In January, President George W. Bush unveiled his education plan, “No Child Left Behind,” which called for a consolidation of educational technology funding into a single block grant that states would administer. The Senate and House of Representatives have introduced separate bills that would enact the president’s proposals and fund educational technology at around $1 billion. Yet, Bush’s own budget, released April 9, would cut ed-tech funding from its current level of $872 million down to $817 million. Here’s a sampling of opinions about these federal proposals.

Sue Collins, former Senior Vice President of and member of the congressional Web-based Education Commission

What makes the U.S. competitive is its intellectual capital and its citizens’ capacity for innovation. Both intellect and ingenuity require a highly educated population–the path to which begins in our schools. All of our children, wherever they live, must be offered full opportunity to pursue that path.

The congressional Web-based Education Commission, established in 1998 and chaired by Sen. Bob Kerrey, spent the last year examining the educational opportunities and issues surrounding the use of the internet–a technology that substantially widens the educational path. Among the commission’s many recommendations, three areas in particular–the development of high-quality content and applications, professional development for teachers, and broadband access–have a direct impact on our educational competitiveness.

  • High-quality online content and applications–Imagine a classroom where students are engaged with events as they’re happening in the world, discussing late-breaking news and researching questions that arise. The internet makes that opportunity available today–with programs such as Classroom Radio, a collaboration between bigchalk and National Public Radio, and CASKE, in which students experience, via the internet, a sea kayaking expedition through Central America. In Classroom Radio, daily programming from NPR, complete with grade-appropriate lesson plans matched to state and national standards–and augmented by bigchalk’s database links–are stored on the web site for downloading to classroom computers. Two important things make internet-based Classroom Radio different from conventional radio: this rich resource is available anytime–today, next week, and next year–and the resources of the internet, including searchable databases and learning communities, are just a mouse click away.

  • Professional development–It’s no surprise that the internet, with its capacity to facilitate distance learning, now makes it easier and more convenient for teachers to improve their skills. What is surprising, and quite exciting, is the way the internet enables other forms of professional development. For example, bigchalk has an innovative program, called GENwww.Y, in which teachers and students work together, as partners, to develop the technical skills they need to infuse technology throughout their school, one lesson at a time. GENwww.Y, which was selected as an “exemplary” program for professional development by the U.S. Department of Education, uses internet-based consultants and courses to achieve its goals. And the lessons developed by each student-teacher partnership are archived on the web for others to use.

  • Broadband access–In January 1999, the Federal Communications Commission defined broadband as having the capability of supporting, in both directions, a speed in excess of 200 kilobits per second in the last mile. There are a variety of broadband technologies that schools can choose from. But the important point is that they all provide the fast access required for viewing images, watching video, listening to audio, or gathering data.
More support for high-quality content will increase the effectiveness of online learning. More support for internet-based staff development will allow schools to maximize their use of technology in support of educational goals. And when all of our schools have reliable, high-speed connections to the internet, our children will begin having equal access to the resources it provides.

Bill Rodrigues, Vice President of Dell’s education and health care sector and co-chair of the CEO Forum on Education & Technology

Information technology is transforming the global economy and drastically changing the way business and society operates. Understanding how to employ technology to locate and evaluate information; to learn, reason, make decisions, and solve problems; and to collaborate and work in teams will be essential abilities in the rapidly changing world. These are the 21st-century skills that will be crucial for students to thrive in the digital age.

Without a serious and significant investment in these skills, curricula, and accountability, our schools face the almost impossible challenge of trying to produce graduates for a 21st-century work force while using outdated educational environments. This is a critical national issue that must be addressed in the proposed federal legislation.

The current House, Senate, and Bush administration proposals, including President Bush’s proposal “No Child Left Behind,” are important contributions to the future of education policy. As co-chair of the CEO Forum on Education & Technology, a partnership between business and education leaders who are committed to promoting and assessing the progress of technology within America’s schools, I believe we have an excellent opportunity to build on these current proposals in the areas of education technology.

In a special policy brief released March 20th, the CEO Forum recognized the many good education initiatives currently under debate. However, we feel that in order to meet the demands of the global economy, we must look at all aspects of federal educational technology investments–including student achievement, professional development, federal funding, infrastructure, and research and development.

After examining the various reform proposals available, we made a series of strategic recommendations on the most effective role of technology in education policy reform. These include:

  • Broaden student achievement to include 21st-century skills–These skills include the critical components of education technology: digital-age literacy, inventive thinking, effective communication, and high productivity. Twenty-first century skills should be an additional subject area, in addition to the traditional subject areas of learning that include math, science, and English. These skills should also be embedded within the traditional subjects.

  • Expand federal support for education technology investments–The federal government should continue to emphasize equity in funding by ensuring that schools with the greatest need benefit most from federal education technology programs. In addition, by 2003 the federal government should apply at least 30 percent of its education technology funding to provide sustained and intensive, high-quality professional development for the integration of technology into the curriculum.

  • Increase investment in research and development and dissemination–The federal government should increase its investment in dedicated education technology research and development to at least $100 million. The government also should fund President Bush’s $15 million proposal for a Web-based Clearinghouse of Best Practices in Education Technology. The creation of an education technology clearinghouse is an effective way for educators to gain a better sense of the quality of work achieved by their peers. This clearinghouse also would support more effective professional development.
We know that when integrated into the curriculum to achieve specific educational objectives, technology can produce dramatic results. The CEO Forum wants to assure that clear goals, priorities, and standards are established to protect and further the value of education technology investments, as well as to equip our students with the skills they need to be successful in the 21st century.

Charles Benton, Chairman of the Benton Foundation

President Bush’s proposed FY 2002 budget represents, in my view, a step backward in our efforts to provide digital opportunities for all Americans. His education proposal, “No Child Left Behind,” called for the consolidation of existing educational technology programs into a state block grant. His FY 2002 U.S. Department of Education budget delivered on this promise with, not only a consolidation, but also a decrease in funding and a retreat from federal leadership. We see a similar pattern at the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Educational technology has the power to enhance teaching and learning and vastly improve the productivity of the education enterprise. In 2001, U.S. Department of Education funding for the eight ed-tech programs authorized under Title III of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act rose to an all-time high of $872 million. This was a 5,700 percent increase from the $23 million appropriated in 1993. President Bush has proposed a cut of $55 million for these programs, a 6 percent decrease. In our information society, this is the time for more educational technology funding and innovation, not less.

Moreover, it is questionable whether educators will be better off without the direct, categorical Title III ed-tech investments. Past experience with block grants and consolidation have shown:

  • The focus of the specific programs block grants replaced get lost;

  • Funding is often reduced from previous levels;

  • Block grants significantly reduce program accountability; and

  • The impact of federal funds is diffused.
At the Department of Commerce, the Technology Opportunities Program (TOP) has helped bring the benefits of the national information infrastructure to all Americans. TOP funding has also been an important source of funding for testing innovative and practical applications of new telecommunications and information technologies that serve the public interest. President Bush has proposed slashing TOP’s budget by 66 percent to $15.5 million, down from $45.4 million in FY 2001.

With the proposed consolidation and cuts in funding, further progress would be stunted as responsibility is simply passed to the states and non-governmental sector. From convening, to spurring innovation, to evaluating, strong federal leadership in this area is still critical. In view of what’s at stake, this is the time for greater federal leadership, not less.

Rep. John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, Chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Work Force (top), and Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., Chairman of the Education Subcommittee on 21st Century Competitiveness

In March, President George W. Bush outlined his agenda for promoting the long-term growth of high technology, a prominent feature of which is his bold education plan to increase student achievement. And one way states and local school districts are attempting to increase student achievement is by using technology itself–online research services and distance learning initiatives, for example.

“No Child Left Behind,” President Bush’s plan to overhaul the federal government’s role in education, enhances education technology programs in several important ways.

First, the House version of his plan would increase funding for these programs by $28 million (for a total of $1 billion). Second, recognizing that the federal education bureaucracy often hinders innovation at the state and local levels, the Bush plan consolidates nine federal education technology programs into a single block grant. This will have two salutary effects: It will eliminate duplicative programs and thus save schools from having to submit multiple grant applications and waste money on administrative expenses; and it will ensure that more money goes directly to schools.

Finally, as part of a dramatic plan to enhance flexibility for local school districts, the House version of President Bush’s plan gives them the freedom to transfer up to 50 percent of the federal education dollars they receive among a variety of federal education programs as long as they demonstrate results. Significantly, local school districts won’t have to receive permission from the state or the education secretary to transfer funds. Hence, local school districts will be able to channel more funding into education technology–in addition to any education technology grant money they receive.

President Bush realizes that technology is not, in itself, a sure-fire way to increase student achievement; it needs to be employed by skilled educators with a comprehensive understanding of how it works and how best to use it. The president’s education plan gives states and localities more resources to expand their technology programs. And, just as important, it gives them the flexibility they need to target it to the schools that need it most. By promoting innovative state and local educational technology programs, President Bush’s plan will help ensure that today’s students become tomorrow’s innovators.