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How to Save America's Education System, the DOE's Step-by-Step Plan

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"To achieve our goal of transforming American education, we must rethink basic assumptions and redesign our education system."

It's a bold and broad statement, but it's backed up with specifics in the Department of Education's National Education Technology Plan.

With the goal of raising the proportion of college graduates from 41 to 60 percent in the U.S. and closing the achievement gap to prepare all students equally to start college or careers, the DOE today laid out its master plan on how to pull the American education system -- by hook or by crook -- to the 21st century.

I haven't been able to scour the entire 124-page document yet, but just from reading the executive summary, it looks very promising. The DOE advocates for letting go of archaic practices and embracing technology to engage students, connect educators and learners, invest and build the crumbling infrastructure, and be fearless in redesigning traditional school models.

Some highlights below.


On student engagement:

The challenge for our education system is to leverage the learning sciences and modern technology to create engaging, relevant, and personalized learning experiences for all learners that mirror students' daily lives and the reality of their futures. In contrast to traditional classroom instruction, this requires that we put students at the center and empower them to take control of their own learning by providing flexibility on several dimensions.

Professionals routinely use the Web and tools, such as wikis, blogs, and digital content for the research, collaboration, and communication demanded in their jobs. They gather data and analyze the data using inquiry and visualization tools. They use graphical and 3D modeling tools for design. For students, using these real-world tools creates learning opportunities that allow them to grapple with real-world problems—opportunities that prepare them to be more productive members of a globally competitive workforce.

And to meet this goal:

- States should continue to revise, create, and implement standards and learning objectives using technology for all content areas that reflect 21st-century expertise and the power of technology to improve learning.

- States, districts, and others should develop and implement learning resources that exploit the flexibility and power of technology to reach all learners anytime and anywhere.

On testing what matters:

Technology-based assessments can provide data to drive decisions on the basis of what is best for each and every student and that, in aggregate, will lead to continuous improvement across our entire education system.

Technology-based assessments can be used formatively to diagnose and modify the conditions of learning and instructional practices while at the same time determining what students have learned for grading and accountability purposes.

And to meet this goal:

- Design, develop, and implement assessments that give students, educators, and other stakeholders timely and actionable feedback about student learning to improve achievement and instructional practices. [Note: Some teachers are already on the case.]

- Conduct research and development that explores how embedded assessment technologies, such as simulations, collaboration environments, virtual worlds, games, and cognitive tutors, can be used to engage and motivate learners while assessing complex skills.

On connecting teachers to each other and to students:

Teams of connected educators replace solo practitioners, classrooms are fully connected to provide educators with 24/7 access to data and analytic tools, and educators have access to resources that help them act on the insights the data provide.

Individual educators build online learning communities consisting of their students and their students' peers; fellow educators in their schools, libraries, and after-school programs; professional experts in various disciplines around the world; members of community organizations that serve students in the hours they are not in school; and parents who desire greater participation in their children's education.

And how to meet this goal:

- Expand opportunities for educators to have access to technology-based content, resources, and tools where and when they need them.

- Leverage social networking technologies and platforms to create communities of practice that provide career-long personal learning opportunities for educators within and across schools, preservice preparation and in-service education institutions, and professional organizations.

- Use technology to provide all learners with online access to effective teaching and better learning opportunities and options especially in places where they are not otherwise available.

- Develop a teaching force skilled in online instruction.

On developing infrastructure:

Infrastructure includes people, processes, learning resources, policies, and sustainable models for continuous improvement in addition to broadband connectivity, servers, software, management systems, and administration tools.

And to meet this goal:

- Ensure students and educators have broadband access to the Internet and adequate wireless connectivity both in and out of school.

- Ensure that every student and educator has at least one Internet access device and appropriate software and resources for research, communication, multimedia content creation, and collaboration for use in and out of school.

- Support the development and use of open educational resources to promote innovative and creative opportunities for all learners and accelerate the development and adoption of new open technology-based learning tools and courses. [Take, for example, what they're doing in Alaska.]

On redesigning and transforming productivity: [This one deserves a post of its own, but I'll quote it here.]

One of the most basic assumptions in our education system is time-based or "seat-time" measures of educational attainment. These measures were created in the late 1800s and early 1900s to smooth transitions from K–12 into higher education...Another basic assumption is the way we organize students into age-determined groups, structure separate academic disciplines, organize learning into classes of roughly equal size with all the students in a particular class receiving the same content at the same pace, and keep these groups in place all year.

The last decade has seen the emergence of some radically redesigned schools, demonstrating the range of possibilities for structuring education. These include schools that organize around competence rather than seat time and others that enable more flexible scheduling that fits students' individual needs rather than traditional academic periods and lockstep curriculum pacing. In addition, schools are beginning to incorporate online learning, which gives us the opportunity to extend the learning day, week, or year.

And to meet this goal:

- Rethink basic assumptions in our education system that inhibit leveraging technology to improve learning, starting with our current practice of organizing student and educator learning around seat time instead of the demonstration of competencies.

- Design, implement, and evaluate technology-powered programs and interventions to ensure that students progress seamlessly through our P–16 education system and emerge prepared for college and careers.


And here's the best part: the document goes into how the DOE can instigate these changes step by step. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's vision writ large -- and in small print too.