Today, most of the education world is focusing on how No Child Left Behind might change with the reauthorization of ESEA -- the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
But as the Senate Education committee prepares to mark up ESEA, another under-the-radar amendment is also being considered -- one that has historical ties to the Department of Defense.
It's called ARPA-Ed, and it stands for the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Education, a program President Obama proposed at the beginning of the year. If the name sounds a lot like DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, that's intentional. DARPA was established in the 1950s as a response to the Soviets' launch of the Sputnik spacecraft and was meant to protect the United States' technological supremacy. Although it's a Defense Department agency, DARPA research isn't tied to specific military missions. But it has been responsible for a number of technological innovations with sweeping implications, including, ARPANET, the predecessor to the Internet.
The creation of ARPA-Ed aims to tap into this history and to signal that the country urgently needs to invest in technological research to maintain its educational edge, or be at risk of falling behind.
The legacy of Sputnik and DARPA have been invoked by President Obama many times this year as he's talked about the importance of technology and education. He talked about Sputnik specifically in his State of the Union address at the beginning of the year:
"Half a century ago, when the Soviets beat us into space with the launch of a satellite called Sputnik, we had no idea how we would beat them to the moon. The science wasn’t even there yet. NASA didn’t exist. But after investing in better research and education, we didn’t just surpass the Soviets; we unleashed a wave of innovation that created new industries and millions of new jobs. This is our generation’s Sputnik moment. Two years ago, I said that we needed to reach a level of research and development we haven’t seen since the height of the Space Race. And in a few weeks, I will be sending a budget to Congress that helps us meet that goal."
As part of Obama's 2012 budget, $90 million was earmarked for the creation of ARPA-Ed. But until the proposal of the EASA amendment by Colorado Senator Michael Bennet today, there hasn't been any movement toward making this agency a reality.