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School Links to Electronic 'Superhighway' Proposed

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WASHINGTON--The Clinton Administration is proposing that the federal government establish a grant program to help school districts purchase the necessary equipment to access a proposed telecommunications "superhighway'' that would open vast electronic storehouses of information to students.

In "Technology for America's Economic Growth, A New Direction to Economic Strength,'' a policy statement released last week, President Clinton and Vice President Gore assert that government should take an active role in assisting in the emergence of new technologies.

"We must aim directly at these new challenges . . . recognizing that government can play a key role in helping private firms develop and profit from innovations,'' they write.

Although the paper outlines proposals in a wide variety of science and technology policy areas, several of its recommendations for developing a national telecommunications network would have a direct effect on K-12 education. They include:

  • Providing matching grants to states and school districts through the Commerce Department's national telecommunications and information administration to purchase the computers and other equipment needed to use such networks as the Internet, a vast, global "network of networks'' that only a handful of districts now use. (See Education Week, Jan. 13, 1993.)
  • Broadening access at the K-12 and collegiate levels to both the Internet and its planned successor, the high-speed National Research and Educational Network.
  • Appointing an interagency federal task force to adopt software and communications standards for education and training.

Report Urges 'Equity'

Critics of such proposals say they amount to an "industrial policy'' approach under which the government chooses the nation's technological "winners and losers.'' They argue that such intervention actually may hamper progress by undermining market forces.

Many of the proposals contained in the Administration's statement already are included in a measure, S 4, that was introduced in early January by Senate Democrats, including Ernest F. Hollings of South Carolina and Bob Kerrey of Nebraska.

Senator Kerrey has been raising many of the same themes at recent meetings, incuding a conference for potential investors in educational technology companies held in January in New York City. (See Education Week, Feb. 3, 1992.)

Also last week, the Alliance for Public Technology--an umbrella organization whose members include the National Education Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers--released a report calling for "equity in access'' among the nation's schools to any new national telecommunications network.

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