Emerging Technology
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A National Training Program for AI-Ready Students

06.27.24 | 7 min read | Text by Zarek Drozda

In crafting future legislation on artificial intelligence (AI), Congress should introduce a Digital Frontier and AI Readiness Act of 2025 to create educator training sites in emerging technology to ensure our students can graduate AI-ready. Computing, data, and AI basics will be critical for every student, yet our education system does not have the capacity to impart them. A national mobilization for the education workforce would ensure U.S. leadership in the global AI talent race, address mounting challenges in teacher shortages and retention, and fill critical workforce preparedness gaps not addressed by the CHIPS and Science Act. The legislation would include three components: (1) a prestigious national fellowship program for classroom educators with extended summer pay; (2) an evidence-based national network of training sites for peer-based learning; and (3) a modernization competition for teacher college programs to sustain long-term improvement in our education workforce. 

Investing in effective educators has a significant impact: one high-quality teacher can significantly boost lifetime incomes, degree attainment, and other life satisfaction measures for many classrooms of students. These programs would be facilitated through the National Science Foundation (NSF), including through simplified application procedures, expanded eligibility, and evaluation approaches.

Challenge and Opportunity 

If AI is positioned to dramatically transform our economy, from the production line to the c-suite, then everyone must be prepared to leverage its power. AI alone may add between an estimated $2.6 trillion to $4.4 trillion annually to the global economy and may automate between 60% to 70% of task-time within existing jobs, rather than full replacement. Earlier studies estimated that emerging technologies will increase the technology intensity of existing careers across all sectors. A report by the Burning Glass Institute found that 22% of all current open jobs in the U.S. economy include at least one “data science skill,” with the highest share of data-skill job postings in utilities, manufacturing, and agriculture. Not every worker will build the next AI algorithm or become a data scientist, but nearly every American will need to leverage data and AI to maintain a competitive edge in their sector or risk losing entire industries to other countries who do the same. This unprecedented economic growth will only be captured by the countries whose workers are prepared in data and AI basics. 

U.S. educators are mostly unsupported to teach students about AI and other emerging technologies. An analysis of math educators nationally found that teachers are least confident to teach about data and statistics, as well as technology integration, compared to other content categories. Computer science was the least popular credential for K-12 educators to pursue as recently as the 2018–2019 school year. These challenges translate to student opportunities and outcomes. As of 2023, only 5.8% of our high school  students are enrolled in foundational computer science courses. Introductory basics in data or AI are typically not covered even if they exist in some state standards. Nationally, students’ foundational data literacy has declined between one and three grade levels steadily over the past decade, varying disproportionately by race and geography, with losses only accelerated by the pandemic.

Moreover, our teacher workforce capacity is declining. Teacher entry, preparation, and retention rates remain at historical lows across the country and have not meaningfully recovered since the pandemic. Over the past decade, the number of individuals completing a teacher preparation program has fallen 25%, with only modest recovery since the pandemic, shortages of at least 55,000 unfilled positions this year, and long-term forecasts reaching at least 100,000 shortages annually. Factors including low pay, low prestige, and difficult environments create a perception challenge for the profession: less than 1 in 5 Americans would encourage a young person to become a teacher. These challenges compound over time, as more graduate schools of education close or cut their programming. In 2022, Harvard discontinued its Undergraduate Teacher Program completely, citing low interest and enrollment numbers, one among many.

What if the concurrent challenges of digital upskilling and teacher shortages could help solve one another? The teaching profession is facing a perception problem just as AI has made education more important than ever before. In the global information age, U.S. worker skills and talent are our greatest weapons. The expectations of teachers and teaching must change. Major U.S. economic peers, including Canada, Germany, China, India, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, have all announced similar national efforts to make robust investments in teacher upskilling in high-value technology areas. In our new AI era, U.S. policymakers now have the opportunity to develop the infrastructure, 21st-century training, and prestigious social recognition to properly value education as an economic and national security priority. A recent report from Goldman Sachs identified “a narrow window of opportunity – what we call the inter-AI years,” in which policymaker “decisions made today will determine what is possible in the future. A generative world order will emerge.” Inaction today risks the United States falling quickly behind tomorrow.

Teacher preparation program enrollment by program and year, 2010–2018 via CAP, 2019

Plan of Action 

A Digital Frontier Teaching Corps (DFT Corps) would mobilize a new generation of teachers who are fluent in, adaptive to, and resilient to fast-changing technology, equipped to help our students become the same. The DFT Corps would re-norm the job of teaching to become a full-year profession, making the summer months an essential part of the job of adaptive 21st-century teaching with regular training intensives. Currently, educators only work and are paid for nine months of the year. 

Upon acceptance by application, selected teachers would enter a three-year fellowship program to participate in training intensives facilitated at local institutes of higher education, nonprofits, educational service agencies, or industry partners. Scholarships facilitated through the National Science Foundation would extend educator pay and hours from nine months to a full annualized salary. DFT Corps members would also be eligible for substantial federal loan forgiveness in return for their additional time investment. 

After three rotations, members would become eligible to serve as DFT Corps site leaders, responsible for program design at new or existing training sites. These opportunities would lend greater compensation, prestige, and retention through leadership opportunities, concurrently addressing systemic talent challenges in education at their root and creating an adaptive mechanism for faster upskilling. Additional program components, including licensure incentives and teacher college innovation grants, would further sustain long-term impacts. By year three of the program, 50,000 educators would be on the path to preparing our students for the future of work, 500 inaugural Corps members would become state or local site leaders to expand the mobilization, and the perception of teaching would further shift from childcare to a critical and respected national service. 

To accomplish this vision, Congress should authorize the National Science Foundation to create: 

1. A national Digital Frontier Teaching Corps, a three-year “talent surge” fellowship opportunity covering summertime pay for high-potential educators to conduct intensive study in AI, data science, and computing foundations. The DFT Corps would be a prestigious and materially meaningful program to both impart digital technical skills and transform the social perception of the teaching profession. The DFT Corps would include:

2. DFT Corps training sites, a national network of university-based, locally led professional development sites in collaboration with local education agencies, based on the evidence-based model of the National Writing Project. Competitive five-year grants would support the creation of Corps sites, one per state, with the opportunity for renewal. DFT Corps training sites would:

3. Teacher College Innovation Grants, a competitive NSF grant program for modernizing teacher preparation programs and teacher licensure models. Teacher College Innovation Grants would provide research funding and capacity to evaluate DFT Corps training sites and ensure lessons learned are quickly integrated back into teacher preparation programs. Competitive priorities would be made for:

YearNumber of teachers in-training via DFTNumber of Corps sitesNumber of teacher site leaders
15005 states
2100010 states
3200020 states
4350035 states35
5500050 states50

The DFT Corps program is intended to be catalytic. Should the program find success in early scaling, state and local funding could support further adoption of the model over time, so that teaching transforms to an annualized profession across subject areas and grade-levels. 


In the new era of AI, education is a national security issue. Advancing our population’s ability to effectively deploy AI and other emerging technology will uniquely determine U.S. leadership and economic competitiveness in the coming years and decades. Education investments made by states within the next few years will all but determine local long-term economic trajectories. 

In the 1950s and 1960s, education and competitiveness were one and the same. One year after the Soviets launched Sputnik, Congress took action and passed the National Defense Education Act, a $1 billion spending package to advance teaching and learning in science, mathematics, and foreign languages. At one time, we respected teachers as critical to the national mission, leading the charge to prepare our next generation to lead, and we took swift action to support their mission. We must take the same bold action now.

This idea is part of our AI Legislation Policy Sprint. To see all of the policy ideas spanning innovation, education, healthcare, and trust, safety, and privacy, head to our sprint landing page.

Frequently Asked Questions
Why is federal legislation needed to enact this program?

The scale of this national challenge requires meaningful appropriations to raise teacher pay, ensure high-quality training opportunities with sufficient expertise, and sustain a long-term strategy to address deeply-rooted sector challenges. A short-term, one-shot approach will simply waste money and generate minimal impact.

Moreover, the program’s creation necessitates a significant simplification of National Science Foundation application processes to reduce grant application length, burden, and paperwork. It also creates a targeted exception for the NSF to support broader nonresearch activities that are otherwise sector-critical for national scientific and educational endeavors. If enacted, this legislation could help reduce overhead for program administration and redirect more resources to supporting quality state and local implementation vs. program compliance.

How much will this program cost?

Once scaled to all 50 states, the recurring annual costs of the proposed legislation would be $250 million:

  • $150 million for DFT Corps member scholarships (5,000 teachers per year)

  • $50 million for DFT Corps training sites (one site per state at $1 million each)

  • $50 million for Teacher College Innovation Grants (one site per state at $1 million each)

In the first five years, the cost would slowly increase to the total amount, starting at a base $25 million for five states ($15 million for 500 scholarships, $5 million for training sites, $5 million for Innovation grants).

What return on investment should the federal government expect from this program?

Creating an AI-ready workforce is a critical national priority to maintain U.S. economic competitiveness, mitigate risk of AI primacy, and ensure our citizenry can successfully navigate a complex technology landscape they will graduate into. McKinsey projects that successful integration of AI across more than 63 business use cases would add between $13.6 trillion and $22.1 trillion to the global economy. A recent National Institutes of Health analysis suggests that, for any country to successfully specialize in AI, there must be general preexisting technological capabilities and a strong scientific knowledge base. AI-readiness must be a population-wide goal. Given that 60% of Americans do not complete a bachelor’s degree, AI readiness must begin early in K-12 education and in community colleges.

Estimated return on investment: $250 million represents less than 1.5% of the Every Student Succeeds Act’s last annual appropriation level in 2020, the nation’s primary national education funding mechanism. If this legislation increases the share of economic growth forecasted by effectively harnessing AI by only five percent, we would conservatively add $171 billion to the U.S. economy each year.

Why is three years the right amount of time for the DFT Corps?

The majority of educator training programs are too short, only given during the busy school year, and do not have the opportunity to improve over multiple years within a given school. Early iterations of the National Writing Project, on which this program is based, determined that “although schools may see results from C3WP in a single school year, a longer-term investment may produce a greater impact.” Even if sustained during a school year, researchers have found that “absent a surrounding context that is highly supportive of teacher learning and change, 1 year of PD cannot sufficiently alter instructional practices enough to impact student outcomes.” While earlier evaluation studies saw no impact on student achievement, the National Writing Project is now one of the most lauded and effective educator training models trialed in the United States, made possible by a long-term and consistent investment in professional learning.

A three-year program will allow educators to advance from novice (year 1) to intermediate (year 2) to mentor or facilitator (year 3).By year 4, graduating educators would be prepared to serve as site leaders, dramatically increasing the available talent pool for sustaining and growing DFT Corps sites nationally. Additional time will also enable a local site to improve its own programming and align tightly with multi-year school and district planning.

How is the DFT Corps different from other federal education programs?

The DFT Corps is an accelerated investment in the creation of locally led professional development sites, uniquely designed with (1) direct support for current classroom educators to participate; (2) a replicated network model for summer-based, in-service training; and (3) innovation grants to research aligned training improvements and best practices. No current federal program does all three at once for current classroom educators.

Existing teacher training grant programs, such as the Teacher Quality Partnerships or Supporting Effective Educator Development carry strong evidence requirements or incompatible competitive preferences. Given AI is new and little research exists on effective teaching practices, these requirements serve to significantly limit proposals on emerging topics. Grants also vary widely by institution.

Existing educator scholarship programs, such as the Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program, focus mostly on recruitment of new teachers, and only provide small support for existing teachers pursuing or having previously obtained a master’s degree. 40% of U.S. teachers do not have a master’s degree. A targeted national focus on AI readiness would also require several higher-education institutions across states to organically propose training programs to the Noyce program at the same time, with the same model.

How would the proposed legislation simplify application burden and enable the NSF to administer the program?

AI technology development is moving faster than the education sector can respond. In order to accelerate site creation, reduce application burden, and modernize grant distribution, the DFT Corps program would direct the NSF to:

  • Allow nonresearch activities to be funded under the program, including educator salary support

  • Remove and centralize all program evaluation requirements away from individual grantees, reallocating evaluation activities to external researchers across sites

  • Centrally manage disbursement of DFT salary supplements, potentially via tax credits

  • Modernize required data management plan requirements for present-day technology

  • Limit total grant application length to 10 pages or less. In other fields, NSF grant applications take investigators over 171 hours to prepare, despite little relation between time invested and actual funding outcomes in some cases. Another study found that 42% of investigators time is spent on administrative and reporting tasks to support the execution of an NSF grant.

Is there an executive action version of this proposal?

Yes, with appropriations. Under new 2023 guidance, the Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program has expanded salary supplement options and enabled two-summer support. An executive action version of this proposal would expand the Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship program via (1) increasing support for Track 3 with lower degree requirements (i.e. Bachelors instead of Masters); (2) stipulating a competitive priority for AI readiness and emerging technology education (defined as: computer science, computational thinking, data science, artificial intelligence literacy across the curriculum); and (3) direct the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy to launch a multi-agency, public-facing communications and recruitment effort for the DFT Corps program, in collaboration with the 50 largest teacher colleges and other participating Noyce program institutions.

What evidence exists for the proposed training model?

The proposed DFT Corps mirrors a long-running evidence-based model, the National Writing Project (NWP), which has trained over 95,000 teachers in high-quality writing instruction across 2,000 school districts since 1974. Three independent evaluation studies over multiple years across 20 states found “positive and statistically significant effects on student achievement” across all measured components of writing. The evidence base supporting NWP is “unusually robust” for education research, employing randomized-controlled trials and meeting ESSA Tier 1 evidence criteria. A recent replication study in 2023 focusing on rural schools found positive results on “on all attributes measured,” a similar priority for the proposed DFT Corps program.

With fast-changing technology, what will guarantee the quality and responsiveness of professional training?
DFT Corps sites would directly involve researchers in computer science, data science, artificial intelligence, or other technology-focused departments, in collaboration with schools of education, which otherwise rarely collaborate. DFT Corps programs would also include eligibility to fund industry advisors to aid design and updates to training curriculum. External evaluations from cross-state research teams would support content reviews and reduce administrative burden for otherwise duplicated in-house evaluation work.
What mechanisms will ensure retention for DFT Corps members beyond the three-year training period?

Similar to the Robert Noyce Scholarship program, the DFT Corps program would waive tuition costs and provide scholarship funds in exchange for a multi-year teaching commitment. Each year’s participation in the program would extend an educator’s teaching commitment by two additional years. A 2013 evaluation of the Noyce program found this model worked, with longer retention rates compared to new teachers graduating from the same institutions.

How will the DFT Corps address root causes of talent shortages in education?

Recodes a nine-month profession to annual pay, and annual expectations: A primary change advanced by the DFT Corps is converting the typical teacher job from a nine-month term to an annual salary, similar to lawyers, doctors, and other high-prestige professions. In a recent RAND report on why teachers wanted to leave the profession, salary was the #2 reason, hours worked outside the school day the #3, and total hours worked was the #4. Teachers are promised a flexible and part-year job on paper, when the reality is very different. Nine-month pay challenges are so extreme that several U.S. banks host articles on “surviving the summer paycheck gap.” Many teachers take second (non-academic) jobs. And the popular #NoSummersOff hashtag gained a significant following amongst educators pre-pandemic. Concurrently, the rate of technology and curriculum changes demand more professional learning time than is typically given by schools and districts. Summer professional learning is often optional and highly variable across states. Our expectations are far too low for one of our most critical knowledge jobs. DFT Corps members would be paid during the summer for intensive study to update curriculum, plan content, and incorporate new education research on how students learn. Full-time summer work would remove pressure for administrators to “squeeze in” short, one-day professional development sessions during the school year, which study after study has demonstrated are a waste of time and money. Many current classroom educators to the former U.S. Secretary of Education continue to question these existing PD approaches. 

Creates a leadership ladder: Leadership opportunities for classroom educators are few and far between. Teaching is often described as a “flat” profession, and nearly half of educators leaving the field point to a perceived lack of leadership or decision-making opportunities as contributing factors. Concurrently, new teachers who have the opportunity to collaborate with teacher-leaders within their own school generate stronger academic gains for their students. The DFT Corps would create state-wide leadership opportunities at Corps summer sites that do not disrupt school-year teaching, allowing educators to remain in the classroom during the other nine months of the year but still access visible leadership and mentor roles during the summer.

Leverages peer-based learning: Beyond the opportunity to positively impact students and student learning, 63% of educators report that strong relationships with other teachers are a top reason for staying in the classroom. The DFT Corps would leverage peer-based professional development over multiple years, reallocating the summer months to joint study and creating stronger educator networks statewide. One of the DFT Corp’s precedent peer-based models, the National Writing Project, “has a legacy as being the best professional development model for K-12 teachers” precisely due to a targeted focus on peer exchange. In post-training interviews, researchers found that educators “immediately changed several of their teaching practices and felt a renewed sense of enthusiasm towards the teaching of writing after participating in the NWP… a renewed sense of authority that quickly transferred to agency, these teachers possessed the self-efficacy to share what they knew and had learned with other teachers, administrators, district leaders, fellow graduate students, and most importantly, the students who would enter their classrooms in the fall.” 

Builds needed prestige for the profession: The DFT Corps program forwards a reinvigorated national prioritization of the education field. In the information economy, educators are one of our most critical professions, and a greater determinant of gross domestic product than any individual semiconductor or algorithm. Under a DFT Corps communications rollout, teaching would be separated from any prior stereotypes of “caretakers,” positioned instead as essential to the economic, technology, and security fabric that advance societal progress. Research consistently suggests that low prestige of the profession pushes high-achievers away from teaching, is closely correlated with both falling preparation and retention, and may even directly affect student achievement. In China, where educators have long enjoyed high prestige for their profession, researchers found that an expansion of the country’s Free Teacher Education program helped to increase application competitiveness, extend retention rates, and enhance self-identity for program participants in a pre-publication evaluation study. In a 2018 “Global Teacher Status Index,” China was the only country to score 100 while the United States scored under 40 points. The United States is falling behind in our education culture, and we have little time to make up for lost ground.

How does this proposal relate to the Cantwell-Moran NSF AI Education Act of 2024?
This proposal builds upon and suggests specifications for multiple sections of the NSF AI Education Act, introduced by Senators Cantwell and Moran, with additional detail and focus on the teacher workforce. Specifically, this proposal provides suggested priority areas, research goals, and expanded eligibility for K-12 education grants stipulated in Section 10 (“Award Program for Research on AI in Education”); stipulates an alternative mechanism, implementation plan, and authorization amount for Section 11 (“National Science Foundation National STEM Teacher Corps”), with critical directives to NSF to enable program administration and reduction of application burden; and modifies Section 8 (“NSF Outreach Campaign”) to include public mobilization of the educator workforce.

The long-term vision for this proposal also extends beyond the NSF AI Education Act and suggests a new mechanism for federal education support in the Every Student Succeeds Act.