In another round of large gifts to education from high-technology entrepreneurs, Microsoft Corp. and Intel Corp. yesterday committed the equivalent of nearly $500 million to teach teachers how to use computers in their classrooms, and a former chief executive of Netscape Communications Corp. and his wife donated $100 million to implement reading programs in their native state of Mississippi.
The sizes of the donations set records. Microsoft said its contribution of $344 million in software for computer training of teachers in 20 countries, including the United States, was the largest single gift of software by the company, founded in 1975. Intel will support the training project with $100 million in cash and equipment over the next three years, with smaller gifts of computer hardware coming from Hewlett-Packard Co. and Premio Computer Inc.
The University of Mississippi, whose foundation received $100 million to replicate model reading programs in the state's public schools, described the gift by former Netscape executive James L. Barksdale and Sally Barksdale as the largest private donation ever made to promote literacy. It also ties as the fourth-largest to a public university, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.
The high-tech gifts are targeted to priority needs in education.
Using computers in classroom instruction is widely seen as crucial to attracting and holding the attention of today's students and preparing them for good jobs in an information economy. And school districts have paid more attention to a variety of additional training for teachers because research shows they have a strong influence on student achievement. But the Education Department has reported that four out of five of the nation's teachers say they feel unprepared to use technology in their teaching.
"The scope of this program represents the industry's recognition that all the educational technology in classrooms today is worth nothing if teachers don't know how to use it effectively," said Craig R. Barrett, Intel's chief executive officer. "Computers aren't magic--teachers are."
The nearly $500 million program is designed to provide 100,000 teachers in the United States and another 300,000 abroad with 40 hours of training at regional laboratories.
They are to learn how to teach students to use the Internet to do research, spreadsheets to analyze data, word processors to write papers and programs to create Web sites.
The training program is based on a pilot course that 200 teachers took at Logan School in the District for two weeks last summer, a session to be repeated for another 200 this summer.
An Intel spokeswoman said $3 million would go to this region's training center, which is due to open next year and offer a series of 10 four-hour classes at any time during the year. The first regional labs are scheduled to be established this year in Arizona, Northern California, Oregon and Texas.
In Mississippi, the $100 million from the Barksdales will create an endowment to help a Southern state with low literacy levels strive for a goal shared by educators across the country--making sure students are able to read by the fourth grade.
The University of Mississippi will collaborate with seven other state colleges, the state Department of Education and local districts to reproduce a model reading program that the state tested in 1997 in six districts. The program is to be introduced in preschool through the third grade, targeting schools across the state with large numbers of students at risk of academic failure.
One component will train teachers to implement the reading program, using interactive video for teachers who live in rural areas.
A national reading test given in 1998 showed that Mississippi's fourth graders scored next to last, better only than Hawaii's. The same year, a study showed the state to have the largest proportion of barely literate adults.
"If you want to work on the core problem, it's early school literacy," said James Barksdale, who was born in Jackson, Miss., and now lives in Aspen, Colo., when asked why he and his wife, Sally, decided to donate money for the reading programs.
Staff writer Jay Mathews contributed to this report.