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Computer Technology, and Not Just From IBM, Showcased at Summit

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Palisades, N.Y.

Just about anyone might wonder whether an education summit focusing in part on technology and co-hosted by IBM, the world's largest computer manufacturer, would feature computer technology from any other source.

While International Business Machines Corp. products were not hard to find at last week's national education summit at the company's conference center here, there was indeed some technological diversity--even a few machines from IBM rival Apple Computer Inc.

A four-room technology demonstration featured 11 exhibits pulled together at the request of summit organizers by the Center for Children and Technology in New York City. The exhibits were selected from among more than 100 applicants with an eye to those that were focused on improving student performance, said Jan Hawkins, the center's director. The showcase did not include off-the-shelf consumer products.

The exhibits were divided into four categories: teaching and learning, staff and professional development, school-home-community connections, and administration and management.

Separate projects out of IBM Research appeared in two of the rooms. But in the staff and professional-development exhibit room, Apple Computer--which has long had a strong presence in K-12 schools--put in a dual appearance. An exhibit featured the Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow teacher-development program. As part of the exhibit, a multimedia computer display described a laboratory school in Nashville, Tenn. It ran on a Macintosh CPU coupled with an IBM monitor and Sony speakers.

In another part of the conference center, attendees could find a separate exhibit of stand-alone, commercially available software for children. While that featured four IBM products, including one still being developed, it also showcased several other programs from such publishers as Broderbund, Edmark, Microsoft/Scholastic, and National Geographic.

When a large group of summit-goers boarded an end-of-day shuttle bus to return to their hotel several miles away one night last week, they had no idea they were about to witness what one education expert and shuttle passenger dubbed the ultimate performance assessment.

The bus, filled to standing room with weary invited guests and reporters, pulled away from the IBM conference center in Palisades about 10:30 p.m. March 26. Riders included John Anderson of the New American Schools Development Corp., Chester E. Finn Jr. of the Hudson Institute, Diane Ravitch of New York University, Albert Shanker of the American Federation of Teachers, and Luther S. Williams of the National Science Foundation.

What was to be a routine 30-minute run with one stop along the way became a 45-minute ride with three stops when the bus driver got lost--twice.

For some, the first sign of trouble came after the first drop-off point, when riders spotted the driver consulting a map. Shortly, the group found itself right back where it started--at the entrance to the summit site.

After a lengthy conversation about directions with state troopers who were there providing security for the summit, the bus driver reboarded and made another go of it.

Minutes later, within blocks, it turned out, of the destination hotel, the driver pulled into a Mobil station. Not for gas, but for directions.

This time, Mr. Williams of the NSF, who had been standing near the driver, hopped out and did the asking. Soon the hotel was in sight.

"If there was ever any doubt" about the need for a summit on standards and assessment in the nation's schools, one expert held forth the next morning, that bus ride was it. Another rider wasn't convinced, saying all it proved was that bus drivers need to take a test on how to drive a bus.

Sometimes you can't even take a quiet walk.

That's what San Francisco schools Superintendent Waldemar "Bill" Rojas and National Urban League President Hugh B. Price found out when they tried to stretch their legs on the wooded, campuslike grounds of IBM's conference site. As they strolled, the two were stopped and questioned by security guards. They were allowed to continue, Mr. Rojas said, but it was just one example of how tight security was at the summit--even the day before President Clinton's visit.

While the Secret Service was in evidence when the president arrived, a special detail of 235 New York state troopers and local police provided protection for the governors, said Maj. Gregory Sitler of the state police, who headed up the detail.

Troopers usually provide security for a visiting governor. So with 40 governors, the security coverage was just that much bigger, the major said, and cost New York taxpayers about $200,000.

Some governors bring their own security people, too. Gov. George W. Bush of Texas was spotted the first morning of the summit jogging in nearby Tallman Mountain State Park, trailed by a jogger with a walkie-talkie and an unmarked car.

Had Maj. Sitler ever had any similar big-event security experiences? "That's why I'm here" he said, grinning. "I did Woodstock." Woodstock '94, that is, the 25th-anniversary celebration.

Several national education organizations spent weeks trying to persuade summit organizers to grant at least one of their members an invitation as one of the meeting's three dozen "resource" people. Summit organizers said in the days leading up to the event, some people were calling and reciting their credentials in the hope of elbowing their way into the meeting room.

But Charlene Johnson, a Southfield, Mich., lawyer, didn't know how coveted her invitation was when it arrived in February. Hardly an expert on school-reform issues, she called Mich. Gov. John Engler's office to say there must be some mistake.

Embarrassed aides admitted that they had made an error: The invitation was intended for Southfield's other Charlene Johnson, an advocate for local parents in her job as the executive director of the Michigan Neighborhood Partnership.

So while Ms. Johnson of the partnership was here at the summit, Ms. Johnson the lawyer was putting in her time at the office--the same as many leaders of nation's top education groups.

Did the 1989 Education Summit in Charlottesville, Va., have its own site on the World Wide Web? Of course not, since the graphical portion of the Internet computer network wasn't even around back then. But last week's summit here had an elaborate Web site developed by IBM.

The site features the text of background briefing papers distributed to summit participants, a transcript of IBM Chairman Louis V. Gerstner Jr.'s opening remarks, and something called "Summitcam," which, for some unexplained reason, featured a fuzzy digital photo of unidentified people milling around a hallway.

The site also includes a forum with electronic-mail contributions from those connected to the Web, including schoolchildren. In the issues areas, people traded comments about whether there really was a need for higher standards and why more classroom educators were not present.

A bookstore owner in nearby Sparkill, N.Y., posted a message inviting summiteers to his store for coffee and further discussion of education.

Planners of the Web site said it probably would be available on-line for a month or two. But as of late last week, they had failed to post the summit participants' final policy statement.

The address for the summit site is: http://www.summit96.IBM.com.

--Millicent Lawton

State Editor Lonnie Harp and Staff Writer Mark Walsh contributed to this report.

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