Al Gore: "Without Teacher Training...Technology Isn't Much Use"
The Veep on his plans to revamp education by ensuring Net access for all students and giving instructors the necessary knowhow

Democratic Presidential candidate Al Gore has long been a champion of using technology to help improve education. As Vice-President, he played a leading role in the federal campaign to wire all of the nation's public schools to the Internet. Thanks to this effort, 95% of public schools are now connected, up from just 35% in 1994. In a recent conversation with Business Week's William C. Symonds, Gore discussed the role he believes technology should play in the drive to improve America's schools. Here are edited excerpts from their conversation:

Q: In recent years, computer technology and the Internet have transformed the business world. To what extent can these same technologies transform our schools?
Just as thoroughly. There's no reason why that can't happen. The possibilities are limitless.... We can [for instance] adapt lesson plans to the learning style of each student in the classroom. We can adapt the pace of instruction to the learning pace of each student. We just have to avoid what Yogi Berra once described, when he said, "What we have here is an insurmountable opportunity."

Q: What's the biggest challenge?
Schools are in some ways the most resistant institutions in our society when it comes to change. The desks are still in rows in most schools, the bell still rings at the end of the period, and the teacher stands in front of the blackboard with chalk. I don't demean any of that. But there are more productive ways to facilitate learning than those that came two centuries ago.

Q: Can technology alone change that?
No. The changes needed go beyond access to technology. They really have to start with universal access to high-quality preschool, more teachers who are better trained and better compensated, more accountability, more reward for performance, and making it easier to fire teachers who are not doing their job well, with procedures that follow due process. We also need to make it easier to go to college and get lifelong learning. I've proposed a 401J account -- a portable lifetime job-training account.

And we need more of an emphasis on values. One of the reasons why Catholic schools do a good job is that they create a caring community for the students. There is no reason why the public schools can't be caring communities that give all the students a sense that values are in the driver's seat. Plus, schools have to be safe and drug-free and gun-free, and they have to be modernized and upgraded.

Q: What needs to be done to make better use of technology in schools?
We have to make every classroom accessible to the Internet, and every student within the classroom has to have access. And as we move from PCs to [other Internet] devices, we need to insure the emergence of a liquid market for education devices that connect to the Web and facilitate the productivity revolution in learning. And teachers have to have access to training and professional development in how to use the Web-based approaches, how to integrate computers into their curriculum, and how to adapt to the stunning advances that are now available.

Q: How would you address the digital divide?
First, we have to make sure that every student has access to the technology in the classroom. Then we need neighborhood computing centers. We need to transform the role of public libraries to make them portals for access to the Web, regardless of a family's income. But Moore's law will continue to drive down the cost of devices.... We're already seeing some PCs and devices given away in return for commitments to purchase services. You'll see that a lot more. I'd like to go beyond this and redefine the phrase "universal service," to go from push-button phones to Internet access in every home.

Q: How much would you spend on school technology?
Education is my top priority. And the amount that should be devoted to new technology in schools would depend on how much progress we're able to make in getting more well-trained teachers in the classroom to reduce class size and instituting universal preschool, and taking these other steps that are important. But without teacher training, the technology is not going to be of much use.

Q: What will schools look like in 10 years?
There will be a qualified teacher in every classroom, small class sizes, and universal preschool. And every classroom and library will be connected to the Web.

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