$1.8 billion worth of computers could replace books for 4 million students

There’s a hot debate in Texas over whether to replace all school textbooks with laptop computers by the end of the millennium.

The idea is the brainchild of Dr. Jack Christie, the chairman of the Texas Board of Education. Dr. Christie says he first considered it about three or four years ago, but the cost of laptops then made it impossible.

Now the board is facing $1.8 billion in projected costs for textbooks over the next six years, and Dr. Christie argues that given the drop in computer price tags, diverting funds to lease laptops may be more cost-effective—to say nothing of innovative.

The plan would give laptops to each of the state’s nearly four million elementary and high school students.

“Just last year, we replaced a social studies text that still had the Berlin Wall up, the Soviet Union existing, and Ronald Reagan as president,” Dr. Christie says. “With computers, all that information could be upgraded instantly . . . for about a dollar per student.”

Dr. Christie figures that any vendor would be willing to offer a volume discount for four million computers with the works—graphing calculators, PC card slots, modems for internet access, and curriculum software. He envisions a three-year, warranty-covered lease that would solve the problem of keeping up with technology upgrades. Christie estimates the cost at $300 million per year.

“Information becomes outdated so rapidly that we need a more efficient way to distribute knowledge. This approach fulfills the needs of students so much better than textbooks,” he says.

Not surprisingly, Dr. Christie’s idea faces criticism from publishers, who maintain that the costs of the plan would actually outweigh its benefits. “The reality is, it would not be as cheap or as effective as it would appear at first blush,” says Julie McGee, president of McDougal Littell in Evanston, Ill. “There are a lot of hidden costs in any computer implementation.”

For one thing, opponents say, teachers will need to be trained to use the computers in their classrooms. Also, as one Texas resident put it, “Books don’t crash or fail due to dead batteries” or other equipment problems. Maintaining the machines may require a significant investment over time. A third potential cost lies in replacing lost or damaged computers due to student negligence. “Kids aren’t known for being gentle with equipment,” says another resident.

“All the questions raised by the program are legitimate, but they can all be spoken to,” Dr. Christie responds. He maintains that blanket training of teachers statewide will keep costs down, and trained on-site staff can handle minor repairs. As far as durability of the computers, Dr. Christie says that one vendor offers a model with a hard-shell cover that can be dropped from three feet without significant damage.

Dr. Christie also sees the laptops as a way to bridge the gap between affluent and disadvantaged students. “Whether they’re in the poorest section of town or the wealthiest,” he says, “they’re going to have an equal shot. All of a sudden everyone starts at the same starting line.”

“I truly believe,” he adds, “it’s going to occur within the next few years. Why not make the investment now?”

Apple, Microsoft and Dell have all contacted Dr. Christie to express their interest, and the lieutenant governor has formed an interim committee to study the plan. Meanwhile, Dr. Christie broached the proposal in a presentation to the state legislature in January, and he’s already receiving cautious support from some of its members.

“I’m not proposing we do it in one fell swoop,” says State Senator Teel Bivins, chairman of the Senate Education Committee. “It probably makes sense to start it in high schools or as a pilot program. But the point is, the days of textbooks and teachers standing at the head of the class are rapidly changing. I believe as a conservative that we have an obligation to taxpayers to get the best information at the most efficient price.”

Perhaps the biggest roadblock to the idea is the need to overcome the fears of most residents. “I had one mother call the board and say, ‘Honey, does that man have children? I can’t get my son to remember his raincoat, never mind a computer,'” says Dr. Christie.

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The five biggest fables about school fund raising

Grantsmanship is a tricky business for anyone. The competition can be fierce, the rejection letters even fiercer. It’s especially hard for the untrained person, who oftentimes is thrown a Request for Proposal (RFP) and given maybe a couple of days to put together a sleek, persuasive, multi-year proposal.

Nobody can give you more time when you face an unrealistic deadline, but having a practical appreciation for what you’ll encounter should be a help.

So, based on what I’ve learned, here are five of the greatest misconceptions people harbor about getting grants.

Myth 1: Tons of money are available for hardware and software

I’ll start with this one, because a large number of your colleagues still believe that, as long as you can show your schools are “technologically depressed” you don’t need a great idea or a project concept to sell to funding sources.

But anyone who has pursued several grants during the last two or three years has a clear grasp of the competitiveness of grant seeking today. Funders are looking for innovative projects, new and exciting collaborative partnerships, and improvements in student achievement. Saying in a needs statement that “my district has 25 Apple IIes, but it really needs 50 Power Books” is not going to impress most grant readers, nor will it make your proposal stand out in the crowd.

Even worse, your district’s need for technology can’t be based on the fact that the district next door just got some and it’s not fair to your students! You must identify a need to be met or a problem to be solved and technology should be the means of making this happen, but not the sole focus.

Myth 2: RFP Guidelines are made to be broken

I believe that RFP guidelines exist for several reasons. To keep the playing field equal, everyone has to follow the same rules. And if you don’t follow the rules you get punished! In the grants world, if you violate the guidelines your punishment can go two ways.

For example, let’s take a look at page limits. The RFP limits you to 10 pages, but you have 11 1/2 pages and you just can’t (or don’t want to) edit it anymore. One of two things could happen when you turn in your grant: It will be thrown out without being read, or any pages after 10 will be thrown away. If this happens, you will more than likely get just a few points—or no points — for any sections on the pages after the limit.

Remember the competitiveness I referred to under the first myth? RFP guidelines are a way to narrow down the number of proposals that need to be reviewed. And look at this from the funder’s standpoint. If you can’t follow the guidelines, will you turn reports in that are completed correctly and on time? Take the guidelines seriously!

Myth 3: There’s no such thing as the “grant police”

I have had people ask me if you really have to do what you say you’re going to do in a proposal if you get funded. I can’t imagine what would lead people to think that they can get money from a funding source which they can spend in whatever manner they see fit, regardless of what they said they were going to do!

Yes, you’re expected to fulfill your obligations, but if problems do arise and you need to make changes to the project, notify the funding source immediately, not at the end of the project when you submit a final report. It will be tough to maintain your credibility and go after other funding if you develop a reputation for changing projects without notification—and it will be impossible to secure continuation funding. We probably all have read about or know someone who had to give money back because he or she violated the conditions of the grant. Don’t be one of these people!

Myth 4: Collaboration is an option in today’s grants

For the novice grant seeker it is important to realize that many state and federal grants today require collaborative partners in proposals. Grants such as the Technology Innovation Challenge Grant, for example, tell you the kinds of partners you should consider having in your consortium that is a requirement for applying.

This should be one of the requirements you pay particular attention to when you read an RFP for the first time. It is difficult, if not impossible, to establish a collaborative relationship four weeks before a proposal is due. I advise school district personnel to form and maintain collaborative relationships on an on-going basis.

As a grant seeker for a school district, you should know who your partners are and what their needs are. You should have discussions with partners and potential partners to find out mutual concerns and to discuss ways that you can work together to meet each others’ needs.

Look to your local community first— your vendors, local businesses, other nonprofits and other for-profits. Look to people in other parts of your state, people in other parts of the United States . . . you get the idea!

Myth 5: Grant writers write grants, don’t they?

Unfortunately, there are many people who are under the mistaken impression that grant writers lock themselves away in an isolated room somewhere and emerge in a few days with a fully executed grant proposal. After all, isn’t that what they’re supposed to do?

Grant writers need to have the information from the people who will be putting the project into action. Otherwise, they will design a project that others are going to have to live with if they get funded. Most staff want to have a large say in what the goals, objectives and activities for a project will be when they have to make happen.

One of the important roles of a grant writer is to take information from different people and put it all together in one succinct style that sounds like “one voice.”

And while we’re on the subject of writing grants, another parallel myth is that grant writers spend the majority of their time writing. Most, if not all, of the people I know who do this for a living spend the least amount of time writing! What takes up the majority of the time?

Doing research on what funding is available for the projects that the school district wants to get funded . . . networking with other grant writers to find out about upcoming grants or how the last grant reading session went . . . attending RFP workshops to get information directly from the funding sources and to get questions answered before a proposal is even started . . . working with district staff to fine tune ideas for projects and to identify potential partners . . . talking with funding sources to identify the ones that are most likely to fund a specific project . . . working on resubmitting proposals that were rejected.

Obviously, getting grants is an on-going process that requires perseverance and lots of time. And as I learned in one of my graduate school classes, never forget that “grantmakers and grantseekers are made of the same thing—scar tissue!”

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Teacher colleges must begin preparing tech savvy teachers

Technology is transforming the teacher’s role today as radically as did the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press more than 500 years ago. But teacher colleges have yet to update their methods and philosophies to keep pace with the changes occurring in today’s schools.

Lately, I had occasion to reflect on such things when I served on the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) to prepare a report on where we are today with technology and education. Part of our report focuses on something I think is pretty important — how colleges of education understand teachers’ concerns, fears, and need for training in schools across America.

“Teachers may be forgiven if they cling to old models of teaching that have served them well in the past,” we wrote. “All of their formal instruction and role models were driven by traditional teaching practices. Breaking traditional approaches to instruction means taking risks and venturing into the unknown. But, this is precisely what is needed at the present time.”

What kind of teacher is best able to take advantage of technology for instruction?

First, it’s the teacher who understands the deep impact technology is having on our whole society: how it has changed the way we work, the way we communicate, the way we learn.

It’s the teacher who is less devoted to transferring discrete pieces of information to students and more interested in helping students use knowledge to answer the questions that are important to them.

It’s the teacher who serves as a credible role model for students by using the technology for professional development — who uses eMail to communicate with colleagues, participates in professional development video conferences, diagnoses and addresses learning deficiencies by drawing upon expert systems, tailors instruction to the ability and needs of individual learners, and monitors their progress electronically through digitized student records. And, finally, it’s the teacher with “attitude”: who is fearless in the use of technology, secure in no longer acting as the primary arbiter of knowledge, and eager to learn throughout a lifetime of teaching.

Educating educators

Re-educating the existing teaching force will not be easy and will require extensive professional development over many years. The problem will be compounded if those teachers now entering the field for the first time have not been adequately prepared to use new technology. So a large part of enabling teachers to use technology lies in the teacher education departments and colleges where new teachers are prepared.

At NCATE, we found that many teacher preparation programs are falling short. Among teacher education faculty members generally, there may be little appreciation of the impact technology is having on society and an insufficient understanding of the demands on classroom teachers to incorporate technology into their teaching.

Many college faculty members undervalue the significance of technology and treat it as merely another topic teachers should know about. As a result, teacher colleges are making the same mistake made by many K-12 schools. “Technology” is treated not as a phenomenon that needs to be incorporated across the teacher education program, but merely as a special addition to the teacher education curriculum, requiring specially prepared faculty members and specially equipped classrooms.

As a result, teachers-in-training are limited to lectures on “computer literacy,” maybe with some screen shots culled from curriculum software. Rarely are they able to use technology in their own education, nor are they given the opportunity to see role models using it in other work.

Imagine the result if prospective teachers were shown how to teach children to read and were told that books would be important to their work in the classroom but were not given reading assignments themselves.

Low technology priority

The reasons for these failures in teacher education programs are relatively easy to explain, if difficult to excuse. Many teacher education programs are given a low priority for technology funding, and therefore lack the essential hardware and software.

Teacher education faculty members may not have the knowledge and skill to incorporate technology into their own teaching. Similar to K-12 teachers, they may not have been provided the training they need to use technology successfully, and, due to a lack of incentives and clear goals, they may be unwilling to devote the time necessary to offset that shortcoming.

Few higher education faculty members seem to have an understanding of the vast changes brought about by technology in K-12 schools, and few seem to realize that they must change their own instruction to stay abreast of changes in the schools.

Teacher education programs are driven by an academic culture that rewards individuality among faculty members. Few incentives exist for bringing faculty members together around a common vision of what the teacher education program should be. A few individual faculty members believe that more emphasis should be given to the role of technology, but right now, they are a minority.

College faculty members are expected to be experts in their own fields. There seems to be little or no tradition of identifying and then providing opportunities for professional development. The result is frequently a stand-off between those who “get it” and those who don’t, with no visible progress made in providing students much-needed instruction.

NCATE Report

http://www.ncate.org/specfoc/technld.txt

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Compaq’s Digital buyout means more school options

Industry insiders are saying the $9.6 billion merger of Compaq Computer Corp. and Digital Equipment Corp. could make Compaq a “one-stop shop” for your schools. After two years of on-again, off-again negotiations, Compaq last week announced plans to buy Digital, in what will be the largest acquisition in the history of the computer industry.

The acquisition is so large, in fact, that some analysts have expressed concern about potential disruption of both companies as corporate leaders struggle with the details of the merger and rank-and-file employees worry about their jobs.

Compaq representatives insist that service to schools won’t suffer during the transition, however, explaining that the company has gained merger experience in previous acquisitions. On the contrary, Compaq sources say, schools ultimately will benefit, because the firm will field a more comprehensive selection of products and services.

Traditionally, Compaq has relied on PC sales, lacking the wherewithal to provide high-end systems and services for large corporate or districtwide networks.

Compaq expands its reach

Sau Lau, an education market analyst for International Data Corp. (IDC), told eSchool News that with the addition of Digital’s technology, Compaq will be able to offer a complete spectrum of products and services — from notebook computers to global enterprise servers, and all the system support necessary for both.

As a result, Lau said, Compaq will be ready to go head to head with IBM and Hewlett-Packard, the generally acknowledged leaders in total systems management.

An early industry innovator, Digital introduced the world’s first small interactive computers, pioneered the concept of networked computing, and developed the search engine AltaVista. But Digital was slow to capture the PC market, and the past decade had seen the company’s profits plummet.

Areas in which Digital remained strong, however, included global services, support, and network and systems integration. It’s precisely these services, industry analysts say, that Compaq wanted for its own.

Until now, Compaq customers have had to use Digital’s service unit for their Windows NT support and other companies for their network and systems integration needs. With the merger, Lau said, Compaq now can offer these services directly to its clients.

In addition to Digital’s 1,600 certified Windows NT technicians, Compaq also will be getting 3,000 Unix engineers and a full line of Unix-based servers and workstations.

What does this mean for your schools? You get another choice among full-service vendors. If you’re running a districtwide network, for example, you’ll soon be able to contract with Compaq to supply not only PCs and servers, but also systems support, network integration, and high-powered workstations. In short, Compaq soon will be able to serve all of your computing needs.

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‘Japanimation’ causes mass seizures in kids

Not since godzilla stalked out of Japan to terrorize U.S. movie-goers did an imported peril promise such terror close to home. But now it looks as though U.S. youngsters — and, so, their parents and your schools — face a whole new specter of fear.

It sounds like a bad B-movie:

Hundreds of Japanese kids are sitting innocently in front of an animated cartoon when pulsating red beams of light shoot out of the eyes of one of the characters — Pikachu, the rat — causing convulsions and vomiting in a mass epileptic-like seizure of the young audience.

Upon learning of this startling episode, parents and advocacy groups in Japan reacted with fresh concerns about the erosion of health in the techno-age. The Japanese broadcast industry pledged to draw up new safety guidelines.

But that was far away and of small concern on this side of the Pacific.

It was that is, until word arrived that the same cartoon, known as a “Japanimation” in some quarters — might be aired in the United States next fall. The announcement caused considerable excitement among American health organizations.

An overreaction? Perhaps. But the episode actually serves as a reminder that some children are especially sensitive to flickering emissions of light. The phenomenon has been known to affect children using computer programs and CD-ROMs that incorporate intense visual effects, as many instructional software does nowadays.

But technology is not necessarily the culprit. Experts say that biking fast down a tree-lined street or picnicking by a sparkling lake can pose the same dangers as afflicted those Japanese schoolchildren.

More than 700 viewers of the popular cartoon “Pokemon” — most of them children — were rushed to hospitals after they experienced convulsions, vomited blood, and even fell unconscious after viewing the four-second scene, which flashed blue and red lights at 20 “flickers” per second.

“We haven’t seen [Pokemon],” said Ann Scherer, a spokeswoman for the Epilepsy Foundation. “But the cartoon is intense.”

Promoters of the series said the version to be released in the U.S. wouldn’t contain the flashing lights thought to have provoked the seizures.

Scherer said that the foundation would be watching.

There never has been a similar large-scale reaction to a televised event in this country, Scherer said. What happened in Japan, Scherer said, was “very unusual” and probably caused by a combination of the colors and action of the cartoon, the “flicker rate” of Japanese television, and the way children watched the program.

Investigators in Japan are still looking into the incident. In his testimony before the Communications Committee of Japan’s House of Representatives, TV Tokyo President Yutaka Ichiki admitted that the network was aware that video games — but not television programs — could induce seizures.

“We deeply regret having aired it,” Ichiki told the lawmakers. “I apologize from my heart to the many people whose health was affected by the program, particularly any inconvenience caused to children.”

It’s been known for years that certain bright lights can trigger epileptic reactions in people with certain photosensitivities. But the occurrence is thought to be rare among the general population. People with epilepsy are more likely to have photosensitivities — about 3 percent of those with epilepsy, or about 9,000 Americans, are sensitive to certain kinds of visual stimuli.

The Epilepsy Foundation

http://www.efa.org/indexf.htm<

Recommendations on avoiding photosensitive reactions, National Council for Education Technology (UK)

http://www.ncet.org.uk/senco/learner/pd/photo.html

Review of the Nintendo-produced Pocket Monsters game from Nintendojo.

http://nintendojo.com/japan/pocket/index.htm

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Massachusetts law could cost schools their eRate discounts

If the spools of red tape associated with the eRate have your head spinning, you’re not alone. School officials throughout Massachusetts are worried that a state law enacted years ago might prevent them from applying for the discount within the 75-day filing window.

Chapter 149 of the Massachusetts General Laws, aimed at fighting corruption in awarding public building contracts, requires that the bidding for design, construction, and subcontracting of public buildings each be held separately. If the law is followed, several schools will miss the deadline.

“There’s no question that if schools have to go through Chapter 149, they are virtually assured they will not be able to meet the 75-day window,” said Greg Nadeau, chief technology officer for the State Department of Education.

Nadeau said the state faces a 12-month backlog of networking projects. If schools must go through three separate bidding processes before they are able to contract for services, Nadeau said, it would be physically impossible for schools to sign contracts within 75 days. Schools must contract with a service provider before they are eligible to apply for the eRate.

In September, the Massachusetts attorney general released a statement indicating that networking projects for the state’s public schools would have to comply with either Chapter 149 or Chapter 30b, the law on procurement of goods and services. State officials agree that not all installation projects must comply with Chapter 149, but they disagree on how to decide which do and which don’t.

Nadeau said that in Boston alone, 120 schools will need major structural work before classrooms can be wired. Significant construction is necessary, he said, because many of the city’s school buildings are old. Nadeau is worried that these types of projects would fall under Chapter 149.

State officials are investigating what action they can take to solve the problem.

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‘Cyberbooze’ worries schools

The internet is making it easier for your underage students to buy beer, wine, and liquor online, a new organization has charged.

“First it was cyberporn, and now it’s cyberbooze,” said a group called Americans for Responsible Alcohol Access (AARA). “It’s growing as fast as direct shippers can set up internet home pages and toll-free phone numbers.”

On the web, you can find dozens of companies offering mail-order beer, wine, and liquor. The companies have such names as Ale in the Mail, Vintage Cellar Online, and Beer Across America. Their online advertisements and order forms insist that buyers must be at least 21, but the AARA claims it has found several instances where shippers simply get a signature without verifying that the customer is of age.

During a press conference late last year, New York Attorney General Dennis Vacco unveiled a video of a sting his office conducted to show how easy it was for a minor to order alcohol over the internet.

Responded Louis Amoroso, president of Beer Across America: “We have never had a problem with someone under 21 getting their hands on our product.”

Amoroso said companies like his generally require a credit card to purchase alcohol online—something he insisted few high school students have. He also said delivery personnel demand a valid driver’s license as proof of age when the shipment arrives at its destination.

Jim Lowe, a spokesman for Hogshead Beer Cellars, a beer-of-the-month club that sells its products online, pointed to other factors when dismissing the fears of the AARA. Lowe said online liquor companies generally sell pricier brands, not the stuff teens normally can afford.

“We charge $27 for two six-packs of beer,” he said. “If an 18-year-old’s got $27 burning a hole in his pocket, he’s going to give it to an older brother to buy three or four cases of cheap beer.” Besides, he added, teens are “certainly not going to do what we require—which is to wait a few weeks for it.”

Lowe and other online liquor suppliers noted that the AARA is backed by their competitors, the Wine and Spirit Wholesalers of America. The whole cyberbooze controversy, they claimed, is simply an attempt by liquor wholesalers to put mail-order competitors out of business. A representative of AARA acknowledged its effort is largely funded by liquor wholesalers, adding that it also is supported by “safety-minded organizations.”

Washington lobbyist Barry McCahill, the group’s director, declined to be interviewed.

Some states—including Kentucky, Georgia, and Florida—have made direct shipment of alcohol a felony. Besides making it easier for teens to buy alcohol, some officials claimed, online sales cost states millions of dollars in lost tax revenue.

That’s precisely the point, according to John Hinman, a San Francisco attorney who represents many brewers of specialty beers: “The whole issue is economic protection of the monopoly system of alcohol distribution that exists in this country.”

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ACLU brings Va. internet fight to a boil

In the latest twist in a case already laden with implications for school internet access, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on Feb. 9 entered a hotly disputed case involving the library board in Loudoun County, Va. On Dec. 22, 1997, some residents in the conservative community near Washington, D.C., filed suit against the library board’s policy governing internet access, one of the most restrictive in the nation.

Now, the ACLU has weighed in on behalf of web publishers to uphold their interests in the free distribution of ideas.

The flap started last fall. All computers in the county’s public libraries have been equipped with the controversial X-Stop filtering software since Nov. 24, 1997 — a practice that violates the First Amendment rights of library users, according to the suit.

The lawsuit is the first of its kind filed against a library or school challenging its internet policy.

Loudoun County is by no means alone in restricting internet use. Increasingly, schools and libraries are turning to filtering software to assuage parents’ fears about the nature of materials their children have access to on the web.

But Loudoun’s policy, drafted by board member Richard H. Black, is among the most restrictive in the country, according to Ann Symons, president-elect of the American Library Association.

In Loudoun libraries, filters are installed on all computers, all the time, and cannot be circumvented, even by library personnel. In addition, children under 18 must receive a parent’s permission before they can use the internet.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Alexandria by 11 Loudoun library users and 70 members of Mainstream Loudoun, a local civil liberties group. The library system’s director, Douglas Henderson, and the five board members who voted for the policy are the defendants in the suit.

“The library board in Loudoun County is deciding what everyone can see, and that’s where you cross the line into censorship, and it’s illegal,” said Lawrence Ottinger, an attorney for People for the American Way. The national civil liberties group is providing legal assistance for the plaintiffs.

But library board member Mary Ellen VanNederynen, one of those named in the suit, claims the ban on sexually explicit material is legal and is supported overwhelmingly by county residents. “We did what we could to make sure it was legal,” she said.

“We listened to the public, and over two-thirds of the public said, ‘It’s our money; it’s our budget’ — and we gave them what they wanted: a safe place for their kids.”

“The internet is a totally new thing,” she added. “We knew we were going to run into trouble one way or another.”

Mainstream Loudoun members claim the policy is unnecessarily restrictive because it treats children and adults alike. “The key thing is that we’re not necessarily opposed to filters. But if you have filters, adults should have the option of turning them off,” said Jeri McGiverin, who heads Mainstream Loudoun.

The group advocates an alternative policy in which parents would have to approve their children’s use of unfiltered terminals. Such a compromise would protect children while allowing adults to decide what is or is not appropriate for themselves.

At least one Loudoun library board member agrees. “I’m a conservative, but Black’s so far right, he fell off the right,” said fellow member George F. Hidy Jr., who voted against the Loudoun policy. “I have a hard time taking people’s rights away . . . I don’t think we should be in the business of telling parents how to raise their kids.”

Ironically, public schools in Loudoun do not use filters. Instead, students sign a form agreeing not to abuse the system, and their internet use is monitored by teachers and other staff. McGiverin, a former high school English teacher, believes this is a responsible approach.

“I personally believe we must teach our young people how to deal with the internet in a responsible fashion, and that at some point, trust must come into play,” McGiverin said.

X-Stop is manufactured by the Anaheim, Calif.-based Log On Data Corporation. Log On engineers, not company lawyers, decide which web sites the software should block. The engineers base their decision on the U.S. Supreme Court’s three-point rule for obscenity: it appeals to prurient interests, has no literary or political value, and violates the community’s standard for obscenity.

X-Stop has come under recent attack for announcing an alliance with the American Family Association (AFA). The AFA is a conservative Christian group best known for its attacks on Disney for what it calls the entertainment company’s “pro-homosexual” practices.

Mainstream Loudoun’s protest stems partly from the fact that X-Stop blocks legitimate material as well as pornography. Among the sites the filter blocks, but shouldn’t, the plaintiffs say, are the home page for the Quaker religion, the Heritage Foundation site, and the AIDS quilt site.

“We don’t want some software engineer in California deciding what we may or may not see on the net,” said Elaine Williamson, another Mainstream Loudoun member.

John Nicholas, chairman of the library board, counters that library patrons can have those blocks removed by submitting a form to the library staff. He argues that libraries area not obligated to offer access to the entire internet any more than they are obligated to stock every book and magazine in existence.

“We don’t say you can’t publish this stuff or access it somewhere else,” Nicholas said. “But we can sure as hell keep it out of our libraries.”

Yet another point of contention for the plaintiffs is Loudoun’s policy requirement that internet terminals be placed in full view of the library staff. Librarians are encouraged to watch patrons use the internet to make sure the X-Stop software is working and to report any additional sites that should be blocked. The lawsuit contends this violates users’ privacy.

One of the plaintiffs, Judy Coughlin, said she is recovering from breast cancer and has visited internet sites on library computers to learn more about her illness. The county’s policy now forces her to view images of reconstructed breasts while librarians are looking over her shoulder.

“I want the next 200 or 300 Loudoun women who find out they have breast cancer to have privacy while they research a difficult and sensitive subject,” Coughlin said.

The outcome in Loudoun could affect libraries elsewhere. “We certainly think that the resolution of what’s going on here will set a precedent for what’s going on in libraries across the country,” said Ottinger.

Loudoun County Public Libraries

http://www.lcpl.lib.ua.us

Mainstream Loudoun

http://www.Loudoun.net/mainstream

People for the American Way

http://www.pfaw.org

X-Stop

http://www.xstop.com

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State buys 200,000 graphing calculators

Educators all over America worry about how their ninth and tenth graders will be able to afford those graphing calculators that increasingly are required in math class but that cost nearly $100 apiece. But in Virginia, those worries are at an end—thanks to an unprecedented $20 million program.

The Old Dominion this month launched a program to underwrite the purchase of graphing calculators for every student who needs one. It’s an experiment that could transform math curriculum standards. Its premise: Technological equity should be a cornerstone of education reform. The idea is likely to resonate in school systems from coast to coast.

In November, Virginia education officials purchased 200,000 calculators to help students meet Virginia’s new standards of learning. The standards, adopted by the state in 1995, require all algebra-level or higher math students to understand and demonstrate graphing applications on the calculators.

Yet the $95 price tag put the calculators out of many students’ reach. Often students would have to sign a calculator out from the school’s limited supply or share with someone else.

Virginia officials worried that those students who lacked nightly access to the calculators would be placed at a disadvantage when tested on the new curriculum standards.

“It was really an issue of equity,” said Tom Nuttal, K-12 math coordinator for Virginia’s Fairfax County schools. “The only way you can legitimately test kids on the use of the equipment is if they have regular access to it.”

So when a settlement with Trigon Blue Cross/Blue Shield gave the state $20 million in 1996, the General Assembly voted to spend the money to help keep the state’s promise on its math standards.

Tom Ferrio, a vice president for Texas Instruments — the company that most of the calculators were purchased from — told the Washington Post, “In terms of a major state purchase, it’s a first — both from us and from anyone else in the industry.”

The 200,000 calculators are enough to put one in the hands of every Algebra 1 and 2 student in Virginia —the entire ninth and tenth grade classes — and still have enough to equip 40 percent of the state’s eighth-graders.

Each school division will distribute the calculators individually. Though upperclassmen rely on the machines as well, Nuttal said Fairfax County’s first priority is to ensure that all Algebra 1 and 2 students have a calculator. Those are the subjects tested by the state.

Nuttal estimates that half the county’s high school students already own a graphing calculator. Even so, he said, Fairfax will probably issue a calculator to each algebra student, just as it does with textbooks, regardless of a student’s financial need.

“If we try to assign calculators only to students who need them, then we end up with a situation where a student is sitting beside someone with a calculator he got for free, and he’s saying, ‘How come I had to pay for mine?'” said Nuttal.

Students will be allowed to take the calculators home and must return them to the school at the end of the year. Nuttal said the calculators are very sturdy and that Fairfax officials are prepared to replace a few that might be lost or damaged each year.

The only problem Nuttal foresees is a general growth in the state’s population. He estimated that as class sizes increase, algebra enrollment may jump by 10,000 students each year. As of now, there is no plan to account for the annual increase.

“My guess is it’s a one-shot deal,” he said of the calculator purchase.

Still, many educators elsewhere are praising Virginia’s initiative.

“I’m envious,” Nancy Metz, coordinator of secondary math in Montgomery County, Md., told local reporters. “It really is a forward-thinking initiative.”

Virginia Department of Education

http://pen1.pen.k12.va.us/Anthology/VDOE

Fairfax County Public Schools

http://www.fcps.k12.va.us

Texas Instruments

http://www.ti.com

Also interesting: Secretary of Education Riley’s “State of Mathematics Education” speech (delivered Jan. 9 to joint meeting of American Mathematical Society (AMS) and Mathematical Association of America (MAA)), along with the Department’s math priorities:

http://www.ed.gov/inits.html

(initiative #2)

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Help Wanted: Ex-K12 technology directors,$70,000 to start

The decline in computer science graduates might be creating an opportunity for code-literate school technology personnel—at least for those who can be enticed by bonuses, stock options, and $70,000 starting salaries.

While the number of toddlers who can turn on the household computer continues to soar, the number of computer-science graduates has suffered a surprising drop, from about 48,000 graduates in 1984 to an estimated 26,000 this year.

According to a recent Business Week report, techies in a market desperate for programmers are pulling in the salaries and driving the cars usually reserved for CEOs.

This set us to thinking: What about all those hard-working technicians in our public schools? We approached several technology directors in schools with a tempting lure of power and money to “go corporate,” just to see if they’d bite.

“Not me,” laughed Nancy Messmer, director of library media and technology at the Bellingham, Wash., public schools. “I can’t imagine wanting to work anyplace else.

“I’m really excited about using technology for improving student learning and teaching—this is the perfect place for me.”

Richard Kevern, technology director of the Beachwood, Ohio, public schools, gives a “been there, done that” sigh. “I spent 20 years doing other things before getting my master’s in teaching and instructional technology,” Kevern said. “I’d never go back.”

“I’m not in education to make a hundred thousand dollars,” says Jay Moody of Ohio’s Stark County Education Service Center. “I don’t think anybody is. There’s no way I would leave.”

What keeps them in education, with its endless paperwork, thankless salaries, and daily frustrations and confusions?

“Satisfaction,” says Kevern. “I feel the satisfaction of doing meaningful work.”

Bellingham Public School District

http://www.bham.wednet.edu

Beachwood Public Schools

http://www.beachwood.k12.oh.us/

Stark County Education Service Center

http://www.stark.k12.oh.us/

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