Guest Editorial (untitled)

by Dr. Jack T. MacDonald Coordinator, State Leadership Policies Council of Chief State School Officers OALS 2000, this landmark education act was passed by the U.S. Senate shortly after 1:00 a.m. on the morning of March 26, 1994 and signed by President Clinton on March 31st in a San Diego, Calif., school. The importance of this legislation is that for the first time it commits the federal and state governments to national education-content standards. These standards are voluntary, but our assumption is that most states will work within their own standards frameworks to create high standards. Since the Governors' Conference in 1989, states have been working on such standards. Secretary Riley has indicated that states will be expected to build upon their established foundations rather than create an entirely new effort. An important section of the act creates an Office of Technology under the direction of the U.S. Secretary of Education. In addition, there are funds for states to utilize in planning for the use of technology in meeting the National Education Goals. Systemic Restructuring Both Congress and the administration recognize the potential that technology and telecommunications can play in the systemic restructuring of learning and teaching. The term "restructuring" is used here deliberately because technology adds a new dimension in the learning and teaching processes. We are not talking about simply tinkering around the edges of education; we are discussing the providing of new resources for life-long learning. This legislation, coupled with the Clinton administration's commitment to, by the year 2000, bring to every classroom in America a broadband telecommunications service of voice, data and two-way video known as the National Information Infrastructure (NII), will significantly alter our understanding of schools. At the Benton Foundation's forum on the on March 29th, Vice President Gore restated this commitment. Upon questioning from the audience, he repeated the requirement that schools must have affordable rates for such services. States may take their own, different pathways to achieve these rates, however, rates may be determined by legislation, regulation or special trust funds. The Federal Communications Commission can regulate the way such services are provided by private-sector utilities. Commercial competition by major companies who are bidding to bring these services into homes, workplaces and schools is amassing the resources needed to build the infrastructure. The challenge is for educators to define what they need and to assure that such services are affordable. American education touches 65 million people, approximately one fourth of the U.S. population. Many learners are currently rate payers, and all will eventually be rate payers, and as such have a right to determine the scope and degree of educational services offered. Just as the book and library were the foundation of our modern schools, the new telecommunications technologies will be essential to learners in the 21st century. An Opportunity to Integrate The Goals 2000 legislation challenges us to integrate technology into the content standards and plans of our nation's schools. Many states are already planning for the NII. Iowa and North Carolina, for example, have installed high-performance, fiber optic communications and computing networks. Kentucky and Texas seek to use technology to provide universal education on an equitable basis for all children. Complex standards in 13 content areas are being created by states and at the federal level. Teachers and administrators need software tools that assist them in identifying these standards and correlating them to materials and techniques for implementation. Such management software should identify the materials, techniques and assessment measurements that would enable teachers to track their students' progress in meeting the National Education Standards. The challenge to education has never been more exciting. Passage of the Goals 2000: Educate America Act, the rewriting of the Communications Act of 1934 and the administration's commitment to the NII will enable educational professionals to meet the needs of all learners. We have the technologies. The question is, do we have the wisdom and will to use them effectively to bring life-long learning to all Americans? Other Legislation Goals 2000 is the first in a series of education bills in Congress. The next major bill is reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which also has significant sections pertaining to technology. This act is the foundation of the federal education program. Equal in importance to education legislation is the rewriting of the Communications Act of 1934. This one piece of legislation may ultimately determine the health and effectiveness of our schools. (The Markey Bill in the House has passed, but the Senate bill is still pending; action is now centered in the Senate under the leadership of Senators Hollings, Danforth and Inouye.) What happens in the rewriting of the Communications Act of 1934 will determine how schools, students and teachers may use the new National Information Infrastructure. It is every educators' personal responsibility to study the implications of this legislation and to communicate to Congress their concerns and desires. Jack T. MacDonald was Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education at the U. S. Department of Education from 1990 to 1993, Commissioner of Education in New Hampshire from 1986 to 1990, and superintendent of a number of school districts in Massachusetts and Connecticut. MacDonald has also served on many commissions and committees on education management and policy.

This article originally appeared in the 05/01/1994 issue of THE Journal.