[ text version ]




Washington, D.C.

January 27, 1997

(As Prepared for Delivery)



As a former teacher, the son of a teacher, the brother of a librarian, and the father of three students -- currently in second, 6th and 9th grades -- I am honored to receive this Special Achievement award. It has been a privilege to have a role in the drive to bring modern technology to public education -- to put the tools of the information age into the hands of every student -- to find new ways to achieve the longstanding goals of high quality and true equality of education for all. But most important, it has been a privilege to work with groups of concerned and active community leaders like you.

I wish to acknowledge your president, Anne Bryant. Anne has made our lives much easier at the FCC by making classroom technology one of your top priority issues. I know also that the National School Boards Association is blessed with a dedicated and talented staff. Of the many who should be mentioned, Michelle Richards and Sammy Quintana, who have been sources of wise counsel from the board's-eye-view. In addition, I also want to acknowledge some of the other organizations not represented here today that have teamed with the NSBA to present a united educational front throughout the FCC proceeding: the National Education Association, the American Library Association, the American Association of State School Administrators, and the Council of Chief State School Officers.

I last had the opportunity to talk with you on October 24 in Dallas, at your Technology and Learning Conference. Two weeks later, on November 7, the Joint Board on Universal Service made an historic recommendation: two and a quarter billion dollars should be set aside every year for the sole purpose of providing tremendous discounts to schools and libraries as they purchase advanced telecommunications services.

November 7, 1996 is a date that will long stand out in the history of American education. The Joint Board on that day gave concrete form to the notion that every American child is entitled to the same quality of education regardless of how poor they are and where they live. On that day, Horace Mann, John Dewey, all the teachers who have made America great, all who have ever looked for new ways to teach young minds in impossible circumstances, all would give us a big A for appreciation.

President Clinton said in his Second Inaugural Address that we must guarantee that in the next century "the knowledge and power of the Information Age will be within reach, not just of the few, but of every classroom, every library, every child." President Clinton, Vice President Gore, Secretary Riley and many other members of the Administration have done much to bring affordable access to education technology to the head of the national agenda.

But the Joint Board's work is directly attributable to the success of a bipartisan Congress in passing our new telecommunications law. Senators Snowe, Rockefeller, Exon and Kerrey fought for the provision in that law that made this plan part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. That provision of the legislation is known by their names.

Congress intended the Joint Board and the FCC to solve two problems of technology into schools -- unequal access and unsustainable expense. Study after study show that the cost of telecommunications technology relegates most schools in poor and high-cost areas to second-class status. One group presented an informal study to the Joint Board that showed that the same high-speed phone line cost $237 per month in urban Portland, Oregon and $2,080 in rural Lakeview, in the same state. I recently heard from a teacher in rural Bullhead City, Arizona, who told me that Bullhead had finally gotten its first local Internet dialup access but that the local school was going to be charged $130 per month for a phone line and it just couldn't afford that.

Meanwhile, the exclusive Dalton School in New York City is a showpiece of the electronic age. One hundred years ago only the exclusive schools had libraries. For a century we've been struggling to put the resources of the Paper Age in all schools. In the next century all schools should be equipped like Dalton. And we shouldn't spend 100 years working on this goal. Under our new law we intend to start this fall and by the time the century starts we want all schools on line, with technology fully integrated into the students' lives.

The Joint Board came up with a way to put technology into our schools on an equal basis and at the same time transform those schools and libraries into the community hubs they can and should be. The final vote on the program was a unanimous 8 to nothing, with state and federal, Republican and Democratic commissioners voting together. So bipartisanship is alive and well at the FCC.

All the FCC Commissioners who were part of that vote -- Commissioners Ness, Chong, and myself -- are committed to bringing that vote into reality by passing implementing rules at the Commission by May 6 of this year.

Now we need to make the program of connecting classrooms work in practice. We're assembling the mandate but the hard work is just beginning.

Meanwhile, we are drawing close to the first anniversary of the signing of the Telecom Act, and the press has begun assessing what has happened since then. Predictably, the media's slant is skeptical. Many are writing that nothing happened, or at least nothing good happened. Voices in the wilderness have cried out that Rome was not rebuilt in a day; that the enormous, monopolistic communications sector is not going to be fully competitive and innovative in only a few months; that the FCC and the courts and the state commissions have not even finished implementing in rules and decisions the most elemental reforms that Congress ordered a year ago. These voices are not necessarily heeded.

But none of us here should be on the defensive. In fact, the Joint Board's landmark step towards putting technology in every classroom is a revolutionary act.

The truth is that right now, policy changes are running far ahead of plans and programs in schools, in markets, in laboratories. The country is only just beginning to cope in the real world and in real time with the tremendous changes in our telecommunications policy and with the many, many dimensions of the communications revolution.

For instance, the target date for the first implementation of the new technology in the nation's classrooms is only ten months away -- September 1997. Who's got a plan? How many schools are ready? Now is the time to begin marshalling your community's resources around this effort.

I don't need to explain to this group what making technology ubiquitous in the nation's classrooms will mean. I don't need to spend time talking about how integrating computers into the educational process accelerates learning, how grades go up and discipline problems down, as the marvelous Union City, New Jersey experiment has shown. I don't need to talk about the dramatic effect on Gross National Product, on income distribution, on your children's ability to get good jobs with good wages. You know already that by the year 2000, 60% of all new jobs will require working with computers.

But maybe I do need to describe briefly how the system we're designing might work. It's supposed to start with this new school year. So we will need your help as soon as you go back home.

The Joint Board's recommended plan works as follows: all of the nation's phone companies will contribute a small percentage of their revenues to a fund. Of this overall fund, the Joint Board recommended that two and a quarter billion dollars be available every year to provide discounts for schools and libraries when they buy telecommunications services. That's any telecommunications services. Other monies will go, for example, to reduce the price of telephone service to homes in remote rural America.

This means that a public school with an impoverished student body could get as much as a 90% discount on high-speed phone lines that can be used for data transmission; or on wireless technology that can hook laptop computers to the Internet anywhere in the school building.

Where's the catch? Well, there really isn't one. In many respects this is another example of something American government in its finest moments does well, preparing in advance to meet massive challenges in the future.

The American lend-lease program armed Britain to fight the Second World War even before Pearl Harbor. The Marshall Plan, more than the atom bomb or our military might, saved Western Europe after that war. Now our country's effort to put the tools of the information age in the hands of every students in every classroom in our new way to fight the 21st century war against ignorance, against unequal opportunity, against despair.

In many ways, this is the ideal government program that the President was referring to in his Inaugural Address when he said that "We have resolved for our time the great debate over the role of government. Today we can declare: government is not the problem. . . "

That is exactly right. As Abraham Lincoln said, the purpose of government is to do what needs doing and what none of us can do so well acting alone.

President Clinton also said, "We, the American people, we are the solution." And sometimes we, the American people, need to act together in partnership with government to solve our common problems.

That's what the classroom connection program known as Snowe-Rockefeller does.

Still, some say the schools will buy services they don't need, waste the money and end up with closets full of disconnected computers and unused phone lines. But we're building safeguards into the program to insure prudent planning.

Some critics say the schools are already wired -- wasn't that what Net Day was all about? We will need the volunteer spirit of Net Day, but Net Day won't pay a distance learning bill. We're designing an ongoing working system. After the barnraising you've still got to feed the cows. That's what we're working on.

And some say it's a mistake to pay for networked computers when roofs are leaking and there's no chalk for the blackboard. I understand this: I used to teach in a school where the blackboard was cracked, the overhead projector was AWOL, the chairs were broken, and the roller maps showed Hawaii and Alaska as territories. Fifty percent of my seventh graders were not expected to graduate from 9th grade. That wasn't only because the tools of the teaching trade were broken or missing. But the message sent by the lack of resources was not missed by my students. By giving so little to that school, we gave little help or hope to the kids in it. By making each classroom in each school a shining example of brilliant opportunity to explore the new worlds of knowledge that technology gives us, we will be at least telling the Americans who will lead us in the 21st century -- the children of today -- that we truly care about their futures.

Once this system gets up and running, and if your schools take advantage of it to the full extent, it should be a great equalizer. What we can do is make sure that the inequalities stop at the schoolhouse door and at the front steps of the library. And that is the power of technology.

Our goal is that by September of this year, all the phone companies will have started to pay into the fund, making discounts available to your schools. You may want to think about engaging in some general "consciousness-raising" to invest every part of the school community in this project. You might follow the example of the PTA in the Matsuyama Elementary School in Sacramento, which formed a technology committee and has begun holding "technology nights" where teachers and parents learn the mysteries of the Net. You might want to copy the Marshalltown, Iowa School District, that convened a Technology Standards Board last year.

Perhaps the most important piece of preparation is to figure out exactly what your school already has in the way of telecommunications technology.

You will probably want to set up a meeting with the relevant school officials. At the very least, this means the chief technology administrator for your school district or, if there is nobody with that specific responsibility, then the officer who has general purchasing authority for the district or the school. When the time comes for your school to apply for discounts under this program, these officials will decide what kinds of services to buy. So talk to them now.

Does your school already have a technology plan? Federal grant programs run by the Department of Education, the Department of Commerce, and the Department of Energy all require technology plans. If your school or district participated in any of these programs they may have a plan that will need only to be updated. For a quick overview, try getting on the Internet and going to www.ed.gov/Technology/techno.html. Or call us for free at 1-888-CALLFCC. One of the best resources is a compilation of plans published by the Institute for the Transfer of Technology to Education of your own Association.

You might also ask whether your state has ever required a technology plan. Again, your school officials should know the answer, although if they tell you "no," you might want to ask them to start marshaling other kinds of information that they will surely have, such as a diagram showing all of the existing phone lines in a school.

If there is no formal technology plan, you will need to find a way to assess your school's needs top to bottom.

What are you going to need to know? Keep in mind that the goal is to bring advanced technology into your school for as little money as possible while deriving the maximum educational benefit. This means finding out whether the school is already fitted with high-speed phone lines, like fiber optic cable. Is there cable television in the school? Is the electrical plant of the school capable of handling a sizable injection of new technology? Is there a phone jack? Is there an electric socket?

What kind of computers does the school have?

For classroom purposes, there is no comparison between an IBM 286 and a high-capacity multimedia computer. The Department of Education and other experts have said repeatedly that students need multimedia computers to make technology a truly integral part of their education. The truly spectacular computer programs, like a wonderful full-semester course on the cardiovascular system put out by the Computer Curriculum Corporation, will not run on Apple IIs. These courses make up for deficiencies in labs or libraries -- but you need to get online.

Think also about what exactly is being done with computers in your schools. Are they in a computer lab or in the classrooms? Are they networked together or do they stand alone? How are students using them? There is -- literally -- a world of difference between the eighth grade class that communicates regularly with a Mayan archeological dig, using sophisticated software to map the course of the dig, and the class that uses computers the same way you and I used typewriters when we were in school. Nothing is more frustrating to students than having initiative choked off by the lack of resources. One mother from North Carolina told me that her children's school had 20 computers for 650 students. Using the Internet, her daughter and some friends were taking a college physics class from a professor in Texas, but the limited number of computers meant that their questions had to be carefully rationed out.

Rationing questions? What message does this send an inquiring mind? That's an idea for me at a press conference maybe -- but not part of a sensible education.

Finally, you will want to know whether your school participates in any program that teaches teachers to use technology. Darius Wei at Indiana Academy carries the typical high school class load. And he is also the school's network system administrator. The school is lucky to have him -- but it needs a plan to train his successor -- since he'll be leaving soon for Harvard of Microsoft, or both.

Does your school have any vehicle for a partnership with a local college or university? Are there any local businesses that have volunteered to take this on? If you need resources, you might try contacting the NHPTV Knowledge Network at 1-800-639-3413, or the University of Montana's Information Training Resource Center. The Website for that is itrc30.itrc.umt.edu/ or you can call us at 1-888-CALL FCC.

In the event there is no such comprehensive plan, you will want to seek outside assistance. You or one of your fellow board members may have a particular expertise in this area. For example, if you are in Armonk, New York, you may have an information systems specialist from Xerox headquarters on your board. Or if you are in Detroit, it may be that the person who manages the computer systems for a Ford office building is on your board. Remember that advanced telecommunications are virtually ubiquitous in the corporate world, so it is no longer necessary to live in Silicon Valley to have access to technological expertise. Kelly Gammon, a Systems Analyst at Children's Hospital Medical Center in Cincinnati wrote me some time ago that she was helping her old high school get connected to the Internet. Someone asked her and she responded.

Productive partnerships are in place already. Early this year, IBM announced a five-year agreement with the Metropolitan School District of Wayne Township in Indianapolis to jointly develop and implement a technology strategy for the district to manage its $5- to $6-million annual technology budget. Another example: next month, TCI Cable is sending staff into 200 Los Angeles schools to do a top-to-bottom assessment of technology needs. A school district in Mississippi has partnered with a local Air Force Base.

Perhaps the model for these partnerships is the SmartValley program in Northern California, which brings together businesses and school boards like yours to wire schools from top to bottom and educate teachers. You can reach Smart Valley by calling Pete Sinclair at 408-562-7703.

If you have difficulty finding a corporate partner, you will want to look to the not-for-profit world. The city of Sudbury, Massachusetts turned to the Nonprofit Computer Connection, part of the Technical Development Corporation in Boston. You can call them at 617-728-9151.

The course I just described may sound like a full-time job, and it would be full-time for me if I tried to go through it on my own. The good news, however, is that the rules we draw up will not require your school to provide us with too much detail to qualify for funds. It was never the goal of the Joint Board to enmesh the federal government in the daily activities of the nation's schools. What we expect is that your schools will ultimately fill out very simple application forms -- which we are designing right now -- that will represent the tip of the iceberg as far as technology planning goes.

I am enormously proud of the work the FCC has done to bring within reach the networking of this nation's classrooms. But -- and this takes me back to the beginning of my speech -- it would be a mistake to see this as something totally separate from the rest of the FCC's activities. It's not: it's integrally related to the FCC's primary mission.

At the instruction of Congress and the President, this agency is in the business of reintroducing competition to the field of telecommunications so that consumers will get a range of telecommunications technologies at reasonable prices.

There will always be places where the markets won't work. Where we determine that there is a call for benefits that the market will not produce -- such as cheap and universal access to education technology -- we can design a clear, focused, and market-driven structure to meet those needs.

Too often the burden of preparing these future leaders has rested with individuals who take small but heroic actions on their own. During the Joint Board proceeding, I received an email from Sandra Hildreth, a teacher in Canton, New York. She described the painstaking way she introduced computers to her students, first by spending her own money on a computer and then, over time, by applying for a series of grants and fellowships that she used to keep the technology current. And still, Sandra said, she lived with the constant fear that the grant money would stop flowing and her students would lose access to this wonderful technology. This isn't fair and she's not alone: many teachers spend between their own money on basic classroom supplies. This used to be just books and paper; now it's telecommunications too.

The Joint Board has offered a helping hand to these local heroes -- and sealed its place in history -- and the FCC is part way there, and now it's going to be up to all the other participants in the education system. The trick is going to be to realize that only concerted and dedicated grassroots efforts will bring success. Thank you for your efforts. We're doing the right thing, and we welcome your support.