What’s Your Memo to President-Elect Obama?
The longest presidential campaign in history is over. We now know Barack Obama will become president, but what will he accomplish in the realm of education technology policy? What do you want him to accomplish?
It’s hard to say how much of a priority edtech in itself will be for President-Elect Obama, given the enormous policy challenges looming over the country at the moment. When you read his education agenda, there’s no reference to the Internet. His technology agenda, though, kicks off with a quote of his regarding the role of technology in increasing America’s competitiveness, alluding directly to the role of schools.
“Let us be the generation that reshapes our economy to compete in the digital age,” he says. “Let’s set high standards for our schools and give them the resources they need to succeed.”
His technology agenda goes on to describe the problem: a country where its citizens are not fully connected to each other or their government, and are lacking the skills to compete in the 21st century. It goes on to describe a vision of transparent government, ubiquitous broadband, and a renewed emphasis on math and science education in K-12 classrooms.
Obama didn’t spend much time offering much detail on his vision on the role of technology in the classroom, except in broad terms like these. One of the few times he did, though, was about a year ago, in an interview with Michael Arrington of the blog TechCrunch. Michael was kind enough to use some questions I sent to him regarding edtech and the digital divide, because I hadn’t heard Obama - or any of the other candidates, for that matter - talk about these issues.
One of my questions asked his position on the E-Rate, the federal program that subsidizes Internet access in schools and libraries. Obama’s response:
I consider the E-rate program a success because it has helped make broadband nearly ubiquitous in America’s public schools and I am honored that Reed Hundt and Bill Kennard, the FCC Chairmen under President Clinton who oversaw the plan’s creation and implementation, have chosen to endorse my candidacy for President. Unfortunately, we have not made further progress under the Bush Administration and I will recommit America to ensuring that our schools, libraries, households and hospitals have access to next generation broadband networks.
I will also make sure that there are adequate training and other supplementary resources to allow every school, library and hospital to take full advantage of the broadband connectivity. In terms of bridging the digital divide outside of schools, I will reform the two major programs which can drive broadband into underserved communities. I described a bold approach to reforming spectrum policies in the previous question. In addition, my administration will establish a multi-year plan with a date certain to change the Universal Service Fund program from one that supports voice communications to one that supports affordable broadband, with a specific focus on reaching previously un-served communities. Finally, I will encourage innovation at the local level through federal support of public/private partnerships that deliver broadband to communities without real broadband.
I was also interested in having him offer a definition of technology literacy. “No Child Left Behind mandates that all students must be ‘technologically literate’ by the eighth grade but doesn’t expand on the subject,” I wrote in my original question. “In your mind, what technology skills should every eighth grader possess, and why?”
To me, technical literacy means ensuring that all public school children are equipped with the necessary science, technology and math skills to succeed in the 21st century economy. As president, I will make math and science education a national priority and provide our schools with the tools to educate 21st century learners. Access to computers and broadband connections in public schools must be coupled with qualified teachers, engaging curricula, and a commitment to developing skills in the field of technology. All children must have access to strong math and science curriculum at all grade levels, including the pre-K level. That’s why I will also invest in research and development in science education to determine what types of curriculum and instruction work best.
At the college level, I will work to increase our number of science and engineering graduates, encourage undergraduates studying math and science to pursue graduate studies, and work to increase the representation of minorities and women in the science and technology pipeline, tapping the diversity of America to meet the increasing demand for a skilled workforce. If we export our best software and engineering jobs to developing countries, it is less likely that America will benefit from the next generation innovations in nanotechnology, electronics, and biotechnology. We must have a skilled workforce so that we can retain and grow jobs requiring 21st century skills rather than forcing employers to find skilled workers abroad.
Obama’s position papers and statements offer a general glimpse on his perspective regarding education technology, but I think there’s much more detail he can offer in the coming weeks and months. For example, what does he hope the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Education Technology will accomplish during his term? What new opportunities for technology-related professional development will be created for teachers? Will he take advantage of the new national center created by Congress for edtech research? And can his goal of making government more open and accountable be a way of making classroom learning more authentic and impactful in the real world?
We all have different visions of how our schools can thrive, what role technology should play in them, and what it means for our students to become 21st century century citizens. Perhaps it’s time to take a memo. Obama’s transition team is even seeking feedback from the public on all sorts of issues, so let’s tell him what we think. Unfortunately, the new website for the president-elect, Change.gov, is rather Web 1.0, so there’s no way to see what answers people are submitting. So while you should go and tell Obama your thoughts on edtech policy, I’d encourage you to tell the rest of us as well. Write a blog post, upload a YouTube video, however you want to do it. And then include the phrase “Memo to the President-Elect” in the text. That way, we can all track it down easily via Technorati or Google.
So let’s see what everyone has to say. Maybe - just maybe - the new administration will listen. -andy