Better teaching technology will require wider cooperation

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

The great potential that new technologies hold for progress in public education will not be fully realized unless cooperation among educators, computer companies, and government agencies replaces the confusion that reigns among them. This is the thrust of a report to be issued this fall by the National Task Force on Education and Technology. This commission, made up of representatives from industry, university educators, school administrators, and teachers, delivered preliminary findings of its work at a conference here Friday. The group, organized by former Secretary of Education Terrell Bell, hopes its report will capture the public's interest.

But representatives of the 25-member task force say they wonder if the Department of Education, now under William J. Bennett, will be listening when they formally present their findings in November. Task force members said they have received no encouragement from the department.

``Our only indication would be the status of education funding in this administration,'' said Barbara Bowen, a program director with Apple Computer.

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Members indicated their report will recommend federal participation in regional efforts to coordinate the review and selection of computer software for use in schools, and ensure equitable distribution of new technologies.

But interest on the part of the Department of Education is also important simply for the role it can play in drawing attention to the topic, members said. ``One of the points of this task force is to cause questions to be asked,'' said Polygram Records president Gordon Stulberg, who participated in the discussion from Los Angeles via satellite.

Houston schools superintendent Billy Reagan, whose district is recognized as a national leader in computer use in education, said his role on the commission is to represent the nation's urban schools. For that reason, he said, he considers equity of accessibility to new technologies the most important issue before the group.

In the future, much of the instruction now taking place in school will take place at home, Dr. Reagan predicted. ``The middle class and upper classes will have the technology to keep up with these trends,'' he added, ``but the lower classes won't -- unless there is an effort for equity.''

Houston schools have a program that allows nonnative English speakers to borrow computers. Reagan said the program often leads to greater English proficiency among the entire family.

Educators at the conference said their primary concern was increased cooperation among those implementing new technologies -- specifically among hardware and software manufacturers.

In a heated discussion on compatibility of computer systems, one school administrator told the task force, ``I feel like I'm caught up in a high-tech war for corporate supremacy.'' Examples were given of schools buying new equipment that doesn't work with what they already have, or discovering that their equipment can't operate the software they'd hoped to purchase.

Industry representatives offered little hope of progress: ``As soon as you can take the transmission out of a Toyota and put it into GM, we'll be compatible,'' said Dan Kunz of Commodore Computer.

But Polygram's Mr. Stulberg, noting that records can play on any turntable, said he thought the computer industry would, ``soon have to go to a market philosophy rather than a trade-secret philosophy.''

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