Where’s our report? That’s what many members of the Web-based Education Commission are asking the Bush administration nearly five months after the bipartisan document, “The Power of the Internet for Learning,” was completed.
A Bush administration representative told eSchool News that all documents begun during the Clinton administration were put on hold pending review. In the case of the internet report, however, the delay probably has more to do with a change in printing specifications than policy problems, she said.
Others worry the lack of hard copies of the report will hamper implementation of its recommendations, especially because key members of Congress haven’t been able to review the Bush administration’s proposed budget cuts for school technology in light of the report. Members of the commission released the report on Dec. 19. It addresses how K-12 schools should use the internet. Now, many of those involved in the creation of the report are asking why no one has received the promised hard copy.
Beginning in November 1999, the 16 Clinton-appointed members of the Web-based Education Commission met with hundreds of education, business, policy, and technology experts. The report was the result of those meetings.
The legislative authority for the commission expired on March 19, 2001, and the commission was dissolved at that time.
In December, the commission–led by former Sen. Bob Kerrey, D-Neb., and Rep. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga.–called on then-President-elect George W. Bush and the 107th Congress to embrace seven goals. The goals–ensuring privacy for web users, encouraging “anywhere, anytime” learning, and providing access to broadband connections, technology training and support, further research, high-quality online content, and sustained funding–should become the centerpiece for U.S. education policy, the commissioners said.
“The internet is revolutionizing all parts of society, but its impact on education is just beginning to be understood,” said Kerrey. “We believe that a national mobilization is necessary to ensure that the tremendous potential of this new technology is harnessed to benefit all learners.”
The report was published online, but Department of Education (ED) officials confirm that it also was intended to be distributed in printed form to members of Congress.
“The report went on the web eight hours after it was released,” Rep. Isakson told eSchool News. “The web is a better way [than printed copies] to get the report out, in terms of maximum accessibility.” Isakson cited the change in administrations as a possible reason for the delay.
ED spokeswoman Lindsey Kozberg admitted the change in administration might have put a hold on some ED publications, but she said that was not the primary reason “The Power of the Internet for Learning” did not go right to the printer, as planned.
“Across the board, publications that were in process were subject to review as part of the transition, and that was department-wide,” she said. “But the lag time with this publication is attributable to the modifying of the printing specifications.”
According to Kozberg, frequently an item is not printed at the same time the online version is posted, and in this particular case, the report was unusually complicated and expensive to print.
“My understanding was that the nature of the actual printing specifications of the publication was more than [the commission] had in [its] budget,” she said. “That’s primarily why there is a lag between web availability and the printed version.”
However, commissioners think the delay may have been detrimental to implementing the report’s recommendations.
“The problem is that it has been five months since we completed [the report], and if you wait, the technology components of this become outdated,” said commissioner Sue Collins, formerly of bigchalk.com. “We really want kids to have access today.”
Collins explained that distribution to members of Congress is critical, since they have the responsibility for reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which determines funding levels for schools. The Bush administration has proposed $55 million less for school technology than was authorized in the 2001 federal budget.
But in relation to kids, local school boards and state departments of education have more impact, she said.
According to Collins, another reason it’s important to have the report in printed form is because it increases the chance that school board members and community members–those who are involved in school government–will see the report.
Collins, a former teacher, said some education officials are unlikely to read a report off the web. “I think that printed copies allow the majority of the audience we’re trying to reach to get the report and read it. If you are accessing it over a phone line, how long would it take to download all 168 pages?”
Those involved with the Web-based Education Commission believe the report contains valuable, nonpartisan recommendations for including the internet in public education.
“This document was not just the work of the commissioners, and it was not created in a back room somewhere; it was created by people who really care about this issue,” Collins said. “It’s too bad this has not been released in a broader way.”
The commission heard from a mixed panel of practitioners and industry leaders at six public hearings and from numerous stakeholders at many education-technology events and conferences during its 10 months of research. It also received electronic testimony from some 250 eMail witnesses.
“To not have this information out there is really a loss,” said Collins. She suspects that politics may be the real reason the report’s printing was delayed.
“With the change in administration and the new [political] party, all of the publications that were supposed to come out of the [Education] Department were held up,” she said. “It is a matter of another administration coming in and not being sure they want to release a report from a former administration.”
Isakson verified that “any time the administration changes, things get frozen,” but he said President Bush’s chief adviser on education technology, Jack Christie, was present when the report was released.
Though Collins said she does not think the commission’s report was purposefully withheld by the new administration, she did state her belief that there was “a philosophical decision on [the Bush administration’s] part not to publish reports released during the Clinton administration before they could review them.”
Not true, said Isakson. “The new administration has embraced this report from the start,” he said. “The [Bush] administration is 100 percent behind the report.”
Ideally, commissioners hope that every school district in the country will have a copy of the report soon.
Local decision making is key in schools, because the people closest to the kids should make the critical decisions about their learning, said Collins. For the maximum impact, she thinks the report should be distributed to all school districts in hard copy.
“There are only 16,000 school districts,” she said. “It would not be a major thing to do.”
According to ED representative Roger Murphy, the report was expected to be printed in May and distributed to members of Congress.
In the meantime, Collins and members of the commission urge educators to make copies of the online report and pass them along to friends and colleagues who might be unable to access it online.
Isakson is confident the message of the Web-based Education Commission is not going unheard.
“I spend a lot of time traveling and speaking about the commission’s findings,” he said. “I’ve found there is a tremendous combined acceptance from every corner for the recommendations of the commission.”
Web-based Education Commission
U.S. Department of Education