School Courses Weave in Software
Educational computer programs become core part of many curriculums
BOSTON — IN more than 80 percent of United States schools, Carmen Sandiego is an easily recognizable name. It is a software program, produced by Broderbund Software Inc. in Navato, Calif., which teaches children about geography, history, and science, as they try to locate villains like Carmen Sandiego by following clues.
Increasingly, children today associate one or more of their favorite computer programs with their classroom experience. Since the early 1980s, more and more educational software has been integrated into school curriculums.
Spending on personal computer technology in American schools rose 20 percent in the 1992-93 school year, according to the Software Publishers Association (SPA) in Washington.
Combined spending on educational technology among school districts and individual schools totaled $2.1 billion. This figure is expected to rise another 13 percent, to $2.24 billion in the 1993-94 school year.
``Parents can look forward to more and more technology in [their] children's education,'' says Linda Duttenhaver, director of corporate communications at Davidson & Associates Inc., an educational software company in Torrance, Calif. Davidson & Associates, which recently aquired Educational Resources in Elgin, Ill., sells 50 percent of its software to schools. Educational Resources sells more than 1,200 software titles to schools.
Math Blaster, the best-known of Davidson's software designed for classroom use, has sold 1.5 million copies since 1983. The latest version of the product, called Math Blaster: In Search of Spot, was launched in August and features the story of Blasternaut and his sidekick, Spot, who is captured by the ``trash alien.'' Children help Blasternaut rescue Spot by recycling trash and solving math problems.
In an effort to coordinate software use in school curriculums, Davidson & Associates has formed alliances with several textbook publishers, including Addison-Wesley, MacMillan/McGraw-Hill, and McDougal, Littell & Company. For students with limited English, the company is working with Addison-Wesley to develop Vital Links, a history and social sciences program, expected to be out in 1995. California, Florida, and Texas have awarded grants to Davidson & Associates, Addison-Wesley, and the Los Angeles Country Department of Education to develop the program.
Broderbund's Carmen Sandiego series has sold a total of 3.5 million units. The company, which reported revenues of $96 million this year, first produced the software in 1985. In 1991, PBS created a television game show based on the software, called ``Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego.''
More than 30,000 schools nationwide use the writing and publishing software programs of the Learning Company, an educational software firm in Fremont, Calif., which reported revenues of $27.5 million this year. The Student Writing Center for Windows, the company's latest writing tool, includes a bibliography maker, grammar tips, help on writing reports, and more than 150 school-related graphics.
``In order for kids to be successful in the workplace of the 21st century, they must be able to use technology,'' says Sue Kamp, education project manager for the SPA. ``Therefore it's critical for technology to be an integral part of the educational system.''
But software developers such as Broderbund, Davidson & Associates, and the Learning Company say growth in the consumer market for educational software is proportionately higher than the school market.
``The school market has always been one small piece of the pie,'' says Broderbund spokeswoman Kathleen Burke. Sixty-five to 70 percent of the company's sales can be attributed to consumers who purchase educational software to use in their homes, she says.
According to the SPA, of the 17,000 school districts in the US, small districts spend an average of $48,000 on technology, medium-sized districts spend $192,900, and large districts 968,000. Federal spending on technology in schools is less than 1 percent of the total US federal fiscal year 1993 budget.
Despite these constraints, school districts recognize the need for technological literacy in the schools and are increasing spending, says Ken Wasch, executive director of the SPA. In addition, several upcoming congressional bills may help schools purchase more educational software.