Seeding K-12 Technology

Minnesota Governor Arne Carlson wants to woo public schoolteachers onto the information highway with a unique proposal: If they learn how to use computers in the classroom, he'll give them a notebook computer to use as they see fit.

The idea, said John Gunyou, executive director of the Minnesota Office of Technology, is to make teachers comfortable with computers, a comfort that will help them lead their students to the vast educational resources available in the on-line world.

"It's critical to get computers in teachers' hands," Gunyou said. "It gets away from the idea of one computer sitting off in the corner." The proposal is one of many outlined in the governor's "Learning Communities" initiative, which he wants passed by the state legislature early next year.

Under the plan, Minnesota would provide $50 million in challenge grants to the state's 1,500 public schools, charter schools and magnet programs for computer training and equipment. It also would establish the Minnesota Learning Academy to train teachers onintegrating technology into their curriculum and the Minnesota Learning Network, which will connect classrooms to the Internet and serve as a repository for curriculum ideas.

In announcing the program, Carlson said it would make Minnesota a leader in K-12 technology. "It will give our students a leg up on the advanced skills they need to compete and win in the global economy of the 21st century," he said.

Reliable figures on the number of computers in Minnesota classrooms are hard to come by, Gunyou said. But the hope is that the new program will make sure there is modern equipment in every room, a teacher who knows what do with it and an e-mail address for every student and teacher in the state.

Currently, 50 to 75 percent of Minnesota school districts have high-speed data connections into the state educational network, Gunyou said. Not every school in such districts, however, is connected. During the next two years, the goal is to wire all of the schools. The state will be paying for a basic package of 15 to 30 lines for each school, Gunyou said.

As progress continues, teachers will be able to make homework assignments by e-mail, parents will discuss their child's performance with the school over a computer, and teachers throughout the state can trade educational ideas.

The $50 million in state challenge grants will be used to leverage $100 million from local governments and private sources, Gunyou said. Ideas on how to spend the money will come from the local level and will be tailored to individual district needs. A panel of six to eight people, which is expected to include the state teacher of the year, the principal of the year, a business entrepreneur and other "real people," would make decisions on which projects to fund, Gunyou said. The grants would range from $150,000 to $300,000.

The Learning Academy would provide short courses for teachers at a cost to local districts of $150 to $300, Gunyou estimated. Teachers who graduate from such courses would be eligible to receive a notebook computer.

In discussions with the state, IBM has said it could give substantial discounts for such a program. For example, with the lowered cost and state assistance, districts would be able to have lease-to-purchase agreements to buy a $3,000 computer for threeannual payments of as little as $500, Gunyou said. Other vendors also would be invited to make proposals.

Teachers would be able to use the notebook computers at home and at work. The computers would be owned by the school district, but teachers would be allowed to use them for personal tasks. "The only restriction may be that they not make money off it," Gunyou said.

With a notebook computer, teachers will have access from anywhere to the state curriculum library and the Internet for communication with parents and students. Gunyou said the Republican governor's Learning Communities initiative has been well-received by both political parties. He said there appears to be a strong chance it will be passed by the legislature in January.

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