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PBS Plan Calls For Expanding Preschool Programs

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NEW ORLEANS--The Public Broadcasting Service has come up with a plan to help make preschoolers even more "ready to learn.''

PBS pitched the plan, which would cost $72 million a year and consist of new shows, facelifts for existing programs, and promotions, to more than 1,000 public-television executives meeting here in mid-June.

Essentially, the network wants to expand the schedule of current shows such as "Sesame Street,'' "Barney & Friends,'' and "Lamb Chop's Play-Along,'' and develop new ones.

Many PBS stations now run shows for tots in the morning and afternoon, and general-interest or adult-education programs at midday. The proposal calls for a daily eight-hour dose of programs that segue by means of graphics and promotions. Stations would be asked to retool their schedules to accommodate the blocks of ready-to-learn shows.

In addition, local stations would promote the shows by giving free handbooks and newsletters to parents, educators, and child-care providers.

PBS came up with the plan in response to the new federal Ready to Learn Act, which makes $25 million a year available just for such programs, and reports last year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and this year by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting urging such a step. (See Education Week, Feb. 17, 1993.)

"If we succeed with this initiative, it really will give us as a nation the power to fulfill all of our potential,'' claimed Carolyn Reid-Wallace, the C.P.B.'s vice president for education and a former U.S. assistant secretary of education.

Officials said the new service would help spread the image of public broadcasting as a leader in the national-education-goals movement.

"Education is why we were created and why we continue to enjoy broad, bipartisan support in Congress and state legislatures,'' said the outgoing PBS president, Bruce Christensen.

Some Stations Wary

The $72 million yearly price tag includes about $25 million for new programs--for example, two preschool shows and a series for 6- to 8-year-olds--and $35 million for promotions.

The plan hinges on PBS snagging at least some of the new federal money. Congress, however, has yet to appropriate anything for the Ready to Learn Act. The rest of the cost would have to be covered by foundations and corporations, officials said.

Not all station officials were happy about the proposal, which was the talk of the meeting.

For example, some executives said they did not want to drop instructional shows from their daytime schedules because they would have to find other ways to deliver those shows to schools.

"I can't afford this air time, quite candidly,'' said Virginia Fox, the executive director of Kentucky Educational Television, a network of several PBS stations. "I can't give my whole day to children, as important as that is.''

On the other hand, Maynard Orme, the president of Oregon Public Broadcasting, said his stations already have a block of ready-to-learn programs in the mornings.

"It works,'' he said. "In the last 10 months, we have doubled our audience.''

Jacqueline Weiss, an executive with PBS, said the service could be rolled out this fall or early next year on a pilot basis in about 10 markets.

Update on Math Service

Meanwhile, PBS officials also provided details at the meeting about the Mathline telecommunications service announced in May.

Sandra H. Welch, PBS's executive vice president for education, announced that the Carnegie Corporation of New York has given the network another $400,000 grant for the service.

It comes on top of a $1.2 million contribution from the AT&T Foundation.

The Mathline service will blend technologies such as satellites, computers, videos, and broadcasting to deliver information about new ways of teaching and learning mathematics to teachers, students, and parents. (See Education Week, May 19, 1993.)

Ms. Welch also announced that local PBS stations would sell the Mathline service to schools for about $2,500 a year. She suggested that PBS would take in as much as $25 million a year if all elementary and secondary grades got the service in the next five years.

Some station executives questioned the cost of the service, saying that most schools are too financially strapped to afford the fees.

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