Recognizing a critical education reform issue, the Public Education Network applied to the Corporation for National Service (AmeriCorps) in 1994 for a grant to improve educational access to and use of technology. The resulting initiative is Fostering Instructional Reform Through Service and Technology -- Project FIRST. Project FIRST works to integrate technology into public school curricula and to increase community involvement in the process by using the unique resources and capabilities of local education funds (LEFs) and their business partners.
Project FIRST and other similar programs are helping public schools across the country to become technologically sophisticated educational institutions. Project FIRST's considerable progress has come about, in part, because it addresses the need to modernize the instructional norms of many classroom settings. Project FIRST is effectively promoting information technology as a means of enhancing teaching and learning -- for both teachers and students.
For many students from disadvantaged backgrounds, including most racial minorities, these advances will not be enough to bridge the computer experience gap. According to a study published in the April 1998 issue of Science Magazine, white students in high school and college are still much more likely than black students to have computers in their homes and to use the World Wide Web. While 73 percent of white students had a home computer, only 33 percent of black students did, even when accounting for differences in income, according to another report compiled by Vanderbilt University researchers. Elevating the level of technology use and access in schools located in disadvantaged communities to that in other schools throughout the nation is a challenge of enormous magnitude. There is still much work to be done to ensure optimum learning environments and outcomes for all students. Project FIRST's efforts are a step along the way.