Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced Friday the launch of a new initiative by the Department of Education to “advance technologies that can transform teaching and learning” named Digital Promise.  Described as a unique partnership of the federal government and the private sector, Digital Promise will be led by a board of directors made up of prominent leaders in education and technology appointed by Duncan. 


To achieve the goals of the program, three priorities were highlighted: identifying breakthrough technologies, learning faster what’s working and what’s not, and transforming the market for learning technologies. 


In a White House blog, Duncan framed learning technologies as an area in which the U.S. was far behind other countries.  He claimed that education technology was not an entire cure for “stagnating student achievement,” but investment in it provided an opportunity to “rapidly advance learning, and to keep Americans competitive” globally.


In order to spur progress in educational technologies, Digital Promise will engage heavily in Research and Development.  According to the Digital Promise factsheet released by the White House, R&D makes up only 0.2% of total spending in K-12 education while 10-20% of revenues of “knowledge-intensive industries such as software development and biotech” are spent on R&D.  As part of this effort, Digital Promise will work with school districts to initiate what it calls “smart demand” to encourage the private sector to invest more in learning technology.


Criticisms that have followed the announcement of Digital Promise have included that government involvement will hurt educational innovation rather than help it, and that the Department of Education should not be subsidizing technology companies.


Are criticisms of Digital Promise valid?  Or does the initiative have a real potential to significantly boost educational technology and ultimately improve learning in the classroom?  Are partnerships between government and private entities the best way to achieve advancements in education today?