Washington's public schools are joining a satellite communications network with several other school districts across the country and, by September, D.C. teachers will be using the new technology to receive specialized training courses, it was announced yesterday.
D.C. School Superintendent Floretta D. McKenzie disclosed at a news conference that the U.S. Department of Commerce has awarded a $314,000 grant enabling the District and the other school districts to pay for satellite receivers to pick up transmissions from the National University of the Air, based in Williamsburg.
By September, McKenzie said, teachers will be able to use the system to receive training in areas such as gifted student education, language arts and basic math.
Plans call for the system to be used eventually to help teach students in the classroom, she said.
The other members of the network are the Atlanta and San Diego County public schools, the Dallas-Fort Worth Public School Consortium, the Catholic school system of Los Angeles, and the a consortium of 12 school districts in southeastern Virginia.
Washington-area school systems are only beginning to use satellite and cable technology. For example, Alexandria's public schools have begun to use that city's cable television system to broadcast an educational bulletin board on one channel, while another is used in part to broadcast activities at the city's schools.
Some school districts in other parts of the country, on the other hand, have already employed the new technologies in recent years, especially to make learning more palatable to students.
A recent six-part, 12-hour teacher training course on handicapped students was broadcast to 28 school sites in San Diego County where teachers had assembled. Using an "interactive" telecommunications system, the teachers were able to call in questions to the instructor, said Henry R. McCarty, San Diego County's director of instructional television services.
"We are excited at the potential of receiving some of the best teacher training availible," said McKenzie. "We want to move from the horse-and-buggy age of teacher training to the latest technology."
Diane Parker, a teacher at the Skyline Elementary School in Solana Beach, Calif., uses the San Diego County system and says students and teachers "really like it. Television is sort of a magical thing to children anyway and they really get turned on by it."
The National University of the Air, founded in 1973 by John A. Curtis, will actually receive the Commerce Department grant and supply the receivers.
Curtis, an author and chairman of the board of the National Instructional Telecommunications Council, also started the Center for Excellence Inc. (Centex) which is also based in Williamsburg.
Centex, said Curtis at the press conference yesterday, is a nonprofit research and resource development laboratory that provides instructional and teacher training programs for the 12 school districts in southeastern Virginia that have joined the network.
McKenzie said that providing new training techniques for D.C. teachers will be useful because most are veteran instructors with about 10 years' experience and few are new teachers armed with the latest instructional techniques.
"We have a very low teacher turnover. It's down to about 2 percent per year," McKenzie said. "In order to keep our teachers acquainted with current trends we will be able to tap leading educational trainers in other cities. This will hopefully put us on the cutting edge of the best possible training."