7,500-Computer Deal Announced for Fla. District

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In one of the largest such computer-equipment installations ever, a developer of the software programs known as integrated learning systems will install more than 7,500 computers and accompanying software in a South Florida school district.

Computer Curriculum Corporation of Sunnyvale, Calif., said this month that it had been awarded a contract by the Palm Beach County schools to install its "SuccessMaker'' system in each of the district's 75 elementary schools.

C.C.C. sparked controversy in 1992 when it announced a guarantee that students who used its software would achieve certain learning goals set by teachers and parents. If students fail to meet the goals, C.C.C. offers districts credits on their annual software contracts. Competitors and industry observers were skeptical of the guarantee and questioned whether all students could really benefit. (See Education Week, Dec. 16, 1992.)

Company officials said it is too soon to determine whether many customers are making claims against the guarantee.

In the number of computers involved, the $25 million deal appears to be one of the largest installation contracts ever awarded in the rapidly growing I.L.S. sector of the education-technology market.

Tina Zmak, a spokeswoman for Jostens Learning, a San Diego-based competitor of C.C.C., noted that Jostens has a 10-year contract with West Virginia to install $70 million worth of I.L.S. equipment in elementary classrooms. Since 1990, the company has installed 7,924 computer stations in West Virginia schools.

Jostens also has $25 million, multi-year contracts with the Chicago and Atlanta public schools, and so far has installed about 8,300 computers in Atlanta, Ms. Zmak said. The number put into Chicago schools was not available.

Networked Systems

In contrast to stand-alone personal computers, which can be programmed individually, integrated learning systems are networked systems that present groups of students with individual lessons from a program stored on a central computer, or file server.

In Palm Beach County, the software will be used by students in grades 2 through 5.

A C.C.C. spokeswoman last week said the company had begun to install equipment in 2nd- and 3rd-grade classrooms and will complete that phase of the installation by the end of the school year.

The second phase, wiring 4th- and 5th-grade clasrooms, is expected to be completed by the fall.

Joseph N. Small Jr., C.C.C.'s marketing representative in South Florida, said that the district's contract includes extensive provisions for system training for administrators, building-level supervisors, and teachers. He said the company has also agreed to assign a team of workers to the district for five years to provide support and training.

Teachers, meanwhile, will learn how to use the system at five permanent training centers being set up in schools. A sixth center will be in the district's offices.

Each school also will be assigned a "technology assistant,'' or a paraprofessional, to be a troubleshooter.

Linda Nelson, the district's coordinator of data-management systems, said that about 360 of the district's 1,600 elementary teachers have received some training and seem to be adapting quickly to using the computers in their teaching.

"They thought it was going to be this terrible thing they would need a technical degree to operate,'' she said.

Four Per Classroom

On average, C.C.C. will install four computers in every elementary classroom in the district, though classrooms for children with special needs may receive more. That configuration will allow students to use the software program without leaving their classrooms to work in a central computer lab.

Each child is expected to spend 20 minutes a day on the system, Ms. Nelson said, though teachers have the option of breaking the lessons into two 10-minute sessions.

She said that while the SuccessMaker system can be used to teach other subjects, students will be expected to concentrate on reading, mathematics, and writing skills.

Mr. Small said the district also plans to install CD-ROM players in C.C.C's classroom computers that will allow the software to call up full-motion video clips and other memory-intensive graphic information and sound bites to enhance the programmed lessons.

Integrated learning systems have been a mainstay of computer-assisted instruction in schools since at least the 1970's. They have been criticized in the past as nothing more than electronic workbooks that emphasize rote learning.

But a new generation of systems, which includes SuccessMaker, is more sophisticated, with color screens, complex graphics and sound, and artificial-intelligence programs that pace individual learning to challenge students.

Vol. 13, Issue 18

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