Technology and Education

Thank you for inviting Empower America to testify today. Technology and education, and the deepening relationship between the two, is one of our organization’s primary interests. Just as computers and the Internet have fundamentally reshaped the way we do business, they will also soon reshape education – in universities; in primary and elementary schools; even in preschools. John Chambers, the CEO of Cisco Systems, recently said, “Education over the Internet is going to be so big it is going to make e-mail usage look like a rounding error.” Empower America agrees. Technology will, in fact, revolutionize American education.

Today I want to address two particular questions:

  • What’s wrong with Title III? and,
  • How can it be improved?
  • As you know, Title III is a relatively new part of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Its two biggest programs, the Technology Literacy Challenge Fund and Local Innovation Challenge Grants, were first authorized in 1995. Since that time, the federal government has dramatically increased its spending on technology and education programs. In fiscal year 2000, it will spend $768.7 million on Title III. An even larger investment has been made through the federal e-rate program, which will push well over $2 billion dollars during 2000 into wiring our public schools for the Internet. State and local authorities will spend even more on this effort.

    These investments are partly – perhaps largely — responsible for the rapid growth of computers and Internet connections in American schools. Of the $6.7 billion dollars that was spent last year on technology and education in the nation’s schools, about half came from the federal government. Over 70 percent of our public schools now receive money for technology and education from state or federal sources.

    In 1994, only 35 percent of public schools had Internet access; by 1999, 95 percent did. In 1994, only 3 percent of public school classrooms had Internet access; 63 percent did in 1999 (although robust, high-speed connections are still scarce). The ratio of students to computers dropped 25 percent between 1998 and 1999, from 12 to 9 students per computer. All this, obviously, is noteworthy.

    But it is not cause for celebration. Why? Because the national investment in technology is not yet producing consistent, real-world results — neither in teacher preparation, nor in student achievement. A recent report by Gary Chapman, the director of the 21st Century Project at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, found that “the vast majority of U.S. K-12 teachers are novice or even completely inexperienced [Internet and computer] users.” According to another recent survey by the National Center for Education Statistics, only 20 percent of American teachers feel prepared to use new computer applications and know how to integrate them into their classrooms. Piles of anecdotal evidence confirm these studies.

    In Texas, for example, roughly 90 percent of teachers say they use their classroom computers to surf the Internet and 81 percent to use e-mail. Less than half the teachers, however, use computers actually to download information and even fewer use them for collaborative learning projects. A survey by the Educational Testing Service last year found that only one in five teachers knew of lists of recommended software published by districts or states, and just one in ten had found software that was tied to academic standards issued by districts and states.

    As far as student achievement goes, the technology is not doing much good so far. In some cases, it may be doing harm. SAT scores, both math and verbal, are stagnant during the 1990s and down sharply since 1960. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) also shows very little movement. Most disturbing of all, when compared to children from other industrialized nations on math and science tests, American high-school students are at the bottom of the barrel.

    This is a shame not only because we’re wasting resources but because we now know technology, when used correctly, makes a positive impact on schools, on teachers, and on children.

    When considering Title III reauthorization, then, the truly critical issue is less one of inequity than of effectiveness. Do teachers know how to utilize, or even operate, their high-tech tools? Who is actually teaching technology to whom, teachers to students or students to teachers (this might be called the “Digital Generational Divide”)? Are kids – from whatever background – actually learning more in this new high-tech environment? These questions, in Empower America’s view, should guide your discussions when it comes to Title III funding.

    Empower America has two basic recommendations that, in our view, will make Title III more efficient and more effective (more thorough documents outlining and explaining these recommendations are attached):

  • First, we propose the consolidation of Local Innovation Challenge Grants, the Educational Technology National Activities, the Regional Technology in Education Consortia, Star Schools, Ready to Learn Television, and the Telecommunications Demonstration Project into a single competitive grant program. This competitive grant program should favor applicants that propose ways to combine high standards in teaching and technology and that focus on practical ways of integrating technology into the classroom.
    In addition, a substantial portion of this consolidation (at least five percent) should be set aside for rigorous study of the grants; the lessons learned from the study should be collected and published in a “Best Practices” guide, available on the web.
  • Second, with the $425 million dollar Technology Challenge Fund, Congress should aim to promote innovation and encourage states to focus the money on areas that are under-served. States should be encouraged to use the Challenge Fund money in coordination with the competitive grant winners to make sure that we are using our computers intelligently. Moreover, the Congress should require states that receive funds under the Challenge Fund to show results – in terms of parental satisfaction, as well as closing gaps between high and low poverty schools.
  • Empower America believes that the federal government’s role should be limited, focused, and vigorous — not scattershot. It should seek to answer specific shortcomings in cities and states. In addition, it should seek to provide schools with examples of intelligent ways to implement technology. Better, more productive use of technology, not just more, should be the federal government’s goal.

    That said, I think it is important to put things in perspective. During the next several years, the federal government will be massively outspent by private financiers. The education industry – the K-12 market, as well as other areas – has recently been attracting the interest of America’s leading businessmen and venture capitalists. Since 1994, 38 IPOs and 30 follow-on offerings have been completed in the education industry, raising more than $3 billion in equity. Leading economic indicators suggest those investments will be rapidly increasing.

    A recent report from Merrill Lynch declared that “the education industry represents, in our opinion, the final frontier in private participation in public programs…. Compared to other sectors that have been subject to massive reform, such as utilities, telecommunications, transportation, and health care, the education industry represents the largest market opportunity for private sector involvement since health care in the 1970s.”

    For Congress, this is both good and bad news. It is good news because it means you will have a lot of help preparing kids for the demands of the high-tech 21st century. It is bad news – or maybe it’s just daunting news – because it means Congress will have private-sector competitors, partners, and benchmarks. How big a dent on math scores did the Education Department’s $50 million make compared to Microsoft’s? Who is spending their money on technology training more wisely and effectively – Congress or some young entrepreneur in Silicon Valley? If the latter, why not sunset the government program? These questions, in Empower America’s view, are inevitable – and the stuff of which free enterprise and healthy, limited government are made.

    Thank you again for inviting Empower America here today. I look forward to your questions.