Bill would boost public TV’s learning power

Schools across the United States soon could have online access to a vast amount of educational content from public television archives to help raise student achievement, if a new bill called the Ready to Compete Act (H.R. 6856) is enacted.

Co-sponsored by Reps. John Yarmuth, D-Ky., and Ray LaHood, R-Ill., the bill would reauthorize two existing federal programs: Ready to Learn, which aims to improve literacy by encouraging the creation of educational public TV programming, and Ready to Teach, which intends to boost teacher quality through the development and use of public TV content for teacher professional development.

In addition, the bill would create two new programs: Ready to Achieve and Ready to Earn. Ready to Achieve would create a national, on-demand, online digital media service that would allow teachers to access public television’s extensive archives of educational content. Ready to Earn would allow stations to create new resources to address the needs of adult learners in a changing economy.

The goal behind both of these new initiatives is to prepare learners more effectively for the 21st century workforce by tapping into the potential of digital technologies to explore science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) disciplines, as well as history, literacy, and other subjects.

The Association of Public Television Stations (APTS) believes public television is uniquely suited to help bridge in-school and out-of-school learning by providing educational services anytime, anywhere. As an example, it cites Cyberchase, a children’s animated TV series that helps kids learn math–and which just won a Daytime Emmy Award for "Outstanding Broadband Children’s Program."

Produced by Thirteen/WNET New York and Nelvana Ltd., and funded by the National Science Foundation, the show reportedly has 5 million viewers every week–and its companion web site, Cyberchase Online, reportedly has had more than 1.7 billion page views.

According to a study conducted by MediaKidz Research & Consulting, students who watched Cyberchase found solutions to math problems that were mathematically more sophisticated than students who did not watch the series. (Read the study here.)

Programs like Cyberchase reveal that educational programming can directly affect student learning, APTS says–and though STEM-focused digital content for classrooms has grown in recent years, Ready to Achieve would expand upon these initiatives and help schools better meet 21st-century demands.

APTS also supports the creation of Ready to Earn, citing a 2000 U.S. Census finding that more than 39 million adults in the United States (18 percent of the U.S. adult population) lacked a high school diploma.

"More than 1.5 million individuals have used public television’s materials to prepare for and pass the GED exam," said Mark Erstling, the association’s acting president and CEO. "Of those 1.5 million individuals, 70 percent are now in the workplace earning $9,152 more per year and paying an average of 28 percent in federal tax." Public TV’s GED preparation materials have helped those workers contribute more than $2.6 billion in additional U.S. tax dollars last year alone, APTS says.

Some local public TV stations already have begun to develop digital content initiatives similar to the ones authorized under Ready to Achieve, but on a smaller and more local scale.

One instance is Maryland Public Television’s web site, which "provides Maryland teachers with high-quality, educational digital content for use in classrooms, much of which is already aligned to state standards, in addition to other education resources," said Erstling.

Boston’s WGBH also has been working to digitize educational content from such shows as Frontline and Nova and is "providing standards-aligned program clips to teachers. Much of that content is math- and science-focused," he said.

On a national level, "APTS has been working with its public broadcasting partners to develop the American Archive, an initiative that would seek to digitize, metatag, and make available to the public the vast archives of public television content stored at stations around the country," Erstling said. (See "Open access to public TV content sought.") The new bill would hasten these efforts and provide federal funding to support them.

"Ready to Achieve will give teachers access to a vast database of educational programming without needing to rent or purchase DVDs," said Yarmuth. "Ready to Earn will extend this capability to the workforce, providing online and digital training materials to help workers evolve with the changing needs of today’s economy. By making public television a partner in our workforce training initiative, we can create flexible programs to help all workers develop new skills for employment. … I intend to make Ready to Compete top priority of this effort in the 111th Congress."

As of press time, H.R. 6856 had been referred to the House Committee on Education and Labor.


Association of Public Television Stations