

“Education reform and our global competitiveness depend on all of us embracing innovative ideas and technologies,” said Deputy Secretary of Education Tony Miller earlier today at the Educational Innovation and Technology Think Tank at Harvard University. Miller highlighted the fact that millions of American jobs are unfilled because employers can’t find qualified applicants, and the number could rise if our students aren’t prepared to work with technology in the 21st Century workforce.

Increasing the number of Americans who are earning college degrees is going to take an education transformation that relies on technology innovation and new business models.  President Obama made this case during his State of the Union address by noting that “we need to win the future by out-innovating, out-educating, and out-building our global competition.”

Miller referenced the President’s call to win the future, and provided examples of how places of learning across the country are already using technology to save money, improve services, and connect teachers like never before.

Deputy Secretary Miller explained that the Department of Education, through initiatives like the National Education Technology Plan, is doing everything it can to embrace the transformative potential of technology and ensuring that educational environments offered to students keep pace with the 21st century.

Taking “Boring” Out of the Classroom

Image of Asst. Deputy Secretary Jim Shelton (ed. note: Asst. Deputy Secretary Jim Shelton was in Austin, Texas last Friday for the South by Southwest (SXSW) music, film, and interactive conference and appeared on the panel: “Asleep in the Classroom: A Wake Up Call from Tomorrow.”)

For too many of our students around the country, “boring” has become the adjective of choice to describe their experiences in the classroom.  Students have been locked down by the concept of seat time and locked out of the technological revolution that has transformed nearly every sector of American society, except for education.

To prepare today’s students for tomorrow’s jobs and rapidly changing society, we must build a high quality and highly effective education system that takes advantage of everything we know from the learning sciences and every learning tool and opportunity available.  This is especially true given the “New Normal” of needing to do more with less. At the Department of Education we are committed to this pursuit, from articulating a path forward in our National Education Technology Plan to creating the required infrastructure such as the recently proposed Advanced Research Projects Agency for Education (ARPA-ED). And with the help of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) National Broadband Plan, we’re working towards providing all students with a robust and affordable Internet that will provide the communications network of the future.

In an age of Facebook,, online collaboration and rapid technological change, the world of chalk and blackboards simply won’t meet the demands of today let alone tomorrow.  Technology has the potential to greatly enhance student engagement, increase personalized learning, enable students to earn credit and progress at their own pace, and equip teachers with the tools needed to differentiate instruction (i.e. diagnose student needs, interests, and learning preferences and adjust their teaching and content based on that diagnosis).  Technology can empower students of all ages to take control of their learning, and to find and pursue their passions – waking them up not only in class but to the many opportunities before them and their own potential.

Jim Shelton, Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation and Improvement