A promise of what, exactly?


fingers crossed photo

Fingers crossed that Duncan
keeps his R&D promise
(Photo by Carmello Fernando)

By 2015, South Korea will be entirely
textbook-free, with students accessing content through tablet computers.
Uruguay offers a PC to every pupil. Can you feel the fear of being left on the
wrong side of education’s digital divide creeping in? So could Arne Duncan (and
unlikely bedfellow Reed Hastings). Last Friday, the Secretary announced
the official launch of the dormant Digital Promise nonprofit, a government-funded but
privately run entity intended to “advance breakthrough technologies” in
education, “while creating a business environment that rewards innovation and
entrepreneurship.” (Though this Digital Promise initiative was first written
into federal code through the 2008 reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, it has
gone unfunded, and largely forgotten, until Duncan’s recent revival.) The
free-market backlash was swift, with Jay Greene warning that, at best, the feds
would stifle innovators with a bureaucratic government agency, and, at worst,
facilitate another Solyndra-esque debacle. Yet warnings of an
education-industrial complex may be premature: Digital Promise has potential to
spur needed technological breakthroughs—if it sticks to basic research
and development. (While the feds have proven themselves wholly inept at guiding
the market and choosing winning innovators, they are well-placed to invest in
early-stage research, a vital component to tech advancements, but one that is
rarely lucrative for private investors.) And although the actual Digital
Promise website is discouragingly vague, there are some signs that it may do just that. If so, kudos to the DOE.
If it goes further than that, Jay can say, “I told you so.”

Click to play

Click to listen to commentary on Digital Promise from the Education Gadfly Show podcast.


Digital Promise to Our Nation’s Children
,” by Arne Duncan and Reed Hastings,
Wall Street Journal, September 19,

Solyndra of Digital Learning
,” by Jay P. Greene, Jay P. Greene Blog, September 19, 2011.

Unveils Digital Promise Center
,” by Ian Quillen, Education Week, September 15, 2011.