A pilot program that uses computers to help Baltimore children learn to read and write is a success and will be continued, say city and school department officials.
But an expansion of the IBM Writing to Read program beyond FTC the current 38 elementary school pilot is still being discussed by the city school board, along with how much IBM will be paid for the program's first year.
The first-year contract called for a payment of between $400,000 and $2.9 million, depending on how well children performed in the program. Based on the first year's favorable results, school officials estimate that IBM will be paid about $2.1 million.
"We think that it's been a very good deal for our children," said Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, at a press conference releasing data from the program's first year.
The IBM program is not "an educational magic wand," he admitted. But Schmoke added that "they've achieved what they said they wanted to do for our children."
Writing to Read uses computers to provide individualized instruction to children, supplemented by audio cassette tapes, children's books and work journals.
The program started in Baltimore in January 1990, and provided instruction to about 6,000 kindergarten and first-grade students at 38 elementary schools. To evaluate the program, the school department tested students in the program in spring 1990 and again in spring 1991.
The results show that the reading scores of students who participated rose from the 26th percentile, on a national scale, to the 40th percentile. That compares with an improvement of just four percentile points for a group of students who did not participate.
"We're satisfied that the differences are dramatic, they are educationally important," said Norman J. Walsh, an associate superintendent of schools.
A possible expansion of the program is still being discussed. One school official estimated it would cost about $100,000 a year to continue the program with no expansion.