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Define Telecommunications Agenda for Schools, E.D. Urged

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The Education Department should define a national agenda that makes explicit the educational benefits of telecommunications for state and local authorities as they begin to connect schools to the "information highway,'' a report released last week by the National Academy of Sciences urges.

Although a few states and schools already use computer networks to enable teachers to send electronic mail and students to search national data bases, the report notes that "limited use of the current network infrastructure by the K-12 and other education communities indicates a need for more effective governmental leadership.''

There is "no specific locus of responsibility and accountability for infrastructure development and use'' of educational telecommunications, the report argues.

The report, titled "Realizing the Information Future,'' was released by the National Research Council, the academy's policy arm, at a news conference here.

'Open Architecture'

The report was made public at the same time that Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley was encouraging a Senate committee to develop a national telecommunications-rate structure that would provide schools with free access to advanced computer networks. (See story, this page.)

The National Science Foundation commissioned the research council's report. The foundation operates the, the backbone of the global Internet computer network, which the report cites as a model for the development of the information highway.

The N.R.C.'s 15-member Committee on National Research and Education Network Issues produced the report.

The report says the myriad telecommunications networks known collectively as the information highway are best developed by the private sector. But, it argues, the federal government should insure that individual systems are based on a single "open architecture,'' similar to the present telephone system, that allows users nationwide, standard, uncomplicated, and ubiquitous access.

"The government cannot build the [networks] or dictate the architecture ... but it can guide the development of a framework and of standards that will foster common interests and approaches among the many companies and institutions that will build the highway,'' said Leonard Kleinrock, the chairman of the committee.

Collaborative Alliances Urged

The 285-page report devotes roughly a dozen pages specifically to a discussion of networking issues in precollegiate education. Currently, it notes, "the majority of K-12 educational institutions are ill-equipped to participate in an information society.''

But Connie D. Stout, the director of the rapidly growing Texas Education Network and a member of the committee that drafted the report, said important general concerns raised in the report about network security and confidentiality must also be addressed by educators as state and local education agencies begin to experiment with telecommunications.

She also noted that the sections of the report dealing with K-12 issues reflect extensive discussions with a cross section of educators in the field.

The report contains four specific recommendations to help shape the Education Department's technology agenda.

In addition to calling on the department to define a national agenda for educational telecommunications, the report urges the department to:

  • Form collaborative alliances with the N.S.F. and other research agencies to develop the technical competence to advise educators on how best to harness advanced telecommunications networks.

The report also notes, however, that "in the long term, [the department] should acquire internal technical expertise at a ... senior level.''

  • "Set an aggressive agenda for research on telecomputing technology in education.''
  • Continue, and possibly expand, federal aid through matching grants to spur grassroots deployment of networks in the schools.

Copies of the report, which are expected to be available in mid-June, may be ordered by calling the National Academy Press at (800) 624-6242. The price has been tentatively set at $24.95.

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