Douglas Levin, Executive Director, SETDA photo courtesy SETDA website
We interviewed Douglas A. Levin, Executive Director, State Educational Technology Directors Association after Secretary of Education Arne Duncan introduced the Department of Education’s Ed Tech Plan.

Please read the Ed Tech plan here.

Any important changes in the EdTech plan Secretary Duncan released today?

The single most significant change in the final version of the U.S. Department of Education’s national education technology plan is the cover letter from Secretary Duncan to members of Congress, representing the evolution of the ideas in the document from the minds of practitioners, visionaries and policy wonks to a policy position of the Obama Administration. While there are dozens of smaller changes, we are more excited by what didn’t change — and that is a comprehensive, integrated vision for improving learning for all students at the scale of the states and the nation.

What would you like to see from US DOE (and Congress) in support of the plan?

At the federal level, I think we’d like to see a few things. First, that the ideas contained in the plan become even better integrated into the full range of existing and proposed federal education programs and polices. We need to see the Administration ‘walk the talk’ by fostering innovative approaches to meeting the goals of existing programs. Second, we think it important that the Secretary and other senior education officials use their bully pulpit to encourage a much wider ranging dialogue about meeting the ambitious goals set forth in the plan. Third, I’d say we need to think pretty hard about how to create capacity and incentives – and provide technical assistance – at the state level to help people go from where they are today to where we need to be over the next 3-5 years. We’ll be working on this ourselves, but make no mistake that this is a heavy lift. And, finally, in an environment where many consider the budget to be the ultimate arbiter of policy and priorities, we need to see a federal commitment to implementation through the states.

You’re on the executive committee of the Digital Learning Council led by former governors Jeb Bush (Florida) and Bob Wise (West Virginia); what are you excited about?

I think the DLC work is incredibly important. To have two former governors – working in bi-partisan fashion – on a set of ideas for the future of education that is very much complementary to the thinking in the national education technology plan is exciting. With a focus on blended and online learning, digital content, and technology-enhanced assessment, it represents a growing consensus around the opportunities before us to better serve all students and the role that good state policy can play in helping us get there.

What will be challenging for states regarding implementing Digital Learning Council recommendations?

While there are a slew of technical issues and infrastructure needs – and I don’t want to minimize them – the biggest barrier we see to making dramatic progress is a 20th century policy and accountability framework at the federal and state levels. We need smart policy to incentivize sustainable and scalable innovation to advance student success. The opportunity before us is to fundamentally reimagine how we meet our public education goals, because we can. We’ve settled for mediocrity in too many places, because we had no better way to address our needs. This is about equity and fairness, about the use of scarce public resources, about civic engagement, and about our future economic competitiveness and standing in the world. Whether and how U.S. public education leaders respond will shape not only the experiences of today’s generation of students, but the very relevance of schools as we know them.

Interested in learning more about digital learning and innovations in online learning?

It’s not too late to sign up for the Virtual Schools Symposium that starts on November 14 in Phoenix, Arizona.

If you can’t make it, you can follow along on the web and through Twitter.

Follow @edreformer on Twitter to get breaking updates from the conference and up-to-the-minute interviews with speakers and participants. Follow hashtag #VSS2010. Longer-form interviews and news from the event will be published at www.edreformer.com.

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