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Leveraging Ed-Tech for Global Competitiveness

By guest blogger Nora Fleming

Panelists from the White House, U.S. Department of Education, and nonprofit and private sector organizations, including the Gates Foundation, gathered Friday in Washington to talk about how the U.S. can use technology more effectively to improve schools and become more globally competitive.

The meeting, titled "Leveraging Technology to Reclaim American Educational Leadership," was hosted by The Brookings Institution, a Washington-based nonprofit focused on public policy research.

Many of Friday's speakers echoed similar points about how technology in education can individualize learning, decrease costs for school districts, increase accessibility of information, and bridge the achievement gap. But they offered different viewpoints on the quickest and most efficient ways to implement technology and create new academic standards and curriculum for 21st century learners.

Unfortunately, the U.S. might be spending too much time weighing strategies for best practices instead of taking immediate action, said James Shelton, assistant deputy secretary for innovation and improvement at the U.S. Department of Education.

"The time we think we actually have, we don't," Shelton said. "The reality is that while we are standing still, not only are other countries passing us by, but they are increasingly improving on the trajectory and the pace that they are making that improvement."

Not only is the U.S. slow to adapt to a 21st century education model, the investment in education technologies has also been exceptionally low, a White House official said.

A solution for how to increase investment in education may come by following strategies pursued in global healthcare, Tom Kalil, White House deputy director for science and technology policy suggested. Kalil discussed how large pharmaceutical companies had been inclined to put money behind creating drugs curbing male pattern baldness more than vaccines for poor people until several countries pledged an "advanced market commitment," or a promise to purchase a product not yet on the market, if those companies agreed to develop such vaccines in a given time period.

"If we can do that in global health, why not in education?" Kalil asked.

But the barriers may not just be making investment in education more attractive and lucrative, some experts said. Terry Moe, a Stanford University professor and Hoover Institution fellow, argued that sometimes teachers unions and other government interests get in the way of technological advancement when they see technology as a substitution for labor, or more specifically, their jobs.

Karen Cator, the director of the U.S. Department of Education's office of education technology, disagreed. She said she found most teachers were embracing the power of educational technology because it helped them incorporate more personalization and creativity in the classroom.

"It's not true that it's a technology vs. teachers or an us vs. them issue," she said.

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