White House, Congressional Committees Look to Future of Education

Share This

Publication date: 
13 October 1995

President Clinton announced a new program of Department of
Education grants on October 10.  The 19 Technology Learning
Challenge grants, totaling $9.5 million, provide funds that must be
matched by community partnerships of educators, parents, business
and community leaders.  Clinton called on Congress to fully fund
the grant program in future years, but of his fiscal year 1996
request for it, the House has recommended only $25 million, and the
Senate has pared that amount to $15 million.

Nevertheless, concern within Congress over the state of K-12
education led to an October 12 joint hearing on education
technologies, held by the House Science, and Economic and
Educational Opportunities Committees.  Robert Walker (R-PA),
science committee chairman and former teacher, is a self-described
"techno-nut," as is his friend, House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA).
Gingrich was scheduled to speak at the hearing, but was unable to

Witnesses from academia, industry and the education establishment
testified that access to computer technology alone would not
improve education; technology was only an enabling tool which
teachers must be taught to use in innovative and effective ways.
They articulated a vision in which students actively participated
in their own education.  Students could learn at their own pace,
breaking up the grade system; they could learn subjects as
necessary to solve integrated, real-world problems, blurring the
distinctions between subjects; and they could access schoolwork
from homes and libraries, crossing the traditional boundaries of
the classroom.  A number of the witnesses stated that teachers,
rather than imparting a body of facts, needed to be co-learners,
helping students find the information they needed.

Seymour Papert, Professor of Learning Research at MIT, complained
that the education establishment was too bureaucratic and
"deplorably limited" in vision.  Chris Dede, Professor of
Information Technology and Education at George Mason University,
added that parents, school boards and communities, too, were
unwilling to accept a new paradigm of education.  But David Shaw,
chairman of the PCAST Panel on Educational Technologies, argued
that the White House and the Education Department were "doing some
remarkable work in this area."

Most of the witnesses advocated a role for the federal government
in renovating the educational system.  Papert thought the federal
government could provide the vision lacking in the education
bureaucracy.  Shaw worried that if the government did not address
the issue of equity for rural and inner-city schools, it would
exacerbate current social problems.  He also noted that while a lot
of money was being spent to get computers into schools, there was
little research on "figuring out what actually works."  If the
federal government did not perform research and evaluation, he
said, it "won't be done."  Cheryl Lemke, Associate Superintendent
of Learning Technologies for the Illinois State Board of Education,
asserted that, while alliances are needed among teachers,
administrators, parents, communities and industry, federal and
state leadership was required, and she praised the Education
Department's Challenge grants.  While testimony varied over the
costs of supplying technology to schools, both industry and
community representatives demonstrated a willingness to contribute
to the effort. 

For those readers interested in further discussion on the role of
technology in education, Papert has established an Internet forum
on the subject.  It can be accessed by the following email
addresses:  school [at] media.mit.edu  or

Explore FYI topics: