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National Ed-Tech Plan Gets First Update Since 2017

A 113-page descriptive and prescriptive document from the U.S. Department of Education lays out a plan for the nation’s school districts to close the digital divide in how technology is designed, accessed and used.

The Capitol building in Washington, D.C.
The U.S. Department of Education today unveiled its first new National Educational Technology Plan in seven years, laying out a plan for the nation’s schools to narrow the digital divide and improve accessibility for all learners.

The updated plan, A Call to Action for Closing the Digital Access, Design, and Use Divides, focuses on ways to improve how students use technology, how educators can design technology-enhanced learning experiences, and how students and educators can have equitable access to technology.

The 113-page document also outlines three steps that policymakers at the state level can take to improve digital equity: establish a cabinet-level ed-tech director, develop a digital equity plan, and establish a “portrait of a learning environment” that defines appropriate and effective use of education technology while considering the abilities and habits of all students.

Other recommendations for school districts include identifying what cognitive, personal and interpersonal competencies students need to graduate; having a technology plan in place; having a rubric to judge whether ed-tech tools are accessible and integrated into the larger educational ecosystem; partnering with universities, businesses and nonprofits; and leveraging state purchasing power when shopping for technology products and services that smaller districts struggle to afford on their own. It also said access to professional development and technical assistance are essential for this plan to work, and districts must establish guidelines to assure student data is protected.

“Passive technology,” by which students consume digital content without engaging in it — such as digitized worksheets or test prep focused on rote memorization — is ineffective, though learning in that manner was common during the COVID-19 pandemic emergency when communities had to immediately adapt to online learning, the report said.

“As we work to raise the bar in education, it’s essential we focus on empowering teachers to become designers of active learning, using technology in effective ways to engage and inspire students,” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in a news release. “The 2024 National Educational Technology Plan is a forward-thinking approach to reframing and realizing the potential of educational technology to enhance the instructional core, reduce achievement gaps, and improve student learning in our schools.”

The first National Educational Technology Plan was released in 2000 as part of the Educate America Act, according to a news release today, and has been updated multiple times based on input from education leaders in every state and the District of Columbia, most recently in January 2017. The updated report consists mostly of examples from low-income districts across the country.

Reacting to the news, Consortium for School Networking CEO Keith Krueger applauded the overall aim of closing the digital divide and assuring “the promise of ed tech reaches all students, regardless of their background, geography, or individual context.”

“This is not a plan to be passed to the technology director to implement. It is intentionally designed to bring district leadership (academic, special education, finance, and technology) together to take action, and to build systems that empower every learner,” Krueger wrote in an email.

D’Andre Weaver, chief digital equity officer for the digital divide nonprofit Digital Promise, said in an email that he was thrilled to see the U.S. Department of Education committed to ensuring students have equitable access to technology.

“K-12 schools are a key pathway to digital equity, and states and school districts must prioritize both learners and educators to effectively build the digital skills of the next generation,” he wrote. “We will continue to engage in this work to help ensure lasting success in communities and classrooms across the country.”

Editor's Note: A previous version of this story misidentified D'Andre Weaver.

Editor's Note: A previous version of this story seemed to imply that Digital Promise had worked with the U.S. Department of Education on the new National Education Technology Plan. They both seek to address the digital divide, but Digital Promise did not help create the report.
Aaron Gifford has several years of professional writing experience, primarily with daily newspapers and specialty publications in upstate New York. He attended the University at Buffalo and is based in Cazenovia, NY.