Bennet: Schools must leap technology divide

Colo. lags behind most states when it comes to using new technology


WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet met with leaders in government and education Wednesday to discuss the future of an amendment that would push new technologies in teaching.

Bennet, a former superintendent of Denver Public Schools, advocated a model used by the Department of Defense, which hires people for three to five years to complete specific goals in technological advancement.

Colorado has been shown to lag in its use of technology in education and earned a rank of 41 when compared to other states by Ed Week in 2009. Rural areas, especially, are suffering because of their lack of access to reliable broadband Internet.

Participating in the event were think tank American Enterprise Institute, members from the Department of Education, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and Institute of Education Sciences.

Ken Gabriel, the deputy director at the defense research projects agency, said urgency creates results.

“Each of us has expiration dates on our badges. That focus, that limited duration gives us energy, and urgency to the work we do,” said Gabriel.

He said the secret to his agency’s success is its small size, 220 people total, and a flat structure, making it easy to get approval for different projects.

He said education could benefit from a similar structure.

Bennet would like to see teachers get the tools they need to succeed.

“As a parent, I have become really worried that my own children, who are 12, 11 and 7, will become causalities of the technological revolution that is happening everywhere in time except for their school,” Bennet said in his opening statement.

In an interview afterward, Bennet said the defense research agency’s education initiative could produce “game-changing” technologies. The program was introduced last year as part of the Elementary and Secondary Education Amendments Act of 2011.

“Having kids who don’t have access to high-speed Internet is like saying to some kids, you get the textbooks and the other kids don’t get the textbooks,” Bennet said.

Staff members for Bennet said they hope to see the amendment passed this year.

While the initiative would not directly address broadband access, staff members noted the difference between rural and urban technological development could be tacked on.

Jim Shelton, assistant deputy secretary for innovation and improvement at the U.S. Department of Education, said a solution relies on collaboration.

“Our sector is one of the only few places that there would ever be a conversation about ‘Is it about the people or is it about the tools that they use?’ It’s both,” said Shelton.

Bennet said the status quo is not an option.

“I’m absolutely convinced of one thing: If we don’t do things differently now, our classrooms are going to look exactly the way they are 20 years from now,” he said.

Kelcie Pegher is a student at American University in Washington, D.C., and an intern for The Durango Herald. Reach her at herald@durangoherald.com

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