Getting to Know ED
by Mark Drozdowski
IT’S OFFICIALLY KNOWN as the U.S. Department of Education, but it prefersthe simple moniker “Ed.” Recently I visited Ed’s on-line pad, http://www.ed.gov>, to see what he has to offer. After all, I pay Ed’s salary. Those unfamiliar with Ed might think he’s a bit stuffy, but he’s actually rather approachable. To be sure, Ed sometimes mixes friendly tones with detached bureauspeak, but he makes his vast array of goodies readily accessible. Let’s step inside and have a look.
Who is Ed?
Ed’s a busy guy, but at least he has a capable Secretary who seems to have major responsibilities. This Secretary plays a “leadership role in the ongoing national dialogue over how to improve the results of our education system for all students.” This includes “raising national and community awareness of the education challenges confronting the Nation, disseminating the latest discoveries on what works in teaching and learning, and helping communities work out solutions to difficult educational issues.”
Ed’s also responsible for administering programs that “cover every area of education and range from preschool education through postdoctoral research.”
Ed’s Home Page
Ed presents his home page logically, with easy links arranged for students, parents, teachers and administrators. You can find “headlines” featuring announcements of new programs and media coverage of education issues. Other link headings include grants and contracts, financial aid, research and statistics, and policies and programs.
Another menu contains yet more links for press releases, speeches, relevant audio and video snippets, and facts and figures about the department. And a drop-down menu allows for “quick clicks” to popular destinations. If all this suggests that Ed’s home page looks rather busy, that’s because it does.
My foray beyond Ed’s façade began with the “Student” link. Again I was met by a dizzying display of menus and choices all competing for my attention. I could follow additional links designed for graduate students, college students, high school students, and even primary school students, or those for parents or counselors.
Curiously, the “Portal for Student Aid” brought me to a page featuring a road with traffic signs enumerating my choices: preparing, choosing, applying, funding, attending, and repaying. They appear three-dimensional, with “repaying” the most distant. Note to Ed: Perhaps that’s not the best message to convey. Here I found information about testing, the application process, finances and “career voyages.” (Careers in college teaching aren’t “hot,” but I’d evidently find ample employment opportunities as a pharmacist.) Some links lead to tertiary pages maintained by Ed, while others bring you to third-party sites Ed evidently endorses.
My masochistic tendencies led me to click the “For Tonight’s Homework” link next, which dumped me on a page ponderously named “Federal Resources for Educational Excellence,” which are, of course, FREE. And kudos to Ed, for it’s an outstanding resource. Organized by subjects like arts, educational technology, social studies, and health and safety, the page provides links to abundant on-line content. “Social Sciences,” for instance, leads you to a menu featuring Columbus’s voyages, America in 1900, labor activism, Hasidism, Abraham Lincoln’s papers, the Homestead Act, the African-American experience, and scads more. And within social sciences you’ll find links to 20 or so sub-topics. Ed’s certainly an eclectic chap.
And he leaves no stone unturned. For teachers, his site offers toolkits, lesson ideas, instructional materials, and various pedagogical resources. Parents have access to data about school districts (via http://www.schoolresults.org>), to materials that help them encourage learning, and to financial aid information,
among other items. Ed especially loves kids. He even includes a version of his Secretary’s biography written just for children. “As the oldest kid in his family,” it says, “[the Secretary] was in charge of making sure that his brother and sisters did all their homework every night.”
I also noted the “No Child Left Behind” logo everywhere, promoting the boss’s political agenda. Ed certainly knows where his bread is buttered.
Speaking of bread, it seems Ed is rather generous, and people often come to him looking for handouts…er, grants. To aid that effort, Ed offers information about his various programs and the grant-seeking process. You might need to wade through several pages to find what you’re looking for; another option is to aim straight for http://www.grants.gov>.
But you’ll still have to navigate the miasmic pit known as the Federal Register and decipher grantspeak. Ed’s money supports all levels of education, including postsecondary, which benefits primarily from FIPSE and Title III programs.
You can subscribe to Ed’s e-newsletter, “EDInfo,” and receive weekly emails announcing new grant opportunities and related information. In fact, you can subscribe to several such newsletters covering a wide range of Ed’s favorite topics.
Now let’s meet Ed’s brother, Eric. Eric has compiled the “world’s largest bibliographic database of education literature,” which contains 33,713 documents. You can search Eric’s collections and read abstracts of relevant literature. You can also order copies of what you need. I searched for “Adjunct Faculty” and found eight items. “Part Time Faculty” revealed 43. “Sesame Street” yielded 200.
Ed’s National Library
Not to be outdone by his sibling rival, Ed has created his own spectacular resource: the National Library of Education. The “world’s largest federally funded library devoted solely to education” features 100,000 books, 850 periodicals, 450,000 microforms, and several special collections. The library’s Web page allows you to inquire electronically about materials and, more generally, about Ed’s activities and programs. You can also see “frequently asked questions” and answers about issues involving enrollment trends, costs, teacher certification, and much more.
Through the National Center for Education Statistics, Ed serves up a numerical smorgasbord of facts and figures, longitudinal data, tables and graphs, and assessments of every conceivable ilk. Here you’ll find the widely-referenced Digest of Education Statistics and the Condition of Education, along with analyses of trends related to all levels and facets of the academic enterprise. It’s easy to search the on-line catalog and download PDF files.
You can even pull up statistical profiles, compiled from IPEDS data, on every college in America.
Conclusions about Ed
I enjoyed my tour of Ed’s lair and found lots to recommend. It’s a great site to browse and explore, just for kicks and giggles. For anyone curious about educational facts, figures, trends and policies, this is your on-line Valhalla.
But I’m a “higher ed” kind of guy, so I naturally noticed the predominant K-12 flavor. Information for “educators” almost exclusively addresses K-12 teachers, not college faculty. Postsecondary education, it seems, remains a secondary concern.
And don’t come looking for the latest news on adjunct faculty issues. You’ll find plenty of statistical reports and data collections, but little qualitative material. While Ed has much to offer, he tends to push adjunct matters to the margins.
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