CEO Forum Shares Wealth of Technology


High-Tech Education Plans Gain Ground

CEO Forum Shares Wealth of Technology

By Dennis McCafferty

Staff Writer

A new organization that combines the talents of the infotech industry and U.S. education leaders will try to bridge the technology gap in the nation's schools.

Members of the CEO Forum on Education and Technology, an eclectic lineup of infotech CEOs and educators, met with Gene Sperling, President Bill Clinton's chairman of the National Economic Council, earlier this month to discuss the group's plans and get input from the administration.

The forum's main purpose is to produce an annual, no-holds-barred report card on the nation's state of technology education for the next four years. The first report card will be released in October, participants say. Copies of the report card will go to the White House and Congress, as well as to schools and parents.

Among the more than 15 forum members are CEOs Raymond W. Smith of Bell Atlantic Corp., Eckhard Pfeiffer of Compaq Computer Corp., Theodore W. Waitt of Gateway 2000 and Tony Coelho, former House majority whip and now CEO of ETC, a Washington-based subsidiary of Tele-Communications Inc. Also participating is Alan Spoon, president of The Washington Post Co., which owns TechNews Inc., the publisher of Washington Technology.

The objective of the forum is to convince government and community leaders to address what could be as divisive an issue as race and social class differences, one member said.

"If it's not corrected, in a way, it's the worst of all wedges,'' said Coelho, whose company provides technical products and services for educators.

"You say to a certain group of people that they can have all the technology tools at their fingertips and others won't. In my view, that's a terrible statement, and we can't accept it as the American public.''

The forum grew out of education technology initiatives and conferences in which co-chairs Anne Bryant, executive director of the National School Boards Association, and Don Cameron, executive director of the National Education Association, participated. The two groups have worked together to get industry discounts for schools and libraries to access telecommunications and the Internet.

During the last six months, the forum gained steam with interest and participation from the CEOs. Its creation was announced March 6 at the White House, where administration officials applauded the forum as a potentially productive, bipartisan effort.

The forum falls in line with other national industry and community cooperative efforts such as NetDay 2000 and Highway 1, both of which work toward boosting education technology for students.

Many of the companies taking part in the forum have a big financial stake in education technology funding. Compaq is No. 2 in the market in shipments, while Gateway 2000 is fifth. Both are far behind leader Apple Computer Inc., which has more than 40 percent of the market share, according to Dataquest, a San Jose, Calif.-based market research company.

While more companies are expected to join the forum, Apple hasn't yet signed on as a participant.

While conceding their business interests, participants say the focus is on boosting education.

One positive trend is reflected in the sharp increase of computers available for students, according to Quality
Education Data Inc., a Denver-based education research firm and forum participant. There were 125 students for
every computer in 1983, the company reported. Last year, the technology availability improved to 10 students for every computer.

But such statistics don't reveal the disparities between the haves and have-nots, forum members say. In fact, nearly half the schools in the country are still not connected to the Internet.

"We really have the opportunity to be an equalizer,'' said forum co-chair Bryant, whose National School Boards Association in Alexandria, Va., is an education leadership organization representing 15,500 school districts.

"When you see a child in one school on the Internet, then you see another child reading out of a textbook that's 15 years old, you see the critical areas of learning we need to address.''

Teacher training is another important need, said Jeanne Hayes, president and CEO of Quality Education Data.

"It's the chicken and the egg thing,'' Hayes said. "They don't have the access to get their hands on technology, so how can they learn it?''

Examples of the technology gap are sprinkled throughout the nation. In Gilford County, N.C., elementary school students submit poetry for a literary World Wide Web page they co-produce with children in Hawaii.

In another class, fourth graders have exchanged local acid rain test results with counterparts in Hickory, N.C., via e-mail.

But neighboring school systems get by with considerably less than Gilford County schools' $2 million technology budget. One rural system has only $50,000 to spend on computers.

"That's what we'd pay for a software license,'' said Michael Parrish, a technology learning coordinator for Gilford County.

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