From Laggards to Leaders

Digital Learning Day Event

Secretary Duncan joined FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski in a Digital Learning Day town hall at the Newseum in Washington. Feb. 1, 2012. Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.

The numbers tell the story.

Two million students, 18,000 teachers, 36 states plus the District of Columbia, 26 national organizations, 24 companies, and 16 state governors joined forces on-line last week to celebrate the first ever National Digital Learning Day.

Their message was clear: Digital technology powers learning.

Technology in the classroom is not just about the latest tools; it’s an imperative for a country with a high dropout rate competing in a globalized world.

As smart use of digital technology expands, it could boost high school completion. More than 1 million of our students drop out every year — something that’s referred to as the “leaking pipeline:”

Across the country, 24 out of 100 9th graders are below “Basic” on NAEP reading scores and only 72 will graduate from high school. Forty-four of those students will enter college, but 16 will need remediation, and only 20 will finish with a college degree.

Digital technology makes it possible for teachers to differentiate more effectively by personalizing the learning to meet the needs of each student at every level. With the right use of technologies, we can shift our time from classroom management to focused learning on HOW to teach depth of content and concepts. This is especially critical for our newest teachers.

Mooresville Graded School District in N.C., understands the important role digital tech can play. The district made a huge push to integrate digital technologies, and raised its graduation rate by 25% and is now 3rd out of 115 school districts with one of the lowest per-pupil expenditures in the state.

But what I most appreciate about digital technology is what it does for the teaching profession.

Smart use of technology simply develops our skills as teachers.

“As a teacher, I’m no longer just a repository of information. My role as a teacher has shifted. With technology, students are engaged,” said 25-year teaching veteran Esther Wojcicki, who teaches journalism in Palo Alto, CA.

And for those who think technology is not feasible because our teaching force isn’t ready, we need to clarify.

America’s teachers know technology. The number of Americans who have grown up on touch phones, Google, Facebook, and Twitter is growing. At the same time, we know that technology has gotten easier and more compelling for everyone: We all use it for work, to research, and to socialize.

So it’s not the technology that we need to train teachers on; it’s the pedagogical shift that needs to happen to use that technology well.

In his State of the Union speech, President Obama asked us to think about an America that leads the world in educating its people and digital technology can help do just that.

Secretary Duncan was right when he said, “Technology going forward is going to revolutionize how we provide education.” As a teacher, I can’t wait to be a part of that.

Learn more about ED’s National Education Technology Plan and the Digital Textbook Playbook.

Claire Jellinek is a 9th-12th grade social studies teacher at South Valley Academy in Albuquerque, NM and a 2011-2012 Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow.


  1. Laggards.

    Discrimination starts just this way and can follow children the rest of their lives. And most of the time, its an abbreviation for something is wrong. Learning disabilities, health issues, psychological trauma.

    As long as we are shoving our kids through the factory style education that prevails in this country and includes the students only as far as teachers and administrators need a bunch of ’em to perform to in order to justify their jobs, we will hear words like laggard.

    Schools fail in their obligation to identify barriers to learning. Teachers, if they do know, don’t so often act as is needed and the labels which are used to discriminate against kids who have real problems like “laggard” are both out of touch with the children to which they are applied and the time in which we live.

    Children need other children. Taking people out of the education equation doesn’t work. Some technology supports learning but more of what will get more kids through school and higher education is really teaching them.

    I have a child they call lazy. The facts of the case are that he has some very specific learning disorders. The teachers labeled him one thing but the doctors call it something very different. He’s smarter than most of the teachers and he’s struggling because of their failure to acknowledge or to provide help.

    We’ve taken the special education route and its a nightmare that never ends because all special education really does is shift money from the state to the district and then its rebudgeted to pay for everything but teaching my child what he needs to know before passing him up a grade. The problems aren’t insurmountable. In fact, the remedies are pretty specific and include some online learning. Its not all bad but its no substitute for really educating our children in the classroom.

    But neither is a label like laggard. I can’t believe this insipid article even got published!

  2. Technology influencing every part of our lives, now teaching got much easier. There are even online secondary schools for people who don’t have access to local schools.

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