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Technology Column

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When Mr. Bell served in the Reagan Administration in the early 1980's, he commissioned a study of the potential of technology to improve schools.

The resulting report called for extensive use of computers and other technologies to improve instruction, with the federal government taking a lead role in research and support of technology-based programs.

But Mr. Bell's successor, William J. Bennett, chose instead to emphasize a traditional-education approach that many said gave short shrift to computers and other electronic learning aids.

The report was never highly publicized--many believe because of its political unpopularity.

So Mr. Bell may have been pleased to hear Christopher T. Cross, who heads the Education Department's office of educational research and improvement, say the federal government will now take steps to "re-emphasize" the importance of technology in education.

"There is a new interest now," Mr. Cross said at the Minneapolis conference.

As evidence of the renewed federal commitment, Mr. Cross cited efforts by the North Central Regional Educational Laboratory to suggest ways to use technology to help in decentralizing the management of the Chicago Public Schools.

Judson Hixson, a project researcher, said the goal is to devise ways to disseminate information to the 6,000 members of the district's new local school councils.

The researchers hope to develop a policy encouraging electronic links to give members access to school-budget data and other information.

As a first step, the researchers surveyed principals of the system's more than 600 schools to determine what resources were available to develop an electronic network.

The survey elicited 283 responses and, Mr. Hixson said, painted a disheartening picture of technological capability.

The study found that 94 percent of the schools had one television set, 86 percent had a videocassette recorder, and 80 percent were connected to a cable-television system.

But only 30 percent of the respondents said they were able to distribute video signals throughout the building. And only 56 percent said their schools had more than one television set.

And while many principals said they would like to be able, for example, to call up district budgets electronically, few were aware they already had that capability, Mr. Hixson said.--pw

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