Elementary and Secondary Student Achievement in
The Digital Era

Gordon M. Ambach
Executive Director, CCSSO

Advisory Committee on Public Interest Obligations of
Digital Television Broadcasting
January 16, 1998

1) Thank you for the opportunity to advise you on your extremely challenging and important mission. My focus is on the public interest obligation for elementary and secondary student achievement. I address this obligation for students both in public and non-public schools and for their opportunity to learn both inside and outside of schools.

2) The public interest obligation for the use of digital television to improve elementary and secondary student achievement has extremely high stakes for our nation. Acquisition and use of knowledge is the major resource for our society in the coming century. Information technologies are key to access and use of knowledge which is pivotal to our quality of life, economic well being and security. Our success depends upon how effectively all members are prepared to use information technologies. In turn, the proficiency of our citizens depends on the quality of elementary and secondary schools and student capacity to use the technologies.

3) The advice of this committee and actions by the federal government on using both commercial and public digital television broadcast capacity to improve elementary and secondary student achievement must be exceptionally bold and commensurate with the high stakes for our nation's "information IQ" in a competitive international environment.

At pivotal points during the past two centuries the federal government has made significant decisions to commit the nation's resources to address key educational challenges. The government has awarded land grants to establish elementary and secondary schools in the 18th century; awarded land grants to establish the extraordinary state college and university system in the 19th century; provided the post-World War II GI bill; committed major resources since the 1960's to students who are economically disadvantaged or disabled; and, most recently provided universal services discounts for telecommunications in schools and libraries. For some of these initiatives the allocation of the resource was accompanied by provision of a revenue stream which has grown with the commercial use of the asset. These initiatives have provided extraordinary benefits in the public interest of our nation. Comparable action must be taken with the digital television resource.

4) In order to justify public interest action with digital television, we must make the case that essential educational purposes need to be and will be served. Let me offer several essential needs for elementary and secondary learning which should be supported by digital television application. I will leave to later discussion, and to experts far more versed in digital technology than I, to devise specific applications of digital television to these needs, whether it be one way voice, video and data transmission or interactive convergence with computers and multi-media. This is what our students, teachers and parents need.

A) Access to use the informational technologies so that students can learn the skills and proficiencies to help in their learning and in their later employment, family and community responsibilities. Digital television must help overcome our major problem of providing equitable access to information technologies through schools.

B) Access to timely and extensive databases in subject areas such as sciences, history and the arts. The Internet and its successors must serve all students.

C) Opportunity for interactive "distance" direct teaching and learning in subjects typically unavailable in the schools because of shortages of teachers or too few students, e,g, Advanced Placement courses, calculus, master classes with artists or performers, etc.

D) Opportunity for learning languages other than English, both for non-English speaking populations to develop proficiency in their language and to develop the capacities of English-speakers in languages other than English.

E) Using technologies to learn to conduct scientific experiments or operate complex machinery by simulation; job training through remote access to work sites or science labs.

F) Cost effective, round the clock channels of communications for students, parents and teachers to reinforce learning through understanding expectations for student performance: access to curriculum materials at home and in community centers; access to homework assignments; and monitoring of student performance.

G) Recording and display of student performance through portfolios and other examples of student work related to state and local standards, and informing the public on school results.

H) Preparation of teachers through observation of good practices in the United States and other nations; exchanges of teaching technique among practitioners; and, coaching of candidates and practitioners from off-site locations.

5) The capacity of digital television can make a contribution on each of these needs and, surely, on other needs as well. Using digital broadcasting effectively will require new and imaginative decisions on the dedication on entire channels or sub-channels, or major parts of them, in order to expand the number of pipes and/or the size of the overall pipe line for information flow and communication. In addition, the nation must make a substantial commitment of part of the revenues from the growth of using digital television for dedication to creating the "content" of learning for the pipelines. There is precedence for Federal action to establish revenue streams for education from the use of allocated "resources". Examples include funds from timber and mining rights, land grant use, and the recent universal service discounts.

Solutions of digital television applications for education will emerge on the technical and financial problems, if we can come to agreement on the fundamental needs in elementary and secondary learning which define the public interest obligation. You have an exceptional challenge and opportunity to shape that agreement and the solutions. I hope my remarks help you reach conclusions which will be of great benefit to our students and to our nation. Thank you.

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