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Q&A: Richard Culatta Aims to Use Government Experience as New ISTE CEO

Former Department of Education official brings innovation experience to the job.

After serving as the director of the Education Department’s Office of Education Technology and Rhode Island’s chief innovation officer, Richard Culatta knows a thing or two about leveraging cutting-edge technology and thinking outside the box to solve problems.

He’ll bring that experience to his new position as the CEO of ISTE. EdTech talked with Culatta about his new role and what he thinks will be the biggest challenges in education technology in the years to come.

EDTECH: How will you plan to leverage your past experience in this new role?

CULATTA: One of the things that I learned at the federal level and when I was working in the state of Rhode Island was the power of taking tough problems and opening them up for the community to help solve.

I think that’s a really powerful lesson. We were able to do stuff that we would have never been able to do if it was just my team sitting around coming up with solutions. We were able to tap into much deeper expertise. I think that will work very nicely in a large member organization like ISTE. We can leverage the members and really work together to do some powerful things.

EDTECH: What do you see on the horizon for education technology?

CULATTA: I think it is really about how we can bring technology to help address important issues in education. It’s even less about the kind of ed tech and more about using technology as a tool to look at things like closing the equity gap, creating next-generation assessments and teacher preparation.

EDTECH: Do you think equity issues will continue over the next few years?

CULATTA: Anytime we think that we can simply solve issues of equity, we’re taking our eyes off of what’s right. We need to be continually looking at it. But, I do believe that technology is a very powerful tool when it comes to closing equity gaps.

I think there are ways we can use technology to bring expertise into areas where it may not exist. We can use it to bring high-quality resources to places that might not be able to afford them.

EDTECH: The Obama administration played a big role in striving toward accessible computer science education. Do you think these initiatives will suffer without some backing from the White House?

CULATTA: They will suffer if organizations don’t step up and help to provide the support and energy to bring computer science more broadly to schools. When I left the Obama administration and went to Rhode Island, we were the last state in the country when it came to providing computer science in high schools.

We launched a program called CS4RI, and we are on track to be the first state in the country to have computer science in every school. With that program, all of a sudden computer science isn’t just for kids who can afford to go to private schools, but it’s for everyone. We should be creating more problem-solvers, because we need them from all parts of a country.

I think if we want to keep that going, organizations like ISTE are really going to have to come to the table hard to make sure that it’s happening, and that’s something we intend to do.

EDTECH: While working in Rhode Island’s Office of Innovation, you worked with all kinds of departments, not just education. How are you going to leverage that at ISTE?

CULATTA: One of my favorite things to do is take lessons learned from other industries and see what we can learn from them in education. There are a lot of lessons we can learn from the healthcare industry, for example. They are so much further ahead of education in using data to measure effectiveness. That process of using data to make good choices is something we can use in education.

Apr 17 2017