Education Secretary Sees Laptop on Every Desk As Way to 'Ensure Educational Equity'

By Susan Jones | March 12, 2012 | 11:48am EDT

Education Secretary Arne Duncan addresses a national conference on safe schools on Aug. 9, 2011. ( Starr)

( - U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan says the federal government "will do all we can" to support the use of technology in education because technology "can even the playing field" for low-income, minority and rural students who don't have laptops and i-phones at home.

"The future of American education undoubtedly includes a laptop on every desk and universal Internet access in every home. It definitely includes more on-line learning," Duncan told a conference in Austin, Texas, last week.

Education in the U.S. is a state and local responsibility, but "[e]nsuring educational equity is at the heart of the federal role in education," Duncan said. "It opens doors for all students as long as we make sure that the students most in need have access."

Duncan noted that "American education is decentralized," consisting of 15,000 school districts and 95,000 public schools "independently deciding how to teach, and in many cases, what to teach."

He added that such decentralization can complicate the spread of technology: "School leaders are under a lot of pressure today to cope with diminishing resources and rising expectations. They don’t always see how investments in technology can save money down the road."

Duncan credited former West Virginia Governor Bob Wise and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush for pushing states to adopt tech-friendly policies, including laptops for all students, and he said "we will do all we can at the federal level to support the use of technology in education."

Duncan said technology makes teachers' jobs easier as well as making students more "engaged."

"We talked to some teachers in a school system that just brought in new technology two months ago and they were already raving about how much time it saves. They said their students are much more engaged. Young people see adults working in front of computers. They know that’s the future. The more that our classrooms mimic the real world, the more likely that our kids will take school seriously."

Duncan said technology also helps college students who are dealing with rising tuition costs" because it makes it possible for them to learn online. And the federal government is playing a role there as well:

"Along with the Department of Labor, we have a new partnership between community colleges and business to fund the creation of new curriculum for growing fields like health care and green energy – and all of the curriculum that is created will be open-source and publicly available."

Duncan urged the innovators and entrepreneurs to work with teachers in developing new educational products:

"I'm here today – not just to encourage you, but to plead with you to invest in education and in the technologies that support learning -- to push us and push the field to move in this direction, and to be our full partner in the broader effort to rebuild the American economy with education as the foundation."

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