- The Washington Times - Monday, December 25, 2000

Putting a computer in every classroom is no longer enough to satisfy technology requirements for today's schools and students. They now need renewed investments in access to more powerful Internet resources such as broad-band networks, according to a report from a congressional committee on Web-based education.

"The Internet has brought about the most transformational period in the history of education," said Sen. Bob Kerry, Nebraska Democrat, who chaired the 16-member Web-based Education Commission, which was appointed in 1998 by President Clinton, Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley and a bipartisan group of congressional leaders.

"We don't have the option to ignore it," Mr. Kerry said. "Instead, we must get to work now to direct and guide this transformation to ensure that the tremendous potential of these new technologies is harnessed to benefit all learners."

The report, called "The Power of the Internet for Learning," was released last week after a year of investigation based on thousands of interviews with educators, administrators, lawmakers, parents and students about technology and its use in schools.

It found that the so-called "digital divide" has grown, leaving many school systems, their pupils and teachers falling further behind in their ability to have access to technology training and modern equipment.

On average, the report said, U.S. companies spend about $5,500 per year on technology and related support per worker, while schools spend less than $200 per year per student. Adults also fall behind in Web-based learning, leaving them all but lost in the global economy where they are expected to compete, it said.

The commission, which also was led by Rep. Johnny Isakson, Georgia Republican, called on lawmakers and the new Bush administration to make "e-learning" a key part of federal education policy. They recommended increased professional development opportunities for teachers and school administrators on effective use of technology, expanded research on technology and learning, development of high-quality on-line educational content and revision of outdated regulations that can impede learning.

"The Internet allows for a learner-centered environment, but our legal and regulatory framework has not adjusted to these changes," said the report, which also called for improved privacy protection for on-line learners and increased funding for school and campus technology.

Christopher T. Cross, president of the Council for Basic Education, said he supports the commission's recommendations. He said there was a "desperate" need for better research on the use of educational technology.

"Most American educators are not adequately prepared to effectively teach academic content with the assistance of the Internet and high-technology equipment," Mr. Cross said. "If the American education system wants to attain the goal of preparing its youth to be globally competitive, it must first focus on empowering its teachers."

On-line content, he added, must be of high quality "so that the integrity of high academic content standards is not compromised."

Mr. Isakson, who formerly served as the state board of education chairman in Georgia, called the report "inspired work," and said bipartisanship should allow lawmakers to foster great improvements in technology for children and schools.

"Washington should be a catalyst so that every existing teacher is trained to use the Internet and technology," Mr. Isakson said.

Every American university also should be challenged to ensure that their departments of education incorporate training so that teachers know the theory and practice of using the Internet and the advantage of using technology in teaching, Mr. Isakson said. He called on lawmakers to ensure technological equity, providing the same resources for affluent schools in the suburbs and those in poorer urban and rural districts.

"This report will serve as a guidepost for the development of federal policy over the next decade because of e-learning," said Rep. Chaka Fattah, Pennsylvania Democrat.

"This is the most important issue as we go forward into [the] new century ensuring access to all," he said.

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