Summer 2003

Norris Dickard: Striving for Tech Equity
by anonymous

Norris Dickard

Norris Dickard

Norris Dickard’s policy work at the Benton Foundation focuses on educational technology, universal service, and bridging the digital divide. From 1992 to 2001, Dickard worked as a senior policy advisor at the U.S. Department of Education, where he was instrumental in launching key components of former President Clinton's Digital Opportunity Initiative. From 1989 to 1991, Dickard worked as an administrator at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.


Current Work

In early 2002, I was part of the steering committee that launched the Digital Empowerment campaign; as part of this effort, I sought to use “the power of my pen,” through op-eds and various articles that were published, to engage thought leaders around why it was critical to preserve the TOP and CTC programs, as well as to ensure that all children had access to digital learning opportunities (in their homes, communities, and schools).

As project manager of the Joyce Foundation funded “Ed-Tech Sustainability Project” I was proud that on December 11, 2002, our findings from the project were released in the form of a publication, The Sustainability Challenge: Taking Educational Technology to the Next Level. The venue was a well-attended national policy forum at the National Press Club. It has a number of recommendations related to the digital divide. We are interested in doing a similar project in the community technology access space, building on our recent work in the launching of Webjunction.

For the last six months, I’ve been actively working on the debate over the nation’s media media ownership rules which unfortunately have been made less restrictive by the FCC, impacting local control and the diversity of voices so necessary in a democracy.


It’s disheartening to see the Bush Administration continue not to request funding for direct federal support for CTCs but instead point to the ed-tech block grant as the source of funds. I am shocked about the huge cuts to the 21st Century Learning Centers Program. Early on, Peter Miller, other community technology proponents, and I worked to get folks to apply for these funds and use school facilities for community technology access. Now it is just being judged on whether student test scores went up, when the Congressional mandate for this program was much broader.


The biggest reward for me is working on such an important issue as technology equity and ensuring that everyone thrives in the digital age. My work energizes me. I just spoke at a Pan-African Conference that was held in Botswana and which focused on school and community technology. Hopefully I provided some good advice for them to consider in writing their telecommunications laws and related regulations.

Some Words of Advice

In a time when federal leadership is woefully lacking it is so important to look at policy innovations on the state and local levels—and for others to emulate these innovators. Models like the Community Technology Foundation Programs in California, in crafting state universal service policies, and One Economy, in the housing arena, are good examples. There are many others.

A Look Ahead

As to the future, the Benton Foundation sees a profound opportunity today: an opportunity to help approximately 13 million underserved young adults ages 16-28 develop and apply the "21st Century skills" necessary to improve their lives. The foundation and its partners are embarking on a multi-year initiative to identify, develop and promote successful community-based strategies to use media and communications tools to empower youth. The campaign will unite community leaders, decision-makers, the business sector, researchers and practitioners nationally, and in partnering cities, to tackle this challenge. We believe that strategic community interventions, using media and technology, can make a substantial difference in the lives of young people who have fallen through the cracks in the educational system, creating new pathways to economic success and social inclusion.

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