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Former U.S. Ed-Tech Chief Karen Cator to Lead Digital Promise

Scottsdale, Ariz.

Karen Cator, who until recently directed the U.S. Department of Education's school technology office, is joining a nonprofit organization authorized by Congress to improve schools through digital innovation and other means.

Cator will lead Digital Promise, an organization that was established through a law signed by President George W. Bush in 2008. It was launched three years later.

The former Education Department official's move to the organization was to be announced Tuesday morning here at the Arizona State University/GSV Advisors Education Innovation Summit, a gathering of education business officials, entrepreneurs, and others, being held in Scottsdale, Ariz. (You can read my dispatches, and those filed by my colleague Katie Ash, from the ASU/GSV event on this blog, and on the Marketplace K-12 blog this week.)

Cator said the idea of joining a relatively new, and evolving organization appealed to her. She described the move as "a continuation of the work I was able to do at the department."

She said one of her goals is to help Digital Promise bridge the divides that separate technology entrepreneurs, education researchers, and K-12 educators—all of whom tend to not understand each others' work and needs, to the detriment of improving schools.

"People work in silos," she told Education Week. "There are a lot of people talking amongst themselves, and it's not communicated to educators, or entrepreneurs....Everyone can [benefit from] being informed by the other two entities."

As director of education technology at the department, Cator oversaw the development of the National Educational Technology Plan, a blueprint designed to shape the direction of technology's use in K-12 schools.

While she was serving as U.S. ed-tech chief, the agency also released "Expanding Evidence Approaches for Learning in a Digital World," a document designed to help school officials judge the merits of tech tools and how they can be used to meet their specific needs. Cator said that report was in some ways meant to "bookend" the National Education Technology Plan's broad goals. (The acting director of the department's office of educational technology is currently Richard Culatta.)

Cator is making the transition as many school officials around the country are fretting about their abilities to cope with rising demands for online access in their schools.

That demand is being driven by many factors, including the need for bandwidth and systems that will help them comply with online tests associated with the common-core standards.

Last year, Cator had made known her intentions to leave the department. While Digital Promise has an office in Washington, Cator said she will work primarily from California, where she lived prior to joining the agency, when she was an official with Apple Inc.

She will officially begin her work at Digital Promise in June.

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