The Associated Press, whose teleprinters carry the news to more than 4,500 American newspapers and broadcast station, now is trying to sell its news service to schools along with brief lessons - in history, English, and even math - that are tied to each day's top stories.
The idea for the new service, called "textbook by wire," came from Richard O. Curtis, who taught elementary and junior high students for ten years in Prince George's, Montgomery, and Frederick County, Md.
Curtis, 36, now works for AP as director of its new education service.
While he was teaching, Curtis said he moonlighted as a disc jockey for country and western radio stations. He said he sometimes took students to visit their studios, and found that what interested them most was not the whirling records but the teleprinter, spewing out news.
"I just couldn't get them beyond the teletype machine," Curtis said. "Even the kids who wouldn't crack a book if their lives depended on it would stand around and read the stuff as it came off the printer. It was irrestible."
Curtis said the took wire stories into his classroom for students to read - also with good results. Last year after he moved to Arizona, he said he persuaded AP to try his idea of selling its news service to schools, with bried lessons added throughout the day to help teachers make good use of it.
The new AP service including the education features is scheduled to start on Jan. 30. So far, Curtis said, about 50 schools have decided to buy it for an introductory rate of $2,216 a year. The price will go up to $2,770 after Jan. 30.
Curtis said AP has reached a tentative agreement with the Washington public schools to place teleprinter machines in 10 schools here as part of the system's special education program.
Superintendent Vincent Reed said no definite decision has yet been made on whether the school system will buy the news service. "We'rs still talking about it," Reed said. "I haven't decided yet whether I'll approve it."
Officials in the school system's special education division said the money for the new service - $22,160 - would come from the city's allotment of federal aid for handicapped students which totals $2.7 million this year.
"We're really excited about the news service," said Joseph Renard, an aide to Doris Woodson, the assistant D.C. school superintendent in charge of special education. "It looks like something we should try to help students who are poor readers and have a low interest in reading . . . The teletype is kind of exciting, you know. It's a good attention-getter. There's the sound of it and the romanticism of the media. It's really a multisensory experience."
Renard said the special education division wants to place most of the teleprinter machines in junior high schools. He said they would be housed in learning center rooms that are used by students who are mildly retarded or have behavior problems, although other students could use them too.
Curtis said that in order to sell the news serve to Washington's special education program. AP has agreed to send one 20-minute segment a week - about 1,500 words - on how the newwire materail may be used bu special education students.
The teleprinter machines will operate in schools 14 hours a day Monday through Friday, Curtis said. Most of the time they will carry AP's standard broadcast news report, aimed at radio and television stations. The stories are brief and written in short sentences designed to be read aloud.
In the span of five or six hours a day, one 20-minuted period will be used to transmit educational material prepared by Curtis and four assistants, who will be based in offices at San Francisco State University.
At least three of each day's educational segments will be "teacher takes," giving backgroud and suggested lessons plans based on the day's major stories.
Other education segments will present material in Spanish for school bilingual programs, give information on careers, and offer "advanced learning" material for gifted students.
Each day one 20-minute segment will contain reports from the Center for Short Lived Phenomena in Cambridge, Mass., on daily scientific events, such as meteor showers, icebergs, and earthquakes.
One example of the lessons AP plans to send is included in material Curtis distributed to schools. It is based on a news story about a candidate being charged with receiving a "laundered" campaign contribution in 1976. Under the heading, "Why is this story newsworthy?" the sample lesson reads:
"Because it is a possible violation of the election laws. The election laws were a direct result of Watergate.
"Interpolation - Many political scientists maintain that Watergate resulted from an imperial presidency and a proliferating bureaucracy. The proliferating bureaucracy had its beginnings in the New Deal. The New Deal was a result of economic depression.
"The economic depression was a result of a world-wide collapse in national economies. This collapse caused rampant inflation. Inflation caused by the financial chaos left by World World One."
Another sample lesson, based on a story about Middle East peace proposals, is similarly sweeping. it briefly traces Jewish history back 5,000 years.
"About 20 per cent of all teachers are pretty creative and energetic Curtis said, "but the other 80 per cent are not - what I call the 'drone factor.' We have to give these teachers the background and strategies on how to use the (new wire) material. Otherwise, I'm afraid it will get too little use.
Robert Benson, deputy director of AP's broadcast service, said AP is spending about $250,000 this year on the education service. But he said the costs are less than they might be because the teleprinters being installed in schools are old 66-words a minute models, now being replaced on most newspapers by solid-state 1,200-words a minuted machines.
"AP has thousands of these noisy old machines in their warehouses just moldering away," Curtis said. But they are the ones the kids love with all that chuga-luga ding-ding going all day."