White House wants agency for education IT

President asking for $90M in fiscal 2012 to create ARPA-ED agency

The White House wants to create a $90 million education-focused federal research agency to develop innovative technology for learning and teaching, officials have announced.

President Barack Obama, along with Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, met with other education leaders in Boston to announce the goals of the proposed Advanced Research Projects Agency-Education (ARPA-ED) — “a DARPA for education” — that would award grants to innovative development programs.

The proposed new agency is a new element of Obama's education strategy, Tom Kalil, deputy director for policy in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, wrote in the office’s blog on March 8.


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The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) funds high-risk, high-return research that has led to breakthroughs such as the Internet, GPS, robotics, speech technology, stealth aircraft and night vision. Similarly, the new ARPA-ED would spend on approaches to teaching and learning with a goal of improving student performance, Kalil wrote.

DARPA has developed several success programs involving education, including Educational Dominance, which is a personalized digital tutor, and ENGAGE, which is a problem-solving game, he wrote, and their success helped inspire Obama to propose a separate development agency for educational IT.

Kalil said in addition to federal leadership, the success of ARPA-ED would depend on consortia of school districts willing to spend on learning IT, investors in educational startups, Internet companies, game developers and philanthropists.

White House officials noted several education technology goals that could be the target of research sponsored by ARPA-ED:

  • Develop digital tutoring applications that are as effective as personal tutors.
  • Develop tools that improve student learning the more students use them. For example, after developing a game designed to teach fractions, researchers could study how  thousands of students master different concepts, creating a “virtual learning laboratory” for continuous improvement.
  • Create educational software as compelling as the best video game, using insights from game designers.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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Reader comments

Sun, Mar 13, 2011 Jose Texas

I'm a computer science teacher in Texas. I think ARPA-ED is a good idea. However it seems to me that some of the focus should be on getting students interested in IT. School districts spend lots of $ on fine arts and sports but very little on computing. In fact in Texas the technology credit requiremnt for graduation was dropped last year.

Sat, Mar 12, 2011

This is a result of DARPA never having taken seriously and sufficiently invested in learning technology that would benefit teaching our servicemen and women. Such research would also have application in our primary and secondary educdtion. As a result we are going to start another government bureaucracy to do that. Note that I am not critizing DARPA's training technology projects but their failure to sponsor educational/learning technology research.

Thu, Mar 10, 2011

"Create educational software as compelling as the best video game, using insights from game designers." So now we are to pay more money to create education as games because children don't value education? Enough is enough. I am a bit tired of catering to kids who for whaterever reason are not motivated to learn. And I am very definately tired of paying my hard earned money as taxes to make their little lives more fun. Time to develop an understanding of responsibility. Or do we let them play all throughout their lives?

Thu, Mar 10, 2011 San Diego

The key statement in this article is the following; "develop innovative technology" How many pieces of innovative technology (software, hardware, networking systems) has the department of education invented that the US population is using today?

Thu, Mar 10, 2011 Virginia/Tennessee

look into the history of the Oak Ridge Educational Network (OREN) started by Dr John Wooten with funds from DOE.

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