The President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) Panel on Education recently released a report entitled "Use of Technology to Strengthen K-12 Education in t he United States." The following section is from the report's executive summary. The full report can be accessed on the PCAST website
In an era of increasing international economic competition, the quality of America's elementary and secondary schools could determine whether our children hold highly compensated, high-skill jobs that add significant value within the integrated global economy of the twenty-first century or compete with workers in developing countries for the provision of commodity products and low-value-added services at wage rates comparable to those received by third world laborers. Moreover, it is widely believed that workers in the next century will require not just a larger set of facts or a larger repertoire of specific skills, but the capacity to readily acquire new knowledge, to solve new problems, and to employ creativity and critical thinking in the design of new approaches to existing problems.
While a number of different approaches have been suggested for the improvement of K-12 education in the United States, one common element of many such plans has been the more extensive and more effective utilization of computer, networking, and other technologies in support of a broad program of systemic and curricular reform. During a period in which technology has fundamentally transformed America's offices, factories, and retail establishments, however, its impact within our nation's classrooms has generally been quite modest.
The Panel on Educational Technology was organized in April 1995 under the auspices of the President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) to provide independent advice to the President on matters related to the application of various technologies (and in particular, interactive computer- and network-based technologies) to K-12 education in the United States. Its findings and recommendations are based on a (non-exhaustive) review of the research literature and on written submissions and private White House briefings from a number of academic and industrial researchers, practicing educators, software developers, governmental agencies, and professional and industry organizations involved in various ways with the application of technology to education. A substantial number of relatively specific recommendations related to various aspects of the use of technology within America's elementary and secondary schools are offered at various points within the body of this report. The list that appears below summarizes those high-level strategic recommendations that the Panel believes to be most important:
While voluntarism and corporate equipment donations may be of both direct and indirect benefit under certain circumstances, White House policy should be based on a realistic assessment of the relatively limited direct economic contribution such efforts can be expected to make overall. The Administration should continue to make the case for educational technology as an unusually high-return investment (in both economic and social terms) in America's future, while seeking to enhance the return on that investment by promoting federally sponsored research aimed at improving the cost-effectiveness of technology use within our nation's elementary and secondary schools.
The Panel strongly recommends that this figure be increased to at least 0.5 percent (or about $1.5 billion annually at current expenditure levels) on an ongoing basis. Because no one state, municipality, or private firm could hope to capture more than a small fraction of the benefits associated with a significant advance in our understanding of how best to educate K-12 students, this funding will have to be provided largely at the federal level in order to avoid a systematic underinvestment (attributable to a classical form of economic externality) relative to the level that would be optimal for the nation as a whole.
To ensure high standards of scientific excellence, intellectual integrity, and independence from political influence, this research program should be planned and overseen by a distinguished independent board of outside experts appointed by the President, and should encompass (a) basic research in various learning-related disciplines and on various educationally relevant technologies; (b) early-stage research aimed at developing new forms of educational software, content, and technology-enabled pedagogy; and (c) rigorous, well-controlled, peer-reviewed, large-scale empirical studies designed to determine which educational approaches are in fact most effective in practice. The Panel does not, however, recommend that the deployment of technology within America's schools be deferred pending the completion of such research.
Finally, it should be noted that the Panel strongly supports the programs encompassed by the President's Educational Technology Initiative, which aim to provide our nation's schools with the modern computer hardware, local- and wide-area network connectivity, high quality educational content, and appropriate teacher preparation that will be necessary if information technologies are to be effectively utilized to enhance learning. In the area of research and evaluation, however, the Panel believes that much remains to be done. While a scientific research program of the sort envisioned by the Panel will require substantial funding on a sustained basis, such a program could well prove critical to the economic security of future generations of Americans, and should thus be assigned a high priority in spite of current budgetary pressures.
Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contributed by Kasey Shewey, AGI Government Affairs
Last updated January 5, 1998
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