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States Begin Coordinating School Computer Use

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While other New York State officials worry about the largest budget deficits in the state's history, a Board of Regents committee is devising what could be the most ambitious and expensive plan nationwide to bring technology into schools and colleges.

The Regents last year appointed the 15-member panel to prepare recommendations for bringing state influence to bear on what is now the rapid but scattered growth of computer use in classrooms. That committee's report, which will be presented in April, will lead to legislation that could carry a price tag of about $40 million.

If even part of the program is approved by the legislature and signed into law by Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, New York will join Alaska, California, Delaware, Florida, North Carolina, Minnesota, and Texas--the states launching the most comprehensive technology initiatives in education.

An Education Week survey of most of the 50 states and the District of Columbia conducted over the past month has confirmed that most state agencies are just now beginning to get involved in the increasing use of computers in education.

That early involvement, the survey suggests, usually includes statewide seminars on "computer awareness," computer centers for demonstrations and software evaluations and copying, electronic bulletin boards, and the publishing of newsletters and guides for implementing computer initiatives.

Equity A Top Concern

State officials across the country say they are concerned about preserving local control over the schools. But governmental coordination of efforts is necessary, they add, to ensure fair access to programs and to avoid needless duplication of training and equipment.

"If you allow computer projects without some kind of state intervention," said Gregory Benson, the director of the Center for Learning Technology in New York's education department, "you are going to create as never before a 'have-have not' society. A whole segment of the population is going to be left behind."

Schools have so far relied mostly on local money and donations by manufacturers to bring computers into the classroom. Officials also report that many federal discretionary programs, such as the block-grant program, are being used to buy hardware.

The states hardest hit by the recession, such as Michigan and Washington, are having a hard time meeting the new demands for technology, their officials say.

But if computers present a danger of creating inequities in public schooling, other state officials say, they also present an opportunity for some of the poorer, rural states.

The "Learn Alaska" program has used satellite technology to give Alaska's students a more complete curriculum than they have ever had, officials assert. Courses in mathematics, history, Alaskan culture, and biology are sent to transmitters at four sites, where the signals are converted to television frequencies.

The programs, established in 1980, run 18 hours each day.

Officials in other rural states say the improved ability to copy software with long-distance telephone hookups will enable them to bring education programs to places that normally receive little attention.

"One-third of the schools here have less than 100 kids," said William Futrell, the director of science, mathematics, environmental education, and computers for the Wyoming education department. "A computer is something you can use to bring classes [to students instead of] transporting kids 100 miles."

Classroom Computer Use Rose

A recent survey by the National Education Association found that only about 6 percent of all teachers now use computers in instruction. But another survey, conducted by Market Data Retrieval in Westport, Conn., found that the number of schools with classroom computers rose 50 percent in the year ending last September.

With that kind of growth in an area with which most educators are largely unfamiliar, officials note, state governments should at least provide guidance to help districts avoid making "foolish" equipment purchases and curriculum changes.

State computer initiatives have varied widely in the goals they set and in the degree of central control asserted to achieve them. Among the highlights of the survey:

Most states have set up or are planning central "libraries," where teachers and administrators can go to get first-hand experience with computers, evaluations of the programs available, and copies of software.

All but a few states have some kind of training program, ranging from teaching state education officials about computers to conducting statewide tours to teach teachers how to use computers.

Teacher Training Proposed

Washington state's superintendent of public instruction, Frank Brouillet, has proposed training all of the state's 35,000 teachers in the use of computers in instruction, and requiring all teacher candidates to be "competent" in their use as well.

Many states have joined nationwide organizations that offer them policy advice, training, and resources such as copies of software programs. One of the best-known groups is the Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium (mecc), a quasi-governmental agency in that state.

Some states offer funding to districts for the purchase of computers, but most have let federal discretionary money, district money, and donations carry the burden of purchas-ing hardware.

In California, officials at Apple Computers Inc., a leading manufacturer of personal computers, say they will announce within a month a computer-donation program in that state under a tax-break provision that former Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. signed into law last October.

One for Every 30 Students

Gov. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee has proposed buying 4,435 computers--about one for every 30 students in the state's 7th- and 8th-grade classes. Indiana legislators are considering offering 50-50 matching funds to schools for the purchase of computer equipment.

Other states buy computers in bulk orders, then pass along savings to individual districts.

States vary in their emphases on different applications, such as drill and practice, simulation, programming, word-processing, and so on. Most have so far supported the districts' stress on drill-and-practice programs.

Daniel Dolan, the mathematics and computer-education specialist for Montana's Office of Public Instruction, sums up the opinions of many officials when he says: "The computer should not be primarily for programming, but as an instructional tool. While we now see an increase in the demand for programmers, that demand will fall back between 1985 and 1990."

Some states, however, have adopted model computer-science curricula, and some are considering making computer instruction mandatory. The governors of Arizona, Delaware, and Tennessee have all expressed interest in requiring courses in computer science for graduation.

Applications for All Subjects

Some state officials are concerned that computers will be emphasized only in mathematics- or science-related courses. Mark Delp, the director of instructional technology in Virginia, said his state is planning a data base that would suggest to users computer applications for all subjects.

Florida's education department has recommended a comprehensive study of the cost-effectiveness of using computers to perform traditional classroom functions.

In Delaware, districts must clear purchases of most computer hardware and software with the state education department. The state almost always grants the requests, but officials say the rule forces districts to consider their needs thoroughly before buying equipment.

Iowa approaches the same problem by renting computers to districts as part of a "Be Informed First" program.

Perhaps the most novel aspect of the plan now being developed in New York is the emphasis on influencing manufacturers.

Educators have complained that much commercial software is unimaginative and does not improve upon traditional teaching methods. Coordination of computer initiatives, one official said, will enable the state to use its leverage on producers.

"We want to negotiate with producers for demonstrations and discuss with them what we think is right and wrong about [the pro-ducts]," says Mr. Benson, of the New York learning technology center. "We want to influence the products before they hit the market."

The committee is also considering recommending that the state subsidize at least part of the cost of a microcomputer for entering college students.

Other proposals under consideration: training teachers at all levels in computer science; requiring knowledge of computers for all teaching candidates; expanding the media distribution center to include software and video disks, as well as television programs; establishing job-training partnerships with business; and researching the role of computers in the general curriculum.

95 Percent of Students

Minnesota's program--which officials say has exposed 95 percent of the student population to computers before graduation--has reached beyond its 434 school districts and into 40 other states and several foreign countries.

mecc has for 10 years coordinated inservice training and the use of federal, state, and local funds for hardware and software purchases.

The state does not require computer classes for graduation, and officials say they would "fight" proposals to include computer experience in teacher-certification requirements. But mecc has drafted a model computer curriculum for the districts.

California's "Investment in People," which last year cost $25.7 mil-lion, is the most expensive and comprehensive statewide program already under way.

Proposed last year by former Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr., the program includes requirements for a minimum of three years of mathematics, two years of science, and one semester of computer studies for graduation from high school.

The major component for elementary and secondary education is a $9.7-million appropriation to train teachers in the classroom applications of computers and establish 15 regional computer-demonstration centers.

Governor Brown last year also signed a law establishing tax breaks for companies that donate computers to schools--a law that officials expect to cost the state around $5 million. How well schools use donated equipment could affect a similar proposal being considered for the second time in the U.S. Congress.

Delaware Revises Program

Delaware's computer program is already in its second phase.

One of the first states to promote the use of computers in schools, Delaware has had to modify its earlier program with the advent of the microcomputer.

The state's Project Direct has three mainframe computers that were originally installed for use with minicomputers. The agency has started "translating" the mainframe languages for microcomputer hookups and program-copying.

The mainframes include programs for computer-assisted in-struction, guidance counseling, and other administrative work.

The state's Board of Education has recommended that nine-week courses in "computer literacy" be offered to all seniors, and Gov. Pierre S. du Pont 4th has recommended that computer courses be required for graduation.

Inservice Courses

Almost half of the state's teachers have taken inservice courses, and state officials are considering requiring all teacher candidates to take some computer courses.

An $11 million measure before the Indiana legislature would create a statewide consortium for technology in education. The consortium would establish regional clearinghouses for hardware and software, train 15,000 teachers for one week over the next two years, and start a $1.2 million grant and loan program.

Rhode Island Gov. Joseph Garrahy announced an $8 million initiative last fall. Half of that money would go to elementary and secondary school districts, which would have great discretion in using the funds for training and purchases of hardware and software.

The project would be financed through bond sales by the Public Building Authority, a spokesman for Mr. Garrahy said.

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