Using Technology and Personal Touch, Department of Education Opens Government

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Using Technology and Personal Touch, Department of Education Opens Government

December 9, 2009

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and the U.S. Department of Education have embraced President Obama’s vision of an open government. The secretary has travelled the country to listen to people’s ideas for education reform, and the department is using technology to provide the public with data to track federal spending and to evaluate colleges and universities.

“Everybody wants our schools to improve. The level of commitment from our teachers and principals is extraordinary,” Duncan said. “We want to hear the ideas of educators, parents, and students so they will be engaged in transforming our schools to prepare all of our students for success in the global economy.”

In 2009, Secretary Duncan and his senior staff travelled the country on a “Listening and Learning” tour, asking for the public’s ideas on how to improve the No Child Left Behind Act. The secretary has held events in every corner of the country, including inner-city Detroit, rural villages in Alaska, an Indian reservation in Montana, and a community school Orlando, Fla. He also held a televised town hall meeting with teachers in October.

By the end of the year, a representative of the department will have visited every state to hold public meetings to discuss education reform.

In addition to face-to-face meetings, the Department of Education has used in innovative ways to provide information about the Listening and Learning tour to the public and to ask for input.

Those efforts have included a blog in which the secretary invites comments on topics he has discussed at Listening and Learning events and invites comments from the public. Some blog entries resulted in hundreds of comments. Duncan initiated follow-up conversations with teachers and others who made comments on his blog.

The department also has used its Web site to share information about the Listening and Learning tour. Videos and transcripts of events held at the department’s headquarters are on the Web site as a resource for the public.

The Listening and Learning Tour has been highlighted on the White House’s Web site in its Open Government Innovations Gallery.

In addition to the Listening and Learning Tour, the department has taken several other steps to improve the public’s access to important government data.

The department is publishing data about federal financial assistance provided to students and families through loan, grant, and work-study programs. The data include recipient and volume numbers for each aid program by school. This will enable researchers, policy makers, and advocacy groups to analyze a school’s financial aid data along with indicators of school performance. This research will give the public information on the comparative bang-for-the-buck of federal dollars at work in individual colleges and universities.

The department also provided unprecedented transparency to how states spent money under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Based on reporting from states, the department documented that Recovery Act funds saved or created at least 325,000 jobs in America’s schools.