School & District Management

Reporter’s Notebook

June 20, 2001 4 min read
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IBM Invests Millions More In ‘Reinventing Education’

Basking in the glow of the positive findings of a three-year research study of its “Reinventing Education” program, the International Business Machines Corp. announced last week that it plans to invest $25 million in new grants to expand the scope of the program and add new partners.

The money, which brings the IBM program’s grant total since 1994 to $70 million, will support efforts to influence teaching and to spread to schools, teacher-training institutions, and states—as well as educational institutions abroad—the knowledge and technologies generated by the 6-year-old program, officials said during a meeting here.

Stanley S. Litow

“It’s time to quicken the pace,” said Stanley S. Litow, the president of the IBM International Foundation and the vice president of the company’s corporate- and community-relations division.

Currently, 15 school districts and six states in the United States—as well as educational institutions in eight other countries—are partners in the program, which many experts regard as one of the premier collaborations between educational and business organizations. (“IBM Attracts Praise for ‘Reinventing Education’,” Jan. 10, 2001.)

Partnerships have focused on improving children’s academic performance and upgrading teacher training, providing new ways to use technology to link schools and homes, and developing more effective professional and classroom tools for teachers. Project partners generally have incorporated tools and practices that have been created by one another.

“This isn’t about technology, it’s about systemic change,” said Rosabeth Moss Kanter, a professor at the Harvard Business School who took part in a panel discussion held in conjunction with last week’s release of “IBM Reinventing Education,” an independent evaluation of the program conducted by the New York City-based Center for Children and Technology. The report is available online at www.edc.org.

Ms. Kanter said she was impressed with how the partnerships focus on “strategic innovations that allow the [educational] system to reconfigure.”

Beyond the $45 million IBM has provided, the school sites have invested a total of $450 million in their projects, said Mr. Litow, citing those contributions as proof that the partners have taken their projects seriously.

Such a commitment is “very unusual,” said Robert Spielvogel, the CCT senior scientist who was the principal author of the study. “Unlike so many projects in school reform and technology, these went beyond the grant program. Districts have brought in other funding sources to make the programs grow.”

He added that districts have “rolled up their sleeves” to make the projects achieve their goals. “All too often technology is used as the independent variable: You put technology in and wait for things to happen.”

So successfully have the projects been integrated into the schools that the IBM label has rubbed off, Mr. Spielvogel said, noting that some participating school officials do not realize the extent to which IBM has played a role in developing their new systems and technologies.

Among reforms initiated by the projects, the study found that all of the original school participants saw significant improvements in teachers’ professional development following the introduction of their projects.

“The professional development has not been [conducted] as a special event, but has been applied to all the school institution’s teachers and is embedded in its practices,” Mr. Spielvogel said.

In West Virginia, where a statewide project seeks to help teachers create online lesson plans that are linked to state standards and can be shared with other teachers, schools saw “significant improvement” in students’ test scores in middle schools and high schools that used the lesson plans. This was true “especially with the lowest-achieving students that had the most to gain,” he said.

The report does note substantial “challenges” for many of the partnerships. Most of those challenges are tied to the skills and preparation of teachers and how much they want to use new technologies, such as lesson-planning tools or student information databases.

Still, one prominent education expert who participated in the panel discussion said she remains skeptical of the value of educational technology.

Diane Ravitch

Diane Ravitch, a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said the study was impressive, but it did not overcome her skepticism about technology. “The jury’s still out on the value of technology in education,” she said.

She said she is most convinced of technology’s value when it is used to provide tools and information to teachers.

But, she added, “I continue to believe that children should not simply be plopped in front of a computer.”

One theme of the CCT study findings, however, is that the goals and implementation of the projects go far beyond simply using technology or expecting a “magic bullet” to substitute for deep-rooted changes.

And the new round of grants underscores the teachers’ crucial role in education, IBM officials said.

Some grants, for instance, will help create new project partnerships between school districts and universities to prepare teachers to develop more effective programs of study to meet local standards and address specific local challenges.

Some of the money will be used to develop a free Web-based “change management toolkit” for school leaders who are embarking on standards-based reform efforts.

—Andrew Trotter

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A version of this article appeared in the June 20, 2001 edition of Education Week as Reporter’s Notebook

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