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Commission Ponders Education's Computer Assisted Future

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Planning for the future, and particularly for the use of computers, was the principal topic of discussion at the second official meeting of the National Commission on Excellence in Education, held this month in New Orleans.

Improving Student Achievement

Established by President Reagan in September, the 18-member panel of educators is charged with searching out effective educational efforts across the nation and making recommendations, based on what it finds, for the improvement of student achievement in America's schools and colleges. The commis6sion is holding a series of public meetings in cities around the country; its recommendations are due in 18 months.

"One of the accusations against education has been that we haven't been able to adequately predict the future and prepare for upcoming challenges," said Milton Goldberg, executive director of the commission. He likened the situation today to that of the 1950's, when educators were stung by the widely published charges by Admiral Hyman Rickover that the nation and its educational systems had failed to anticipate the need for more education in science and technology.

The nine commission members present echoed Mr. Goldberg's observation and said they wished to learn more about how education systems are planning for what they termed "the crucial years ahead."

"I would very much like to hear more thought, and some futuristic points of view as to where we're supposed to be going," said Margaret Marston, a member of the Virginia state board of education.

"It is estimated that by 1990 one out of every four children will have access to a microcomputer [in school]," Mr. Goldberg pointed out. "The question should not be, 'What can a computer do that the teacher cannot do?', but rather, 'What can a computer do that will release the teacher to do other things?"'

Students Create New Programs

Francisco D. Sanchez Jr., superintendent of schools in Albuquerque, described a visit he made recently to a school in Durango, Colo. "I saw a nine-year-old student creating his own programs on a computer. He was doing this because he found that what was already on it was not adequate."

Some commission members suggested that computers may prove extremely effective in helping teachers cope with a glut of paperwork. But others expressed doubts about the benefits of the increased use of such devices.

Norman C. Francis, president of Xavier University in New Orleans, suggested that the commission should "look at what implications the whole matter of computers will have on instruction. I'm not totally convinced it will benefit our educational interests."

"The software is in many ways less imaginative than a moderately competent instructor can be for the student," Mr. Goldberg said, "Not everything can be put on a computer program. Some things are better left to the instructor."

Books on the Shelf

"I've been told that you can put over 10,000 books on a single computer silicon wafer," said Mr. Sanchez, whose school system boasts several modern library systems. "But I still want to have the books on the shelf."

Commission members also discussed some of the issues they hope to consider in the months ahead and the way in which they will seek to gather information. They expect to study the financial problems confronting the schools, the quality of teacher education, communication among various educational agencies and groups, and the perceptions of what education in general should be trying to accomplish.

While they want to elicit more information and varied viewpoints about American education, commission members said, they agreed that the traditional public hearing is not a very effective way to go about that. They endorsed the alternative idea of periodic site visits, such as Mr. Sanchez's to Durango, by individual commissioners.

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