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Report Sets 'Technological Literacy' as Key Goal

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American education needs to focus on "technological literacy," says a long-awaited and often-delayed federal report.

The Department of Education report, released here late last month, includes a framework for how states and school districts can achieve such a goal with limited federal involvement.

The report publicizes President Clinton's proposal to give federal challenge grants to states and local communities to apply technology to teaching and learning. But it also takes pains to clarify the federal role as that of a catalyst for state and local efforts, not as the chief planner or financier.

"I think we're much more realistic now than we were five years ago," said Linda G. Roberts, the head of the department's office of educational technology. "It's very clear that what people want from us is vision and leadership and a set of goals that people agree on."

She directed the two-year process to create the report that included seven regional forums and the participation of more than 1,000 parents, teachers, students, business leaders, technology experts, and researchers.

Four goals--or steppingstones to technology literacy--that have circulated among educators in various versions for more than a year make their official debut in the report. But because the process of drafting the report has been so inclusive, and its preliminary findings presented at so many conferences, the goals already seem part of the current wisdom on educational technology:

  • Teachers will have the training and support they need to help students learn using computers and the information highway.

* Teachers and students will have modern multimedia computers in their classrooms.

* Every classroom will be connected to the information highway.

* Effective software and on-line resources will be an integral part of every school's curriculum.

Figuring the Costs

According to the report, communities that are making "massive investments" in technology infrastructure, software, and training for education have achieved positive results.

But such an investment will be expensive: The report estimates that the cost of providing up-to-date technology and training for classrooms ranges from $10 billion to $12 billion a year over five years, more than triple the current spending.

Compared with the $300 billion the nation spends on K-12 education, "$10 billion is not very much," said Frank Withrow, the director of learning technologies at the Washington-based Council of Chief State School Officers. Mr. Withrow suggested that schools redirect money from other activities, such as field trips. For example, he said, California students could explore the Smithsonian Institution in Washington via the Internet.

Currently, however, just 4 percent of schools have enough computers for students to use regularly, or one computer for every five students, the report says. Only 9 percent of classrooms have connections to the global Internet computer network.

At the same time, technical advances have made high-performance information technologies and educational software more accessible and affordable than ever before, the report says.

Business Involvement

The report was unveiled at an organizing meeting for NetDay96, a collaborative effort spearheaded by corporations to extend Internet access to individual schools. Organizers said some state governments or other organizations in 37 states plan to participate in one of the four NetDay96 workdays in October.

The release coincided with calls by Vice President Al Gore, Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley, and a number of congressional representatives that schools should receive a basic package of Internet services at a free or low-cost education rate, or "E-rate." Their comments were directed at the Federal Communications Commission, which this fall will make crucial regulatory decisions on telecommunication services to implement the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

Cheryl Williams, the director of technology programs for the National School Boards Association in Alexandria, Va., said that along with support from the FCC, she hopes for help from businesses and schools at the local level.

Private efforts, such as NetDay96, Ms. Williams said, are nice ideas but tend to succeed "in communities that are economically dynamic; in communities that are not dynamic, that's another story."

"By moving away from federal funding," Ms. Williams said, "we're moving away from the federal guarantee of equity of education."

In Maryland, Ray Feldman, a spokesman for Gov. Parris N. Glendening, said the state has turned to an aggressive plan to wire its 1,200 schools--a proposal the governor is pushing. "We are not looking at a federal funding role, but we are looking at a business role, and we have had significant private-sector dollars," Mr. Feldman said.

Mr. Withrow of the state chiefs' council praised the report, but he expressed some anxiety about the current federal role.

"It would be horrible if the kids in Texas had a rollout that gave them the silver slipper, and kids in smaller, different states were given tennis shoes," Mr. Withrow said.

However, Ms. Roberts said the department will watch the equity issue closely. "We'll continue to ask the hard questions and continue to learn and track what we're doing and to do so forever."

For More Information:

Single copies of the report are available from the U.S. Department of Education at (800) USA-LEARN. The full report also will be available on-line at the department's site on the World Wide Web:

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