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Digital Divide: A Pass? Notion?

Most of the recent political talk about inequities in education has focused on the gap between high achieving schools and those that fail to meet education standards. What happened to the government's concern about the digital divide?

That's the question several critics are asking in light of President Bush's proposed 2003 $56.5 billion education budget. They say the education spending in this proposal does not adequately address the gap between the haves and have nots. Some education industry observers claim the digital divide is widening and are lobbying the Bush Administration to pay more attention.

At the heart of the debate are the Community Technology Centers Program and the Technology Opportunities Program, which are slated to be eliminated. Also at issue is the Preparing Tomorrow's Teachers to Use Technology Program, which is slated to receive less funds.

In 2001, funding for the community centers program was at an all-time high, at $65 million. TOP was funded at $15 million in 2002.

The Benton Foundation, a non-profit that studies this issue, claims Bush is sending a "clear message that the digital divide is no longer a concern for the government-the problem will somehow resolve itself."

Only one in four of America's poorest households were online by the end of 2001, compared to eight in 10 homes with incomes of $75,000 or more. Online access for Hispanics (at 31.8 percent) and blacks (39.8 percent) lags behind whites (59.9 percent), according to statistics released by the Benton Foundation. Of course, more than 90 percent of K12 schools across America are wired, but observers say that access at home is important in supporting technical literacy.

John Bailey, director of the Department of Education's Office for Educational Technology, counters that the Bush Administration is not ignorant of the digital divide, it has just set new policy in hopes that a new approach will help.

The money for technology is built into the 2003 budget, only through a new series of block grants-totaling $700 million-that will be doled out to the states.

A coalition of 80 educational associations, including the International Society for Technology in Education and the Consortium for School Networking, has sent a formal request to Senate education policy makers to maintain the level of funding for CTC and TOP as a way to bring "technology's benefits to under-served communities."

Jee Hang Lee, an ISTE policy adviser, is also critical of the new emphasis on state block grants. The $700 million that the states will soon have to spend on education technology may never be used to support local technology programs, he says. "It is unlikely that school districts will provide benefits to adults and seniors in their areas."

Bailey advocates patience with the new approach. He has taken innovative steps to make sure all 50 state education technology directors know the details of the new state grant program and the funding application process. He has initiated a series of face-toface seminars and conference calls to further support the program and to stress Bush's education policies. "We are trying to bridge a digital divide, but the goal is much bigger," says Bailey. "Looming over us is a much larger concern-who can read and who can't. "His perspective explains why the 2003 education budget places far more emphasis on reading, testing and scholastic achievement.,,

A Club for Girl Computer Geeks

Susannah Camic was, in many ways, a typical female high school computer geek. When she joined an afterschool computer club at her Madison, Wis., school, she felt shut out. Not only did the boys monopolize the computers, but they spent most of their time playing games. She wrote of her woes in a term paper that ended up in the hands of a group of women technology instructors and engineers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

"We have to do something about th