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I.B.M. Launches $25 Million 'Entrepreneurship' Project

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Charlotte, N.C.

The International Business Machines Corporation has launched a five-year, $25 million philanthropic venture to encourage broad reform of K-12 education by supporting educational entrepreneurship.

"We're going to use the power of information technology to help make systemic reform a reality," said Louis V. Gerstner, the chairman and chief executive officer of I.B.M.

Mr. Gerstner and other officials of the New York-based computer maker announced last week the first in a series of grants in I.B.M.'s new "Reinventing Education" project.

They held a news conference here with officials of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg public schools. The 85,000-student district will receive $2 million for technological innovation in a new reform project.

Mr. Gerstner, the former chief executive of RJR Nabisco Inc. and a longtime advocate of education reform, is the author of Reinventing Education: Entrepreneurship in America's Public Schools. (See Education Week, May 18, 1994.)

The new grant program marks a different approach for the company's K-12 philanthropic efforts. Mr. Gerstner said I.B.M. will form partnerships with districts that have abandoned traditional and outmoded methods of schooling and are engaged in innovative districtwide reforms.

Eligible districts will be expected to:

  • Set explicit reform targets, tied to the Clinton Administration's Goals 2000: Educate America Act;
  • Use technology to streamline administration, strategic planning, and professional development;
  • Develop partnerships with local businesses.

An 'Education Village'

"We're no longer funding the research and development," Mr. Gerstner said. "We're going to fund people who want to start implementing reform."

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg district, for example, will use its I.B.M. grant to bring high technology to four schools it is building as part of its "Education Village" reform initiative.

A brainchild of Superintendent John Murphy, the village will be developed over the next several years on a 200-acre campus near the city's research park and adjacent to an existing I.B.M. plant.

The schools in the village will enroll a broad cross section of students, including children of I.B.M. employees and young people from inner-city neighborhoods and neighborhoods adjacent to the campus.

One distinguishing feature of academic life in the village, as Mr. Murphy envisions it, will be a "seamless" instructional framework in which students will be arranged in "performance groups" and advance through the curriculum at their own pace.

The project will also set high standards for graduation. Every student will be expected, for example, to show fluency in at least two foreign languages.

The I.B.M. grant will allow the schools to be designed for optimum use of technology. The first building, an elementary school, is expected to open in 1996.

Mr. Gerstner said the philosophical foundation of the education village project, with its emphasis on high standards and the use of technology, meshes with the reform principles laid out in his book.

"Students won't be 'worked on' by teachers, they'll be workers," he said. "And technology will make it possible for them to do their work."

Emphasis on Partnerships

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg grant is the first in a series of from eight to 10 grants I.B.M. plans to give innovative districts over the next five years.

Mr. Gerstner said the new grant program will break from the "checkbook philanthropy" frequently undertaken by I.B.M. and other corporate philanthropies by fostering long-range partnerships with grant recipients.

The corporation views the new approach, he said, as a "highly strategic business investment" to help produce the skilled workers needed by high-tech industries.

Observers also noted, however, that the new program is likely to raise I.B.M.'s corporate profile in the education-technology market, which is still largely dominated by Apple Computer Inc., I.B.M.'s West Coast rival.

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