CRS Report for Congress
Received through the CRS Web
Information Technology and Elementary and
Current Status and Federal Support
Updated January 8, 2001
Analyst in Social Legislation
Domestic Social Policy Division
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
Information Technology and Elementary and Secondary
Education: Current Status and Federal Support
Interest in the application of information technology to education has risen
among federal policymakers, sparked partly by concern over poor performance of
U.S. elementary and secondary school students and a growing perception that
technology might improve that performance. Since the 1980s, schools have acquired
technology at a fast pace. Today the ration of students-to-computers is 6-to-1.
Despite these gains, schools have a sizeable stock of old, outdated technology.
Further, students have substantially different degrees of access to technology.
Perhaps of greater concern is that, even when students have access to the technology,
relatively little use is made of it in schools.
Research suggests that beneficial effects of technology on achievement are
possible, but the effects appear to depend largely upon local school factors.
Strengthening teachers’ capabilities with technology is considered one essential step.
Another is to develop curriculum that integrates technology into instruction. The
financial cost of acquiring, maintaining, and using technology in schools is likely to
be a significant hurdle. Estimates of these costs vary widely. Any estimate must be
approached with caution because it will be based upon widely varying assumptions
about such elements as the configuration of hardware, software, training, and
While there is not set figure on the amount of federal investment being made in
technology, the federal government appears to be providing a billion dollars or more
annually in support of educational technology through a fragmented effort with
support flowing through multiple agencies and many different programs. A large
proportion of that assistance comes from federal programs for which technology is
not a primary focus. Additionally, the E-rate program, established through the
Telecommunications Act of 1996, has provided billions of dollars in discounts for
telecommunications services, Internet access, and internal connections to schools and
libraries. These discounts are funded by interstate telecommunications carriers. The
program has been challenged in the Congress for, among reasons, being more
expansive than was intended. Discount commitments totaling over $3.5 billion for its
first and second year have been made; the third year of the program is now being
Shaping federal policy in this area, particularly given that elementary and
secondary education is a state and local responsibility, requires addressing at least four
major questions: Should the federal government provide support? What activities,
if any, should it support? How should this support be provided? What level of
support should be provided?
Recent Action . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
Current Interest in Technology for Elementary and Secondary Education . . . . . 2
Status of Technology in Schools . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3
Major Issues . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
Impact of Technology . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
Cost of Technology . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
Differences in Access to Technology . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
Access to the Internet . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8
Amount of Technology Use and Types of Uses . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
Training of the Teaching Force . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
Curriculum Development . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
Federal Support for Technology in Schools . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Characteristics of Current Federal Support . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Selected Federal Programs and Activities Supporting Technology in
Education . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
U.S. Department of Education . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
U.S. Department of Agriculture . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
U.S. Department of Commerce . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
National Aeronautics and Space Administration . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
National Science Foundation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Federal Communications Commission — E-rate Program . . . . . . . . .
Other Federal Activities . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Federal Policy Questions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Should the Federal Government Provide Support for Applying
Technology to Elementary and Secondary Education? . . . . . . . . . . .
What Activities, if Any, Should the Federal Government Support? . . . . . .
How Should Federal Support be Provided? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
What Level of Federal Support Should be Provided? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
This document updates the original CRS Report 96-178, Information
Technology and Elementary and Secondary Education: Current Status and
Federal Support, formerly written by James Stedman.
List of Figures
Figure 1 Percent of Public Schools Without Internet Access, by Type and
Size, 1998 and 1999 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Figure 2 Percent of Public Schools Without Access to the Internet, by
Location, 1998 and 1999 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Figure 3 Percent of Public Schools Without Internet Access, by
Student Characteristics, 1998 and 1999 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Figure 4 Percent of Public Schools Without Access to the Internet, by
Location, 1998 and 1999 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Information Technology and Elementary and
Secondary Education: Current Status and
The 106th Congress reviewed proposals to amend several of the existing federal
education technology programs, such as the Technology Literacy Challenge Fund, as
it considered reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act
(ESEA).1 None of these proposals was enacted. The 107th Congress is expected to
once again consider education technology programs as it reauthorizes the ESEA.
In their quest for ways of making elementary and secondary schools more
effective, policymakers at all levels have looked to new information technology. As
they do, they are faced with myriad claims about technology’s actual and potential
impact on schools, ranging from assertions that it may revolutionize schooling to
warnings that technology may have little impact and, at worst, may exacerbate current
This report provides an analysis of issues involving the application of information
technology to elementary and secondary education, and federal policymaking in this
area. The report includes the following topics:
! sources of the current interest in bringing technology to education,
! status of technology in schools,
! major issues involving the integration of technology into schools, such as the
impact of technology on achievement and the cost of technology,
! Federal support for technology in schools, and
! major federal policy questions.
CRS Issue Brief IB98047, Elementary and Secondary Education: Reconsideration of the
Federal Role by the 106th Congress, by Wayne C. Riddle, et al. CRS Report 98-969,
Technology Challenge Programs in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, by
For a collection of essays exploring different views of the potential impact of technology,
see: U.S. Congress. Office of Technology Assessment (OTA). Education and Technology:
Future Visions. OTA-BP-EHR-169. Washington, 1995. (Hereafter cited as OTA,
Education and Technology).
This report will be updated periodically to reflect substantive action on
federal programs and policies described below.
For this report, the terms “information technology” and “technology” are used
to identify a broad array of different equipment and materials, such as: computer
hardware; compact disc (CD-ROM) and video disc players; computer software;
electronic databases; television; video material; satellites, modems, and other
telecommunications equipment; and electronic networks based on that
Current Interest in Technology for Elementary and
For nearly 2 decades, policymakers at the federal, state, and local levels have
been concerned about the poor academic performance of U.S. students relative to
their counterparts in many other industrialized nations.3 At the same time,
policymakers have increasingly recognized that technology is becoming a central
component of many jobs, changing the skills and knowledge needed to be successful
in the workplace.4 This anxiety about the academic competitiveness of U.S. students
coupled with changes in needed work skills has heightened interest in integrating
technology into the elementary and secondary curriculum in an effort to address both
sets of needs.
With regard to academic performance, many policymakers and analysts believe
that new information technology can increase students’ achievement and mastery of
challenging curricula by providing students and teachers with new environments for
learning, new ways of instructing, expanded access to resources, constructive contact
with other students or teachers, and new tools to manipulate and present data.5
See, for example: The National Commission on Excellence in Education. A Nation At Risk:
The Imperative for Educational Reform. A Report to the Nation and the Secretary of
Education. U. S. Department of Education. 1983.
See, for example: The Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce. America’s
Choice: High Skills or Low Wages! National Center on Education and the Economy. 1990.
(Hereafter cited as The Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce, America’s
Choice); and Committee for Economic Development (CED). Connecting Students to a
Changing World: A Technology Strategy for Improving Mathematics and Science
Education. 1995. (Hereafter cited as CED, Connecting Students to a Changing World).
See, for example: U.S. Congress. Office of Technology Assessment. Teachers and
Technology: Making the Connection. Washington, 1995. (Hereafter cited as OTA,
Teachers and Technology); Means, Barbara, et al. Using Technology to Support Education
Reform. Report prepared for the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational
Research and Improvement. Washington, 1993. (Hereafter cited as Means, Using
Technology to Support Education Reform); CED, Connecting Students to a Changing
World; National Information Infrastructure Advisory Council (NIIAC). KickStart Initiative.
February 13, 1996. As made available through the NIIAC home page on the World Wide
Web. (Hereafter cited as NIIAC, KickStart Initiative) The NIIAC, a panel created by an
Concurrently, many contend that, with an increasingly technological workplace,
schools should be equipping students with a different mix and level of skills. These,
it is argued, include familiarity with technology and the ability to use it in the
workplace. Further, the integration of technology into work is seen as creating
demands for higher levels of mathematics and science competence, and such other
skills as being able to work in teams, exercise judgment on work-related issues, and
quickly master new skills.6 In the eyes of many critics, schools as currently structured
are relics of an industrial age that is passing, inappropriately engaged in “prepar[ing]
students for a world that no longer exists, developing in students yesterday’s skills for
Status of Technology in Schools
Information technology is spread broadly, but not deeply, across elementary and
secondary education. Despite nearly 2 decades of influx of technology, the extent to
which elementary and secondary schools provide students with continuing and
effective access to new information technology remains limited.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, much of the focus has been on the presence
of computers in schools. Today there are an estimated 8.2 million instructional
computers in schools, with an additional 600,000 used for administrative purposes.8
This acquisition of computers has dramatically cut the ratio of students-toinstructional computer. Most recent figures indicate that in 1999 the students-tocomputer ratio was 6-to-1.9
Despite this sizeable reduction in the ratio, many experts believe that current
ratios still do not provide the level of access necessary to realize this technology’s
educational benefits. For example, the students-to-computer ratio for computers with
Internet access was 9-to-1 in 1999.10 Further, some analysts believe that a lower
students-to-computer ratio — four or five to one — should be the target for
executive order issued by President Clinton, provides advice on the national information
See, for example: The Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce, America’s
Choice; CED, Connecting Students to a Changing World; and OTA, Education and
OTA, Education and Technology, p. 5.
Market Data Retrieval. Technology In Education 1999. Data provided at MDR website
[http://www.schooldata.com/pr18.html], June 9, 2000.
U.S. Department of Education. National Center for Education Statistics. Internet Access
in Public Schools and Classrooms: 1994-1999. Issue Brief. February 2000. (Hereafter
cited as ED, Internet Access in Public Schools and Classrooms: 1994-1999).
schools.11 As is explored in a later section in this report, the ratio of students-tocomputer continues to provide relevant information for policymaking, particularly
when it is disaggregated to consider the access that different kinds of schools and
students have to computer technology. 12
A substantial number of schools have acquired the newest information
technology during the 1990s. Between 1994 and 1999, the percentage of public
schools with access to the Internet rose from 35% to 95%.13 In 1999, the percentage
of classrooms, computer labs, and library/media centers connected to the Internet was
63%, 21 times greater than the 1994 percentage (3%). Internet access is considered
in more detail later in this report. Despite substantial acquisition of other elements of
the new technology during 1990s, their availability may still be relatively limited.14
In this section, we briefly consider a number of the major issues that directly
affect the effort to integrate technology into elementary and secondary education:
impact of technology on academic achievement,
cost of technology,
differences in access to technology,
amount of technology use and kinds of uses in schools,
technology-related knowledge and skills of the teaching force, and
integration of technology into the curriculum.
Impact of Technology
One of the key questions for policymaking at all levels is whether information
technology has, or can have, beneficial effects on education. Overviews of available
research suggest that positive effects are possible, not only for students, but also for
teachers and the schooling process in general. Among the reported outcomes for
students are increased academic achievement, more positive attitudes about school
work, and achievement gains by special populations of students (e.g., those with
learning disabilities). Consequences for teachers reportedly include greater interaction
with colleagues, and changes in teaching styles from lecturing to coaching and
facilitating students’ work. It is suggested that information technology can be an
important force for restructuring the educational process, not just the role of teachers,
CED, Connecting Students to a Changing World, p. 39.
We would note that the students-to-computer ratios for individual states vary widely. See,
Education Week. Technology Counts ‘99. September 23, 1999. (Hereafter cited as
Education Week, Technology Counts ‘99).
ED, Internet Access in Public Schools and Classrooms, 1994-1999.
See: Hayes, Jeanne. Equality and Technology. Learning and Leading With Technology.
October 1995; and Coley, Richard J. et al. Computers and Classrooms: The Status of
Technology in U.S. Schools. Educational Testing Service. 1997. (Hereafter cited as Coley,
Computers and Classrooms).
but also such aspects of education as how time is used in schools; how lines of
authority are drawn among teachers, administrators, schools, school districts, etc.; and
where schooling occurs.15
Some analysts have reached somewhat less positive conclusions concerning the
current or potential impact of technology in elementary and secondary schools. They
raise concerns about such issues as whether educational institutions will be able to use
technology effectively, whether all groups of students will be able to take advantage
of technology, whether technology will isolate students rather than bring them
together, whether technology will be a distraction from more serious academic
learning, whether technology investment will divert resources from other critical
school needs, whether the evidence is really persuasive that technology can improve
academic performance, and whether technology will be used to support current
educational practice and structure, rather than to promote change.16
Policymakers are particularly interested in the effects of information technology
on students’ academic achievement. Traditional analysis of the academic effects of
technology seeks to address this interest by following the “horse race” approach of
comparing the educational impact of one kind of technology with another or with
conventional instruction. The focus is on identifying winners and losers. Available
data from such studies suggest that some uses of technology, such as computerassisted instruction, are found to be either more effective than, or equally as effective
as, conventional instruction.17 However, such a generalization has serious limitations.
For example, studies covering shorter periods of time have found stronger positive
results than have studies assessing effects over a longer period of time. This led one
analyst to suggest that “novelty effects boost performance with new technologies in
the short term but tend to wear off over time.”18
Perhaps even more important is the growing understanding that “horse race”
studies may not provide sound guidance for policymaking because they fail to account
for the local context within which technology is applied in schools. The elementary
and secondary education enterprise is exceedingly complex and the circumstances
under which technology may be introduced into the instructional process will vary
See, for example, OTA, Teachers and Technology; NIIAC, KickStart Initiative; Means,
Using Technology to Support Education Reform; McKinsey & Company. Connecting K-12
Schools to the Information Superhighway. 1995. (Hereafter cited as McKinsey & Company,
Connecting K-12 Schools); and The CEO Forum on Education and Technology. School
Technology and Readiness Report. Professional Development: A Link to Better Learning.
Washington, 1999. (Hereafter cited as CEO Forum, School Technology and Readiness
See, for example: OTA, Education and Technology, p. 18-19; Cuban, Larry. Computers
Meet Classroom: Classroom Wins. Teachers College Record, winter 1993; and McCluskey,
Lawrence. Gresham’s Law, Technology, and Education. Phi Delta Kappan, March 1994.
Stoll, Clifford. High Tech Heretic: Why Computers Don’t Belong in the Classroom and
Other Reflections by a Computer Contrarian. New York: Doubleday, 1999.
See for example: Means, Using Technology to Support Education Reform, chapter V; and
OTA, Teachers and Technology, p. 14-16.
Means, Using Technology to Support Education Reform, p. 74.
among the approximately 14,800 school districts, over 85,000 public schools, and
26,000 private schools in which children are educated. Linda Roberts, the director
of the Office of Educational Technology in the U.S. Department of Education (ED),
has asserted that “under the right conditions new interactive technologies contribute
to improvements in learning.”19 For policymakers, the research on the effects of
technology in education may be most important for identifying those right conditions
under which technology will be effective.
Among the conditions that may make technologies more likely to be effective in
schools are careful and systematic planning, direct access for students and teachers
to a broad variety of technologies and supporting materials, and the time and
opportunities for teachers to become well trained and comfortable in the use of these
technologies. For instance, a recent study by the Educational Testing Service (ETS)
found that technology may be an important learning tool if teachers are well-skilled
in its use.20 Using data from the math section of the 1996 National Assessment of
Education Progress (NAEP), the study found that 8th graders whose teachers used
computers for “simulations and applications,” which are generally associated with
higher-order thinking skills, performed better on the NAEP than did students whose
teachers did not use computers in this manner. Students whose teachers used
computers mostly for “drill and practice” performed worse on the NAEP.
Cost of Technology
Estimates of the total cost associated with equipping schools with advanced
technology (including access to networks and to data, voice, graphical, and video
services) vary greatly. They provide a moving target for policy analysis because they
are dependent upon a host of assumptions concerning the configuration of technology
being established; they become outdated quickly as prices change for some elements
in the technology configuration. Further, comparing different estimates by different
analysts is often exceedingly difficult. As a result, any estimate should be used with
caution. Note that the data discussed below, while providing an example of the
estimated cost of equipping schools with technology, are fairly dated; they are not
intended to reflect the current potential cost of equipping K-12 schools with
technology, particularly given the substantial recent investments that have been made.
Most recent data are from a 1995 analysis of several options for connecting
schools to the Internet; these data suggest how wide the range in cost estimates can
be.21 According to this analysis, a “baseline” model for Internet connection which
Written testimony presented to the House Subcommittee on Elementary, Secondary and
Vocational Education, March 23, 1993. (emphasis added)
Educational Testing Service. Does It Compute? The Relationship Between Educational
Technology and Student Achievement in Mathematics. New Jersey, September 1998.
Rothstein, Russell I., and Lee McKnight. Technology and Cost Models of Connecting K12 Schools to the National Information Infrastructure. MIT Research Program on
Communications Policy. October 1995. Report provided at program Web site
[http://rpcp.mit.edu], February 13, 1996. (Hereafter cited as Rothstein and McKnight,
Technology and Cost Models of Connecting K-12 Schools). See, also, Rothstein, Russell I.
provides students and teachers with the ability of fully engaging in
telecommunications opportunities involves networking of the computers in each
school, connections for every classroom, equipment and resources at the school site
necessary to permit multiple connections to the Internet and to permit the school to
reduce its dependence upon the school district’s central computers, significant
renovation of school facilities, and extensive teacher training. The range of estimated
up-front costs are between $9.35 billion and $22.05 billion, with annual costs ranging
from $1.75 billion to $4.61 billion. At the high end of this range of estimated costs
is a model that builds on the baseline model by providing each student and teacher
with a technology-rich environment complete with a high capacity computer and other
technology, and full access to the Internet. According to this analysis, estimated upfront costs range between $51.2 billion and $113.52 billion; annual costs may range
from $4.02 billion to $10.03 billion.
These and other cost estimates depend upon several key factors, including the
configuration of technology being acquired;22 the amount of renovation and repair
(retrofitting) necessary for school buildings; and, how the technology is to be
supported and to what extent.
Differences in Access to Technology
Certain types of schools, as well as the schools attended by certain groups of
students, are less likely to be able to provide access to technology than are other
schools. This has been a recurring issue since personal computers first became
commercially available in the late 1970s and began making their way into schools. Of
particular concern to educators and policymakers in the 1980s was that schools
serving substantial populations of low-income or minority students had fewer
computers relative to the size of their enrollment than did schools with more affluent
students or fewer minority students.23 Other kinds of schools that appeared to
Connecting K-12 Schools to the NII: A Preliminary Assessment of Technology Models and
Their Associated Costs. U.S. Department of Education. Office of Educational Technology.
Working Paper. August 4, 1994. Hughes, David. Appropriate and Distributed Networks:
A Model for K-12 Educational Telecommunications. Internet Research, winter 1993; and
OTA, Teachers and Technology, p. 21-24.
According to a 1995 GAO report, over 50% of schools lacked the infrastructure needed to
support new technology. The degree to which this percentage has changed is unknown,
however, before computers and other technology can be integrated into the curriculum, many
schools may still need to undertake certain steps, such as installing additional electrical outlets
and phone lines, laying down fiber optic cables, and upgrading their air conditioning and
ventilation systems. Morra, Linda. America’s Schools Not Designed or Equipped for the
21st Century. General Accounting Office. April 4, 1995. HEHS-95-127.
See, for example: Sutton, Rosemary E. Equity and Computers in the Schools: A Decade
of Research. Review of Educational Research, winter 1991. p. 475-503. (Hereafter cited as
Sutton, Equity and Computers in Schools). One national survey conducted in 1982-1983
found that the median students-to-computer ratio in all elementary schools was 183 to 1, while
in predominantly minority elementary schools the ratio was 215 to 1 (The Johns Hopkins
provide significantly less technology access to students included: (1) large schools,
(2) urban schools, (3) private schools, and (4) elementary schools.24
More recent data suggest that somewhat similar patterns of uneven access to
technology still apply to different groups of schools, but that some changes may have
also occurred. Perhaps one of the most significant findings by the 1992 IEA
Computers in Education Study was that differences in the students-to-computer ratios
in U.S. schools based on their minority enrollments have largely disappeared at the
high school level, are very small at the elementary level, and are modest at the middle
school level.25 Nevertheless, other data continue to depict substantial disparities in
access for schools’ with student populations that are substantially minority or poor.26
For example, according to one source, in 1995-1996, schools with enrollment that
was less than 25% minority had a students-to-computer ratio of approximately 10 to
1; schools with 90% or more minority enrollment had a ratio of 17.4 to 1.27 Of
concern to some analysts is the substantially lower access to computers that black and
Hispanic students have at home than do white students.28 According to U.S. Census
data, in 1997, 54% of white students in grades 1 through 8 used a computer at home
while only 21% of black students and 19% of Hispanic students did so. For students
in grades 9 through 12, 61% of whites, 21% of blacks, and 22% of Hispanics used
computers in their homes.
Access to the Internet
A central theme to recent analyses of educational technology is the importance
of providing elementary and secondary schools and classrooms with access to
telecommunications networks, particularly the Internet. Advocates of such access
argue that students and teachers need to go “online” because of expected educational
benefits from exploring the wealth of information now being made available on
electronic networks, sharing information, and communicating with students, teachers,
and experts in various fields. Although it is too early to identify the overall
University. Center for Social Organization of Schools. School Uses of Microcomputers.
Issue No. 3. October 1983. (Hereafter cited as The Johns Hopkins University, School Uses
The Johns Hopkins University, School Uses of Microcomputers, Issues No. 1 and 3.
1983; and Market Data Retrieval. Microcomputers in Schools 1983-1984. 1984. Sections
III and IV.
Becker, Henry J. Analysis of Trends of School Use of New Information Technology.
Report prepared for the U.S. Office of Technology Assessment. March 1994. p. 51.
(Hereafter cited as Becker, Analysis of Trends). Anderson, Computers in American Schools
1992, Table 2.3.
Coley, Computers and Classrooms, p. 10-26 (based on data from Quality Education Data,
Coley, Computers and Classrooms, p. 11.
Differences in home access are highlighted in: U.S. Department of Education. Digest of
Education Statistics, 1999. NCES 2000-031. Washington, 2000. This report uses data
gathered by the U.S. Bureau of the Census.
educational effects that access to telecommunications networks will have, there is a
growing literature describing students’ and teachers’ reportedly positive experiences
with particular online applications or activities.29
Importantly, there is a recognition that access to the Internet is unevenly shared
by schools across the country. Surveys by ED have assessed public schools’ access
to telecommunications technology, particularly connections to the Internet.30 As
shown in the figures below, schools in these surveys were differentiated by
instructional level, enrollment size, metropolitan status,31 geographic region, minority
enrollment, and income of students.32 The figures below show that elementary
schools, city schools, schools in the Central region of the country, and schools with
substantial percentages of low-income or minority students33 are less likely to have
access to the Internet. However, these figures also depict gains in all categories over
a 1-year period, with the largest gains in Internet access among urban fringe schools,
the West region, schools with less than 300 students, and schools with 50-70% lowincome student enrollment. While the gaps in Internet access among schools with
various characteristics have been reduced, data were not available to determine
whether schools with large minority enrollments have experienced similar gains (as
a result, 1999 data are not shown for schools by minority enrollment in Figure 2).
Overall, the reduced gaps in access to the Internet may be due in part, to the E-rate
See, for example: CED, Connecting Students to a Changing World, p. 13-14; Eisenberg,
Michael B. Networking: K-12. ERIC Digest, 1992. 4 p.; and NIIAC, KickStart Initiative,
“Reinvigorating and Improving Education.”
ED, Internet Access in Public Schools and Classrooms, 1994-1999; U.S. Department of
Education. National Center for Education Statistics. Internet Access in Public Schools and
Classrooms: 1994-1998. Issue Brief. February 1999.
The metropolitan status categories shown in the figures below are: city (central city of a
Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA); urban fringe (a place within a large or mid-sized central
city’s MSA); town (a place classified as urban by the U.S. Bureau of the Census but that is
not within an MSA, and that has a population greater than or equal to 2,500); rural (a place
defined as rural by the Census Bureau and having a population below 2,500).
Data on schools with more than 50% minority enrollment were not included in ED, Internet
Access in Public Schools and Classrooms: 1994-1999.
Low-income status was determined by whether students were eligible for free or reducedprice school lunches.
Figure 1 Percent of Public Schools Without Internet Access, by Type and Size,
1998 and 1999
Percent of Schools without Internet Access
300 to 999
1,000 or more
Figure 2 Percent of Public Schools Without Access to the Internet, by Location,
1998 and 1999
Percent of Schools without Internet Access
Figure 3 Percent of Public Schools Without Internet Access, by Student
Characteristics, 1998 and 1999
Percent of Schools Without Internet Access
<11% low 11-30% low 31-49% low 50-70% low
It is important to note that gains in school access to the Internet do not
necessarily translate to gains in classroom access. Data on the percent of
instructional classrooms without Internet access show that schools with the highest
percentage of low income student enrollment continue to have a significantly larger
percentage of classrooms without access to the Internet. While schools with lower
enrollments of low income students experienced gains in Internet access between
1998 and 1999, 61% of instructional classrooms in schools with enrollments of 71%
or more low income students did not have access to the Internet. Schools with
enrollments of 50-70% low income students had the largest one year gains; the
percent of instructional classrooms without Internet access dropped from 60% in
1998 to 38% in 1999.
Figure 4 Percent of Public Schools Without Access to the Internet, by Location,
1998 and 1999
Percent of Schools without Internet Access
Amount of Technology Use and Types of Uses
Information technology can be used in the classroom in many ways. Among
them are computer-based simulations, word processing, data manipulation,
telecommunications, student assessment, and record keeping.34 How much is
information technology being used in schools and for what purposes? Available data
show that students spend relatively little time in school actually working with
computer technology, and different groups of students may be more likely than others
to use computers.
Most of the available data addresses utilization of computer technology, rather
than other kinds of information technology. A key message from these studies is that
the average elementary and secondary school student spends very little time working
with computers in school. One 1992 estimate is that, on average, a student uses a
computer only 1.7 hours a week at the elementary school level, 2.0 hours at the
middle school level, and 3.0 hours at the high school level. Overall, in 1992
students averaged just 2 hours a week with computers.35
These and other uses are described in various sources, including OTA, Teachers and
Technology; Means, Using Technology to Support Education Reform; and CED, Connecting
Students to a Changing World.
Becker, Analysis of Trends, p. 32.
Recent data present information on students’ use of the Internet at school.
These figures suggest that students’ Internet use has been increasing.36 Between 1997
and 1998, students who reported using the Internet at school between 1 and 5 hours
each week increased from 22% to 30%. Nevertheless, the study found that most
students use the Internet at school for 1 hour or less each week. In 1998, 35%
of students spent less than 15 minutes each week using the Internet at school and
30% of students used the Internet for 15 minutes to one hour each week. Note that
these data do not include students’ total computer use in school, nor do they identify
how the Internet was used (i.e., research, online courses).
Distance learning is one kind of use to which many school systems are putting
information technology. At the core of most definitions of distance learning is that
it is instruction in which “the educator and the learner may be separated by time,
distance, or both.”37 It may involve, for example, television broadcasts, satellite
transmissions, computer networking, cable transmissions, and telephoning. In recent
years, a substantial portion of school districts report that one or more of their schools
is engaged in distance learning.38
Concerns have been raised periodically that even when technology is available
in schools, certain groups of students are less likely to have opportunities to work
with it.39 These concerns have most frequently focused on minority students, girls,
and low-income students. Recent survey data from the Bureau of the Census show
black and Hispanic students as less likely to use computers in school. 40 Students with
lower socioeconomic status (SES) are also less likely to use computer technology in
schools. In the lower grades (grades 1-6), highest SES students (in the top 20% of
all family incomes) reportedly used computers over 15 percentage points more in
school than did students with the lowest incomes (86.5% for high income students
compared to 70.9% for low income students).41 Differences in school computer use
among older students (grades 7-12) were smaller, with highest income students using
computers in schools less than 10 percentage points more than students in the lowest
income category (75.4% for high income students versus 67.6% for low income
Training of the Teaching Force
Policymakers seeking to increase the application of technology to education are
likely to confront substantial professional development needs for the teaching force.
It is generally recognized that the ability and propensity of elementary and secondary
CEO Forum, School Technology and Readiness Report.
Distance Learning Committee. Western Carolina University. As provided by the Distance
Education Clearinghouse (University of Wisconsin-Extension) at its Worldwide Website.
Quality Education Data. Educational Technology Trends 1993-1994. December 1994.
See, for example, Sutton, Equity and Computers in Schools.
U.S. Department of Education. The Condition of Education, 1999. NCES 1999-022.
Washington, 1999. (Hereafter cited as ED, The Condition of Education, 1999).
school teachers to use information technology in their classes depend not only on the
availability of the technology, but also upon teachers’ technology-related knowledge
and skills. According to survey data from ED, in 1999 10% of public school teachers
having access to computers or the Internet at school reported that they believed they
were “very well prepared” to integrate technology into their instruction, and another
23% reported feeling “well prepared.”42 The majority of teachers felt “somewhat well
prepared” (54%), while the remainder felt “not at all prepared” (13%). Increasingly
states are requiring individuals seeking teacher licensure to have training in technology
use. As reported in “Technology Counts ‘99,” prepared and published by Education
Week, 44 states require teacher preparation to include coursework in educational
Professional development, in general, appears to be treated as a relatively
marginal activity by public elementary and secondary education.44 What may be
particularly telling is that “[m]ost states and districts have no idea of what they are
actually spending on professional development .... State accounting systems make it
difficult to aggregate professional development expenditures and few districts attempt
to track them.”45 Technology-related professional development may also be
considered a low priority. According to some analysts and policymakers, there is
evidence that schools are underinvesting in teacher training related to technology.
Currently, local school districts’ budgets for technology are largely devoted to
acquisition of hardware and software, while substantially less is used for training.46
According to a recent survey by The CEO Forum on Education and Technology, in
the 1997-1998 school year, schools spent 5% of their overall technology budgets on
professional development; schools reportedly expected to spend the same percentage
U.S. Department of Education. National Center for Education Statistics. Teacher Use of
Computers and the Internet in Public Schools. NCES 2000-090. April 2000.
Education Week, Technology Counts ‘99.
Professional development may include a wide range of activities such as courses,
workshops, seminars, and conferences attended during the school year and the summer. These
activities are intended to strengthen teachers’ subject matter knowledge and pedagogical skills.
Corcoran, Thomas B. Helping Teachers Teach Well: Transforming Professional
Development. CPRE Policy Briefs, RB-16-June 1995. p. 2. Corcoran estimates that local
school districts are devoting not more than between 3% to 5% of their operating expenses on
professional development. We would note that this estimate of spending is significantly
increased by inclusion of the present value of salary increases that teachers receive as a direct
result of earning degrees or college credits through professional development activities. In one
analysis, the value of these salary increases accounted for over 60% of the total estimated
expenditures. Although states make some expenditures for professional development, these
are likely to be substantially less than expenditures made by local districts. As Corcoran
notes, “In most states, local districts bear the brunt of paying for professional development
....” (p. 3.)
McKinsey & Company, Connecting K-12 Schools, p. 66-67, estimate that aggregate
spending on technology by public elementary and secondary schools in 1994-1995 was $3.3
billion of which $2.2 billion (67%) was for hardware and software and $.3 billion (9%) was
for training. The remainder was for such things as financing network connections and system
of their technology budgets on professional development in the 1998-1999 school
Reportedly, opportunities for professional development are needed not only for
the technology neophyte, but also for those teachers who are already making use of
information technology in their instruction. Analysis of a group of teachers
accomplished in applying technology to their teaching found that these teachers built
their expertise over a substantial period of time extending as long as 5 to 6 years.48
Even after this initial period of development, over three-quarters of these
“accomplished” teachers continued to secure advice and assistance on technology
Further, the introduction of information technology into elementary and
secondary classrooms may be an impetus for professional growth by teachers. The
analysis of “accomplished” teachers cited above showed that these teachers are likely
to modify their instructional and professional practices in ways many policymakers
consider to be improvements in current teaching practice: they do less lecturing and
more “coaching” in the classroom; they are more likely to engage students in
independent, open-ended projects; they collaborate more often with their colleagues;
and they seek to restructure the daily schedule to provide more time for planning and
integrating technology into their teaching.50
Finally, technology can be a means for professional development, in addition to
being the object of such activities. New information technology is increasingly being
used to provide professional development opportunities to new and experienced
teachers. These activities reportedly include using technology to provide or
supplement teacher education programs and to link colleges of teacher education with
student teachers and mentor teachers.51
Integrating technology into the educational process is likely to require changes
to the current curriculum in various subjects areas. Technology may change such
things as the topics that can be covered in a subject area, the depth of coverage, and
appropriate instructional approaches. It may provide access to a broader array of data
and enable teachers and students to work with information in different ways.
CEO Forum, School Technology and Readiness Report.
Sheingold, Karen, and Martha Hadley. Accomplished Teachers: Integrating Computers
into Classroom Practice. Center for Technology in Education. Bank Street College of
Education. September 1990. p. viii. (Hereafter cited as Sheingold and Hadley,
Ibid., p. 7.
Ibid., p. 14-17.
Bradley, Ann. Everyone Can Raise Their Hands. Education Week. Technology Counts
‘98. October 1, 1998.
Research to date suggests that this process of integration will be complex and
The national curriculum content standards developed in the core subject areas
anticipate a greater role for information technology, particularly in the standards
developed for science and mathematics. These standards are intended to provide
guidance for the development of curriculum in different subject areas and establish
measures against which to gauge the quality of the education being provided in those
areas. Consider, for example, the national science education standards which were
prepared through a process coordinated by the National Research Council (NRC) and
partly funded by the federal government.53 These standards emphasize that science
education should be an active process, with students actually doing science. New
“science as inquiry” standards expect technology to play a prominent role in enabling
students to engage in active scientific inquiry. For example, the standard for grades
5-8 states that “use of computers for the collection, summary, and display of evidence
is part of this standard. Students should be able to access, gather, store, retrieve, and
organize data, using hardware and software designed for these purposes.”54 Further,
the NRC effort has produced science education program standards which identify,
among other things, the resources that schools should make available to students
studying science. Among these resources are “computers with software for
Whether or not states and localities adopt these national curriculum content
standards, the curriculum standards and frameworks already established or under
development in several states incorporate technology as a tool for research, analysis,
and communication and as a subject for study. 56 As a result, it is likely that interest
in the integration of technology into the curriculum will grow in the states, along with
attention to many of the other issues considered in this report, such as the availability
of technology and teachers’ preparation to apply the technology.
Federal Support for Technology in Schools
This section provides an overview of the general characteristics of current federal
support for the acquisition and use of new information technology by elementary and
secondary education. Following that overview is a description of many of the
individual programs that currently provide such support.
Sheingold and Hadley, Accomplished Teachers.
National Research Council. National Science Education Standards. 1996. 262 p.
Ibid., p. 145.
Ibid., p. 220.
See, for example: Oregon State Board of Education. Curriculum Content Framework for
Oregon Public Schools. March 4, 1994; Utah State Board of Education. Secondary Core
Curriculum Standards: Levels 7-12 Mathematics. 1995; and Vermont Department of
Education. Vermont’s Common Core Framework for Curriculum and Assessments. Draft.
September 29, 1995.
Characteristics of Current Federal Support
Federal programs supporting the application of information technology to
elementary and secondary education have several key characteristics. Foremost
among them is its fragmentation. No federal authority currently directs or
coordinates federal technology support for elementary and secondary education.57
Education agencies, districts, and schools receive federal assistance from many
different agencies and many different individual programs. Another important
characteristic is the diversity of this assistance. As is shown in the following section,
federal funds support a multiplicity of activities such as acquisition of hardware and
software, teacher training, demonstrations of applications, curriculum development
integrating technology applications, networking for distance learning, etc. For
purposes of accounting for federal spending on precollege technology, one of the
most complicating characteristics is the indirect nature of the support. Much of the
federal assistance is provided by programs that are not solely or directly focused on
technology. These programs have such broad authorities that schools are able to use
their funding for technology purposes. Finally, despite the various difficulties in
accounting for the full level of federal support, it is evident that there is a significant
amount currently being provided. It appears that a billion dollars or more from
federal programs is used to support the application of technology to elementary and
It is also important to stress that a focus on federal programs, per se, masks
another important means by which the federal government may support educational
applications of technology. Specifically, federal rules and regulations governing
telecommunications policy in the U.S. are likely to have a significant impact on
schools’ ability to have access to new telecommunications capabilities. The E-rate is
considered in greater detail below.
Selected Federal Programs and Activities Supporting Technology in
This section provides a listing of selected federal programs that support the
acquisition and use of information technology by elementary and secondary education.
Given the multiplicity of sources of support and the flexibility in uses of funding under
some of them, it must be stressed that this listing is not comprehensive, rather it is
primarily illustrative. It includes several major sources of funding, as well as
authorities specifically targeting educational technology. Programs in this listing are
grouped by federal agency.
U.S. Department of Education. ED programs are initially grouped below into
programs with an explicit focus on technology and those reportedly providing
Some general efforts to improve the coordination of federal education technology efforts
may be supported by recent legislative action. The Improving America’s Schools Act (P.L.
103-382) requires the U.S. Secretary of Education to prepare a long-range plan for federal
support of technology in education (the final report is discussed below). Further, Goals 2000:
Educate America Act (P.L. 103-227) amended the Department of Education Organization Act
to establish an Office of Educational Technology.
substantial assistance for technology but whose authority does not have a technology
ED Programs and Activities Focused on Technology. The programs below
have been authorized to provide direct support to technology in schools. They
include appropriations levels for the 2 most recent fiscal years.
National Programs for Technology in Education (Elementary and
Secondary Education Act (ESEA) Title III, Part A) is a general authority for the
Secretary of Education to take a leadership role in education technology. In FY2000,
$109,500,000 were provided for this authority; funding for FY2001 is targeted to
teacher training in technology ($125 million), community-based technology centers
($65 million), and technology leadership activities ($2 million).
FY2000 — $109,500,000
FY2001 — $191,950,000
Regional Technical Support and Professional Development (ESEA Title III,
Part A) activities support six regional consortia to disseminate information on
technology applications; provide technical assistance in collaboration with state and
local educational agencies to help schools, particularly those with substantial
disadvantaged populations; and support professional development related to
FY2000 — $10,000,000
FY2001 — $10,000,000
National Challenge Grants for Technology in Education (ESEA Title III,
Part A) support several demonstrations of high intensity use of technology in
education. Funds are awarded to consortia that must include at least one local school
district with a substantial number or percentage of poor children. The activities
supported by these consortia are to benefit students directly, as well as provide
professional development to teachers. Each consortium is to contribute substantial
levels of non-federal resources. ED now identifies this authority as the Technology
Innovation Challenge Grants.
FY2000 — $146,255,000*
FY2001 — $136,328,000*
*Portions of the annual appropriation have been designated for specifically designated projects.
State and Local Programs for School Technology Resources (ESEA Title
III, Part A) is the statutory authority for President Clinton’s Technology Literacy
Challenge Fund. This is a state formula grant program intended to help implement
four goals identified by President Clinton in his 1996 State of the Union Address.
These goals are: connecting all elementary and secondary classrooms in the United
States to the Internet by 2000; providing teachers with the training and support they
need; providing all teachers and students with access to technology; and ensuring that
effective software and on-line resources will be available for use with the curriculum.
The Clinton proposal is for an aggregate federal investment of $2 billion over a 5-year
period. Under this program, first funded for FY1997, states are allocated funds based
on their share of funds under the ESEA Title I (Part A) program (described below).
To be eligible for funding, states must have a statewide education technology plan.
Funds are allocated by states on a competitive basis to local districts; one of the
statute’s objectives is to provide assistance to districts with the highest numbers or
percentages of children in poverty and with the greatest need for technology. Among
other activities, funds may be used to acquire hardware, software, and connections
to telecommunications networks, as well as to provide professional development to
teachers in how to integrate technology into education.
FY2000 — $425,000,000
FY2001 — $450,000,000
Star Schools Act (ESEA Title III, Part B) supports distance learning projects
linking students and teachers over large distances using telecommunication
technologies, such as satellites and fiber optic networks.
FY2000 — $50,550,000
FY2001 — $59,318,000
Ready-to-Learn Television (ESEA Title III, Part C) provides financial
support for the production of educational and instructional video programming for
preschool and elementary school students.
FY2000 — $16,000,000
FY2001 — $16,000,000
Telecommunications Demonstration Project for Mathematics (ESEA Title
III, Part D) authorizes grants to a nonprofit communications entity or a partnership
of such entities for a national project demonstrating use of telecommunications to
improve mathematics teaching.
FY2000 — $8,500,000
FY2001 — $8,500,000
Technology and Media Services is a portion of the Individuals with
Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). IDEA, in general, authorizes funding for
special education, related services, and early intervention services to infants, toddlers,
children, and youth with disabilities. Under the IDEA as recently reauthorized,
Special Purpose Programs (IDEA, Part D) include a Coordinated Technical
Assistance, Support, and Dissemination Program, one portion of which supports
Technology and Media Services. Technology and Media Services support
development and application of technology and education media activities for disabled
children and adults.
FY2000 — $35,910,000
FY2001 — $38,710,000
An Office of Educational Technology (Department of Education Organization
Act, Section 216) has been established in ED. This Office and its Director are to
provide national leadership in the use of technology as a means of achieving the
National Education Goals and increasing opportunities for students to achieve state
education standards. These leadership activities are to be undertaken in consultation
with other federal agencies. Funding is not separately authorized for the Office.
A Web-Based Education Commission, authorized by the Higher Education
Amendments of 1998, is to conduct a study of educational software available in retail
markets for secondary and postsecondary students. Not later than 6 months after its
first meeting, the commission is to report to the President and the Congress
concerning “the appropriate Federal role in determining quality educational software
products.” The commission was appropriated for $450,000 for FY2000 and
$250,000 for FY2001.
ED Programs Providing Support for Technology Under Broad Authorities.
As has been noted, a substantial level of support for technology is provided by
elementary and secondary education programs that do not target education
technology. Rather, their authorities are sufficiently broad to encompass the use of
technology. Among these authorities are the following:
Title I compensatory education program (ESEA, Title I) provides grants to
local educational agencies for services to educationally disadvantaged students to
improve academic performance. Schools are using a portion of their Title I funds to
acquire and apply technology under the broad authority of this legislation. Several
hundred million dollars in Title I funds may be used annually for technology in
elementary and secondary schools.58
Dwight D. Eisenhower Professional Development Program (ESEA, Title II)
supports activities to strengthen the skills and knowledge of the elementary and
secondary teaching force in all of the core academic subjects (predecessor legislation,
Eisenhower Mathematics and Science Education Act, supported only professional
development in mathematics and science). Parts A and B of this authority are
currently funded. Part A authorizes funding for a wide range of federal activities,
including training teachers in applying technology to student learning. Part B
allocates funds by formula to states for use by states, local school districts, and higher
education institutions. Among other requirements, participating states must have
plans that include descriptions of how the state will use technology to strengthen
teachers’ professional development. Further, authorized activities for states and local
educational agencies include preparing teachers to use technology to strengthen
student learning in core academic subjects. The actual extent to which appropriations
for Eisenhower Professional Development are used for technology is not known.
Innovative Education Program Strategies (ESEA, Title VI) provides formula
grants to states in support of education reform activities at the state and local level.
This program, formerly identified as the Chapter 2 block grant, was extensively
modified during reauthorization of the ESEA by the 103rd Congress. It authorizes
It is estimated that $236.9 million in Title I funding was used in the 1997-1998 school year
for technology. (U.S. Department of Education. Federal Education Legislation Enacted in
1994: An Evaluation of Implementation and Impact. 1999. (Hereafter cited as ED, Federal
Education Legislation Enacted in 1994)).
formula grants to states to support state and local education reform activities. Among
allowable uses of funds is acquisition of computer hardware and software for
Fund for Improvement of Education (ESEA Title X, Part A) authorizes the
Secretary to support nationally significant projects that improve education. One of
the many activities that can be supported under this authority are projects involving
public-private partnerships that use computers to extend learning into students’
homes. The actual extent to which appropriations for the Fund are used for
technology is not known.
U.S. Department of Agriculture. Among the Department of Agriculture’s
programs is the following:
Distance Learning and Medical Link Grant Program (Rural Development
Act of 1990) authorizes grants and loans to support telecommunications links for
rural schools to provide students with access to advanced courses and other distance
learning opportunities. It also authorizes grants and loans to health care organizations
to provide rural residents with access to “telemedicine” services.
U.S. Department of Commerce. Among Department of Commerce programs
are the following:
Technology Opportunities Program (formerly Telecommunications and
Information Infrastructure Program) (Department of Commerce Appropriations
Act of 1995) awards matching grants to state and local governments, as well as
nonprofit organizations, to finance their access and use of telecommunications. These
grants are intended to demonstrate the potential impact of telecommunications
networks and extend these networks into currently underserved areas.
Public Telecommunications Facilities Program (Communications Act of
1934, as amended) awards grants to public broadcasting and other noncommercial
entities for acquisition of telecommunications equipment. Awards can support
distance learning projects, including those involving elementary and secondary
National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Among its programs is the
Educational Technology Program supports a wide variety of activities that
focus on two specific areas — development of high quality affordable learning tools
and environments, and demonstrations of innovative technology and networking
applications. Among activities in the first area is the Classroom of the Future
program which supports research, development, and assessment of advanced
technology applications in aerospace education. Among activities in the second area
is KidSat which permits students across the country to assist in the operation of earth-
It is estimated that $68.6 million in Title VI funds was used in the 1997-1998 school year
for technology. (ED, Federal Education Legislation Enacted in 1994.)
viewing cameras and instruments aboard shuttle missions and to receive images in real
time via the Internet.
National Science Foundation. Among its programs are the following:
Educational System Reform program (National Science Foundation Act of
1950) includes several initiatives to achieve systemwide reform of science and
mathematics education. For example, Statewide Systemic Initiatives fund several
state projects that target the application of technology to these subject areas. In
addition, an Urban Systemic Initiative and a Rural Systemic Initiative are underway.
Curriculum Development Program (National Science Foundation Act of
1950) broadly supports the creation and testing of instructional materials for
mathematics and science at the precollege level. This program is generally what was
previously identified as the Instructional Materials Development Program. Some
of the projects supported in recent years involve information technology.
Federal Communications Commission — E-rate Program.
Telecommunications Act of 1996, which was signed into law on February 8, 1996,
includes public and private elementary and secondary schools as beneficiaries of
universal service mechanisms that provide reduced rates for telecommunications
service (Section 254 of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended).60 The
legislation requires that, if a legitimate request is made, any telecommunications
carrier serving a geographic area is to make any of its services that are within the
definition of universal service available at reduced rates to elementary and secondary
schools and libraries for educational purposes. Further, the legislation directs the
FCC to establish rules to further the access that elementary and secondary schools,
among others, have to advanced telecommunications.61 The program of discounts for
telecommunication services is known as the education rate or the E-rate.
Under the May 1997 FCC order to implement the universal service provisions,
subsidies of up to $2.25 billion a year are made available to support the E-rate. These
funds come from an assessment levied on all interstate telecommunications service
providers to implement universal service goals in general (not just for schools and
libraries). These funds are used to reimburse telecommunications carriers for
See CRS Issue Brief 98040, Telecommunications Discounts for Schools and Libraries:
The “E-Rate” Program and Controversies, by Angele A. Gilroy; and CRS Report 98-604,
E-Rate for Schools: Background on Telecommunications Discounts Through the Universal
Service Fund, by James B. Stedman and Patricia Osorio-O’Dea.
Among the principles that must guide the development of these universal service mechanisms
are that quality telecommunications service should be available at just, reasonable, and
affordable rates; and that elementary and secondary schools should have access to advanced
There is a related provision in the new legislation (Section 706) that requires the FCC and
state commissions to facilitate access to advanced telecommunications for “all Americans
(including, in particular, elementary and secondary schools and classrooms).” The FCC, 30
months after enactment of the legislation, and regularly thereafter, is to determine whether it
needs to take action to increase such access.
providing services at reduced rates to schools and libraries. Discounts ranging from
20% to 90%, depending upon the poverty of a school’s student population and its
location in an area with a high cost of telecommunications service, are available for
telecommunications access costs, the internal wiring of facilities, and Internet access
The E-rate program became effective January 1, 1998 and is in its third year. A
total of $3.5 billion was committed for discounts in the first 2 years of the E-rate.
Applications totaling over $3.72 billion for the third year of discounts are currently
being processed; the FCC recently set the funding level for the third year of discounts
at $2.25 billion.
Other Federal Activities. There are various other activities that the federal
government is undertaking in this area. Among them are the following:
The National Information Infrastructure is a multifaceted, multi-agency effort
undertaken by the Clinton Administration to create an integrated system of highcapacity telecommunications networks that would link business, government,
education, health care, and the public. Part of the National Information Infrastructure
(NII) is the Computing, Information, and Communications (CIC) R&D program
(formerly known as the High Performance Computer and Communications program),
an ongoing effort which was initiated during the Bush Administration.62 An aspect
of these efforts has been policies and activities to ensure that elementary and
secondary schools have access to national information networks. Among the
programs listed above, the Department of Commerce’s Telecommunications and
Information Infrastructure Assistance program is viewed as a part of the NII
endeavor. The level of spending under the NII aiding elementary and secondary
education, per se, is not available.
An augmented federal income tax deduction for corporate contribution of
computer technology and equipment was enacted as part of the Taxpayer Relief
Act of 1997. Under this provision, corporations generally are able to deduct a larger
charitable contribution for donations of computer technology and equipment to be
used for educational purposes in grades K-12.
Federal Policy Questions
Efforts to shape federal policy in this area confront a multitude of difficult issues.
The discussion above of the academic impact of technology suggests that even the
most basic questions, such as whether the anticipated achievement gains from
technology warrant federal support, are not easily answered. Consideration of federal
policy is complicated further by the fact that the federal role is fragmented with many
federal programs and activities directly and indirectly supporting the application of
technology to elementary and secondary education. Finally, an overarching factor is
that responsibility for elementary and secondary education rests with states and
CRS Report 97-31, Computing, Information, and Communications R&D: Issues in HighPerformance Computing, by Glenn J. McLoughlin.
localities, while the appropriate federal role is often considered to be relatively
marginal. This section presents brief analyses of several of the key questions that
should be considered in the development or redevelopment of federal policy regarding
Should the Federal Government Provide Support for Applying
Technology to Elementary and Secondary Education?
There are at least two major issues that need to be resolved. The first is whether
there is sufficient justification for any support of technology applications in education,
at all, regardless of whether or not such support comes from the federal government.
If it is concluded that there are adequate, or even compelling, reasons to integrate
technology into schools, then one might appropriately consider whether the federal
government should have a role in that effort.
There is no consensus around a resolution to this first issue. For many
policymakers and others, there certainly are persuasive reasons for integrating
technology into schools. An early section of this report presented some of those
reasons. Nevertheless, as the OTA report on competing visions of technology
demonstrates, there is no unanimity among those who anticipate substantial positive
educational outcomes from technology — visions differ substantially — and, further,
as noted earlier, some question whether technology’s effects in education will even
Perhaps of most significance for policymaking in this area is the finding
delineated earlier that technology’s educational benefits may be realized only under
the “right” local conditions which involve a host of factors. These range from
presenting students with adequate access to technology, to ensuring that the teaching
force is prepared to utilize technology, to developing curriculum designed to
incorporate technology. Simply providing access does not guarantee any particular
outcome. Thus, the consequences of a technology effort in education may depend on
which of the local conditions are addressed and how well.
At some level, it is a moot point whether a federal role is warranted. There
already is a role as expressed through multiple federal programs and activities,
including telecommunications regulations. That federal role is in flux and has been
under scrutiny by the Congress. Many have argued that federal support of some kind
is critical to generating the technical or financial resources necessary to integrate
technology into education. Activities in which advocates would consider federal
support to be critical may include leveraging or promoting private sector investment,
generating national attention to technology application in education, and ensuring that
all groups of students and schools realize technology’s benefits. Conclusions about
which areas are appropriate for federal action and for which federal action is critical
will help shape federal involvement. Finally, the fragmentation of the current federal
involvement may be an appropriate issue for policymakers to address.
What Activities, if Any, Should the Federal Government Support?
If federal support is provided, the analysis in this report suggests that a number
of different kinds of activities may merit particular attention. As was just argued
above, the acquisition of technology alone, without development of such other
school-based capabilities as a technologically literate and skilled teaching force, may
be of limited value. Thus, perhaps most critically, federal policy should be developed
with a clear understanding of the critical interplay among the various factors that will
influence the impact of technology. Among the various activities that might be
supported in addition to teacher training, are planning, technical assistance, software
and hardware development, curriculum development, and research. Further, some
may argue that federal aid should have a primary focus of ensuring that technology
resources are becoming available on an equitable basis.
How Should Federal Support be Provided?
If it is determined that federal support should be provided, the range of options
is broad. Which approaches are appropriate will depend upon decisions on myriad
issues, such as the extent to which states and localities will have flexibility in how they
utilize federal support or, indeed, whether they choose to support technology at all.
A few of the possible options are considered briefly below.
Categorical grants for technology are among the ways in which federal funding
currently supports technology in education. These programs target their assistance
on technology, limiting recipients to a relatively circumscribed set of activities. This
option would maximize the extent to which federal funds were focused on technology
at the expense of state and local flexibility. Grants with flexible authorities, such as
block grants, would permit recipients to exercise substantially more discretion in
determining how to use their funds.63 Spending on technology would be but one
option for recipients; the decision to support technology would reflect local priorities.
At the same time, this method of support offers no assurance of any technology
spending. Changes in federal tax policy could be made to provide technology
providers and developers with tax incentives to enhance schools’ technology
resources. It should be noted that such federal tax incentives were frequently
proposed in the early and mid 1980s, but failed to be enacted.64 Of significance, these
proposals evolved over time to include requirements that beneficiaries of the tax
incentive provide additional services to schools, such as teacher training. Federal
efforts might be directed to leveraging resources from state, local, and private
sources. The federal government is already engaged in such efforts. For example, the
Technology Innovation Challenge Grants (see program description above) requires
private sector support in each demonstration site. One of the primary advantages to
this kind of approach is that the federal financial involvement may be kept relatively
limited while still targeting significant aggregate resources to educational technology.
Finally, federal support may be provided by calling national attention to
technology’s role in education. While costs may be minimal, the net effects may also
be relatively limited.
For an analysis of block grants in education, see CRS Report 95-890, Education Block
Grants: Options, Issues, and Current Legislation, coordinated by Wayne Riddle.
See CRS Report 88-419, Computers in Elementary and Secondary Schools: An Analysis
of Recent Congressional Action, by James B. Stedman.
What Level of Federal Support Should be Provided?
The estimated costs associated with any effort to ensure that all classrooms or
students have adequate technology resources are very high. Given these prospective
costs, it is typically suggested that the federal financial role be relatively small
compared to the resources made available from other levels of government and the
private sector. It is beyond the scope of this paper to suggest what the size of the
federal financial involvement, if any, should be. Clearly, though, the level of support
that might be considered appropriate will be determined, in part, by how the questions
considered above are answered. For example, decisions concerning the areas in which
federal support may be critical and perceptions about what technology’s overall
impact will be on education will directly influence the level of support that might be
advocated. Ultimately, though, among the most substantial constraints on federal
support will be decisions made concerning the overall size of the federal budget.