Juan Williams on the GOP's Youth Problem

Today The Hill ran an interesting piece from Juan Williams entitled “How the GOP can capture the youth vote next year.”  Williams’ basic logic is that some polling shows a slight decline in Millennials’ Democratic allegiance and a slight increase in their enthusiasm for Republicans, leaving an opening for Republicans to woo this important electorate.  The only challenge seems to be that Williams doesn’t actually know how they’d go about that, save for tackling entitlement reforms.

Bizarrely, rather than making a case for Republicans, Williams makes a very strong case for why Millennials support Obama, and by extension, his party: 

“[Y]ounger Americans are more worried about a tight job market’s long-term impact on their ability to buy a home or save for retirement…That is why polls show the number one priority for young Americans is increased federal spending to get employers to hire more workers. Young people also want more dollars dedicated to education, another point of difference with older voters. That is where President Obama comes into play and so far he stands apart from Republicans and Democrats in appealing to the youth vote. During the first two years of his presidency, Obama has overhauled federal student loan programs, budgeted $30 billion in the stimulus to make college more affordable and, as part of the new healthcare law, has given young people the right to stay on their parents’ insurance plan up to the age of 26."

Williams never gets around to making an equally persuasive case for Millennials' GOP support.  But while the title of Williams’ piece over-promises, it does beg an interesting question:  What would a pro-youth GOP plan look like?  How can Republicans appeal to Millennials if the needs and wants of their generation run completely counter to the anti-government spending ideology that inspires the Republican base? 

At the very end of his piece, Williams alludes to Republicans introducing "a pro-youth agenda."  Given their record on health care, on Dream, on tax breaks for the wealthiest 1%, I'd settle for seeing their version of a not anti-youth agenda.  Where Williams sees opportunity for the GOP, I see a big challenge: an ideological incongruency between their party and the largest generation in American history.  

This Week in The 21st Century America Project

Today, as analysts pore over President Obama's budget proposal, Millennial Generation activists are focusing on what his proposal means for students.  According to a write-up by Reuters:

President Barack Obama's proposed budget for the next fiscal year nips and tucks at individual grants for low-income students but the amount budgeted is twice as high as two years ago because the number of students has grown.

One tuck is a decision to end the year-round Pell which allows students to collect two grants in a calendar year if they attend summer school, which is most likely to be felt by for-profit schools, according to one analyst.

The other tuck is the elimination of interest subsidies for loans to graduate students.

The maximum award for a Pell grant remains $5,550, which more than nine million students expected to benefit from as part of the program.

The New York Time's David Leonhardt delves into the Pell provisions, writing:

When the Pell program recently expanded to include grants for summer classes, the additional cost was not supposed to be very large - roughly 1 percent of Pell's annual $30 billion cost in future years. Instead, many more students than expected have signed up for the program and are receiving federal grants for summer classes. In 2013, summer grants are projected to make up $5 billion of the program's total $36 billion budget - or a whopping 14 percent.

In my earlier post, I asked for evidence that the summer grants did not help lift graduation rates. The administration official preferred to ask a different question: What evidence exists that summer grants, which began last year, have lifted graduation rates? Or, as the official put it, "Is the evidence adequate to justify a $5 billion new entitas lement?"

The administration decided that the answer was no and that eliminating the program was the kind of budget cut that the government should be making, given the deficit. One reason to be skeptical that summer grants are making a big difference is that enrollment in summer classes has risen only marginally in the last year.

By contrast, the Republican plan would offer even sharper cuts.  Nick Anderson at The Washington Post writes:

House Republicans would lower the maximum Pell grant to $4,705 and cut other education spending by $4.9 billion, according to their spending proposal for the rest of the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30.

This narrow but important conversation about educational grants brings into focus an even larger and long over-due conversation about unemployment among young Americans.  University of Massachusetts Amherst Economics Professor Nancy Folbre explores this issue on today's New York Times Economix blog.  As she writes,

Neither lofty rhetoric surrounding a new "competitiveness agenda" nor bipartisan invocations of the importance of public investments in human capital can conceal the emerging reality.

Apart from the American Opportunity Tax Credit and modest increases in financial aid, public policy is not doing much to help young people from moderate- and low-income families who can't find a job or afford the education they need to improve their chances of finding one.

When last reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in August, unemployment among those aged 16 to 24 was about 19 percent - unchanged from the previous year. Partly as a result, community college enrollments, already on an upward trend, have grown in the last two years. However, state budgets, already groaning under fiscal pressure, have been unable to provide additional support.

As voters - particularly Millennial voters - begin to compare and contrast the budget proposals, this underlying question about investment in the largest generation in American history offers a stark contrast between the two parties. 

Immigrant Charter Schools

The recent passage of Arizona's SB 1070 has shed due national light on immigration as an issue that affects all Americans and needs to be addressed.  At NDN, we have said for five years now that our immigration system is broken and needs to be fixed.  That it has taken a draconian measure such as the passage of this bill to give this important issue the attention it deserves is unfortunate but not surprising.  The legislative arm of our government has had a beefy calendar trying to address healthcare, jobs and the economy, environmental concerns, and education. 

In a democratic bureaucracy that was designed to work slowly so as to prevent any person or group from taking over quickly or easily, we must strategically inspire our leaders to take action.  Issues such as education, which affect more people more directly, are often addressed in a timelier manner because constituents put more pressure on their leaders to do so.   In the Fall of 2008, according to the Census, 55.8 million children were enrolled in elementary school through high school - that's nearly 20% of the population. 

The slow rate at which our government works is not its only downfall.  In addition, issues such as education and immigration are often addressed with tunnel vision, eliminating the chance to account for factors outside the issue's scope.  Most education policy only directs money towards schools.  Most proposed immigration policy focuses on toughening the border, providing pathways to citizenship for immigrants already in the country, and managing future flow.  The DREAM Act is an exception that takes a two pronged approach, providing an educational incentive for immigrants by qualifying undocumented youth to be eligible for a six-year long conditional path to citizenship that requires the completion of a college degree or two years of military service. 

The recent wave of education activists that have pioneered immigrant charter schools provide another example of efforts that address the multi-dimensional world in which we live.  These schools, such as the Twin Cities International Elementary School in Minneapolis, MN and the Folk Arts-Cultural Treasures Charter School in Philadelphia, PA work to provide a rigorous education in a culturally sensitive environment.  In Stanford University's 2009 study of charter school performance in 16 states, results suggested that over a third of charter school students performed at a lower level than their public school counterparts.  While this is somewhat disconcerting considering the increasingly substantial role of charter schools in education reform, there were two subgroups in the nationally pooled sample that fared better in charter schools than in the traditional system: students in poverty and English Language Leaners (ELLs).  It should be noted that not all ELL students are immigrants and that the study did not focus solely on immigrant charter schools, but even with these variables, one can reasonably hypothesize that immigrant charter schools would likely be a good place for immigrant students. 

After teaching two years of elementary school, I feel I can say that, students at the elementary school level need more nurturing than those in middle or high school.  As with most people, if they are uncomfortable for any reason, they are less likely to reach their full learning potential.  It seems, then that these immigrant charter schools are a fantastic idea - but only to a certain point.  In the middle school years, when most children are more influenced by their peers than by their teachers, it would be limiting and perhaps debilitating for students to remain in an immigrant charter school.  If we want our children to achieve their dreams in this country, they must not only be able to read, write, and compute.  They must also be woven into the cultural fabric of American society.  There is no better way to do this than to be immersed in it, and an immigrant charter school seems not to be able to provide that opportunity.  Additionally, if this model became pervasive, wouldn't we face the danger of once again segregating our schools?

Ultimately, I believe in doing what it takes for students to succeed, and I support immigrant charter schools.  However, I encourage policy makers, education activists, entrepreneurs, and the like to approach these innovative models with a long term focus and to lead periodic conversations, reflect on positive and negative implications of their work, and make adjustments as they are necessary.

Video: White House Director of Urban Affairs Adolfo Carrión's Remarks at NDN

On Tuesday, we had the privilege of having White House Director of Urban Affairs Adolfo Carrión join us at NDN for a speech on the 2010 Census, housing and education. I was personally struck by how enthusiastic Director Carrión got when he started talking about urban policy. Be sure to check it out:

More than One Third of DC Public School Kids Now in Charters

All three of my kids head off to school this week in DC as the public schools reopen.  Buried in all the back to school stories is this remarkable passage from a Washington Post story by Bill Turque:

Regular public school enrollment in the District has declined by more than half since 1980, while the public charter community has grown dramatically since the independently operated schools began in the 1990s.

More than a third of the city's public students attend charter schools, which project an enrollment of about 28,066 this fall, up more than 10 percent from last school year's 25,363. Some analysts say public charter enrollment could surpass the regular school population by 2014.

I'm not sure even the people living here in DC understand what an extraordinary transformation is taking place in our local schools.  As someone who was a very early advocate of the charter concept (back when there were fewer than ten in the whole country) I am amazed to see this level of transformation happen so quickly; and in such a tough place.....

A Laptop in Every Backpack

Publish Date: 

Click here for the PDF

A single global communications network, composed of Internet, mobile, SMS, cable and satellite technology, is rapidly tying the world’s people together as never before. The core premise of this paper is that the emergence of this network is one of the seminal events of the early 21st century. Increasingly, the world’s commerce, finance, communications, media and information are flowing through this network. Half of the world’s 6 billion people are now connected to this network, many through powerful and inexpensive mobile phones. Each year more of the world’s people become connected to the network, its bandwidth increases, and its use becomes more integrated into all that we do. Connectivity to this network, and the ability to master it once on, has become an essential part of life in the 21st century, and a key to opportunity, success and fulfillment for the people of the world. We believe it should be a core priority of the United States to ensure that all the world’s people have access to this global network and have the tools to use it for their own life success. There is no way any longer to imagine free societies without the freedom of commerce, expression, and community, which this global network can bring. Bringing this network to all, keeping it free and open and helping people master its use must be one of the highest priorities of those in power in the coming years. This paper offers thoughts on one piece of this commitment – how we best bring the power of this network to America’s schoolchildren. Achieving the American Dream in this century increasingly requires fluency in the ways of this network and its tools – how to acquire information and do research, how to construct reports and present ideas using these new tools, how to type and even edit video. We believe we need a profound and urgent national commitment to give this powerful new 21st knowledge, essential for success in this century, to all American school children.

Executive Summary

A single global communications network, composed of Internet, mobile, SMS, cable and
satellite technology, is rapidly tying the world’s people together as never before. The core
premise of this paper is that the emergence of this network is one of the seminal events
of the early 21st century.  Increasingly, the world’s commerce, finance, communications,
media and information are flowing through this network.  Half of the world’s 6 billion
people are now connected to this network, many through powerful and inexpensive
mobile phones.  Each year more of the world’s people become connected to the network,
its bandwidth increases, and its use becomes more integrated into all that we do. 
Connectivity to this network, and the ability to master it once on, has become an
essential part of life in the 21st century, and a key to opportunity, success and
fulfillment for the people of the world. 
We believe it should be a core priority of the United States to ensure that all the world’s
people have access to this global network and have the tools to use it for their own life
success. There is no way any longer to imagine free societies without the freedom of
commerce, expression, and community, which this global network can bring.  Bringing
this network to all, keeping it free and open and helping people master its use must be
one of the highest priorities of those in power in the coming years.  
This paper offers thoughts on one piece of this commitment – how we best bring the
power of this network to America’s schoolchildren.  Achieving the American Dream in
this century increasingly requires fluency in the ways of this network and its tools – how
to acquire information and do research, how to construct reports and present ideas
using these new tools, how to type and even edit video.  We believe we need a profound
and urgent national commitment to give this powerful new 21st knowledge, essential for
success in this century, to all American school children.  
We believe that America needs to put a laptop in every backpack of every child.  We
need to commit to a date and grade certain: we suggest 2010 for every sixth grader.  
These laptops need to be wirelessly connected to the Internet, and children need to be
able to take them home.  Local school districts should choose how best to do this, but
there needs to be federal funding and simple, federal standards.  Funds and strategies
for how training our teachers to lead this transformation need to be part this
We believe it will cost at first $2 billion a year to provide every 6th grader a laptop,
about what we spend in Iraq every week. Hardware costs continue to plummet each
year, and the idea of a $200 laptop or classmate PC is coming ever closer to reality.  It is
not a question of resources, but of vision and political will.  Libya has just announced a
national commitment to give all its school children a laptop.  If Libya can do it, so can
Giving our children the tools for computer literacy is the 21st century equivalent to
teaching them how to read.  In the “flat world” described by Tom Friedman, there can be
no life success without it this knowledge, no real chance to seize the American Dream,
no secure and prosperous road to the middle class.  We believe giving every school child
a laptop must be an essential part of any strategy to ensure broad-based prosperity for
America in the 21st century.  
So, let’s look at what it might require to put a laptop in every backpack.  

Current Conditions

The starting point for participation in today’s global communications network is to own
a computer and have Internet access.  According to the Pew Internet and American Life
Project and Intel Corporation, there are still 30 million American households that do not
have a computer.1  This gap in access has become progressively more troubling as
technology has progressed from a tool that provides a competitive advantage to a
baseline need for social, civic, economic and educational participation.  Students in the
21st century must be equipped with the skills and tools to succeed and participate in our
increasingly technology-rich, knowledge-based economy.  For school-age children, the
consequences of not being a part of the digital age are daunting. Technology has become
increasingly important for academic success, as computer and high-speed Internet access
are shown to raise students’ test-taking aptitude and provide a superior resource for
homework help, school research and information gathering. 
The irony of this situation is that in the 1990s, the United States held the position of
world leader in pioneering technology applications and the Internet.  Our innovation had
a profound impact on our and the world’s economic and educational growth.  For
example, within the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the E-Rate program was created
which ensured that all schools, rural or urban, rich or poor, have affordable Internet
access.  According to the American Youth Policy Forum, today 98% of American schools
have access to the Internet because of the E-Rate program2.  In addition, investments by
the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in the 1990s allowed for the near ubiquity of
Internet access (98.9%) in public libraries around the country3.
Despite our early lead in developing technology applications and policies, in recent
years we have lost our leadership position.  According to the International
Telecommunication Union, the United States has fallen to 15th in the world in
broadband penetration rates.4  
Innovation has shifted as education systems abroad have recognized the need for
technology in education.  The lack of leadership demonstrated in the United States,
juxtaposed with the advances that have taken place abroad, will put us in a less
competitive position tomorrow.
In addition to these issues of technology leadership, the U.S. is lagging behind because
access to computers and the Internet in this country are still somewhat related to income
and race.  A study from a May 2006 Report by the Pew Internet and American Life
Project found that only 21% of people earning less than $30,000 a year have broadband
access, whereas 68% of households earning $75,000 or more a year have access.5 
According to a report released by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2005, 63.9% of white
households have a computer in their home and 57% have access to Internet. Only 44.6%
of African-Americans have a computer in their house and only 36% had access to
Internet. Among those of Hispanic origin, 44.3% have a computer in their household and
36% have access to Internet. Asian Americans fared better than any other racial group
with 72.9% having a computer in their household and 66.7% having Internet access.6 
Those gaps are closing, but we need to close them faster.
America must re-establish itself as a leader in preparing our children to participate in
the global economy by ensuring that all public school children regardless of race, income
or geography have access to the tools of the 21st century digital age.  
Outside experts estimate initial costs of $2 billion in the first year, which will enable
every 6th grader in America to acquire a laptop. Once implemented, increased costs
would be incremental rather than exponential and will rise over time, depending on the
decisions of policymakers about how quickly and how broadly to scale implementation
to additional grade levels. The constantly decreasing costs and increasing life-span of
hardware will help mitigate cost increases and there are achievable economies of scale
that can be reached depending on the choices of our policymakers.

Computers in the Classroom

To begin preparing all children for participation in today’s global communications
network, we must ensure that there is a laptop in every 6th grader’s backpack to use in
the classroom and at home.  Not only is computer access a fundamental necessity to
participate in today’s global communications network, it also significantly enhances
academic performance and student achievement.
A study by Stanford’s Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR) reports:
• “Positive evidence supporting computers’ effectiveness” showing that computer
and technology use increases the aptitude of a child who is performing at the 50th
percentile level to between the 59th and 72nd percentile.
• Lower-achieving students experience much greater benefits from access to
computers than those who are already high-achieving students.  
• Home computer users scored, on average, three to five percentage points higher
than students without home computers.7 
In a decade-long series of studies, students in classes that use computer-based
instruction outperformed their peers on standardized tests of basic skills achievement
significantly.8  These benefits occur because technology provides a teacher with an
arsenal of tools that are more effective than basic textbooks.  By providing students
with computers in the classroom, they can engage with real-time information not
included in textbooks, access resources without having to wait for a free computer in a
lab, and master multimedia presentation and communication skills.
Teachers who use computers in the classroom can drill students on specific topics for
which they need extra help.  Computer programs provide individualized instruction and
instant feedback that motivates students to continue with their lessons. Moreover,
curricula can be geared to meet the particular learning needs of students and can allow
them to gather their own information and resources.  The use of laptops can also allow
school districts to save significantly on text books, while connecting their students to
diverse sources of content that are the best available in their respective subject areas.
This is not to suggest that traditional materials should be eliminated and that
conventional classroom instruction should be discarded, but rather that by leveraging the
tools of technology we can overcome some of the instructional constraints found in the
four walls of a classroom with one teacher and thirty students.  
The innovation of the Internet reduces the barriers of race, income and geography in
America’s public school system.  Young people, whether they reside in geographically
isolated rural communities or attend a failing inner city school, can have access to
premiere educational resources with the click of a mouse.  That access provides a robust
set of course options available online from foreign language to Advanced Placement
Further, more than 90% of students aged 12 to 17 use the Internet to find “better
information” than the information found in schoolbooks.9  This is particularly useful in
under-performing schools where resources may not be available and textbooks are often

Computers at Home

Evidence supports that students should have the opportunity to take home a computer
in the same way they would a textbook.  Providing a laptop for every schoolchild
creates equality between those who have computers at home, and those who don’t.   
The ability to take a computer home is critically important.  For example, students
report that their daily use of the Internet drastically differs from in-school Internet use. 
According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, Internet and computer reliance
to complete homework assignments takes place primarily “outside of the school day,
outside of the school building, outside of the direction of [students’] teachers.”10  By
providing students with access to a laptop, students can go online at any time and in
any location to access tutoring and homework help.  
According to a recent survey, among high school age children (ages 12-17) the following
statistics have been reported:
• 80% of students have coursework that requires using the Internet at home.
• Almost 65% of students utilize the Internet to work on school assignments at
• Nearly 60% of students aged 12 to 17 use the Internet to access dictionaries,
thesauruses and encyclopedias.11
It also provides an opportunity for parents to use the laptop for educational and asset
building purposes.  A recent study of One Economy’s work funded by the John S. and
James L. Knight Foundation and conducted by SRI International and the Pew Internet
and American Life Project found that adults who were provided with a home computer
used it for a variety of purposes including to:
• Search for and apply for jobs.
• Make purchases and pursue educational opportunities.
• Engage in banking and take classes online.
• Exchange e-mail, make informational inquiries, read or listen to the news,
conduct research for school, and interact with friends.
In addition, technology offers new and exciting ways for families to increase involvement
in their children's education by checking progress reports, attendance and test results as
well as assignments through schools’ websites.  Laptop ownership at home and at
school facilitates a greater level of collaboration among students, teachers, and parents
and results in greater academic success.

Why Now

In today’s 21st century global communications network, it is no longer just a competitive
advantage for schoolchildren to have access to a computer.  It is now a prerequisite for
children to have this access both inside and outside of the classroom.  
The fat envelopes that used to be stuffed in the mail by college applicants every year no
longer exist.  Today’s high school seniors apply online and upload digital files of their
grades, essays, and recommendations to the university’s network
Furthermore, according to The Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in professional,
scientific, and technical services will increase by 28.4% and add 1.9 million new jobs by
2014. Employment in computer systems design and related services will increase by
39.5% and account for almost one-fourth of the 1.9 million new jobs created in
professional, scientific, and technical services.  Additionally, management, scientific,
and technical consulting services also will grow by 60.5%, prompted by the increased
use of new technology and computer software.12
It is not just increased professional opportunities that demand technology skills, in
today’s global communications network people are using their computers for a variety of
major undertakings.  The Pew Internet and American Life Project found that over a
three-year period, Internet use grew by:
• 54% in the number of adults who said the Internet played a major role as they
helped another person cope with a major illness. And the number of those who
said the Internet played a major role as they coped themselves with a major
illness increased 40%. 
• 45% in the number who said the Internet played a major role as they made major
investment or financial decisions. 
•  43% in the number who said the Internet played a major role when they looked
for a new place to live. 
• 23% in the number who said the Internet played a major role when they bought a
car. 13
Our young people must be equipped with the tools necessary to navigate through
today’s global communications network.  One advantage today versus the 1990s is that
the costs for the tools of the digital age have been significantly reduced.  In recent years,
as the cost for computing devices and broadband decreases and connectivity and
mobility of these devices increases, there are fewer practical concerns surrounding the
implementation of a program to provide every child a mobile, computing device.  

Success Stories

Beginning in Boston, Massachusetts in the 1990s, and followed soon after with other
technology initiatives, urban and rural communities across the country began reporting a
widespread increase in positive academic outcomes through the use of technology.  
Boston, MA
In 1998, Boston became the first major urban school district to build high-speed
technology networks in each of its school buildings and public libraries. In
addition to the district’s network construction, Boston developed the Technology
Goes Home initiative, providing access, training, and curriculum through public
schools.  Boston schools also offered student graduates and their family’s new
computers, printers and Internet access for less than $15 per month. The
cumulative result of these programs was a 15% increase in the number of
graduates attending college from the previous district average of 65% to 80%.14 
Henrico County, VA
Henrico County, Virginia has one of the largest "one-to-one computing" initiatives
of any school district in the U.S.  In one survey 97% of mathematics and science
teachers reported that the computers have helped students to learn these
challenging subjects, and 59% report that the laptops have helped "a lot" or "a
great deal.”  In addition, more than 80% of students reported that it is "helpful"
or "very helpful" to have a computer to use for their schoolwork. These reports
were corroborated when state standardized test scores increased and dropout
rates decreased.15
In Maine, where the Department of Education has equipped all the state’s 7th
and 8th grade students and teachers with access to wireless internet-enabled
laptop computers for the past 4 years, students are completing more homework
and misbehaving less than in previous years.  Moreover, there is improved
student interaction with teachers, particularly among at-risk and low-achieving
students, and improved class participation and student motivation.  In addition,
more than 75% of teachers reported that having the laptops helped them better
meet Maine’s statewide learning standards.16
Greene County, NC: A Model Success Story
Perhaps most striking is the example of Greene County, a small rural county in eastern
North Carolina.  Predominantly agrarian, Greene County has been ranked as the county
most dependent on tobacco production in North Carolina, and the second most tobacco
dependent county in the United States.  Generations of Greene County farmers have
harvested and sold flue-cured tobacco. 
In recent years, the tobacco industry has seen a significant decline in its popularity and
prosperity.  Domestic tobacco sales plunged from $47.7 billion in 1990 to only $18.9
billion in 2000, and the numbers continue to plummet.  As the demand for tobacco has
fallen, the number of unemployed agricultural workers has risen.  Today, 70% of Greene
County’s K-12 schoolchildren receive free or reduced-price lunches. 
The economy in rural North Carolina is changing and workers must adapt to a new
economic order.  A 1999 survey showed that an unprecedented 30% of North Carolina
farmers expected to give up tobacco farming in their lifetime, and 68% were interested in
expanding to other enterprises.  
Beginning in November 2003, a diverse team of stakeholders including the Greene
County local government, the school system, grassroots leaders, and social service
providers partnered with One Economy to respond to the economic changes in our
increasingly technology-rich, knowledge based economy. The partnership is rooted in
activities to:
• Bring ubiquitous access to broadband and computing to Greene County.
• Improve the economic livelihood of county residents.
• Increase the economic competitiveness of Greene County.
• Improve academic performance among county-schoolchildren.
The technology investment began at the school-level by bringing Apple iBook computers
to each 6th through 12th grader in Greene County, with 85% of these computers traveling
home every evening with the students.

The Opportunity to Provide a Laptop for Every American Schoolchild

Despite the unambiguous case for ensuring every American schoolchild has a computer,
it remains increasingly likely that unless a national initiative is put into place, millions of
students, most likely inner-city minorities and low-income residents of rural
communities, will remain isolated from technology and its inherent benefits.  
It is essential that our children be provided with access to the tools that are necessary to
navigate and participate in the global communications network.  Without deep fluency
in the new tools offered to them through this startling information revolution, our
children will be at a competitive disadvantage and their opportunity for life success will
be diminished.  America’s policymakers must ensure that no matter where people live
public school children have the skills necessary to be active participants in the emerging
society of the 21st century.  
We can start this process by committing, together, to put on a laptop in every backpack
of every American school child. 
Greene County by the Numbers

Educational Outcomes


  • SAT composite scores increased by 41 points since the beginning of the project.
  • High school proficiency scores increased from 53% to 78.4% since 2003.
  • More than 80% of the 2006 Senior Class applied to college compared to 28% of the
    2004 Senior Class.  

 Economic Development Outcomes


  • Last year, twelve new businesses were attracted and opened in Greene County after
    years of negative business growth.

Improved Broadband Availability


  • Broadband access increased from 10% to 90%. 
  • More than a dozen church and community buildings have become hot spots for free
    Internet access and these locations are the host for the free technology training.


About the Authors

Alec Ross is the Executive Vice President for External Affairs and a co-founder of One
Economy, a multinational nonprofit organization that works to maximize the potential
of technology to help low-income people enter the economic mainstream.
Simon Rosenberg is the President and Founder of NDN, a progressive think tank and
advocacy organization committed to meeting the governing challenges of the 21st century. 
Send comments to, or leave a public comment on NDN’s blog, at

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Success,” SBC Communications, Inc. August 4th, 2004.   

 Levin, D. Arafeh S. “The Digital Disconnect: The Widening Gap Between Internet-Savvy Students and their
Schools” The Pew Internet and American Life Project.  August 14th, 2002.

 Carlson, Natalie. "National Survey Finds Kids Give High Marks to High Speed." Hispanic PR Wire. 13 Aug.
2004. SBC Communications, Inc. 11 Apr. 2007.  Available online at: 

 United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Tomorrow’s Jobs,

 Horrigan, John. The Internet’s Growing Role in Life’s Major Moments.  Published by Pew Internet &
American Life Project. April 19, 2006,
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The Children’s Partnership, 21,

  SRI International (22 June 2004). SRI International and EDC Study of Largest District-Based Laptop
Computer Initiative Demonstrates Benefits of “One-to-One Computing” in schools Available online at:
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Maine Department of Education. Available online at:

Tapping the Resources of America's Community Colleges

Publish Date: 

It is time that America ensures that all workers have real opportunities to build the skills necessary to operate one of the most important new technologies of our time, computers. Young Americans are increasingly adept at working with computers, but many American workers still lack those skills. Here, we propose a direct, new approach to giving U.S. workers the opportunity to develop those skills, by providing federal government grants to America’s community colleges to keep open their computer labs three nights every week, staffed by instructors who will provide basic instruction to any person in the community who walks in and requests it.

The primary way any nation can ensure that its people enjoy broad-based upward mobility is to raise the productivity of its workers and businesses. Achieving that goal, as the United States has done throughout most of its history, depends largely on three critical factors. First, the economy must promote the development and spread of new technologies, new ways of organizing and operating businesses, and other innovations that create new value and new efficiencies. Second, companies must invest in those technologies and in other business and economic innovations, so workers can use them to perform their jobs more productively. Finally, workers, companies, and the government must provide continuing support for all workers to acquire the skills to operate new technologies and perform well in innovative business environments. The program proposed here, fully implemented, could provide that support and enable all American workers to learn basic computer skills at a total annual cost of less than $125 million a year.

Executive Summary    It is time that America ensures that all workers have real opportunities to build  the skills necessary to operate one of the most important new technologies of our time,  computers. Young Americans are increasingly adept at working with computers, but  many American workers still lack those skills.  Here, we propose a direct, new approach  to giving U.S. workers the opportunity to develop those skills, by providing federal  government grants to America’s community colleges to keep open their computer labs  three nights every week, staffed by instructors who will provide basic instruction to any  person in the community who walks in and requests it.    The  primary  way  any  nation  can  ensure  that  its  people  enjoy  broad‐based  upward mobility is to raise the productivity of its workers and businesses.  Achieving  that goal, as the United States has done throughout most of its history, depends largely  on three critical factors. First, the economy must promote the development and spread  of  new  technologies,  new  ways  of  organizing  and  operating  businesses,  and  other  innovations that create new value and new efficiencies.  Second, companies must invest  in those technologies and in other business and economic innovations, so workers can  use them to perform their jobs more productively.  Finally, workers, companies, and the  government must provide continuing support for all workers to acquire the skills to  operate new technologies and perform well in innovative business environments.  The  program proposed here, fully implemented, could provide that support and enable all  American workers to learn basic computer skills at a total annual cost of less than $125  million a year.    1  We gratefully acknowledge the invaluable assistance and insights of Aaron Banks, former Chief Editor at  NDN and now Online Campaign Coordinator at the One Campaign.  America’s Productivity Record     America  is  enjoying  an  extended  period  of  strong  productivity  growth.    The  1950s  and  1960s  were  a  period  of  historic  upward  mobility  for  the  United  States,  largely  because  productivity  marched  up  at  an  annual  rate  of  more  than  3.2  percent.2    This  progress  slowed  sharply  from  the  early‐1970s  to  the  mid‐1990s,  with  annual  gains  averaging  just  1.5  percent.    This  critical  trend  has  moved  upward  again  since  1996,  averaging 2.8 percent annual gains over the last decade.  The sources of these impressive  productivity  gains  are  not  mysterious.    Economists  and  other  experts  generally  agree  that  the  most  important  factor  in  the  resurgence  of  productivity  growth  has  been  the  spread of information technologies across the U.S. economy.    The  Department  of  Commerce  tracked  the  link  between  the  spread  of  IT  and  productivity  growth  in  a  series  of  landmark  reports  on  the  “Digital  Economy”  issued  from 1997 to 2003.  The 2003 report noted,    The widespread dispersion of productivity growth across major sectors of  the economy – largely paralleling the spread of IT – suggests that massive  IT  investments  by  U.S.  industries  are  producing  positive  and  probably  lasting  changes  in  the  nation’s  economic  potential.  These  conclusions  add  to  recent  findings  by  other  economists  concerning  the  widespread  and  lasting impacts of IT on the revival of U.S. productivity growth.3      Those  productivity  gains  are  continuing  as  American  businesses  adopt  and  adapt  to  successive  new  generations  of  digital  technologies  and  the  rapid  expansion  of  global  communications  networks.    In  addition,  some  parts  of  the  U.S.  economy  have  lagged  behind  others  in  adapting  to  information  technologies,  including  such  major  sectors  as  health  care,  education,  construction,  and  the  public  sector.4    As  operations  in  these  sectors  become  increasingly  digitally‐based  and  other  sectors  adopt  the  latest  generation  of  IT,  anyone  who  hopes  to  improve  his  or  her  economic  conditions  must  possess the capacity and skills to operate in an IT‐intensive workplace.     In  the  latter‐1990s,  the  strong  productivity  gains  of  the  overall  economy  were  matched  by  equally  strong  progress  in  average  wages  and  salaries,  as  well  as  in  overall  growth,  business  investment  and  corporate  profits.    Over  the  last  five  years,  however,  this  pattern  has  changed.    Since  2001,  the  nation’s  strong  productivity  growth  has  been  matched  by  healthy  gains  in  overall  growth  and  historically‐high  corporate  profits,  but  most  workers  have  experienced  little,  if  any,  real  (inflation‐adjusted)  wage  progress.  In  2  Bureau of Labor Statistics database,   3  Digital Economy 2003, Economics and Statistics Administration, December, 2003.  4   “Will  We  Build  It  and  If  We  Do  Will  They  Come:  Is  the  U.S.  Policy  Response  to  the  Competitiveness  Challenge  Adequate  to  the  Task?ʺ  Remarks  by  Robert  D.  Atkinson  at  the  2006  American  Association  for  the  Advancement of Science Policy Conference, April 21, 2006, Washington, DC.      fact,  the  combination  in  recent  years  of  stagnating  wages  for  most  Americans  and  corporate  profits  that  have  doubled  since  2000  has  reduced  workers’  share  of  total  national income to its lowest level since the early 1930s.5  The unexpected decoupling of  productivity gains and wage growth also has occurred while prices have risen sharply  for many middle‐class necessities, including health insurance, electricity, gasoline and  college tuitions.6  In the midst of historic productivity progress, life is getting harder for  tens of millions of Americans; and the median income of American households fell  almost 6 percent from its record high level in 1999.7    These developments, especially the critical decoupling of productivity growth  and wage gains, reflect pressures generated by economic globalization and technological  change – and the failure of our government to respond urgently and creatively.  For  today’s  Americans  to  enjoy  the  upward  mobility  experienced  in  much  of  the  last  century, we will have to address some very difficult issues. We urgently need serious  reforms to contain the rising costs of health care and energy, because when intense  global competition limits the ability of U.S. companies to pass on those rising costs, the  result is often depressed wages for ordinary Americans. We also need new approaches,  as soon as possible, to ensure that every American worker can have the skills he or she  needs to operate with the information technologies that are mainly responsible for our  strong productivity gains.     Throughout  the  last  decade  of  strong  productivity  gains,  both  when  overall  wages rose in the late 1990s and then stalled in the last six years, Americans with the  largest gains were those in the top 10 to 20 percent of the workforce, by income, with the  most  developed  information  and  communications  technology‐related  skills.  But  computers and online communications technologies have become part of most jobs in  the  U.S.  workforce,  from  tax  accounting  to  trucking  and  across  manufacturing  and  service industries.  It is already virtually impossible in America to find and hold a  higher‐paying job without proficiency in computer and communications skills.  To help  address  this  challenge  for  the  next  generation,  the  NDN  Globalization  Initiative  proposed recently to provide every Americans schoolchild a laptop computer and basic  computing skills.8     Here, we propose a simple and effective way to provide every worker today with  an opportunity to build the same skills.  Tens of millions of Americans graduated high  school or even attended college in the years before computers and the Internet became  ubiquitous.  Many of them are now entering, or are already in, what should be their  most productive and highest‐earning years.  But without basic information technology  5  The Bush Economic Record, NDN Globalization Initiative, September 2006.  6  Ibid.  7  Ibid.  8  Alex Ross and Simon Rosenberg, “A Series of Modest Proposals to Build 21st Century Skills: A Laptop in  Every Backpack,”       skills,  many  workers  are  trapped  in  dead‐end  jobs,  and  as  non‐wired  employment  becomes obsolete, they face being locked out of the mainstream workforce entirely.    The United States has a cost‐effective and ready‐to‐deploy infrastructure already  in place to provide universal access to basic information‐technology skills: The computer  labs of the nation’s vast network of community colleges across the country.  A relatively  modest investment of federal grants for community colleges can make these on‐campus  computer  facilities  into  powerful,  part‐time  community  resources  for  workforce  training.      A Modest Proposal to Provide Universal Access to Computer Skills     The United States maintains a network of 1,202 accredited community colleges  across the country.  They are located in major cities and quiet suburbs, and new efforts  such as the Ford Foundation’s Rural Community College Initiative are extending these  critical  educational  resources  to  rural  Americans  as  well.9  Virtually  all  of  these  community colleges already have created and staffed computer labs for their students.  We should take advantage of these sunk costs to help every working American build  critical IT‐related job skills.     Since the establishment in 1901 of Joliet Junior College, the first two‐year college  in the United States, the missions and scale of America’s community colleges have often  changed  in  response  to  the  nation’s  needs.    In  the  1930s,  hundreds  of  community  colleges  added  workforce  training  to  their  existing  liberal  arts  curriculum,  to  help  Americans who had lost their jobs in the Great Depression.  Following the Second World  War, the system expanded greatly to meet the new demand from the influx of students  supported by the GI Bill. Similarly, community colleges expanded their campuses and  facilities in the 1960s and 1970s to accommodate the rising demand for higher education  from baby boomers.      Community colleges are now going through their next period of reinvention, in  which most of them have already placed new emphasis on incorporating technology,  computers  and  advanced  communications  skills  into  their  curricula.  The  American  Association  of  Community  Colleges  has  identified  background  and  competency  in  information technologies as critical to students’ success in finding jobs after graduation.   In  response,  computer  labs  have  become  a  universal  feature  of  community  college  campuses, and the numbers of students graduating with degrees in IT and IT‐related  fields have risen.       9  American Association of Community Colleges, “Fast Facts” and “Rural Community College Initiative,”       The typical community‐college computer lab is open and used by students 66.5  hours per‐week.10  These hours are highly concentrated in the daytime of weekdays,  when  most  working  people  are  on  their  jobs.  Under  our  proposal,  the  federal  government would provide grants to defray the costs of keeping these labs open and  staffed by community college instructors an additional 30 hours each week, on evenings  and weekends when these labs are generally closed or little‐used. During those hours,  any person would be able to walk in and receive instruction in computer‐related skills,  at no cost.  We estimate that if two‐thirds of community colleges participate, and each  provides three instructors for 30 hours a week, 48 weeks a year, Congress could provide  every worker in America access to IT training for about $125 million a year.11    Each community college would be able to determine the specific content of the  instruction, based on its own assessments of local needs and what people walking in ask  for.  The most likely areas of instruction would include basic computer operations, word  processing,  spreadsheet  construction  and  manipulation,  Internet  research  and  communication, database entry and operation, and basic graphic design.  Gaining these  skills can open up new job opportunities for people currently in low‐paying fields and  help millions of other workers improve their productivity in their current jobs. Most  important,  this  new,  21st  century  partnership  between  the  federal  government  and  America’s community colleges can help transform the careers and lives of millions of  Americans.      This effort can also build on recent initiatives in places like Arizona to develop  community‐driven curricula, in which businesses, community colleges and government  collaborate on new approaches to worker training.  As reported recently by the Arizona  Capital Times,      An  extensive  workforce  study  by  the  Maricopa  County  Community  Colleges and Salt River Project examined current and future needs of  employers and employees, with an eye toward the role of the colleges. In  the next two years, the study forecasts a 33 percent increase in technician  hires in science, software manufacturing and application development,  drafting, design and product development …. At the Arizona Association  of  Industries,  Stuart  Banks,  president,  is  working  with  the  Arizona  Department  of  Commerce  on  a  plan  to  help  small  and  mid‐sized  manufacturing companies obtain job training funds.12      10  This estimate is derived from micro‐data collected by NDN based on a random sample of community  colleges nationwide.  11  The average wage of computer instructors at junior and four‐year colleges is about $27‐$34/hour.  Based  on those wages and the assumptions enumerated above, we estimate the total labor costs for the program at  roughly $103 million.  We assume 20 to 25 percent additional overhead costs for the use of the facilities and  other expenses incurred by participating community colleges.  12  “Building a Talent Pipeline,” Arizona Capital Times, November 24, 2006.      In the Arizona project and similar efforts elsewhere, community colleges are  planning  their  curricula  to  help  students  prepare  for  well‐paying  jobs  in  their  communities.  Our  proposal  would  enable  community  colleges  to  provide  similar  benefits for working people in their communities, focusing on the IT skills that are most  central to productivity and wage gains in this period.        The United Kingdom also recently launched a large, new private‐public initiative  in collaboration with the Microsoft Corporation to train 100,000 Scottish workers in basic  IT and communications technology skills.13 Microsoft surveyed 600 employers in 10  European Union countries and found that computer and Internet‐related training was  needed not just in traditional IT fields, but across the economy.14  The project, which  Microsoft is helping to fund, is part of the broader “Unlimited Potential” campaign  spearheaded by Microsoft to provide IT and communications training to 100 million  people around the world.15  That campaign and our proposal share the fundamental  insight  that  expanding  training  in  information  and  Internet‐related  technologies  is  critical to both future productivity growth and wage gains.    The benefits from this new initiative will go far beyond the millions of American  workers who will gain access to computer and Internet‐related training.  The program  also will expand demand for IT instruction, raising incomes and creating new jobs for IT  instructors.    Some  of  these  instructors  will  come  from  the  ranks  of  those  currently  teaching at the community colleges; others may come from the growing numbers of self‐ employed  IT  professionals  doing  free‐lance  work,  or  current  undergraduate  and  graduate students with these skills.  Improving the IT‐related skills of current workers  can  also  enable  firms  to  adopt  and  adapt  to  the  next  generation  of  information  technologies,  potentially  increasing  their  efficiency  and  even  their  own  capacity  for  innovation.     Most important of all, this initiative can help us deliver on the basic promise of  progressive  politics,  that  anyone  willing  to  apply  themselves  and  work  hard  can  improve their lives.  In a technologically‐driven economy adapting to the pressures of  accelerating globalization, progressive government has a responsibility to ensure that  everyone has real access to the means to achieve that goal.  This initiative can help our  government meet that responsibility.  13  “Scots to receive IT training,” Financial Times, January 30, 2007.  14  Ibid.  15  “Getting to Work: Computer Skills Help Untapped Labor Force,” San Jose Mercury News, March 2, 2007.     About the Author      Robert J. Shapiro is the chairman of the NDN Globalization Initiative.  He is also  chairman and co‐founder of Sonecon, LLC, a private firm that advises U.S. and foreign  businesses, governments and non‐profit organizations on market conditions and  economic policy. Dr. Shapiro has advised, among others, U.S. President Bill Clinton and  British Prime Minister Tony Blair; private firms including MCI, Inc., New York Life  Insurance Co., SLM Corporation, Google, Nordstjernan of Sweden, and Fujitsu of Japan;  and non‐profit organizations including the American Public Transportation Association,  the Education Finance Council, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.  He is also Senior  Fellow of the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI) and a director of the Ax:son‐Johnson  Foundation in Sweden. From 1997 to 2001, he was Under Secretary of Commerce for  Economic Affairs. Prior to that, he was co‐founder and Vice President of PPI.  Dr.  Shapiro also served as the principal economic advisor to Bill Clinton in his 1991‐1992  presidential campaign, senior economic advisor to Albert Gore, Jr. and John Kerry in  their presidential campaigns, Legislative Director for Senator Daniel P. Moynihan, and  Associate Editor of U.S. News & World Report.  He has been a Fellow of Harvard  University, the Brookings Institution and the National Bureau of Economic Research. He  holds a Ph.D. from Harvard, as well as degrees from the University of Chicago and the  London School of Economics.

Soccer, Tequila, Immigrants and...Education

Immigrants in the New York area received important support from a major Mexican enterprise and one of the all-time favorite Mexican soccer players yesterday. The Institute for Mexicans Abroad (abbreviated IME in Spanish) received an important donation yesterday to further its IME Becas scholarship program. IME Becas help Mexicans located outside of Mexico continue their education and vocational training wherever they may be. The Mexican Consul for the New York area, Rubén Beltrán, received a generous donation yesterday from the hands of Ramón Ramírez, the former midfield player for the Mexican national team and spokesperson for José Cuervo. José Cuervo, one Mexico's primary tequila producers, donated $10,000 that will go to help 26 community plazas in New York provide classes to help children and adults finish primary and secondary education, learn English, learn to read, and vocational training. Over the last two years, more than 1,000 people have benefitted from the programs supported by IME Becas, which are available not only to Mexicans but to immigrants from other countries as well.


Fenty, Rhee Swing Big in DC

DC's new mayor, Adrian Fenty, is turning DC into one of the nation's true centers of education reform. The Washington Post has an editorial today looking at a path-breaking proposal by schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee which would create a new and very different model for teacher pay and performance.

As a parent of 2 kids in DC public schools (and a third next year), I and my family have been following Fenty and Rhee's bold moves closely. My wife and I had lunch with Rhee a month or so ago, and found her smart, determined, prepared, impressive - and perhaps strong and savvy enough to actually pull off her and the mayors ambitious plans.

The battle to modernize, improve and reform DC's schools is turning into an effort with national significance. I will be following it all, and will be reporting back here on the NDN blog from time to time as things develop.

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