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U.S. Officials Tackle National Adoption of Digital Textbooks

The Federal Communications Commission, the newly formed LEAD Commission, and the U.S. Department of Education met today with textbook publishers and technology providers in Washington to discuss the future of digital textbooks in K-12 classrooms.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan appealed to the crowd of technology company CEOs and senior executives, urging them to consider how they can contribute to lowering the dropout rate and improving education throughout the country. "Things are tough, so we're going to keep limping along, or we're going to change the game. And I think you guys collectively have the ability, potentially, to change the game," he said.

Duncan expressed interest in fostering dialogue with the ed-tech execs to determine what role government can play in removing barriers for innovation. "We need your expertise, your leadership, to figure out how every single child has access to content 24/7," he said. "I see amazing pockets, islands of success, but it's on the margins. The question is, can we get to scale as a country?"

At the meeting, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski also encouraged U.S. curriculum and ed-tech companies to move toward digital textbooks to keep America's students globally competitive. "Other nations like South Korea and Turkey are racing to seize the opportunities of digital textbooks," he said. "We need to step up our efforts to realize the promise of this new technology in the U.S."

James Coulter, the co-chair of the Leading Education by Advancing Digital, or LEAD, Commission, also joined the conversation.

"I believe strongly in the ability of technology to change industries," he said. However, education has not taken advantage of the transformative ability of technology as much as other industries, he said. "Students are ready for change," he said. "We as a system have to believe in the ability of our digital natives to adopt the technology that is there if it's high quality and offered to them in a reasonable way."

Coulter advocated bringing together the government as well as the for-profit and nonprofit sectors to create an ecosystem of digital learning. Building that ecosystem includes creating the infrastructure needed to support it by ensuring broadband connectivity for all schools as well as providing equitable access to technology tools. Teachers and administrators are already on board, he said. "We're seeing enormous bottom up innovation in the classroom, and we as an ecosystem need to figure out how to welcome that and drive it forward," said Coulter.

An updated version of this blog includes remarks from FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski.

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