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A World Wide Web of Education Is FREE
by Hans Petersen

The reviews are in and the United States Department of Education has a hit. Now playing nightly (and daily) in a classroom, homeroom, living room near you...wherever there is a computer connected to the Internet.

This long-running blockbuster is called FREE and here’s what a 5th grade science teacher from Durant, Oklahoma says about it: "The absolute BEST web site for using technology in the classroom." The Washington Post writer Karin Chenoweth was no less enthusiastic: "A gold mine of amazing amount of resources. I want to tell students, teachers, parents ---everyone, really -- all about it."

What FREE Is

FREE stands for Federal Resources for Educational Excellence. Forget all that. Just remember FREE and bookmark it now. And do every kid you know a favor and send them this address: When they arrive at this launch-pad of a website, they can take off into links to: Arts, Foreign Languages, Mathematics, Physical Education, Science, Social Studies and Vocational Education. For openers.

Who Did It

FREE is a collaborative effort of over 35 Federal agencies working in partnership with the United States Department of Education and thousands of teachers in America in developing online learning communities. Kirk Winters, a policy analyst at USDE and part of the team that created the FREE website, emphasizes that the cooperation of all the participating agencies is key to the success of the project. "FREE is the most popular Kindergarten-through-12th-Grade webpage on the Department of Education’s website because of what other Federal agencies are doing."

Winters is a former high school English teacher who taught in Shawnee Mission, Kansas. While he misses the daily contact with his students, he finds a satisfying substitute for the classroom experience in his ability to distribute educational information to millions of American students.

Just of a few of the agencies linked to FREE are: Library of Congress, National Archives, Smithsonian, National Gallery of Art, Peace Corps, Park Service, NASA, National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Arts. Enough for a couple of lifetimes of web-surfing.

Joining Winters in the operation of the site at USDE are Peter Kickbush who has been gently ushering the web page along for seven years, more than two years as the webmaster, and Keith Stubbs who put the Department of Education on the internet map nine years ago back in the "gopher" days before the web existed. In computer years, of course, this qualifies them as elders in the worldwide cyber village. And like most programming pros who have that need to tweak their showcase every day toward that unknown virtual perfection, they have not had time to hang the awards on the wall.

What People Are Saying

Awards like: Government Executive magazine: "One Of The Best Federal Sites on the Web". Discovery Channel: "Site of the School Day". TeacherNet: "Web Site of the Week". SchoolPage: "Web Site Excellence Award".

The unsolicited feedback the website receives testifies to the value placed on its usefulness. Students, educators, and parents respond weekly to the FREE site describing how they are using the multi-layers of links available. Dr. Nancy Verber, a senior policy research analyst with SERVE, a Regional Education Laboratory, volunteered a detailed description of the exponential potential of the FREE homepage, describing an academic relay system that spreads Amazon-like throughout the entire state of Georgia.

Popular Features

Another reason why thousands of educators click on every day is the popular "Today’s New FREE Resource" which is highlighted on the home page with a fascinating fact from one of the hundreds of areas connected to the FREE page. New fun projects pop up nearly every weekday for the teacher looking for new ideas to challenge their students.

Among the resources, which are searchable, you’ll find hundreds of activities that families can use to strengthen children’s language skills or a math problem of the week where students can post answers that are reviewed by graduate students. Another site presents soldiers’ letters and diary entries from two communities, one in the North, one in the South, during the Civil War and a walking tour through the National Gallery of Art, where you can listen to a guide explain works in the museum.

These and thousands of other gateways to millions of bits and bytes of educational information continue to attract hundreds of new regular visitors every week. It’s very popular, easy to use and…it’s FREE.

For More Information

Kirk Winters is a policy analyst at the United States Department of Education in the Office of the Deputy Secretary. He can be reached at

About the Author

Hans Petersen is a writer/editor at the Health Care Financing Administration in Washington D.C. Currently writing for AccessAmerica E-Gov E-Zine, he can be reached at

November 6, 2000



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