Critics often disparage the news media for reporting only the bad news, and the bad news is, I’m here to report, there’s a lot of truth to what those critics say. That’s why recent events are so unsettling. When it comes to school technology and the presidential campaign, bad news is rarer than socks on a chicken.
In fact, for educators involved with technology, the news couldn’t be better if it had been written by that venerable Washington hand, Rosy Scenario. Both political parties now love technology and adore education. And when it comes to the presidential candidates, the embrace each lavishes on school technology is enough to give Tipper Gore something to be jealous about.
Another thing those chatty critics like to say: There’s not a dime’s worth of difference between the Republicans and the Democrats. In the presidential race, it’s basically “the center versus the middle.”
On some issue, that might be the case, but when it comes to education technology, the differences could be profoundnot, I’ll grant you, that it seems that way at first glance.
To the casual reader, the positions staked out in the eSchool News exclusive with Vice President Al Gore and Gov. George W. Bush (see Page 20) might seem remarkably similar.
Here’s Bush: “By 1999, 95 percent of public schools had internet access, up from only 35 percent just five years earlier.”
Here’s Gore: “Now, 95 percent of public schools have some access to the internet, compared to 35 percent in 1994.”
Now, those two statements might seem identical, but they’re not.
To begin with, it’s a little peculiar that Bush chooses to cite access to the internet as a noteworthy fact (if not exactly as an achievement), coming as that access does in significant part thanks to the eRate, which congressional Republicans used to call the “Gore tax.” Admittedly, they haven’t been using that term for a while.
But the more meaning-laden difference between those two nearly identical statements might reside in the word “some.” (Of course, that depends, as we like to say here in Washington, on what your definition of “some” is.)
Bush’s use of “internet access” could be interpreted to signal a notch on the holster, a fundamentally completed program. Gore’s construction, on the other hand, clearly underscores all that remains to be done.
But before you nominate me for a short career in one of those dim cubicles out in Langley, Va., where everybody specializes in overinterpreting the statements of disparate leaders, consider this: The entire burden of both candidates’ argument and subsequent proposalsat least as Gore and Bush present them heredepends on whether one sees internet access for education as nearly finished or barely started.
Gore is less specific and more rhetorical, but both men seem to suggest they would continue federal funding for school technology at least at its current rate.
According to the philosophy outlined in eSchool News, Vice President Gore would extend and enlarge the school technology programs in place right now, with a veiled hint that he’d add new funding in unspecified amounts for professional development, integrating technology into the curriculum, upgrading instructional technology, and making “major new investments” in high-speed and satellite internet transmissions. It’s hard to tell precisely, but it would appear the vice president means to spend just short of $4 billion on education technology.
Gov. Bush is more explicit, and the changes proposed here are more sweeping. The governor proposes to roll away the $2.45-billion eRate, the Software Development Program, eight initiatives representing more than $730 million under Title III of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and the Middle Schools Teacher Training Program. Instead, he would ask Congress to enact a $3 billion “Enhancing Education through Technology Fund.” On top of that, he proposes providing an additional $65 million in new funding to beef up the Education Department’s research office, and finally, he would provide $15 million more in new funding to create an Education and Technology Clearing House.
Gore and Bushat least in the programs set forth herepropound distinctly different means to the same basic ends, and those distinctions are significant enough to make a difference in how we vote.
But, ladies and gentlemen, it appears a national consensus has formed. The goals the candidates are talking about are consistent and compatible, and the money seems to match, tooright in that $4 billion neighborhood.
And as much as it pains these gnarled, old journalist’s fingers to type it: For the nation’s schools and for the children, this is the good news (provided you believe it).