Training for information superhighway


The Maryland Business Roundtable wants to make electronic tools as familiar as ballpoint pens in classrooms statewide -- at a cost estimated at $150 million.

More than a blueprint for outfitting schools with computers, the plan proposes sweeping guidelines for preparing teachers, students and communities to work in an information-driven society.

The plan calls for upgrading or replacing as many as 60 percent of the computers in schools statewide; providing new computers and multimedia equipment to schools so that all students have the access to technology that only some schools have now; adding computer networks at all schools so that students can learn long-distance; and training teachers in technologies that can be used to manage classrooms and improve student achievement.

"Technology is not an end unto itself. These tools are going to be necessary tools for the 21st century. These are tools for learning and tools for life," said Kenneth O. MacFadden, chairman of the roundtable's technology committee and vice president of chemical research at W. R. Grace & Co. He spoke last week as the business group presented its report to the state Board of Education.

His committee of business and academic volunteers asked the board to:

* Create and staff a division within the state education department to identify the best tools and practices and to be a resource. The state already has begun a search for a director who will earn at least $59,600, said Dr. Nancy Grasmick, state school superintendent.

* Conduct a survey of local school systems to determine what tools and budgets exist and to revise the $150 million price tag. The estimate is based on 1989-90 school year information, the most recent available.

* Let local school systems determine the type of systems they need rather than require the use of specific tools and technologies.

* Dedicate 30 percent of the cost of hardware to staff training and include teachers in the planning of that training.

* Seek grants and business partnerships as well as federal, state and local funds to make this possible.

"It isn't the sole responsibility of education to fund the [information] highway," said June E. Streckfus, executive director of the Maryland Business Roundtable.

School board member Robert Embry Jr. suggested a need for caution as the widely praised proposal moves through stages of review. Several of the schools that produce high achievement scores are succeeding without expensive advanced technologies, he said.

More than 180 teachers and authorities on technology were invited to review the plan, Mr. MacFadden said. Some criticized it for offering guidelines rather than prescriptions.

Larry Anderson, director of of the National Center for Technology Planning, a Mississippi-based center that reviews state technology plans, called the plan's emphasis on vision rather than tools its strength.

"It's not the computer you are focusing on, it's the activity," he said. "That part of the plan will be there when the hardware, the pieces, are dusty."

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