The results are in, and schools nationwide are reaping the benefits of the federal government’s eRate program, according to a new study by the Education and Library Networks Coalition (EdLiNC). The eRate provides discounts on telecommunications services to schools and libraries.
“eRate: Keeping the Promise to Connect Kids and Communities to the Future” concludes that the three-year-old eRate, which has been frequently criticized for its administration and the complexity of its application process, has done what it promised to do, and more.
“The eRate has been a great success by almost any measure. To date, this program has helped connect well over one million classrooms,” said Federal Communications Commissioner Susan Ness at the July 10 press conference announcing the EdLiNC study.
The report is based on a survey conducted this past spring. More than 15,000 eMail questionnaires were sent to schools, libraries, and consortia that applied for Year Two of the eRate program. The report is based on the nearly 500 responses EdLiNC received.
According to researchers, “The eRate discount program is playing a central role in bridging the digital divide by bringing new technologies and the power of the internet to America’s schools and libraries. In turn, schools and libraries are bringing innovative new learning models to children and lifelong learners, as well as a host of unexpected synergies to entire communities.”
Leslie Harris, president of the company that conducted the study, said, “Probably the most significant finding is how widely the value of the eRate is felt in communities. It has brought information not just to students, but to their parents, members of the community, and those who are now using the internet for the first time.”
The report outlines five key findings that demonstrate the effectiveness of the eRate.
First, the study claims that research shows the eRate program is increasing involvement in technology for people across the board.
Schools responding to the survey said teachers are using their new internet connections to lead children on “virtual field trips” and involving children in eMail dialogues and videoconferencing. Many schools reported participating in collaborative online projects, such as the yearly tracking of monarch butterflies.
According to Karon Tarver, a district technology director from rural Texas, “The eRate has helped this farming community student body see beyond the rice fields. Students are more interested in technology and participating in the global economy.”
Distance learning has also become more prevalent due to eRate funding. For example, one rural high school in Virginia has connected to other high school, a community college, and a university to offer its students classes they would normally not be able to offer.
The second important finding of the EdLiNC study was that the eRate seemed to foster parent involvement in schools. Once schools got connected, many of the respondents said they issued eMail accounts to teachers, allowing them to keep in closer touch with parents.
Using eMail correspondence, parents and teachers can monitor student progress, and teachers can ensure that parents are giving students educational support at home. One California school district that responded to the study said it has used its new internet connections to regularly update web sites with assignment information.
Furthermore, the study revealed that once students become technology literate, their parents are soon to follow suit. According to Illinois school library media specialist Sharon Bowman, “As students become more excited about the technology they are using at school, many parents acquire computers and internet connections for home use.”
The study also revealed that the eRate program “is spurring demand for and deployment of the internet in communities across America.”
According to dozens of respondents, the eRate discounts received by their schools have made them the first institutions in their communities to get broadband connectivity. Rural schools, in particular, have tried to bring the benefits of these high-speed connections into the community by setting up after-school computer labs available to any resident. The study also showed that people who have used high-speed internet connections at schools often want the same high-quality service in their homes.
The fourth important finding was that the eRate serves as a catalyst to encourage participants “to increase their own investment in technology.” The program has also stimulated monetary support from states, local governments, and private institutions.
A majority of respondents indicated that they were reinvesting the money they saved through eRate discounts into technology-related areas, such as professional development, computers, software, and any other technology services and equipment not discounted through eRate dollars.
For example, the report said, “In the suburban community of Southfield, Michigan, the local school district has used its savings from eRate discounts to purchase additional software and computers and to conduct training sessions for teachers and staff. At the same time, the overall technology budget in the school has increased as the benefits of technology have become more apparent to school boards and administrators.”
Finally, the eRate has helped nourish new partnerships in many of the school districts surveyed. According to Jackie Gotz, a Wisconsin library director, the program “added a sense that the community was working together and sharing resources.”
Harris concluded, “What the survey says is that we need to get past the bickering. There are certainly problems with the administration of the eRate, but there is no question of the program’s value. People want this program. Remarkable things have happened as a result of it.”
Education and Library Networks Coalition
Federal Communications Commission