Education Funding

IBM Shares Results From Field-Tests of Technology

By Andrew Trotter — February 26, 1997 4 min read
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In Philadelphia, a computer “listens” as a 4th grader reads aloud, correcting the student’s mistakes along the way.

In Charlotte, N.C., parents tap into a school computer network from home to view their children’s latest work and compare it with that of their classmates. And in Broward County, Fla., advanced data systems give school principals instant access to detailed information on students and teachers to allow more efficient use of resources.

These are just some of the innovations that IBM has been developing over the last three years as part of a $25 million effort to encourage states and school districts to integrate technology with school reform.

In New York City last week, the company displayed the first fruits of its “Reinventing Education” program, which since 1994 has awarded grants to eight districts and two states.

Louis V. Gerstner Jr., IBM’s chairman and chief executive officer, said last week that technology applications from five of the 10 projects are unfinished, but “at the stage where they have demonstrable end results.”

Results from the other five projects--in Chicago; Cincinnati; San Francisco; San Jose, Calif.; and West Virginia--would be announced at a later date, he added.

All the projects support common reform ideas such as site-based management and the integration of math and science skills into classroom instruction.

‘Data Mining’

In Broward County, a $2 million grant has yielded new tools for data manipulation and storage for a system that allows the 200,000-student district to keep track of student records, budgets, and other information.

International Business Machines Corp. created software that allows administrators at individual schools to quickly sort through that information and assemble easy-to-read portraits of educational problems, said Stanley S. Litow, the head of the Armonk, N.Y.-based computer giant’s corporate-giving program.

An elementary school, for example, can quickly call up a list of 4th graders who were taught by a specific 3rd grade teacher. Or district administrators can find out whether students with a specific learning difficulty are concentrated in certain parts of town.

Such information can be used to make school-level decisions about allocating resources, determining class sizes, or assigning teachers. The system currently is used by the central office in the Broward County district and in three schools.

In North Carolina, administrators in the 92,000-student Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools used their IBM grant to install a computer network that stores electronic portfolios of student work in the form of text or video clips. Parents can use a computer and a modem to view their child’s portfolio. The network, now being tested at one school, also lists homework and student projects and lets parents conduct individual on-line conferences with teachers.

In Dallas, IBM experts are helping the city’s public schools create a new curriculum for middle school science that blends math tasks with experiments simulated on a computer. The new approach employs video segments and emphasizes solving problems through active participation.

Superintendent Yvonne Gonzalez said the new technology will help children overcome barriers that may exist due to race or ethnicity. “A child’s skin color becomes irrelevant in a technological environment,” she said.

In Vermont, the grant money has been used to develop a digital portfolio assessment tool, an on-line resource that allows teachers to evaluate student portfolios against common frameworks and state standards.

And in Philadelphia, a computerized reading program applies voice recognition and other technologies to language and reading instruction for elementary students who have limited English proficiency. One goal was to avoid the cost and stigma associated with programs that remove children from class for individualized coaching in reading, Mr. Litow said.

IBM devised a computer system that allows cartoon characters on the computer to read books aloud to students. Or the system can “listen” as a child reads into a microphone; correcting the student’s mistakes and making a list of problem words.

David Hornbeck, the Philadelphia district’s superintendent, said the district tested the system in an elementary school with a large Latino population and found it effective in helping youngsters read in English.

Although the newly unveiled tools are not totally new inventions, the grant projects have applied them directly to school reform goals, Mr. Litow said. “You’ve got to develop specific tools in the educational arena,” he said. “It’s not enough to say people are doing this in business all the time.”

Mr. Gerstner also announced last week that IBM will award a new round of Reinventing Education grants totaling $10 million to 10 additional states and districts to refine and extend the five technologies. Applicants must submit a two-page proposal letter by April 15.

More information is available from IBM at (914) 765-6692, or on the World Wide Web at

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