The Digital Promise

Archived Information

The Digital Promise

Remarks by Secretary Duncan at the Launch of Digital Promise

September 16, 2011

Thank you so much Josneil.

You have an inspiring story to tell. Your experience demonstrates the power of technology-- especially when coupled with caring and supporting adults. We know all students can be successful when given the right tools, resources, and opportunities. By enriching your learning experiences with a computer, you were able to deeply engage in your own learning. Congratulations and stay on course. We need you and all of your friends to stay in school, be successful and pursue greatness.

But sadly, stories like Josneil's are too rare. By and large, American classrooms have failed to harness technology's potential to transform students' lives. With technology, teachers and parents can deeply engage students in learning. They can personalize instruction. And they help solve the inequities in our communities and in our schools by providing all children with access to world-class educational resources – anytime, anywhere.

And that's why we're all here today. We understand that technology provides the opportunity to make rapid progress advancing equity and excellence in our education system so that stories like Josneil's are the norm, not the exception.

My simple message to all of you today is that we need to act now to lead the digital transformation of education and training for our children and for adults looking to retrain and retool. We have yet to unleash technology's full potential to transform teaching and learning. Technology can help provide all students access to a world-class curriculum. It is a tool that can provide equitable access to high-quality learning opportunities for low-income students in struggling schools, be they inner city, urban, rural, or remote. This work is especially important today because other countries are ahead of the United States. And in tough economic times, we can't just do more. We have to do more with less. South Korea will phase out textbooks and replace them with digital products by 2015. Uruguay, a small country not known for leadership in technology, already provides a computer for every student.

We're faced with this daunting question: Will the United States lead this effort or will we follow?

Despite the challenges, I am optimistic that the United States can and will lead the digital transformation. Today marks an important turning point. Through the unique public-private partnership of Digital Promise, we are rallying the full forces of the federal government, academia, entrepreneurs, the technology sector, and researchers.

We have a lot of extraordinary talent in this room today. You represent creative entrepreneurs, generous philanthropists and smart investors. You are innovative education leaders committed to this work and to making a difference.

I especially want to thank Representative John Yarmuth, for his leadership. Along with Senator Dodd, Representative Yarmuth worked to authorize Digital Promise in the Higher Education Opportunity Act. That's the reason we're all here today.

President Obama said that winning the future will require investments in education, innovation, and infrastructure. He understands that transforming the use of educational technology will require significant research and development. And he also understands that our nation's schools and classrooms are in serious need of modernization.

In too many places, today's school buildings aren't ready to support digital learning.

Last week, I was reminded of this firsthand when I went on a back-to-school tour of the Great Lakes region. I never ask for the red-carpet treatment when I visit campuses, but it's not uncommon for my hosts to tidy up a bit. But no amount of paint was going to cover up the fact that many of these schools aren't prepared to lead the digital revolution in education.

In the American Jobs Act, the President is proposing a $25 billion investment to modernize at least 35,000 of our nation's schools – especially schools that serve the neediest students, with facilities in the most need of repair. The President is committed to passing a Jobs bill that includes money to create school buildings that can give students a 21st Century education.

The administration's commitment goes far beyond renovating and modernizing schools. Our goal is to be an engine for innovation that provides leadership and support for reform. The National Education Technology plan we released last year lays out an ambitious vision to leverage the full power of technology to support compelling and personalized learning environments for all children, regardless of race, ethnicity, disability or zip code. We understand that technology is a critical ingredient in our work to make education the great equalizer it must be.

This is not a task for government alone. We can create the environment for innovation. But experts in schools, research labs, and entrepreneurs big and small will do the difficult work of developing new technologies, getting them adopted in homes, schools, and districts across the country.

Digital Promise will aid that work by bringing together people from business, education, and the research community to advance the education technology field.

Even as we're launching this new effort, a group of school districts have stepped forward to lead this transformation. We're calling them the League of Innovative Schools.

Researchers at the University of Chicago also will organize a new alliance of more than 35 of America's top education researchers, dedicated to identifying policies and practices that improve education outcomes for America's most disadvantaged children.

A leading gaming country is committing to bring their creativity and expertise to this effort.

Digital Promise will be a truly collaborative effort across all sectors. Working together, the collaboration can help America in providing a world-class education for millions of students through learning technologies.

We all know there are no silver bullets in education. But I absolutely do believe that we must use every tool at our disposal, including the extraordinary creativity of entrepreneurs who are committed to producing game-changing technologies.

The goal of all of this work is absolutely ambitious. We want to fundamentally re-imagine learning. Fortunately, we have examples of schools with inspiring stories to tell.

Take the story of Daniel Mendez. When he enrolled in San Diego's High Tech High, he was repeating the 10th grade. Like most disadvantaged students, he faced many obstacles. With a long commute, family responsibilities, and few educational resources in his home, he struggled to complete homework. Some would have written off a student like Daniel.

But things turned around for him when High Tech High issued him a Netbook with high-speed Internet access. His grades improved immediately. Teachers noticed that he was doing extra reading to dive deeper. He passed all of his courses. Today, he's a senior, thriving academically, and planning to go to college.

Across the country in rural South Carolina, technology helped Nicholas Huether be a full participant in school, even when he was home-bound because of cancer treatment.

As a fourth grader, Nicholas used a laptop and a Web cam to participate in his class at Plainview Elementary School. With the help of technology, he engaged in class discussions and asked questions – almost as if he was in the room.

With the creative use of technology, he had access to his teachers, his classmates--and so many learning opportunities that would have been unavailable to him otherwise. Today, Nicholas attends middle school.

In rural Tennessee, the Niswonger Foundation, an i3 winner, is using technology to provide hundreds of high-need students with access to AP and foreign language courses.

There are so many stories that demonstrate what technology can do, and the potential for technology to help engage students and make learning fun. No matter where students are, or what obstacles they face, a digital education can offer them a personalized plan to engage them and support their success. We have a long way to go before America becomes a leader in digital learning. But we know what's possible and we know what at stake for our children and for our nation.

America has always been a technological leader. Our country has pioneered manned space travel and the creation of the Internet. Yet today, our country is lagging behind other countries in leveraging the power of technology in our classrooms.

It's time to keep the digital promise to America's children, and provide all of them with the personalized instruction that both raises the bar and levels the playing field.

Thank you for your leadership, commitment, and collaboration in keeping that promise.