Office Would Act as Technology Broker for Washington Schools
Seattle--Gov. W. Booth Gardner of Washington proposes to help school districts harness the technical expertise of private-sector specialists by establishing an unusual clearinghouse on educational technology.
In his biennial budget request, Mr. Gardner has asked the legislature to set aside $2 million to open a "21st Century Institute for Advanced Technology in Schools."
The institute would draw on corporate equipment donations and expertise to increase teacher productivity, assure students equal access to effective programs, and coordinate training, research, and development in the field.
The Governor's Advisory Council on Advanced Technology in Schools, composed of teachers, superintendents, business leaders, and experts in educational technology, last month recommended that the state undertake the cooperative venture.
The council acted in response to an executive order issued by the Governor in November to develop ways to "bring experts in business, higher education, and technology together with teachers and students."
"It's purely a need-driven pro4ject," said Bob Hughes, chairman of the 17-member advisory panel. "When you drive around the state, you see some big gaps in the equity of information" available to students.
'Big Gaps' in Equity
Mr. Hughes, the general manager for data processing of Boeing Computer Services, said that the information deficit among districts is a function of both geography and economics. "We've got a mountain range going down the middle of the state and [on either side] it's like two different economies," he said.
With the exception of Seattle's 37,000-student school system, most of Washington's almost 300 districts are rural entities in the "under-5,000-student range," said Mr. Hughes, a school-board member in the Seattle suburb of Lake Washington.
While the state's coastal cities are home to such thriving industrial concerns as the Boeing Company, an aviation giant, and Microsoft Computer Corporation, a leader in computer-software development, many of the rural areas east of the Cascade Mountains are experiencing unemployment as high as 16 percent, Mr. Hughes said.
"But the kids have a right to equal access to all forms of education, there as well as here," he asserted.
Status Quo Inadequate
The state education department currently assists districts in exploring the uses of computers and other electronic learning aids through its 10 educational-service districts. But, according to Mr. Hughes, communities in the the eastern half of the state often do not benefit from the expertise available to schools in the coastal areas.
Although many companies are willing to donate time to improving schools, he said, the travel involved in programs reaching outlying districts, as well as an unfamiliarity with school bureaucracy, often discourages many.
The institute would help businesses develop liaisons with districts that would, in turn, help schools find the equipment and the expertise they need by--as Mr. Hughes phrased it--"asking the right questions and assuring the right contacts at the right time."
'Policing' Role Seen
Other functions envisioned for the undertaking would be to advise districts on such matters as whether buildings would require extensive and costly renovations to accommodate new technologies.
Mr. Hughes also said that the task force envisioned a "policing" role for the institute because "companies occasionally 'unload' equipment that is of no use to schools" in the form of donations.
Volunteers, working for the institute, could act as "middle men" to ensure that corporate donations match educational needs, he explained.
The advisory panel also recommended that the institute dispense state-funded grants to educators experimenting with technology in the classroom.
According to Mr. Hughes, the state may provide as much as $1.5 million for such grants in the institute's second year.
Governor Gardner's request for seed money for the project4was included in the $11.8-billion biennial budget released last month, according to Richard Milne, a spokesman for the Governor.
The council proposes to match the state contribution dollar-for-dollar with private donations, Mr. Hughes said. He added that a corporate donation of office space for the institute's headquarters could possibly be included in such a match.
The advisory group's chairman said that although he has drummed up a "fair amount" of initial support from business, the proposal has not yet been formally presented to teachers' unions and others in the education lobby.
He expresses confidence, however, that the legislature will embrace the proposal.
"The Governor's name on something carries a lot of weight," he said. "It comes down to about 10 key legislators supporting [the proposal]."
Lawmakers are not expected to take up the budget until late in the 105-day session, which convened last week.
Mr. Hughes said that, although he is aware of how delicately budget priorities are balanced, "this is a very high-leverage activity for a small cost."