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Congressman Proposes Center On Schools' Use of Computers

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Washington--Representative Thomas J. Downey, Democrat of New York, has introduced a bill that would establish a grant program for one or more national research centers for the use of microcomputers in education.

The bill, HR 1134, would earmark $4 million to be awarded by the Secretary of Education to non-profit groups interested in creating the centers.

Mr. Downey, testifying last month before the House Subcommittee on Elementary, Secondary and Vocational Education, said the center would provide research and reference services--"a sort of Congressional Research Service on computers for educators."

Teacher-Training Materials

The center would also develop teacher-training materials and be responsible for writing new educational programs, Mr. Downey said.

Lorrie Gavan, a legislative assistant to Mr. Downey, said that the Secretary of Education would determine how many computer centers are needed, and added that the Congressman hopes the level of funding will be increased if the basic concept is approved.

The bill does not specify whether the National Institute of Education or another part of ed would run the program.

Ms. Gavan said that she has asked the Congressional Research Service to determine how much money would be required to operate one center.

The grant recipients would report to the President after three years to make recommendations for the use of computers in education.

Representative Downey said the national center would be "very helpful in reducing the risks producers currently see that inhibit major investment in quality software."

Also testifying before the panel were Ludwig Braun, professor of computer science at the New York Institute of Technology, and Philip Speser, executive director of the National Institute for Entrepreneurial Technology.

Educators are in "desperate need of help" in deciding how computers should be used in the classroom, Mr. Braun said. The only state to offer adequate guidance, he said, was Minnesota.

Mr. Speser said that even when good instructional programs are available, there is no way for many schools to know about it.

"A major reason why schools face difficulties in obtaining high-quality, cost-efficient hardware and software is that the market for these products is highly disaggregated," he said.

'Communication Channel'

Mr. Speser said a national center would serve as a "communication channel" for schools and the small firms that develop educational products.

Both Mr. Speser and Mr. Braun said the federal government should lead such an effort to help schools avoid worsening the disparity between affluent and poor school districts.

"The computer is exacerbating an already existing gulf between children who grow up in affluent communities and those who grow up in poor ones," he said. "[W]e cannot ignore the terrible social pressures which are building up."--ce

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