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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