"By 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world."

—President Barack Obama,
Address to Congress, Feb. 24, 2009

Education is the key to America's economic growth and prosperity and to our ability to compete in the global economy. It is the path to good jobs and higher earning power for Americans. It is necessary for our democracy to work.

With this in mind, America needs a public education system that provides all learners—including low-income and minority students, English language learners, students with disabilities, gifted and talented students, early childhood learners, adult workforce learners, and seniors—with engaging and empowering learning experiences. Our education system also should help learners set goals, stay in school despite obstacles, earn a high school diploma, and obtain the further education and training needed for success in their personal lives, the workplace, and their communities.

We want to develop inquisitive, creative, resourceful thinkers; informed citizens; effective problem-solvers; groundbreaking pioneers; and visionary leaders. We want to foster the excellence that flows from the ability to use today's information, tools, and technologies effectively and a commitment to lifelong learning. All these are necessary for Americans to be active, creative, knowledgeable, and ethical participants in our globally networked society.

To accomplish this, schools must be more than information factories; they must be incubators of exploration and invention. Educators must be more than information experts; they must be collaborators in learning, seeking new knowledge and constantly acquiring new skills alongside their students. Students must be fully engaged in school—intellectually, socially, and emotionally. This level of engagement requires the chance to work on interesting and relevant projects, the use of technology environments and resources, and access to an extended social network of adults and peers who support their intellectual growth.

Education reform has been on the national agenda for decades. Still, we no longer have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world, and we have a system that too often fails our students. According to current data,

  • Approximately 25 percent of young people in the United States fail to graduate on time with a regular diploma (Stillwell 2010). That number jumps to almost 40 percent for Latino and African-American students.

  • Some 5,000 schools persistently fail year after year, and about 2,000 high schools produce about half the nation's dropouts and three-quarters of minority dropouts (Balfanz and Legters 2004; Tucci 2009).

  • Of students who do graduate from high school, one-third are unprepared for postsecondary education, forcing community colleges and four-year colleges and universities to devote precious time and resources to remedial work for incoming students (National Center for Education Statistics 2003).

  • By 2016—just six years from now—four out of every 10 new jobs will require some advanced education or training (Dohm and Shniper 2007). Fifteen of the 30 fastest-growing fields will require a minimum of a bachelor's degree (Bureau of Labor Statistics 2007).

  • Only about 41 percent of young people earn a two-year or four-year college degree (OECD 2010). Enrollment rates are unequal: 69 percent of qualified white high school graduates enter four-year colleges compared with just 58 percent of comparable Latino graduates and 56 percent of African-American graduates (National Center for Education Statistics 2007).

  • Thirty million adults have below-basic levels of English literacy, and another 63 million read English only at a basic level, which means that 44 percent of adults living in America could benefit from English literacy instruction (National Center for Education Statistics 2009).

As Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has said, the current state of our education system is "economically unsustainable and morally unacceptable" (Duncan 2010).

Transforming American Education: An Urgent Priority

Under the Obama administration, education has become an urgent priority driven by two clear goals set by the president:

  • By 2020, we will raise the proportion of college graduates from where it now stands (about 41 percent) so that 60 percent of our population holds a two-year or four-year degree (National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education 2008).

  • We will close the achievement gap so that all students graduate from high school ready to succeed in college and careers.

To accomplish these goals, we must embrace a strategy of innovation, careful implementation, regular evaluation, and continuous improvement. The programs and projects that work must be brought to scale so that every learner has the opportunity to take advantage of that success. Our regulations, policies, actions, and investments must be strategic and coherent.

To this end, Secretary Duncan has identified four major areas where our investments and efforts can have the greatest impact:

  • States should adopt standards and assessments that prepare students to succeed in college and the workplace and compete in the global economy.

  • States should build data systems that measure student growth and success and inform educators about how they can improve instruction.

  • States should recruit, reward, develop, and retain effective educators, especially in underserved areas where they are needed most.

  • States should turn around their lowest-achieving schools.

In addition, in November 2009 President Obama launched the Educate to Innovate campaign to improve the participation and performance of all U.S. students, including underrepresented groups such as girls and women, in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

We are guided in these and other education initiatives by Secretary Duncan's conviction that we need revolutionary transformation, not evolutionary tinkering, and we know that transformation cannot be achieved through outdated reform strategies that take decades to unfold.

We must be clear about the outcomes we seek. We must apply the core principles of process redesign to quickly evaluate our education system for effectiveness, efficiency, and flexibility and design and implement new processes where needed. We must monitor and measure our performance to continually improve learning outcomes while managing costs. We must hold ourselves accountable. To do all these things, we must apply the advanced technology available in our daily lives to student learning and to our entire education system.

Above all, we must accept that we do not have the luxury of time. We must act now and commit to fine-tuning and midcourse corrections as we go. We must learn from other kinds of enterprises that have used technology to improve outcomes and increase productivity.

Drivers of Change

The Department of Education's decisions and actions—and those of the entire education system and its stakeholders throughout the United States—must be guided by the world we live in, which demands that we think differently about education than we have in the past. Technology and the Internet have fostered an increasingly competitive and interdependent global economy and transformed nearly every aspect of our daily lives—how we work; play; interact with family, friends, and communities; and learn new things.

The context of global interdependence is especially important for this generation of students because only individuals and nations working together will solve many of today's challenges. The leadership of the United States in the world depends on educating a generation of young people who are capable of navigating an interdependent world and collaborating across borders and cultures to address today's great problems.

Another important context is the growing disparity between students' experiences in and out of school. Students use computers, mobile devices, and the Internet to create their own engaging learning experiences outside school and after school hours—experiences that too often are radically different from what they are exposed to in school. Our leadership in the world depends on educating a generation of young people who know how to use technology to learn both formally and informally.

Technology itself is an important driver of change. Contemporary technology offers unprecedented performance, adaptability, and cost-effectiveness.

Technology can enable transforming education but only if we commit to the change that it will bring to our education system. For example, students come to school with mobile devices that let them carry the Internet in their pockets and search the Web for the answers to test questions. While such behavior traditionally has been viewed as cheating, with such ubiquitous access to information is it time to change what and how we teach? Similarly, do we ignore the informal learning enabled by technology outside school, or do we create equally engaging and relevant experiences inside school and blend the two?

We know from our rankings in the world in terms of academic achievement and graduation rates that what we have been doing to fill our education pipeline and ensure students graduate is not working. Getting students to stay in school is crucial, and equipping them with the skills they need to learn to be successful throughout their lives is equally important.

The essential question facing us as we transform the U.S. education system is this:

What should learning in the 21st century look like?

Learning Powered by Technology

Building on the report of a technical working group of leading researchers and practitioners and on input received from many respected education leaders and the public, this National Education Technology Plan tackles this essential question and other important questions. The plan presents goals, recommendations, and actions for a model of learning informed by the learning sciences and powered by technology. Advances in the learning sciences give us valuable insights into how people learn. Technology innovations give us the ability to act on these insights as never before.

The plan is based on the following assumptions:

  • Many of the failings of our education system stem from our failure to engage the hearts and minds of students.

  • What students need to learn and what we know about how they learn have changed, and therefore the learning experiences we provide should change.

  • How we assess learning focuses too much on what has been learned after the fact and not enough on improving learning in the moment.

  • We miss a huge opportunity to improve our entire education system when we gather student-learning data in silos and fail to integrate the information and make it broadly available to decision-makers at all levels of our education system—individual educators, schools, districts, states, and the federal government.

  • Learning depends on effective teaching, and we need to focus on extended teams of connected educators with different roles who collaborate within schools and across time and distance and who use technology resources and tools to augment human talent.

  • Effective teaching is an outcome of preparing and continually training teachers and leaders to guide the type of learning we want in our schools.

  • Making engaging learning experiences and resources available to all learners anytime and anywhere requires state-of-the-art infrastructure, which includes technology, people, and processes that ensure continuous access.

  • Education can learn much from such industries as business and entertainment about leveraging technology to continuously improve learning outcomes while increasing the productivity of our education system at all levels.

  • Just as in health, energy, and defense, the federal government has an important role to play in funding and coordinating some of the R&D challenges associated with leveraging technology to ensure the maximum opportunity to learn.

The plan also assumes that with technology we can provide engaging and powerful learning content, resources, and experiences and assessment systems that measure student learning in more complete, authentic, and meaningful ways. With technology-based learning and assessment systems, we can improve student learning and generate data that can be used to continuously improve the education system at all levels. With technology, we can execute collaborative teaching strategies combined with professional learning strategies that better prepare and enhance educators' competencies and expertise over the course of their careers. With technology, we can redesign and implement processes to produce better outcomes while achieving ever higher levels of productivity and efficiency across the education system.

Collaboration and Investment for Success

Transforming U.S. education is no small task, and accomplishing it will take leadership throughout our education system—states, districts, schools, and the federal government—as well as partnerships with higher education institutions, private enterprises, and not-for-profit entities.

In the United States, education is primarily a state and local responsibility. State and local public education institutions must ensure equitable access to learning experiences for all students and especially students in underserved populations—low-income and minority students, students with disabilities, English language learners, preschool-aged children, and others. States and districts need to build capacity for transformation. The Department of Education has a role in identifying effective strategies and implementation practices; encouraging, promoting, and actively supporting innovation in states and districts; and nurturing collaborations that help states and districts leverage resources so the best ideas can be scaled up.

Building capacity for transformation also will require investment. But we must resolve to spend investment dollars wisely, with clear expectations about what we expect in terms of learning outcomes and process improvements.

Implementing the plan depends on the broadband initiatives of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which are intended to accelerate deployment of Internet services in unserved, underserved, and rural areas and to strategic institutions that are likely to create jobs or provide significant public benefits. These initiatives are the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program of the Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the Rural Development Broadband Program of the Department of Agriculture, and the interagency National Broadband Plan developed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

The plan also draws guidance and inspiration from the report of the National Science Foundation (NSF) Task Force on Cyberlearning, Fostering Learning in the Networked World: The Cyberlearning Challenge and Opportunity, published in June 2008, and the work of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST).

The plan will be best served if postsecondary education institutions—community colleges and four-year colleges and universities—partner with K–12 schools to remove barriers to postsecondary education and put plans of their own in place to decrease dropout rates. In addition, postsecondary institutions are key players in the transformation of teacher preparation and the national R&D efforts recommended in this plan.

Education has long relied on the contributions of organizations in both the private and not-for-profit sectors, and this will not change.

As we enter the second decade of the 21st century, there has never been a more pressing need to transform American education, and there will never be a better time to act. In keeping with the appropriate role of the federal government, this Nation Education Technology Plan is not a prescription but rather a common definition and a five-year action plan that responds to an urgent national priority and a growing understanding of what the United States needs to do to remain competitive in a global economy.

Accessibility of Web Content

Not all of the websites identified in this plan, at the time of its publication, meet the technical requirements for Web accessibility established by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended (see for these requirements). The Department of Education will take appropriate steps to bring all websites subject to Section 508 into compliance with those accessibility requirements as soon as reasonably possible. Moreover, as Secretary of Education Duncan stated in the cover letter to this plan, the Department is committed to taking a leadership role in ensuring that the benefits of educational technology are accessible to all learners "regardless of background, languages, or disabilities." To meet that goal, the Department will not only exercise its authority under sections 508 and 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973* as necessary to achieve compliance, but also will work with and encourage the broader educational community to ensure that individuals with disabilities are not denied the benefits of educational technology due to accessibility issues.

*Section 504 provides that:
No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States, as defined in section 705(2) of this title, shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance or under any program or activity conducted by any Executive agency or by the United States Postal Service.