Too often, America educates its children for the challenges they will face in the global, knowledgebased 21st century using 20th-century technology and methodology. Other nations provide students with laptop computers, fast broadband connections, and state-of-the-art digital applications, infusing technology and innovation throughout their educational experiences. In contrast, the Bush Administration has proposed in its FY09 budget eliminating all funding for the Enhancing Through Technology program, designed to improve student achievement and boost students' digital literacy through the use of technology in schools.62
The competitiveness and vibrancy of our economy, as well as our homeland security, depend on our ability to maintain a highly-skilled workforce.63 We must educate new generations of digitally literate citizens to ensure they are able to compete successfully in today's global workforce and participate in our increasingly knowledge-based society.
Our education system, however, is failing to meet this challenge. In America's schools, Internet access is often far too slow, with insufficient bandwidth for online learning, collaborative work, video conferencing, and other educational applications. In some cases, schools still use dial-up Internet access. School technology is often antiquated, in short supply, and insufficiently supported. Distance learning over broadband is a distant dream. Online curricula is offline. Teachers are insufficiently trained to use technology in their classrooms, so that whatever technology is available to them languishes. Students are taught the basic 3 Rs, as required by the No Child Left Behind Act, but not the digital skills that will enable them to translate those 3 Rs into success in today's Information Age. The bottom line is that rather than "no child left behind," the failure to fully infuse technology and broadband throughout the education system has left behind many of America's children.
The new Administration should include in its National Broadband Strategy initiatives to promote the rapid adoption of technology and broadband throughout the classroom. It should also include initiatives to advance online learning and "digital excellence" training. In this way, the new Administration will not only stimulate broadband supply and demand, but deliver significant improvements in our nation's ability to educate its children.
Some proficiency in math and science is a prerequisite for over 80 percent of our nation's fastest-growing occupations. But, according to National Assessment of al Progress scores, fewer than one-third of America's 8th graders are proficient in math.64 Approximately a quarter of 4th and 8th grades students are proficient in science. The numbers are even worse for 12th graders.65
Of particular concern is the fact that so few of America's children are studying science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) - areas that are key drivers of our nation's competitive leadership in technology-based industries. In 2005, Tapping America's Potential (TAP), a coalition of the nation's leading business organizations, established a goal of doubling by 2015 the 201,000 students then earning STEM bachelor's degrees from America's universities. Recently, TAP announced that "little real progress had been made" and in 2008 only 24,000 more STEM degrees had been awarded.66 Today, only 7 percent of U.S. college students presently major in math or science fields; of all industries that use technology, education is rated at the bottom; and by 2010, assuming current trends continue, over 90 percent of all scientists and engineers will call Asia "home."67
Infusing modern technology, including robust broadband, throughout the learning process will help reverse these troubling trends. Some of the impressive results observed include:
- Improved student achievement, attendance, and graduation rates, and decreased dropout rates;
- Gains on high-stakes tests that enable schools to meet AYP (Adequate Yearly Performance) and performance benchmarks under No Child Left Behind;
- Heightened school efficiency, productivity, and decision making;
- Advances in teachers meeting requirements;
- Improved student learning skills;
- Assistance in meeting the needs of all students, including those with special needs;
- Promotion of equity and access;
- Improved workforce skills; and
- Increased parent involvement.68
The America's Digital Schools (ADS) 2006 report examining learning environments where each student and teacher has "one Internet-connected wireless computing device for use both in the classroom and at home" found that 88 percent of school districts where academic results were tracked report moderate to significant positive results. Other benefits were widely observed, including fewer dropouts and better attendance.69
Access to technology and broadband, both at school and at home, can also help to ameliorate the unequal distribution of educational resources and opportunities available to different school districts, socioeconomic levels, regions, and institutions. In a mixed-income housing project in Washington, D.C., for example, after their classrooms and homes were wired for broadband, students were able to enroll in an IT skills training program that boosted their average income after graduation from $9,800 to $28,000.70 "Schools in the low end or in the high end socio-economically need to look the same," says Nick Salerno, an assistant superintendent with the El Monte Union High School District. "We must provide the same opportunity for everyone."71
Online learning, made possible by robust broadband, enables students in remote, smaller, or financially-strapped schools to take courses they otherwise could not access. In Chicago and Los Angeles, minority students take online courses to enroll in more high-level and higher-quality courses, with superior teachers, than may be physically available to them.72 In Greenville, South Carolina, when their physical school could not offer Latin, students instead enrolled in an online Latin course taught by a teacher at another district school.73 In Nebraska, an education IT manager reports, "Our rural schools live and die by video distance learning. . . . It's the next best thing to a highly qualified teacher in a face-to-face environment."74
In 2008, many college administrators report that as gas prices skyrocket, so does online enrollment, up as much as 40 percent as a result of students choosing to avoid the cost and time of driving.75
Workers in today's mobile and globally-competitive workforce must be lifelong learners to keep up with developments in their fields or to transition to different fields. Online learning enables workers to overcome the barriers of time and distance, and take training courses at anytime and from anywhere in the country, at a pace that best suits their needs.76
Technology and broadband are transforming the traditional educational experience. "Increasingly, the educational process involves Internet-based research, online collaboration with fellow students, videoconferences with professors and government officials in other states and countries, real-time video exploration of the galaxies or undersea expeditions. . . . Virtual field trips can take students and teachers sitting in their classrooms to faraway places, such as touring the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, experiencing a tribal dance in Africa, or scouring the depths of the Pacific Ocean in a submarine. . . . Homework can be researched using digital archives at the Library of Congress, where 3D objects can be examined from all angles."77
But access to technology and broadband alone is not enough to transform students' educational experiences; they must also possess the digital skills necessary to effectively use that access. A student who has little or no Internet access or training growing up will be at a significant disadvantage at the college level where Internet proficiency is assumed.78 Without digital proficiency gained from frequently using the Internet over a broadband connection both at home and at school, students may choose not to attend college at all.79
There must be "inclusion" of all Americans in our increasingly digital society, so the digital divide is closed, as we discuss below in the "Reinventing Democracy and Government" section. But for America's students, the bar must be set higher. Digital excellence - demonstrated mastery of digital skills - must become as important an educational priority as learning the 3 Rs.80 Included in digital excellence is "information literacy" - mastery of the skillset necessary to "mine" the Internet's almost limitless resources to secure useful information and solve problems.
The new Administration should infuse broadband and technology throughout America's education system and promote initiatives to advance online learning and digital excellence training.
- Expand and reform the E-Rate program. The E-Rate program has been extremely effective in its mission of bringing the Internet to America's schools and libraries. But too often, that Internet access is so slow as to be obsolete and may be available on only one computer per school. The E-Rate program should ultimately provide free broadband to all schools and libraries, as well as sufficient hardware and software for students to use it. Intermediate steps include lifting the E-Rate funding cap while simplifying its paperwork burden and bureaucratic complexity. E-Rate recipients should be allowed and encouraged to use E-Rate funds to create wireless broadband canopies that bring the school or library's broadband to the surrounding community. The program should support Internet broadband speeds of at least 10 Mbps per 1,000 students/staff, as recommended by the State al Technology Directors Association.81
- Create and fund the Digital Opportunity Investment Trust and expand the Enhancing Through Technology (EETT) program. The Digital Opportunity Investment Trust will advance the high priority of bringing technology into the educational system, emphasizing the creation of educational content and software that incorporates the vast range of technologies available. It will also address the critical need to digitize and bring online the content of America's universities, museums, libraries, and other public institutions.82 The new Administration should also increase funding for the EETT program, designed to improve student achievement and boost students' digital literacy through the use of technology in schools.
- Provide one laptop per child and support ubiquitous computing. The new Administration should provide federal funding to school districts that implement a one-to-one laptop program for students in grades 6 through 12 and provide funding for teachers, students, and parents who receive training in technology-rich educational services and applications.83 It should also provide tax incentives and other support that encourage America's businesses to donate their old computers to economically disadvantaged families.
- Support state, municipal, and school district efforts to bring robust broadband to schools. One of the world's largest installations of wireless local area networks in production today has been constructed by the School District of Philadelphia, the eighth largest school district in the United States. It now provides wireless Internet access at every school in the district.84 As FCC Commissioner Michael Copps recently suggested,85 the federal government should facilitate the expansion of these broadband networks beyond the schools to the nearby communities, as was done in Livermore Valley, California.86
- Appropriate funding for the National Center for Research in Advanced Information and Digital Technologies. The National Center will support a comprehensive research and development program to explore ways advanced computer and communication technologies can improve all levels of learning and "make learning more compelling, more personal, and more productive in our nation's schools."87
- Adopt action principles and goals formulated by top educators for all federal education programs.
- Technology should be promoted to the greatest extent possible in every federal education program and initiative.
- Standards for educational uses of technology that facilitate school improvement should be required, such as the National al Technology Standards developed by the International Society of Technology in .
- Proficiency in 21st-century skills should be emphasized in education policies, as well as professional development programs that foster 21st-century teaching and learning.88
- Support categorical funding for online learning initiatives and digital excellence initiatives.