The eRate program, started in 1996, has helped propel more than a million classrooms and more than 10,000 libraries into cyberspace. But as the author points out, the technological world has moved much faster to bring technology to schools than the education world has moved to use the technologyefforts toward education reform notwithstanding.
The Benton Foundation, at which the author is a senior associate, prepared an extensive study of the eRate’s impact on education for a recent report. That study determined that professional development in schools lagged seriously behind the hard-wiring of buildings and creation of networks.
Startlingly, the Benton Foundation and other researchers have found that school administrators spend only about three percent of their annual technology budgets on professional development, although nearly 10 times as much is needed to bring educators, librarians, and others up to speed. Some progress has been made since the program began, but the gap continues.
The report also found that many schools count on eRate funds for nearly all of their online development, which leaves them vulnerable to interruptions or changes in the program.
On the plus side, the author reports that the availability of large sums of money to improve schools has brought much-needed creativity and cooperation to school bureaucracies. Given the complexity of creating district-wide networks, coordination between technology planners, budget offices, and curriculum developers has been essential. As technology continues to evolve, coordination remains a priority.