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Will a “man on the moon” strategy of investment in educational technology lead to an era of unprecedented economic prosperity for the United States? The Obama administration thinks so, and is putting its money where its mouth is in its 2012 fiscal year budget with a proposed $90 million education research initiative modeled on DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency that was instrumental in the invention of the Internet. On February 4, 2011, the administration proposed the creation of a new agency called the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Education, or ARPA-ED.

The notion is to fill a critical gap we have in the R&D infrastructure for education—the ability to do directed development, the way DARPA does, using cutting-edge technology and research to solve specific high-leverage problems.

—James H. Shelton III, U.S. Department of Education
Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation and Improvement

The agency’s budget, according to Sarah Sparks, “would include $50 million in discretionary funding and $40 million in mandatory funds to pursue breakthrough developments in educational technology and learning systems, support systems for educators, and tools that improve educational outcomes.”

We really are kind of provincial…in our models of organizing educational research. It’s always good to look outside one’s comfortable arena to see other ways of doing things.

—Gerald E. Sroufe, Director, Government Relations, American Educational Research Association

Seal of the Department of Education, U.S.A.When funded in Fiscal Year 2012, ARPA-ED will:

  • Sponsor the synthesis and vetting of the nation’s public and private research and development efforts with the explicit purpose of identifying breakthrough development opportunities and shaping the next wave of R&D.
  • Invest in the development of new education technologies and digital learning materials.
  • Identify and transition the best and most relevant R&D with possible applications in education from other federal agencies, perhaps including some generally unknown research conducted within the Department of Defense.

We’re looking at neuroscience in a really, really deep way…

—Dan Kaufman, Director, Information Innovation Office, DARPA

ARPA-ED will fund bold programs and increase entrepreneurship and innovation in the field of education. The end goal is to develop transformative, game-changing educational technologies—technologies that will be interoperable and build strategically upon one another to achieve progress at scale. “We have a real need to change the pace of education in America,” said Karen Cator, Director, U.S. Department of Education Technology, in a conversation on March 1, 2011.

The reasoning is compelling, but what about the premise? Do you agree that the most strategic investment our government can make towards a stable and prosperous future is one designed to make the America the world's most advanced educator? If so, do you believe that the most transformative educational investment our government can make is in technology for teaching and learning? If you’ve been following this column, you know what I think.<>

From the TechEDge editor: You've read the column, now take the TechEDge front page poll. Or join a more detailed discussion via the add comment function below. ~Sandoval Chagoya