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NetDay Switching Its Emphasis To Needs of Poorest Communities

NetDay, the California-based group that sparked a nationwide movement to connect classrooms to the Internet, has redirected much of its focus toward providing broad technology assistance to schools in some of the nation's poorest communities.

NetDay will still promote its trademark "electronic barn-raising" events, which are now mostly run by states, local NetDay chapters, and school districts. The most recent national NetDay was April 8.

But now that most U.S. schools have gotten wired—more than 95 percent of schools and 65 percent of classrooms now have Internet connections—the organization has decided to concentrate on the neediest areas.

"A decision was made last year: 'Why don't we at NetDay take a deeper view? Rather than playing at the high level of focusing on infrastructure and access issues, let's focus on specific communities,' " said Julie Evans, the chief executive officer of NetDay.

The national group will now dedicate a majority of its resources to addressing the broader challenges schools face in using technology in instruction—especially in the poorest communities, where the schools have lagged behind the national averages both in the levels of classroom wiring and in technology skills, according to Ms. Evans. She was hired in September from the Educational Resource Network Inc., a Newport Beach, Calif.-based company developing Web tools for teachers. NetDay's headquarters and staff of 11 have since moved from the San Francisco Bay area to Irvine, Calif.

The NetDay Digital Divide Initiative, for example, is now working with 37 schools in seven federally designated "empowerment zones/enterprise community zones." Such zones have qualified to receive long-term federal aid because they have persistently high poverty as well as strategic plans for community improvement that were written with the involvement of poor residents.

The zones are in Detroit; Los Angeles; New York City; Oakland, Calif.; Washington; the Rio Grande Valley in Texas; and the Mississippi River Delta.

NetDay has a $1.5 million budget this year, about $300,000 of which comes from a U.S. Department of Education grant. In each location, the group pays for a project director, usually hired from the community.

"We also set up in each one of these locations leadership teams and an advisory board, and help our project director to make sure what is being crafted is pertinent to the schools' goals," Ms. Evans said.

NetDay aims to help the 37 schools become models by getting their infrastructures in place, stocking them with adequate numbers of computers and other hardware, providing professional development to their teachers, and assisting them to integrate high-tech content with their curricula.

For most of the schools, the first phase—installing wiring and other infrastructure—is nearly complete, Ms. Evans said.

NetDay eventually plans to expand the initiative to 90 schools in 16 federally designated zones.

Tech-Savvy Girls: Educators should use girls' criticisms about computers to improve computer education for everyone, says a report released this month by a nonprofit organization that promotes education and equal opportunity for girls and women.

"What if we tried to get the educational computer culture shaped by many voices?" asked Sherry Turkle, a professor of the sociology of science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who served as a co-chairwoman of the commission that produced the report for the Washington-based American Association of University Women Educational Foundation.

The report, "Tech-Savvy: Educating Girls in the New Computer Age," says that girls tend to associate computers with anti-social behavior and view someone who is good with computers as typically being male.

In focus groups, girls didn't claim to be discriminated against in having opportunities to get more involved with computers; often, they simply weren't interested. Girls criticized computer-programming classes as uninteresting and computer games as violent.

The report makes numerous recommendations for improving computer education to better engage girls, such as stepping up efforts by colleges of education to produce technology-proficient teachers, educating girls better about what kinds of computer careers are available, and urging girls to be designers of computer games and software, not just users.

John A. Vaille, the chief executive officer of the Eugene, Ore.-based International Society for Technology in Education, said the recommendations point to improvements that would be good for boys as well as girls.

He said, for example, that both girls and boys are often introduced to computers through the use of games, which doesn't give a good sense for how technology is used in everyday life or in careers.

"It's a tool, not a mechanism on which you destroy your adversary," Mr. Vaille said.

And software for children should rely more on values that would engage girls, such as collaboration and communication, rather than competition and self-reliance, he argued.

The report is available for $12.95 by calling (202) 785-7700.

Technology in the Community: The Department of Education awarded $44 million last week to set up 214 community technology centers that will provide computers and Internet access to children and adults in urban and rural areas and economically distressed communities.

This is the second round of grants from a 1999 competition. The first round awarded $9.9 million to 40 projects. ("U.S. Ed. Dept. Launches Grant Program for Technology Centers," Oct. 6, 1999.)

The grants are renewable for two additional years.

Like the previous winners, the new recipients include colleges and universities, school districts, educational service agencies, community foundations, counties, and museums.

President Clinton, who announced the new grants April 18, has asked Congress for $100 million for the program in his fiscal 2001 budget proposal, an amount that would be enough to fund the existing centers and add as many as 1,000 additional centers. If the money is appropriated, a new competition will be held beginning in November.

—Andrew Trotter & Mary Ann Zehr

Vol. 19, Issue 33, Page 17

Published in Print: April 26, 2000, as Technology Update
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