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N.Y. Project To Foster Use of Cable Television in Schools

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New York--Forty schools throughout New York State this month will begin an unusual year long pilot program to encourage the effective use of cable-television programs as teaching aids.

The "Cable in the Classroom" project, a joint venture of the New York State Board of Regents and the New York Cable Television Association, is envisioned as a national demonstration of the utility of commercial-free cable programming as a resource for classroom teachers, according to Richard F. Alteri, president of the cable group.

The venture--which grew out of a year of planning that began at the behest of the board--is an attempt to use technology "to captivate and motivate today's 'media conscious' students," Chancellor Martin C. Barell told reporters at a press conference here.

The briefing also was attended by representatives of New York's local cable companies as well as officials of national cable concerns.

The dual thrusts of the initiative are to improve students' skills in science and mathematics and to encourage teachers to make more effective use of video, Mr. Barell said.

"This is a test program not only for us, but for the entire country," he added.

A Policy Shift?

The cooperative venture marks a dramatic shift in telecommunications policy for the board.

Last year, the board was among the first in the nation to effectively ban in its public schools the use of "Channel One," a commercially sponsored news program for high-school students produced by Whittle Communications of Knoxville, Tenn. (See Education Week, May 31, 1989.) As part of the Channel One package, schools receive a free satellite dish and other television equipment. In return, they agree to show students the 12-minute program, including its commercials, every day. The advertising component of the program has fueled a heated debate over what some have termed the "commercialization" of the nation's schools.

That debate forced the New York board--like those in California, North Carolina, and other states-- to question the legality of the arrangement and the propriety of sub scribing to the program, Mr. Barell said. The New York project differs from the Whittle initiative in that the cable companies have agreed to distribute educational programming free of commercials at a specified time when it can be recorded for later use in the classroom.

Under the program, the pilot schools--a mix of urban, small town, rural, and suburban institutions-- will receive free cable hook-ups and basic cable service for the duration of the yearlong experiment.

Schools will receive such educational programming as the Discovery Channel; the Arts & Entertainment Network; and CNN Newsroom, a commercial-free news show for high-school students produced by the Atlanta-based Turner Broadcasting System.

Cable operators participating in the project also will donate $250,000 in television sets and videocassette recorders to the pilot schools in order to create a "critical mass" of equipment that will encourage teachers to make use of the programming, Mr. Alteri said.

The program, which will cost the education department little to implement, is the cable industry's "in vestment in the future" of the state, he added.

But he also conceded that the move comes at a time when the cable industry faces the threat of re- regulation on Capitol Hill and is battling a perception among law makers and the public that it largely has failed to make good on its promises to develop public-service programming in exchange for lucrative contracts that give companies local monopolies.

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However, he noted, his association "had adopted literacy as a cause" shortly before the Regents proposed the classroom initiatives last year.

He also noted that a recent study conducted for the National Education Association indicates that teachers increasingly are turning to ; cable programming to supplement other instructional methods. (See Education Week, Sept. 5, 1990.)

Evaluations Planned?

The project's organizers suggest that it potentially can play an important role in the state's efforts to combat teacher shortages as well as to appeal more strongly to media- savvy students.

"As the core of the teaching population gets smaller," Mr. Barell said, "it's important for us to supplement it in any way we can."

He added that, once the equipment is in place, it can also be used to broadcast videotaped public-service announcements and other pro gramming distributed by a variety of state and national sources.

"We are convinced that the television set has a greater influence on the kids than almost anything else," he said.'

Officials said that the state education department will be responsible for providing technical assistance to teachers in recording the programming and incorporating it into their lesson plans. The exact nature and extent of the training has not yet been decided, they said.

The initiative is structured so that teachers will be allowed to "pick and choose" which programming best suits their lesson plans.

The success of the program will be judged by comparing the scores of students in the pilot schools on standardized science examinations with those of other students, Mr. Barell said. Surveys of teachers' attitudes toward cable programming before and after the project will also be conducted. Details on both assessments have not been developed, he said, although several private foundations have offered to help pay for the evaluations.

Mr. Barell also hinted that, if the yearlong trial is deemed a success, the Regents might seek funding to expand the program statewide. He estimated the cost of extending the program statewide at $5 million a year over the next five years.

"We must see to it that we take care of everybody," he said.

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