The Digital Transformation in Education: U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's remarks at the State Educational Technology Directors Association Education Forum

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The Digital Transformation in Education: U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's remarks at the State Educational Technology Directors Association Education Forum

November 9, 2010

It's my pleasure to be here today to release the final version of the National Education Technology Plan.

This plan is the product of wide-ranging consultation and almost two years of hard work.

Our team at the Department of Education sought input from teachers, students, and others. Thousands of people contributed in one way or another.

We heard the voices of people at conferences, on the Web, and in small group meetings. To everyone who gave of their time to share their ideas, thanks for your thoughtfulness and thanks for your commitment. The National Education Technology Plan is another example of how the final product is better because the open and transparent process that created it.

I am here today with two important messages: First, our nation's schools have yet to unleash technology's full potential to transform learning.

We're at an important transition point. We're getting ready to move from a predominantly print-based classroom to a digital learning environment.

We need to leverage technology's promise to improve learning. I am optimistic because states and districts are starting to lead this transformation.

But we have a long way to go before we reach the goals set out in the plan we're releasing today.

My second message is that technology will never replace good teachers. We all know that the most important factor in a student's success is the teacher leading the class. That will never change.

The best instruction happens when a caring, skilled instructor uses every resource at his or her disposal to help students learn—including the power of technology.

In today's world, technology is an essential tool. It offers teachers new ways to enrich their students' learning experiences.

It offers students the ability to connect to learning opportunities anywhere, anytime.

Technology empowers teachers like never before to support their personal mission of providing the best possible education to their students.

But it's important to remember that technology alone isn't going to improve student achievement.

The best combination is great teachers working with technology to personalize the learning experience and engage students in the pursuit of the learning they need.

Before I talk more about the plan, I would ask you to think back to 15 years ago when the Department released its first technology plan.

Fifteen years ago, how many people here today had an e-mail address? I'd like to see a show of hands.

Now, another show of hands: How many of you had access to the Internet – either at home or at work?

And finally put your hand up if you relied on a cell phone in 1995? And if you did, how much did it weigh?

Fifteen years ago, anyone who used e-mail, logged on to the Internet daily, and carried a cell phone was on the cutting edge of technology.

Now, fast forward to today. Almost everyone in this room carries a phone from which they can send e-mail, access the Web, and conduct business as if they were sitting in their office.

My point is simple: In just 15 short years, technology transformed the way we communicate, the way we socialize, and they way we conduct business.

Unfortunately, the last 15 years have not produced a similar transformation in the way teachers teach and the way children learn.

Schools are absolutely starting to adapt technology in their classrooms. Many are using smartboards instead of chalkboards.

They're posting homework assignments on the Web for their students to track. And many use e-mail to communicate with parents and students.

Too often, though, our schools have barely begun to tap the power of technology to personalize and accelerate learning. They've made evolutionary progress.

But they have not embraced the transformative potential of technology at scale. But fascinating models are beginning to emerge. We are seeing a small but growing number of schools where using technology is dramatically changing the teaching and learning process.

In Maine, for example, middle school students have had access to digital learning for nine years, and the state is seeing improvements in student achievement, particularly in writing.

When we released the draft of the technology plan in March, I highlighted several examples of the innovative use of technology transforming schools.

One of them was the School of One in New York City. The program started at Middle School 131 to focus on a single subject—math—and a single grade level—sixth grade.

Instead of organizing 80 students into classes with a teacher assigned to each class, the School of One uses flexible combinations of students and teachers and a large menu of options to teach students the 77 math skills required for mastery of 6th grade math.

The School of One lesson database includes more than 1,000 lessons covering those 77 skills.

Rather than putting every student through the same lesson at the same time, the School of One uses data from each day's assessments to identify which skills each student should work on next. What have they mastered, and where do they need more help?

The School of One relies on actively engaged teachers and small class sizes.

Teachers use their expertise to pinpoint how each student learned best. Some students learn best by playing games, so teachers have access to games that match their learning needs.

Others learn best while studying alone or in groups so they have an individualized learning plan to follow under the guidance of a teacher.

Using technology, the teachers generate individual "playlists" of appropriate learning activities that help the students advance their skills.

At the School of One, technology enriches the learning experiences of students. But just as importantly it also empowers teachers to personalize learning. With the smart use of technology, teachers have expanded the tools at their disposal to help their students succeed.

I'm happy to say that the U.S. Department of Education is supporting their important work with a $5 million grant from our Investing in Innovation program.

With its grant, the School of One will fine-tune its approach and gather data to document its impact to student learning. Within five years, we expect it will have a model that can be adopted across the country.

The initial results are promising. School of One opened as a summer school program in 2009, and students showed significant gains in achievement.

The School of One is just one example of how technology can transform the way students learn.

The National Education Technology Plan recognizes that technology has the potential to take that transformation to scale in school after school across America.

The plan sets five goals that will help us transition to digital classrooms and transform learning:

First, technology can fundamentally change the learning process so it's more engaging and tailored to students' needs and interests.

To achieve this goal, both states and districts must create and acquire learning resources that are aligned with the rigorous college- and career-ready standards that states are showing such courage and leadership in adopting.

The second goal is to use technology in the next generation of assessments so they give teachers the information they need to regularly identify and address students' individual learning needs throughout the school year.

These evaluations will go far beyond the end-of-course bubble tests available today and use the latest technologies that give teachers real-time data they need to differentiate instruction and improve student outcomes.

The third goal is to connect teachers with their peers and experts so they are continually learning about the resources available to them to meet the diverse needs of children in their classrooms.

We can achieve the transition to digital learning only if teachers and students have access to what they need to do their work. That's why the fourth goal is to build an infrastructure that allows us to support access in and out of school.

Finally, the fifth goal is to harness the power of technology to help schools become more productive – to accelerate student achievement faster than ever before. Despite difficult financial times, we must improve student outcomes in ways that historically may have seemed impossible.

If we accomplish these goals, we'll have realized the potential for technology to prepare students for success in the internationally competitive, knowledge-based economy. Our children and our country deserve no less.

The plan sets an ambitious target of reaching these five goals by 2015. But this is not time to think small. The sense of urgency is too great.

By fully integrating technology into everything teachers do, we will make progress toward providing the digital learning experiences our children need to prepare them for future success.

Look, for example, at states' remarkable commitment to creating the next generation of assessments.

Forty-eight states have worked together to raise the bar and create common college- and career-ready standards in English/language arts and mathematics.

In just a few short months since the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers issued their final standards in math and English, 37 states and the District of Columbia already have adopted them – and more are preparing to do so when their legislators convene this winter. Meaningful standards are critical, but must be accompanied by great assessments.

With $330 million from the Race to the Top program, 44 states are working in two consortia to develop new assessments aligned to the common standards developed by governors and chief state school officers.

The new assessments aligned to these standards will use computer adaptive technologies.

They will challenge students to analyze and solve complex problems, communicate clearly, synthesize information, apply knowledge, and generalize learning to other settings.

These evaluations can change teaching by delivering real-time results that give teachers, parents, and students themselves specific action plans to guide the academic progress of children based on their individual needs.

For the first time, teachers will have the state assessments that they have longed for: tests of critical thinking skills and complex student learning that are not just fill-in-the-bubble tests of basic skills but also support great teaching in the classroom.

I am convinced that these new assessments will be an absolute game-changer in public education.

For the first time, millions of schoolchildren, parents, and teachers will know if students are on-track for colleges and careers – and if they are ready to enter college without the need for remedial instruction. For the first time, children in Massachusetts and children in Mississippi will be measure by the same yardstick.

These assessments are scheduled to be ready for use in the 2014-15 school year.

This timeline also poses a challenge to those who are developing digital content to prepare students for those assessments. When the new generation of assessments is ready for the 2014-15 school year, the digital content and digital learning experiences aligned with them ought to be in use at least a year earlier. The challenge for all of us is to have the technology be fully integrated into students' learning experiences by then.

But we know we are not starting from scratch. Right now, your states are offering courses through virtual high schools.

These online schools provide learning opportunities and expand access to Advanced Placement and other courses to thousands of students who otherwise wouldn't be able to take them.

For example, the Open High School in Utah is offering students the chance to be learners anywhere and at anytime.

Through the school, students are learning online through next-generation learning technology and one-on-one tutoring. Learning opportunities are accessible every day, 24/7.

The students study as their schedules allow. They advance as quickly as they want to and are able to.

Teachers give extra time to students who need it--and they challenge those who are ready to move ahead.

These are the types of individual attention and personalized instruction that are essential for their success.

Access to these online options is growing. Florida's virtual school enrolled almost 100,000 students last year.

But so far, these efforts have mostly focused on providing courses that offer an add-on to the curriculum at traditional schools.

To reach the goals of this plan, we need full-time access to digital content and learning experiences that will empower teachers in brick-and-mortar schools to enrich the curriculum and personalize learning.

States are beginning to respond to this challenge. The 12 states that won the Race to Top competition offer examples of how to do this. These plans are all on our website and we will be tracking their progress carefully and transparently.

Florida has developed a website that gives teachers access to state-of-the-art educational tools.

Massachusetts and other states are creating online collections of model curricula and other resources that are aligned with the Common Core standards.

Hawaii is expanding its open resources initiative, and is using distance learning to connect students in remote areas to effective teachers elsewhere in the states.

Now that states are committing to adopting common standards, these resources and cutting-edge uses of educational technology will be great tools that can be adapted by teachers and students everywhere.

And developers and publishers of content and resources can assist states by aligning to the Common Core standards.

Other states are supporting online learning experiences and resources for teachers.

Georgia is developing a digital library of resources and videos demonstrating best practices.

Tennessee's professional development program for teachers will be online and will be personalized based on teachers' needs.

The District of Columbia will have an individualized online professional development platform.

Through Race to the Top and the Investing in Innovation fund, we are encouraging all of these efforts to support teachers as they transition toward a digital learning environment.

The Obama administration is also making a significant commitment to meeting the education technology plan's goal of building an infrastructure for technology.

Broadband today has become as important as telephone and electricity. And we are working with our sister agencies in Washington to bring broadband to schools in small towns, rural, and remote areas across the nation. I have been working with them in this endeavor. Their partnership and commitment have been fantastic.

The USDA, the Commerce Department, and the Federal Communications Commission used Recovery Act funds -- $7.2 billion -- to expand broadband service to areas covering thousands of schools.

The Commerce Department is supporting broadband in 7,000 K-12 schools and 600 community colleges.

In just one set of awards this past summer, by the USDA, almost 2,000 rural schools were within the award areas and those schools serve more than 500,000 students.

More than 300 of those schools, or almost 82,000 students, are in areas currently not served by broadband at all. A new world of opportunity is about to open for those children and their communities.

The Federal Communications Commission recently changed the e-rate program to support innovative approaches that expand the reach of schools' networks.

Schools are now allowed to use e-rate funds to expand access to their networks during after-school hours and there will be a pilot program that explores the use of wireless networks that students can access in their homes.

In essence, we want to focus on closing the digital divide by increasing community and home access in addition to school access.

These changes are absolutely essential for expanding the reach of the Web in communities where the broadband network isn't widely available or is available but not widely utilized.

All of this brings me to the National Education Technology Plan's final aim: Using technology to accelerate student learning.

President Obama has set an overarching goal for the nation that, by the end of the decade, America once again will have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.

Just one generation ago, we led the world in college graduates. While we have stagnated and flatlined, other countries have passed us by. Today, we've fallen to 9th among young adults. That is unacceptable, and that's not who we should be as a country.

To help us meet the President's ambitious but critical goal, we've made an unprecedented commitment to innovation reforms that will accelerate student achievement.

Early childhood investments, K-12 reform, dramatic expansion of Pell Grants at the higher ed level – all of our strategies are designed with the President's goal in mind.

But just as technology has increased productivity in the business world, it is an essential tool to help boost educational productivity.

The truth is that educators can take a cue from business: The power of technology is unleashed only when organizations decide to make fundamental structural changes in the way they do their work.

In the field of education, this starts with what happens in the classroom, but it goes well beyond that into every aspect of the way schools operate.

We're starting to see progress as virtual schools expand access to curriculum never before available to students. And schools are using data like never before to identify students' specific learning needs.

But we haven't fundamentally restructured the way our schools function. We need to stop, take a step back, and ask ourselves some hard questions about the tenets that define our work today. We need to rethink some basic assumptions about the use of time, the structure of the school day, and how we organize our students in their learning environment.

We need to move from measuring seat time to measuring competency.

Productivity may be the biggest challenge we face as we move forward over the next five years toward reaching the goals of the National Education Technology Plan.

With this technology plan, we have laid out a comprehensive vision for how we can empower teachers with technology can and thereby transform student learning in classrooms across America.

The ultimate goal for our investment in technology – and all of our programs – is for students to be prepared to succeed in college and careers.

Our investment in technology will support learning environments where students are actively engaged while developing the skills and gaining the knowledge they need to graduate high school and be successful.

Our team here, led by Karen Cator, who is doing a fantastic job, is absolutely committed to supporting the work necessary to bring this plan to life.

We're going to need the collective effort of everyone – parents, teachers, business leaders – to create the digital learning experiences that will prepare our children for success in the knowledge-based economy.

We are supporting this work through Race to the Top and i3.

Other programs such as the Teacher Incentive Fund and the School Improvement Grants will be leveraging technology to support the goals of teaching, learning, and turning around low-performing schools.

We want to integrate technology into everything we do and have it stop being a stand-alone. While we are consolidating funding streams, your work and leadership is critical. We are requesting national activities money to continue our support of state technology leadership.

Together, we have an unprecedented chance to reform our schools and drive innovation; a fantastic nexus of crisis, urgency, and opportunity.

We must dramatically improve teaching and learning, personalize instruction, and ensure that the educational environments we offer to all students keep pace with the 21st century.

We can get there with technology.

Together, we must work to make sure every child has a world-class education – one that prepares them to live, learn, and work in our increasingly interconnected world.

Thank you.