White House makes ‘Digital Promise’ to schools

Duncan said Digital Promise would increase research and development in ed-tech programs.

A nonprofit start-up funded in part by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) will quickly evaluate which educational technologies are worth the investment – and which ones aren’t – while driving private-sector innovation that could modernize technology in public schools nationwide.

ED Secretary Arne Duncan on Sept. 16 unveiled the independent nonprofit initiative approved by Congress in 2008, called Digital Promise, which will be funded by government dollars, along with philanthropies like the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

Higher education is expected to play a role in the formation of Digital Promise. The initiative will be guided by Duncan-appointed board members, including a Tulane University official, and research from the Chicago’s Urban Education Institute that will determine which technology programs work best in the classroom.

Digital Promise’s first contributions to public schools will include software that can tutor students struggling in math or English, for example, after the same “digital tutor” technology was shown to reduce the time required to become an IT expert from years to months.

“Digital Promise is a unique partnership that will bring everyone together – educators, entrepreneurs, and researchers – to use technology to help students learn and teachers teach,” President Obama said in a statement. “There’s no silver bullet when it comes to education, but technology can be a powerful tool, and Digital Promise will help us make the most of it.”

The nonprofit group will also work to boost the amount of spending on research and development of educational technologies. The country’s 14,000 school districts use about .2 percent of total K-12 educational spending for research and development of burgeoning technologies, while the private sector spends upwards of 20 percent.

And whereas internet startup companies continually test their website and online services, testing and evaluation of classroom technologies lags behind, meaning the most up-to-date programs are rarely available to students and educators, the White House said in a blog post.

“When it comes to education, R&D cycles can take years, producing results that are out of date the minute they’re released,” the White House blog said. “Internet companies like Netflix and Amazon don’t make decisions on the basis of hunches. They use rapid, low-cost experimentation to continually improve their products. Similar opportunities exist for learning technologies.”

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