Can dot-com mania help education in America?

Education Secretary Richard Riley said he plans to enlist the private sector to help narrow the technology gap between white and minority students and between affluent and poverty-stricken students.

"We must look at the stark reality that there is a continuing achievement gap between the rich and the poor, and between whites and minority students," Riley said Tuesday in his State of American Education address. "This gap is a gaping hole in our commitment to fulfilling the American promise, and it will only get bigger if we do not close the digital divide as well."

Riley said he will ask young entrepreneurs who "have amassed great wealth in the emerging dot-com world," for their help in bridging the divide. "They are young men and women in their 20s and 30s who have great talent and are full of energy," he said. "I intend to meet with many of them this year to ask for their direct help to help turn this digital divide into a digital opportunity."

But technology is changing the shape of education for the better and will continue to do so in the future. "Technology or e-learning will penetrate every aspect of American education and change it," said Riley, adding that technology already has changed the landscape of the nation's college campuses. Sixty percent of all colleges are now offering online courses, he said.

"The reshaping of education through e-learning leads me to observe that international course-taking is on the horizon," Riley said. "Imagine students at UCLA taking courses at Oxford, and students in Tokyo learning physics from a professor at Duke."

In conjunction with Riley's address, the department also released, "A Five-Year Report Card on American Education," which rated the nation's public education system on 10 priorities, including the use of technology in the classroom. However, the results of the report card support the notion that the digital divide between the high-tech "haves" and "have-nots" is widening. Between high- and low-poverty schools, the gap in the percent of classrooms with Internet access increased from 6 percent to 23 percent from 1995 to 1998.

The education report card is available online at www.ed.gov/Speeches/soae/2000/report-card.html.

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