Calif. Project To Refurbish 1 Million Computers for Schools

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California's leading telephone company says it will underwrite the efforts of a private foundation to supply schools statewide with one million donated computers by 2000.

Officials of Pacific Bell, a subsidiary of the San Francisco-based Pacific Telesis Group, announced this month that they plan to spend $600,000 to underwrite the "Computers for Schools'' program of the Detwiler Foundation.

The San Diego-based foundation refurbishes used computers donated by businesses and individuals for use in the classroom.

A separate company, WIZ Technology Inc. of San Clemente, Calif., will provide software.

One goal of the initiative is to make the ratio of students to computers in California's schools the lowest in the nation.

The current ratio of 20 to one, officials said, ranks California last among the 50 states.

The program aims to reduce the ratio to at least eight to one statewide in the next three years, said John Detwiler, the foundation's co-founder and president.

If 10 percent of the computers that people and businesses take out of service in the state every year were donated to the program, he estimated, the goal would be easy to achieve.

The program also is an important part of Pacific Bell's "Education First'' initiative, which the company launched this year. (See Education Week, Feb. 23, 1994.)

Under that program, Pacific Bell has promised to spend $100 million to wire two rooms in every California public school in its service area to provide access to the advanced data networks it is building.

Getting Up to Speed

But Philip J. Quigley, the chairman of Pacific Bell, and others at the news conference held to announce the latest initiative, noted that most school computers are inadequate for communicating on such a network.

Nationally, half of the computers in use in K-12 education are Apple II models, a now-discontinued machine that entered the market more than a decade ago.

Many schools, equipped with relatively large numbers of Apple II's and Apple II software, are hard pressed to upgrade their technology.

Mr. Detwiler said his foundation will insure that the donated equipment will greatly upgrade the speed and sophistication of classroom computers.

"What we're not trying to do is make them compatible with 12-year-old technology,'' he said. "We're starting afresh.''

Officials of the state education department were quick to discount skepticism expressed at the news conference about the relatively slow "286''-model machines that businesses are likely to donate and their effectiveness in the classroom.

"For people who are looking at the world through the prism of manual typewriters and ditto machines, a 286 looks pretty good,'' said William Rukeyser, a spokesman for the education department.

Mr. Quigley also stressed that the Detwiler Foundation had experience in supplying schools with more than 4,000 used computers and related equipment.

"We've got a template for success,'' he said.

Vol. 13, Issue 31

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