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National Education Technology Plans:
Implications for Education

Constance Wyzard
Boise State University


     Although computers were introduced in the schools in the 1970’s, it wasn’t until the Clinton-Gore administration that the federal government through the Office of Educational Technology took a proactive approach to planning for the optimum use of technology in educational environments. Since the publication of that initial National Education Technology Plan (U.S. Department of Education, 1996), there have been three subsequent plans with the most recent completed in 2010. A review of the plans discloses a number of common themes as well as the change in overall focus for the role of technology in education over the fifteen year period. This article provides a chronicle of the plans, an analysis of the impact they have had in education, and a discussion of the implications of the 2010 National Education Technology Plan (NETP).

First National Education Technology Plan - 1996

     The first national technology plan, Getting America’s Students Ready for the 21st Century: Meeting the Technology Literacy Challenge (U.S. Department of Education, 1996) was initiated by the Clinton-Gore Administration.  The Secretary of Education at the time, Richard Riley, advocated increased technology use stating that, “Computers are the ‘new basic’ of American education, and the Internet is the blackboard of the future.”  The plan focused on the need for “technological literacy” which included basic computer skills and the ability to use computers and other technology to improve learning, productivity, and performance. Lamenting the fact that the new technologies were not to be found in the nation's schools, the plan challenged educators to “envision a 21st century where all students are technologically literate.” Upgrading teacher training, providing necessary hardware and software, and connecting classrooms to the internet were integral components of the plan. The plan specified four concrete goals:

  • All teachers in the nation will have the training and support they need to help students learn using computers and the information superhighway.
  • All teachers and students will have modern multimedia computers in their classrooms.
  • Every classroom will be connected to the information superhighway.
  • Effective software and on-line learning resources will be an integral part of every school's curriculum. (Executive Summary)

     These were ambitious goals for the 1996 educational community, but federal funding was provided to facilitate their attainment. To support states and local communities in creating their own plans for integrating technology into teaching and learning, the Technology Literacy Challenge Fund, a five-year, $2 billion initiative was created.  By 2000, all states had created comprehensive plans addressing technology integration, teacher training, and staff development.

     Other funded programs included Technology Innovation Challenge Grants which promoted innovative uses of educational technology through grants to partnerships of school districts, universities, businesses, libraries, software designers, and others. Also funded was the Preparing Tomorrow’s Teachers to Use Technology program which targeted teacher training to promote effective technology integration into the curriculum and to use the new teaching and learning styles enabled by technology.  To encourage technology use in low-income communities, the Community Technology Centers program was created.  Other noteworthy programs were the Learning Anytime Anywhere Partnerships, Assistive Technology State Grants, Migrant Education Technology Grants, and the E-Rate program.

     The NETP (1996), coupled with the unprecedented funding of technology programs, had a definite impact on the educational environment. The enormous infusion of federal money to fund technology purchases, training and internet access at the state, local and school district levels provided not only technology hardware/software but also provided an increased interest in the role of technology in teaching and learning. The Progress Report on Educational Technology: State-by-State Profiles (U.S. Department of Education, 2000) documents the progress of each state toward their technology goals.
As stated in the Secretary of Education Richard Riley’s letter to Congress,

We have made remarkable progress toward achieving the 1996 educational technology goals. Due in large part to federal programs such as the Technology Literacy Challenge Fund and the E-rate program, many of the nation’s teachers and students are beginning to reap the benefits of increased access to computers and the Internet. (NETP, 2000, p.3)

Emboldened by the positive results reported, a new NETP (2000) was developed that moved beyond the “Meeting the Technology Literacy Challenge” discussed in the first plan and advocated “commitment to harnessing technology for education.”  In crafting the second NETP, there was an added emphasis on engaging the full range of stakeholders: educators, researchers, policymakers, students, parents, and higher education, industry and other leaders.

Second National Education Technology Plan – 2000

     Citing the tremendous progress engendered by the 1996 plan, the 2000 NETP, e-Learning--Putting a World-Class Education at the Fingertips of All Children (U.S. Department of Education, 2000) becomes a visionary plan that now places technology as an integral part of school improvement and reform efforts and calls for providing students with the “new 21st-century literacy” skills. The need for leadership in technology is emphasized with the plan stating that, “It must be at the core of the educational experience, not at the periphery.”

     The 2000 NETP reinforced the 1996 goals that promoted teacher training, technology skill development, and internet access. In the new plan, research and evaluation were recognized as pivotal to improving technology for teaching and learning: additionally, there was an emphasis on the role of networked applications and digital content in transforming teaching and learning. The 2000 NETP worked off the premise that technology was now available in the schools and that the next step would be to fully utilize the capabilities afforded by e-learning. In total, five goals were identified:

Goal 1: All students and teachers will have access to information technology in their classrooms, schools, communities and homes.
Goal 2: All teachers will use technology effectively to help students achieve high academic standards.
Goal 3: All students will have technology and information literacy skills.
Goal 4: Research and evaluation will improve the next generation of technology applications for teaching and learning.
Goal 5: Digital content and networked applications will transform teaching and learning.

Although federal funding for technology was not at the level provided with the 1996 plan, there were programs and other assistance available for education.  Resources for technology planning, K-12 school reform, evaluation, and research and development were provided by the Department of Education. The Regional Technology in Education Consortia (R*TECs) and other technical assistance services were funded to provide technical assistance and support professional development related to educational technology. The National Challenge Grants for Technology in Education and the Star Schools grant programs were instituted to fund demonstrations of high-intensity use of technology in education and to support distance learning projects.

Federal Funding for Instructional Technology

Third National Education Technology Plan – 2004

     One of the major influences in the development of the third NETP was the No Child Left Behind law requiring states and school districts to improve the performance of all students by 2014 based on rigorous testing. The introduction to the third NETP, Toward A New Golden Age In American Education: How the Internet, the Law and Today’s Students Are Revolutionizing Expectations (U.S. Department of Education, 2004) recognizes the impact of the law and the role technology could play if utilized effectively:

…we have not realized the promise of technology in education. Essentially, providing the hardware without adequate training in its use – and in its endless possibilities for enriching the learning experience – meant that the great promise of Internet technology was frequently unrealized. Computers, instead of transforming education, were often shunted to a “computer room,” where they were little used and poorly maintained.

     The emphasis in the 2004 NETP was more student-oriented with the Office of Educational Technology proactive in gathering student input; in total, they received responses from over 200,000 students from all 50 states. The results of the student surveys presented a dismal picture of the disparity between student use of technology in and out of school.  In discussing student internet skill development for example, the plan reports:

Students mastered the wonders of the Internet at home, not in school. Today’s students, of almost any age, are far ahead of their teachers in computer literacy. They prefer to access subject information on the Internet, where it is more abundant, more accessible and more up-to-date.

A Vision of Students Today

     Given the capability of technology to transform teaching and learning and the funding of technology over the years, the public expected marked improvements in student achievement. The reality was that technology was not being used consistently and that, “…in most schools, it is business as usual. Computers are enclosed in computer rooms rather than being a central part of the learning experience.” Even the U.S. Secretary of Education, Rod Paige, voiced his frustration, “Education is the only business still debating the usefulness of technology. Schools remain unchanged for the most part, despite numerous reforms and increased investments in computers and networks.”

     The goal of the 2004 NETP was to revolutionize educational expectations through technology recommending a set of seven action steps:

  1. Strengthen Leadership
  2. Consider Innovative Budgeting
  3. Improve Teacher Training
  4. Support E-Learning and Virtual Schools
  5. Encourage Broadband Access
  6. Move Toward Digital Content
  7. Integrate Data Systems

Leaderships was perceived as foundational to implementing change and utilizing technology to its fullest. The plan recommended a “new generation of tech-savvy leaders” and technology partnerships. Not surprisingly, it encouraged student participation in the planning process. Also foundational was the need to improve teacher training including the availability for online learning courses and developing skills in using data to personalize instruction.

     The 2004 NETP alluded to the explosive growth in organized online instruction (e-learning) and “virtual” schools. Recommendations included providing every student access to e-learning and using e-learning to meet No Child Left Behind requirements for highly qualified teachers.  The plan recommended broadband access 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year and a move away from reliance on textbooks to the use of multimedia or online.

     As federal funding was targeted at the No Child Left Behind programs, the NETP recommended that technology be used to help attain those program achievement goals. The new focus with federal funding was with the educational objective and funding requests for technology or other programs were to be evaluated in terms of how they support student learning. The 2004 NETP encouraged “innovative budgeting” including possible reallocations in expenditures on textbooks, instructional supplies, space and computer labs.

     The question of whether American education has moved toward a new golden age and realized the full power of technology over the next six years was addressed by the director of the Office of Educational Technology, Karen Gator in her plenary session remarks at the Education World Forum (January 11, 2011):

Until now, America’s education sector has failed to use the full power of technology, but we are poised to vastly improve the access to learning opportunities and the ability to achieve by harnessing existing and emerging technologies and investing in bold new research and development efforts. In short, we are working towards the transition from a predominantly print-based classroom to a digital learning environment in order to improve the chances that we will in fact get many more learners over a much higher bar.

The use of technology to improve student achievement has yet to reach expectations, but progress has been made and the 2010 NETP goes beyond recommending increased technology use, but also encourages educators to rethink basic assumptions about education. 

National Education Technology Plan – 2010

     The 2010 NETP, Transforming American education: Learning Powered by Technology (U.S. Department of Education) calls for “revolutionary transformation rather than evolutionary tinkering” leveraging technology “to provide engaging and powerful learning experiences, content, and resources and assessments that measure student achievement in more complete, authentic, and meaningful ways.”  According to the U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, the purpose of the NETP is to “dramatically improve teaching and learning, personalize instruction and ensure that the educational environments we offer to all students keep pace with the 21st century.”  The plan encourages educators to adopt a 21st century model of learning powered by technology focusing on five essential areas: learning, assessment, teaching, infrastructure, and productivity.

     As was the case in the 2004 NETP, the 2010 plan was tailored to address the needs of today’s students who have grown up with technology and for whom technology is central to their environment:

Many students’ lives today are filled with technology that gives them mobile access to information and resources 24/7, enables them to create multimedia content and share it with the world, and allows them to participate in online social networks where people from all over the world share ideas, collaborate, and learn new things. (p. 4)

Given the rich technological experiences of today’s students, learning must be more engaging and, more importantly, learning resources are available “on demand.” The authors of the plan explain that the “challenge for our education system is to leverage the learning sciences and modern technology to create engaging, relevant, and personalized learning experiences for all learners that mirror students’ daily lives and the reality of their futures.”

     The plan recommends that students be empowered to take control of their own learning and that at the core of this learning are the competencies necessary for success in the 21st century: critical thinking, complex problem solving, collaboration, and multimedia communication.  Moreover, students need to use real-world tools used by professionals. To become “more productive members of a globally competitive workforce,” students require learning opportunities that feature the use of such tools as wikis and blogs to facilitate communication and collaboration. To develop 21st century expertise, students must be able to tackle real-world problems using digital content for research, design tools, and inquiry and visualization tools. To ensure student learning and attainment of competencies, a comprehensive assessment process is an essential component.

     A driving theme of the 2010 NETP is the need for student learning and the attainment of 21st century competencies utilizing technology-based assessments to facilitate and streamline that process.  In the discussion about the role of assessment and learning, the authors report:

Technology-based assessments that combine cognitive research and theory about how students think with multimedia, interactivity, and connectivity make it possible to directly assess these types of skills. And we can do so within the context of relevant societal issues and problems that people care about in everyday life. (p. 5)

The plan outlines an assessment process that systematically collects student learning data to improve learning outcomes and productivity. Also recommended is the need for training and tool support for educators so they can manage the assessment process, analyze data, and take appropriate action. Recognizing the integral role of the teacher in student mastery of 21st century competencies, the 2010 NETP proposes a shift from a traditional teaching model to a model of connected teaching.

     The model of 21st century learning advocated in the plan requires a shift in the role of teachers requiring that they be part of a teaching team “fully connected to learning data and tools for using the data; to content, resources, and systems that empower them to create, manage, and assess engaging and relevant learning experiences; and directly to their students in support of learning both inside and outside school (p. 6).”  No longer isolated, sole practitioners, teachers must be connected to students, fellow educators, professional experts, parents and community members through online learning communities.

     Professional development would be replaced by “professional learning that is collaborative, coherent, and continuous and that blends more effective in-person courses and workshops with the expanded opportunities, immediacy, and convenience enabled by online environments full of resources and opportunities for collaboration (p. 6).” For this teaching model to be effective, classrooms must be fully connected to provide 24/7 access to data and analytic tools as well as to resources that help teachers to act on the information the data provide. With the emphasis on the online environment, the plan recommends that more teachers become expert at providing online instruction. Moreover, the plan authors acknowledge that the connected teaching model cannot be achieved without a comprehensive infrastructure.

     Although the 2010 NETP identifies the need for a comprehensive infrastructure to support 21st century learning, the authors acknowledge the building an infrastructure that “provides every student, educator, and level of our education system with the resources they need when and where they are needed” is a “far-reaching project that will demand concerted and coordinated effort.” They provide a clear statement of the components that make up infrastructure:

The underlying principle is that infrastructure includes people, processes, learning resources, policies, and sustainable models for continuous improvement in addition to broadband connectivity, servers, software, management systems, and administration tools.

On an operational level, the infrastructure involves accessing data from multiple sources integrating everything from computer hardware and interoperable software to information resources and middleware services and tools.  On an instructional/learning level, infrastructure is necessary to ensure that learning is always on, available to students, educators, and administrators regardless of their location or the time of day. By supporting access to information as well access to people and participation in online learning communities, an infrastructure for learning “unleashes new ways of capturing and sharing knowledge based on multimedia that integrate text, still and moving images, audio, and applications that run on a variety of devices.” The “always on” access “enables seamless integration of in- and out-of-school learning.”  With the capabilities empowered through technology, the authors of the 2010 NETP encourage educators to rethink the basic assumptions about education and schooling.

     The final essential component listed in the 2010 NETP is perhaps the most crucial to the overall goal of the plan to “transform American Education.” As in prior national education technology plans, the authors encouraged educators to look to practices in the private sector that improve efficiency and manage costs. The current tight economic climate was also cited as a motivation for educators to consider ways for using technology to improve productivity. Educators are encouraged to examine traditional assumptions that students be organized in age-determined groups in classes of approximately the same size and to question the assumption that time-based or “seat-time” is a measure of educational attainment. Given the competencies required for success in the 21st century, the need to separate academic disciplines was also listed as a traditional assumption educators need to review. 

     As far as funding for technology, the plan calls for the establishment of the National Center for Research in Advanced Information and Digital Technologies (also called the Digital Promise) to be housed in the Department of Education. The goal of this organization is to use contributions from the public and private sectors to support technology research and development.  The center would address “grand challenge problems in education research and development” involving a community of scientists and researchers to work toward their solution.

Implications for Education
     The national education technology plans have definitely had an impact on American education with the greatest impact resulting from the first NETP (1996). Although fifteen years later, the goals of the plan appear so very basic, it was instrumental in bringing technology to the forefront of the American public. The funding provided the impetus for states, universities, school districts and communities to be proactive in their efforts to enhance teaching and learning with technology. The 1996 financial boost prompted the development of technology use plans, teacher technology training, and hardware and software purchases. Although the educational community had advocated technology integration for teaching and learning for years, there had not been a national mandate for technology in education nor had there been funding at such a high level.

     Subsequent plans greatly expanded the original goal of “technological literacy” and expectations grew parallel to the growth of technology innovations and developments with an increased need for new 21st-century literacy” skills . The tone and message of the 2000 plan was one of optimism citing the gains made by all the states largely due to technology funding. The 2000 plan moved on the premise that technology was now in place and the role at the national level was to provide assistance and resources for successful integration.

     By 2004, the achievement gains expected through the use of technology had not been realized and with the passing of the No Child Left Behind legislation, the NETP focused on ensuring that technology was being used effectively. The Office of Educational Technology solicited input from many stakeholders including the students themselves.  The general consensus was that technology was not being used to its fullest and that many schools were doing business as usual – without infusing technology. The 2004 plan called on “tech-savvy” leadership within the schools and teacher technology training.

     The driving force behind the most recent NETP is the need to transform American education. This plan is farsighted in its goal to establish a 21st century model of learning, and on the instructional side to shift to a model of “connected” teaching. The plan reflects the current uses of technology as 24/7 and proclaims the possibilities it affords educators and learners to redesign education and rethink basic assumptions. It is the latest in a series of national plans that help set the vision for technology in education and provide recommendations for learning powered by technology.


Cator, Karen. “Education for Economic Success," Education World Forum 2011. London, England.  January 11, 2011.

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Technology (1996). Getting America’s Students Ready for the 21st Century: Meeting the Technology Literacy Challenge. Available at:

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Technology (2000). The Progress Report on Educational Technology: State-by-State Profiles. Available at:

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Technology (2000). e-Learning--Putting a World-Class Education at the Fingertips of All Children. Available at:

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Technology (2004). Toward A New Golden Age In American Education: How the Internet, the Law and Today’s Students Are Revolutionizing Expectations. Available at:

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Technology (2010). Transforming American education: Learning Powered by Technology. Available at:

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