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IBM awarding $10 million for technology in schools

Two years after challenging the nation's governors and corporate leaders to propose fresh solutions to education's most vexing problems, Louis Gerstner Jr., the chief executive of IBM, is seeking to illustrate what he meant.

Gerstner said Thursday that the company is awarding $10 million in grants to a dozen school districts and state education departments, including those of New York City and New York state, to develop new ways to use technology in the classroom.The awards will provide teachers with electronic means to evaluate students' work, communicate with their parents and even teach them to read and will bring to $35 million the amount that the IBM Foundation has committed to the program since 1995.

The contributions of International Business Machines Corp. are but the latest in a string of large-scale grants to public education. Even before Gerstner issued his challenge at the National Governors' Conference in July 1995, and at a similar gathering last year, the Annenberg Foundation had pledged $500 million to improving the nation's public schools.

Since last year's conference, other corporations - including Eastman Kodak, Bell South, Procter & Gamble and Boeing - have sought to lend their research capabilities to the task of reinventing public education, Gerstner said.

Over the past year, Bell South, the local telephone company for most of the Southeast, has donated $25 million worth of Internet hook-ups, World Wide Web access and e-mail service to 6,300 schools, said Pat Willis, president of the Bell South Foundation. To allow teachers to assess the programs, the company also has provided a third of the teachers at the schools with a year's service at their homes.

The first round of IBM grants, awarded in 1995, provided 10 districts with the technical assistance to help solve what they identified as their biggest challenges.

The Philadelphia schools worked with IBM to create a voice-recognition computer that can correct children as they read. And the Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools in North Carolina established Internet links between housing projects and classrooms, letting parents browse their children's work.

In the second round of grants being announced Thursday, IBM is giving the districts and education departments the opportunity to tailor the same technological innovations to their needs.

"The business community, in the past, has tended to give money to schools to support the status quo: adopt a school, pay for a school lab, send along some computers," Gerstner said Wednesday. "What we are doing with these grants is working with whole districts to create systemic change."

The Houston public school system intends to use its $850,000 grant to implement the Philadelphia reading program. But Houston will turn it into a diagnostic tool to evaluate students' abilities in reading and adapt it for Spanish-speaking students.

The nine other districts and states are Atlanta; Boston; Detroit; Durham, N.C.; Memphis, Tenn.; Rochester, Minn.; South Carolina, Texas; and Maryland.