Talking Martian

I dreamt the Martians shot down our polar lander last month, and the government and news media immediately tried to divert our attention with a clever but ultimately faulty ploy. They dropped a starburst of NASA officials into the talk show orbit. These talking heads deftly proceeded to put a sunnier spin on the lander’s ominous disappearance, claiming it was merely a victim of NASA’s so-called “faster, cheaper, better” policy.

Many of your colleagues, and perhaps even you yourself, had to miss NASA’s TV gabfests. That’s because so many were helping teachers write lesson plans for the Mars landing and getting classrooms hooked up to watch the event via the internet. So, if you haven’t heard of the “faster, cheaper, better” policy, it’s perfectly understandable. It apparently was cooked up by the suits at the space agency as a way to accelerate launch schedules while cutting costs. (School board presidents usually call this “doing more with less.”)

The logical termination point of that policy, NASA now explained, was a Mars Polar Lander (MPL) suddenly gone missing. The MPL was absent without leave, NASA officials said, because they were trying to do too much, too fast, with too little.

Nice try, NASA. But as an excuse, this gambit is a flameout.

NASA does so much valuable work with educators that you’d think its spokespeople would know better, too.

Any educator on earth (or any other planet) certainly could have told NASA that blaming a disappointment on having too much work and too little money would never fly in the excuse department.

You and your colleagues have been doing more with less for decades. In fact, the condition has persisted so long in education that, by now, it passes pretty much without comment. It probably seems like just the natural order of things. That’s why no educator would ever dream of trying to blame a let-down on a lack of resources.

And if any educator ever did have a dream like that, now might be a good time to wake him up.

With school technology at least—as we report in our front page budget story—any lingering temptation to blame the lack of resources soon should fade a little for us all. The federal budget just signed by the president contains more money for school technology than has ever been spent by the feds before. True, $768 million doesn’t represent that big a piece of the $7 billion-plus that K-12 educators are expected to spend on technology this year, but maybe state and local taxpayers will follow the federal funding lead.

Stronger funding from federal, state, and local sources would be one thing. Another would be the numbers reported in the column to my left (your right).

As our “By The Numbers” department on this page shows, demand is beginning to ease, at least in one technology spending category. Together, higher funding combined with moderating hardware demand just might lead to something unprecedented: nearly adequate funding—for at least one year, in at least one education line item.

I know. I’m probably being overly optimistic about this, still giddy perhaps with the joy of knowing we’ve all escaped the destruction of Y2K. But if something in education actually did receive adequate funding for once, wouldn’t that simply be out of this world?

Then, if I woke up and the government tried to tell me the Martians hadn’t shot down our polar lander after all, I still could hope the exhilarating school funding news would spread so far so fast that even our taciturn MPL might hear about it.

MPL, if you’re listening, I’ve got the details on this. I’ll read them to you. Phone home.

Want to share a great resource? Let us know at