Future of Learning

Ed tech must do more to ‘advance equity,’ U.S. Secretary of Education says

SCOTTSDALE, Arizona—The U.S. Department of Education unveiled a new education technology developer’s guide Tuesday during the annual ASU+GSV Summit conference here.

In remarks at the conference, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan urged developers to consider the needs of disadvantaged students, so that they are not left behind as more schools adopt new tools that advance teaching and learning.

The crowd Tuesday at this year’s ASU+GSV Summit in Scottsdale, Arizona.

The crowd Tuesday at this year’s ASU+GSV Summit in Scottsdale, Arizona.

“If the technology revolution only happens for families that already have money and education, then it’s not really a revolution,” Duncan said.

Duncan announced the developer’s guide during a speech at the ASU+GSV Summit, a gathering of about 2,500 people interested in innovation in education. The free guide, available for download at tech.ed.gov/developers, is the result of two years of research by Department of Education officials, who interviewed educators, entrepreneurs, parents and students. Its goal is to help technology developers better understand the key needs of the nation’s school system. It identifies 10 “persistent problems in education,” among them increasing family engagement, improving professional development for teachers, creating tests that accurately measure what students have learned, and closing achievement gaps.

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The guide spans topics that aren’t exclusively of interest to those seeking to serve schools with disadvantaged students. But Duncan devoted his time on stage to this cause, urging a large crowd of high-profile investors and innovators to do more for these children.

“Technology can’t just be a tool for engagement,” Duncan said. “It has to advance equity.”

Those who are developing new tools must include teachers earlier in the development process, Duncan said, and he asked them to do so immediately, pointing out a teacher in the audience as an example of who should be top-of-list for meetings at the conference.

About 150 educators came to the event this year (joining entrepreneurs, investors and developers), and attendees said this was a noticeable increase from prior years. Their travel was supported through a partnership with Digital Promise, a congressionally authorized nonprofit that helps schools and districts share best practices in the use of educational technology.

Duncan told the crowd that education technology must go beyond being simply new ways to deliver content to students. In a question-and-answer session, Duncan said he hoped that paper textbooks would go extinct; that remark drew applause from the crowd.

Richard Culatta, director of the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education, joined Duncan on stage for the question-and-answer session. Rather than pass a microphone around the audience, they took inquiries from Twitter. The first question came from Matt Miller, the superintendent of a school district in northeast Ohio.

Culatta replied that blended learning gives schools the opportunity to re-invent the entire school experience, and to “rethink a whole lot of stuff that has just been a given in education.”

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