The U.S. Department of Education considers open government to be a critical component in achieving the administration's ambitious education goals, which are:
- The U.S. is to become No. 1 in the world in the percentage of the population with a college degree by 2020; and
- The U.S. is to significantly reduce gaps between low-income and minority students and their peers in high school graduation and college access and success by 2020.
Open government is now vital to effectively communicating and interacting with the general public, students, parents, teachers, and all constituencies engaged in public education. It is also about changing the way the Department of Education operates and its internal culture. This document represents a milestone in a series of changes designed to improve the way the Department shares information, learns from others, and collaborates to develop the best solutions for America's students.
While open government work often involves new technologies and sharing collected data with the public, at its core, open government in education is about building and fostering relationships and dialogue among those interested in improving teaching and learning, developing good ideas, and using those ideas to set the right policies and strategies to help our students and teachers. Every step of the way, the Department of Education can connect with and learn from everyone with a passion to learn and good ideas to share.
Open government practices became a priority at the Department of Education in 2009, with the confirmation of Secretary Arne Duncan on Jan. 20, and the issuance of the President's open government directive, Transparency and Open Government, on Jan. 21, 2009. Together, these events marked a significant change in the Department's approach to transparency, public participation, and collaboration. The objectives of open government have touched all Department activities during the first year of the administration and serve as the foundation for this plan. From that work, the Department has developed a set of open government goals that will align and will drive us toward greater transparency, collaboration, and participation with our constituents and partners and within the organization itself. These goals are:
- Goal 1: Increase the Department's transparency and accountability.
- Goal 2: Solicit and incorporate more public input into Department operations.
- Goal 3: Increase collaboration and communication with other organizations.
- Goal 4: Create a culture of openness within the Department.
Examples of key existing and planned Department activities aligned with these goals include the following:
Financial Transparency of ED programs funded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act
On Feb. 17, 2009, President Obama signed into law the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Recovery Act or ARRA). As of March 31, 2010, over $75 billion in ED Recovery Act funds had been awarded. This has placed enormous responsibility on the Department to ensure not only that we are transparent with our accounting of these funds, but also that the States receiving these grants account accurately and fully to the American people on how the funds are used (Department of Education information related to the economic Recovery Act of 2009). The Department has responded to this responsibility by greatly improving transparency and accountability regarding State financial management of the Department's funding.
Listening and Learning Tour
In May 2009, Secretary Arne Duncan launched his Listening and Learning Tour (Education Secretary Launches National Discussion on Education Reform) to engage the public directly in discussing education reform in America. The Department used the input we received from this nearly yearlong dialogue led by the Secretary and senior staff in meetings across America in preparing the comprehensive Blueprint for reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) (A Blueprint for Reform: The Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act).
Race to the Top and Investing in Innovation Programs
Both the Race to the Top and Investing in Innovation (i3) programs are funded under the Recovery Act. These two competitive grant programs support this administration's belief that the best ideas do not have to come from Washington, but that Washington can help to support the best ideas. Race to the Top provides incentives to States to implement large-scale, system-changing reforms that are designed to improve student achievement, close achievement gaps, and increase graduation and college enrollment rates. The Department, in implementing Race to the Top, has demonstrated unprecedented transparency, by posting all applications as well as peer reviewer scores and comments for all to see on our website at http://www.ed.gov/programs/racetothetop/phase1-applications/index.html.
The i3 program will provide support to develop path-breaking new ideas, validate approaches that have demonstrated promise, and help scale up our nation's most successful and proven education innovations. To further support innovation, the Office of Innovation and Improvement has launched the Open Innovation Portal, a public forum for all who wish to participate in creating opportunities for partnerships and local private and public funding. This Web portal connects grant applicants, stakeholders, funders, and other participants to cultivate innovative ideas related to education.
College.gov (college, education, and financial aid info) is a community site sponsored by the Department's Federal Student Aid (FSA) office. The site is maintained for students, their families, teachers, and counselors. It is a gateway to resources ranging from student aid applications to career counseling. This model connects with stakeholders in social communities and helps to leverage social media capabilities to support both temporary workgroups and permanent professional groups, e.g., teachers.
ED Data Express
ED Data Express is a website designed to improve the public's ability to access and explore high-value, State-level data collected by the Department's Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE). ED Data Express helps parents learn about the strengths and weaknesses of the schools in their community. It helps teachers learn about which instructional methods meet the needs of their students. It helps school administrators and policy-makers learn about which programs are most effective in improving outcomes for students. And it helps researchers gain access to information to help determine what works and what does not.
Open Innovation Portal
Funding for innovation and research and development in education doesn't come from just government; philanthropists, venture capitalists, and other private-sector organizations are also highly engaged in this work. The Department has recognized that, in addition to funding innovative work, it can play the role of catalyst and broker for innovation. By using its public voice, it can help innovators and funders find each other and make connections that can lead to more innovative projects being undertaken as well as increased capital formation in the education sector. This is the role of the Open Innovation Portal—to serve as a catalyst and broker of innovation.
Open Government Steering Committee
The Open Government Steering Committee at the Department is responsible for overseeing the implementation of the Department's Open Government Plan. In light of this responsibility, the committee needs to be forward thinking in regard to openness in government, potentially serving as a testing ground, model, and innovator in open government work.
The committee plans to undertake two projects initially to embark on this mission. It will investigate how to run internal meetings to achieve more engagement with the public. It will also develop a public openness policy document, modeled after online privacy policies, that will describe how and where openness works in the Department, including providing information on how public comments are used in decision-making and for other purposes.
Strategic Action Plan for Transparency
The Department's Strategic Action Plan for Transparency summarizes the electronic data that the Department publishes, including electronic data available at Data.gov, USASpending.gov, and Recovery.gov as well as data made available by FSA and the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Much of the data collected by the Department is housed in EDFacts, a multidimensional data system that includes (1) an electronic submission system that receives data from States, districts, and schools; (2) analytical tools for analysis of submitted data; and (3) reporting tools for Department staff and data submitters to ensure better use of those data. The strategic plan will focus on ways to increase the amount of data shared with the public from EDFacts.
The Department encourages public participation using Web-based collaboration tools. We will continue to use Web-based tools available at ED.gov and other third-party offerings to engage the public in a discussion on education topics. As part of the development of the Department's Open Government Plan, in February and March 2010, the Department, along with other federal agencies, used IdeaScale, an online discussion tool, to gather public feedback. During that period, the public contributed 114 ideas and 200 comments. The Department reviewed this feedback and has taken it into consideration in formulating its Open Government Plan.
Enhancing the Department's Website
The Department of Education's website is in the process of deploying a robust Web 2.0 platform, making it easier to engage the public using collaboration capabilities. The platform's modular architecture adds the capability to allow public commenting on Web pages, voting on content items, discussion forums, and more. The Department uses a mixture of these tools to communicate with the public. The new platform will also make it easier for various groups within the Department to publish their work and engage with the public directly.
Internally, Department employees can participate and collaborate online using the OpenED portal, which has been operating since 2009. Over 25 percent of employees have logged on to the OpenED Forum, accumulating a total of 8,519 visits to the site from its inception to March 2010. OpenED has a robust governance structure ensuring that all input is reviewed and considered in senior leadership decision-making.
The first year-and-a-half of this administration has laid a strong foundation for an open Department built solidly on the foundations of transparency, participation, and collaboration. In the coming months, the Department will build upon this foundation to address the sustainability of openness by (1) institutionalizing open government practices with standards and procedures to ensure that these principles are adopted across the agency; (2) ensuring that our Open Government Plan continues to be aligned with the Department's mission as our strategic plan evolves and as we work with Congress to reauthorize the ESEA; and (3) continuing to investigate, innovate, and experiment with open government practices so as to find solutions and processes that work effectively. With this Open Government Plan, the Department will strive to give the American people a transparent, participatory, and collaborative Department that works for and with the public to improve education in this nation.