$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“Information becomes outdated so rapidly that we need a more efficient way to distribute knowledge.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.

tags

Apple: An old friend shows signs of new life

Rumors of the demise of the school field’s traditional favorite computer maker apparently are greatly exaggerated, but so perhaps are reports that Apple Computer Inc. is out of the emergency room and moving smartly down the road to full recovery.

Apple posted a $47 million quarterly profit. That came as a big relief to those K-12 decision makers who’ve lurched awake at 2 a.m. worrying that their beloved old Macs would be good for nothing but door stops if Apple’s troubles went on much longer.

Shares of Apple Computer Inc. stock jumped 22 percent, to $19.44, the day after the once-and-interim CEO Steve Jobs announced the company would post a FY 98 first quarter profit of $47 million on revenues of more than $1.6 billion. The company said it sold 635,000 units in the three-month period.

The profit—considered modest in an industry where one man’s personal wealth puts him nearly even with the gross domestic product of Singapore—is the company’s first quarter in the black in two years. Since its last profitable quarter in 1996, Apple has lost more than $1 billion.

To outsiders, empires in the high-tech market seem to be made and lost nearly overnight.

“That’s true,” said John Santoro, company spokesman for Apple’s education division. “But we’re not doing that”—losing money—”anymore.”

Does the gain signal a return to sustained profitability for the one-time education hardware leader?

Survival is Jobs One

“[First-quarter results] attest to our revenue stabilizing,” said Santoro. “We’ve gotten the costs of making the computers down, and we’re doing build-to-order. It all comes from Steve Jobs,” he added.

“We are thrilled that our new plans are beginning to work,” Jobs told reporters earlier this year. “While there is still lots of work to do, Apple is clearly coming back as a major player.”

Mark Delp, director of technology implementation for Henrico County (Va.) Public Schools, is pleased with Apple’s return to stability. Henrico has something of an investment in the company. A PowerMac 7200 sits in each of the district’s classrooms, and although the computers are dual-platform, teachers use the Windows operating system “only a minuscule amount,” Delp said. This is mainly because the teachers all have been trained on Mac systems.

And Delp just bought a slew of Apple’s speedy new G3 computers for his guidance offices. “Asked if they would like dual platform or a good fast Mac, they chose Mac,” Delp explained.

Apple sold twice as many of the G3 computers as it anticipated during the first 51 days of the quarter, according to the company.

Avoiding undue panic

To switch to a Windows-based environment now, Delp worried, “would cause undue panic on teachers’ parts—just as they are beginning to get comfortable.”

“We’ve hung with Mac because of the educational software available and the support that Apple has provided—it’s stronger than any other brand for educational support,” said Delp.

Did rumors of the company’s imminent demise make him nervous?

“Yes—but not so much as to make us abandon them,” Delp said.

Macintosh computers command up to 55 percent of the education market’s installed base, according to Quality Education Data. The Denver-based education market research company expects that up to 45 percent of new computer purchases will continue to be Macs through 1998.

Rededicated to K-12

Apple says it has rededicated itself to education. The company has beefed up its K-12 sales force and come out with new, all-in-one models designed for school settings. The super-streamlined 5500, for example, comes “with two plugs in the back: one for power, one for the network,” said Santoro.

Many administrators and teachers are committed to the platform. The ease of setup, low-cost maintenance, and efficient system integration are what Mac boosters cite as reasons for the platform’s popularity in schools. According to Santoro, the “plug-and-play” design of Mac computers is meant to be simple enough for teachers to use the computers in their classrooms without much technical training or support.

Santoro also credits the speed and ease of certain functions—such as math processing or digital image manipulation—for the Mac OS’s continuing popularity. “In the context of a 40-minute class, [speed] makes a huge difference,” Santoro said. “Any time spent figuring out how to [use a computer] is a waste of time.”

Think Different

The company’s “Think Different” campaign might not appeal to teachers with a working knowledge of grammar, but something seems to be working.

“We want teachers to ‘think different,’ to think ‘out of the box,'” Santoro said. “We want to prepare students for a life of learning.”

The computer maker’s return-to-profit announcement was made at January’s MacWorld Expo trade show in San Francisco after a bumpy 1997:

• In March of last year, layoffs paralyzed the Apple work force just when the company needed creativity and leadership.

• In April, Apple posted second-quarter losses of $708 million, nearly matching its record losses of 1996.

• In June, it severed ties with its advertising agency. • And in July, CEO Gil Amelio departed from the company.

That’s when Jobs, one of Apple’s original co-founders, stepped in to reign as interim CEO.

Shortly after he made that move, industry analysts began saying Jobs’ indomitable presence was hurting the company, driving away strong candidates for the regular CEO job.

But that, of course, was then.

Since Jobs’ back-in-the-black announcement, his detractors have been much quieter.

Apple Computer Inc.

http://www.apple.com

The Bill Gates Net Worth Page

http://web.quuxuum.org/~evan/bgnw.html

Quality Education Data

http://www.qeddata.com

Henrico County Public Schools

http://www.co.henrico.va.us/schools/

tags

You lookin’ at me? Spy cams come to school

It already was a trend. Schools in increasing numbers have been installing closed circuit television (CCTV) systems on buses and playgrounds, in parking lots, libraries, and corridors, at entrances, and even in boys’ and girls’ locker rooms. But the two tragic shootings that left five students dead late last year in Pearl, Miss., and Paducah, Ky., have hastened schools’ acceptance of electronic surveillance, school security experts have told eSchool News in recent days.

In the aftermath of these terrible tragedies, many school systems are turning to technology to keep their children safe.

Electronic surveillance in schools is on the rise, said Peter Blauvelt, president of the National Alliance for Safe Schools. Blauvelt attributed the increase to twin phenomena: growing concerns over school security and recent advances in technology that have made CCTV relatively affordable.

But are schools taking surveillance too far? Preschools in California, New York, and Connecticut are experimenting with digital cameras and software that let parents keep an eye on their children via the internet. The digital images of the toddlers are snapped periodically, then uploaded to the internet by the preschools, where they can be downloaded at will by anxious high-tech parents.

“It’s very Orwellian,” said David Banisar, an attorney with the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, D.C. “It sets a precedent for a generation of kids who could grow up thinking that surveillance is normal.”

Like internet content filtering and a host of other technology-driven concerns, electronic surveillance is a sticky issue where schools must balance a legitimate desire for security with a potential for unwarranted intrusion. And the debate on both sides is fervent.

Russell Tedesco, director of security for Prince George’s County schools in Maryland, is a firm believer in school surveillance. When Tedesco took over the position last year, each of the county’s 20 high schools had CCTV. Tedesco convinced the county to spend an additional $300,000 to upgrade the system, and he applied for a grant from the Bureau of Justice and Administration to install cameras in the schools’ parking lots.

“CCTV provides another set of eyes for the administration,” he explained. “Cameras can be where personnel can’t be all the time, simply because we lack the manpower.” Tedesco said the cameras actually helped solve a robbery at a county high school last year.

Not every school official shares Tedesco’s enthusiasm, however. “There’s a fine line we’re walking between keeping our schools safe and turning them into fortresses,” one official confided.

Chuck Hibbert, security coordinator for the Wayne Township Metro School District in Indiana, offered this word of caution: “One of the things we must guard against is letting national trends” drive local decisions. Hibbert said surveillance has become generally accepted among private-sector employers and, he added, this acceptance is spilling over into schools.

If you’re thinking about electronic surveillance, Hibbert cautioned, it’s imperative that your community support the idea.

In his own community, a rash of break-ins of student vehicles prompted the district to consider installing a CCTV system in the parking lots. But Hibbert said school officials are weighing the political impact: “They’re worried about the community’s reaction — what are parents going to think?”

Hibbert’s colleagues in the central office currently are surveying the community to determine its level of support.

Robert Pickett, superintendent for the Vicksburg-Warren School District in Mississippi, said his district also is mulling whether to install CCTV. Some of Vicksburg-Warren’s high schools are multi-level with several “blind spots” that could be eliminated by electronic monitoring. “We’ve discussed the possibility for a few years,” said Pickett, adding that the recent shootings in Pearl and Paducah have intensified debate.

Pickett emphasized that parents are very much involved in the discussion. “We realize that nothing is foolproof,” said Pickett, “but we want to take as many precautions as we can.”

School surveillance can raise several legal issues, according to Alan Matchett, a security consultant in Virginia. The Supreme Court, he said, has consistently held that there is no “reasonable expectation” of privacy in public places. This line of reasoning presumably would permit television surveillance in many school areas. But Matchett warned this rule does not apply to conversations, which are still considered private. He advised anyone considering surveillance to steer clear from audio recording.

Bathroom stalls and showers also are considered private, he said, but there are several places in schools — such as locker rooms and the sink area of bathrooms — that are less clearly defined. Placing cameras where they might identify special-needs children could also pose a problem, he noted. To avoid violating students’ rights, Matchett recommended that television surveillance be limited to hallways, classrooms, and entrances.

Another sticky issue: What becomes of the images caught on video tape? There are no clear laws to regulate the storage and use of surveillance tapes, security experts said. Digital technology now makes it possible to store such information almost indefinitely — a fact that has some school people worried about images that could get into the wrong hands.

“Control of the system and the tapes should be restricted,” warned Matchett. “[They] should only be accessible to the designated security director or to a senior staff member of the school.”

Electronic surveillance also can take a huge chunk of your technology budget. Blauvelt recommended you do some self-assessment to determine just what kind of problems you’re trying to solve before you invest in any equipment.

Hibbert agreed that surveillance is often unnecessary. He said there are other cautionary steps you should take first that may eliminate the need for surveillance. Make sure all areas are well-lit and doors have good locks. Keep time between classes to a minimum. And encourage teachers and building administrators to maintain a high profile.

Electronic Privacy Information Center

http://epic.org

National Alliance for Safe Schools

http://www.safeschools.org

National School Safety Center

http://www.uhs.wisc.edu/wch/dpi/org43.htm

American Society for Industrial Security

http://www.asisonline.org

tags

Welcome to eSchool News

I’d like to take a moment to welcome you to eSchool News — the K-12 decision maker’s technology and internet newspaper.

eSchool News is for school leaders who embrace K-12 education’s destiny to ascend to a higher level.

It’s for school leaders who see their schools poised at the brink of a transformation that literally could change the world.

eSchool News is for you.

You and your colleagues already have begun the transition, shifting from factory-style schools of yesteryear to fully empowered centers of learning — “eSchools,” if you will — equipped and aligned for the unlimited opportunities presented by the global information age.

But…

…you told us you needed an objective and reliable news source to help you keep on top of it all — without all the jargon.

You told us that learning about how other schools are transforming education is as important to you as internet product information…that hearing from the school and technology leaders setting future K-12 technology standards was as necessary as getting a faster modem or rewiring your buildings…and that all of it was just talk — unless we could tell you where to find the dollars to fund it all.

So we created eSchool News.

Our promise to you is that wherever you are in this journey of transformation, reading eSchool News will help you reach your destination.

What’s more, eSchool News will fulfill its pledge to you in these five ways:

#1) You’ll become a technology authority for your schools…without devoting your entire life to it.

#2) You’ll get honest news reporting, vivid case histories and thorough examinations of how technology and the internet are actually transforming K-12 education….no hype.

#3) You’ll get it all without having to be a technology expert, because eSchool News is an education newspaper about technology…not the other way around.

#4) You’ll keep tabs on how schools just like yours are using new technology and the internet.

#5) And finally, you’ll make a difference for the kids. Ultimately, that’s why you’ll read and use every issue of eSchool News.

In this, our premier issue, we strive mightily to do all that. We hope you’ll let us know how close you think we’ve come to achieving our objectives. eSchool News really does belong to you, so we eagerly await your comments, criticisms, encouragement, and advice all along the way.

Fill out the subscription order form bound into this issue, and send it in today. Let eSchool News be your guide.

tags

School computers smash the $1K barrier

It could give the biggest boost yet to the K-12 dream of putting a full-powered computer in front of every student. It’s the emergence of fully equipped personal computers selling at retail for under $1,000 — sometimes substantially so. And indications are that this breakthrough is just the beginning. Industry analysts predict the era of a PC selling near $500 is not far away.

Since early January, Compaq, Hewlett-Packard (HP), and Packard Bell have been offering full-powered PCs for less than $1,000. In recent days Digital Equipment (DEC) and Gateway 2000 got into the game by introducing competitively priced models.

You’ll want to check them out before buying up those network computers. You might just find that you can get a more flexible system for less than what you’d pay for a NetPC.

Priced under $800

But if you’ve been waiting for the right moment to lower the student-to-computer ratio or even set up that home office, this might be just the time to do it. These computers are ideal for users looking to do word processing, spreadsheets, online banking—any standard Windows-based application. The systems are also powerful enough to let you do some pretty nimble web surfing and eMail. Two of the desktops—Compaq’s and Hewlett-Packard’s—are priced at a remarkably economical $799. Packard Bell’s comes in at $999.

One thing you won’t get with any of these systems is a monitor, but that renders these “deals” only a little less exciting, because monitor prices are way down, too.

Hewlett-Packard was the first to throw its hat into the sub-$1K market by announcing the Pavilion 3260. A day later, Compaq followed suit by releasing its latest Presario line.

Both systems will give you a 200 MHz processor, 3 2M of RAM, a 2.1 G hard drive, and a 56 Kbps modem. With HP, you’re getting a Pentium processor. The Presario 2240 runs on a chip by Intel-rival AMD (Advanced Micro Devices).

The entry of AMD and Cyrix Corp., another manufacturer of high-speed processor chips, is what finally nudged Intel to drop the cost of its Pentium processor in the low-end computer market—one of the reasons end-users are seeing these low prices. Some industry analysts are predicting that computers will spike down to that $500 mark by year’s end.

For two hundred bucks more you can get Packard Bell’s low-end contender, the R515. You’ll get the same specs as the HP and Presario plus a 3.2 G hard drive. Or, for the same $200, Compaq will throw in a 14-inch color monitor.

And these aren’t the low-end empty boxes of the past, either. They are designed from the ground up as low-cost machines that come packed with power and ready to run Windows 95 fully loaded. You’ll also get CD-ROM drives, modems, and lots of speed.

Two newcomers to the sub-$1K market are Digital Equipment (DEC) and direct-mail wizard Gateway.

DEC scaled back prices by 20 percent on its line of business PCs, putting three models even further under the thousand dollar mark.

The DEC 3010 with an AMD 166 MHz processor is now $863, while $900 will get you a 166 MHz Intel Pentium. In either model you get 16 Mb of RAM and a 1.2 G hard drive.

For $99 more you can get the speedier PC 3100, with 200 MHz, 16 Mb of RAM, and a 2.1 G hard drive.

At press time Gateway was expected to beat out its direct-mail competitor Dell in being the first to offer a sub-$1K PC. Gateway’s computer will come network-ready and with a 15-inch monitor, sources said.

Education buyer beware

Good as these low prices are, you can’t assume you’ll get a company’s best price by looking only at the education product line. In researching this story, eSchool News has learned that the models earmarked especially for education don’t necessarily include the machines with the lowest prices.

With a 14-inch monitor, the Presario 2244ES, Compaq’s education model, is priced at $1,199. For that you get about the same “guts,” plus a lot of software you may or may not want.

Links:

Packard Bell
http://www.packardbell.com

Compaq
http://www.compaq.com

Hewlett-Packard
http://www.hp.com

Digital Equipment Corp.
http://www.dec.com

Gateway 2000
http://www.gateway.com

Micron
http://www.micron.com

tags

Spending for school technology to top $5.2 billion

Experts have been predicting that K-12 schools will spend more than $5.2 billion on technology during the current school year. Now, we have a pretty good idea of where all that money will come from.

The latest good news comes from the White House and the U.S. Department of Education (ED). At least half a billion of the new dollars will be flowing to your schools through two big programs at ED.

In the omnibus spending bill signed into law by President Clinton on Nov. 13, K-12 schools were assured of receiving $531 million from ED alone. Federal money also is earmarked for schools through the Federal Communications Commission, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and many other departments and agencies. Altogether federal spending on school technology probably will amount to near $1 billion.

ED now estimates that an additional $4 billion will come from state and local governments, and the balance is expected to be donated to schools by corporations and foundations.

The money from ED is certainly among the largest sources of federal funding, however. And the sum earmarked for your schools in 1998 is more than twice as much as came your way for school technology last year. A large portion of the ED money will be aimed at helping you get your teachers up to speed on the new technology.

ED’s Technology Literacy Challenge Fund will provide $425 million in federal funding for schools to buy computers and software and implement their technology plans through September of 1998. In addition, nearly $106 million in ED Technology Innovation Challenge Grants will go to show teachers how to use education technology and to fund demonstration projects that improve teaching and increase student access to technology.

Linda Roberts, ED’s special adviser on education technology, told eSchool News that the doubling of the Challenge Fund —from $200 million in 1997—was a tangible sign of the government’s commitment to the Technology Literacy Challenge issued by President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore on Feb. 15, 1996.

The President’s Challenge called on business and community leaders to join forces with educators to guarantee that every student in America can use computers and the internet to prepare for employment in the 21st century.

Here are the goals of the challenge:

• Equip all classrooms with modern computers;

• connect all classrooms to the internet;

• develop engaging software and networked learning content to help all students meet high standards; and

• prepare all teachers to integrate new technologies into the curriculum.

Roberts said the law reflects “an unprecedented policy decision” and credited President Clinton and Vice President Gore with winning congressional approval of the technology initiatives—one of the few issues in education to enjoy bipartisan support on the Hill, she noted.

“They both get it,” Roberts said, referring to Clinton and Gore. “They understand that schools shouldn’t be the last place where we think about technology.”

As he signed the measure in a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, President Clinton underscored the teacher-training component of the law: “I want to emphasize that a big part of this legislation provides investments to make sure that our teachers have the training they need to maximize the use of this new technology.”

Some observers, however, said the funding isn’t enough. David Moursund, executive officer of the International Society for Technology Education, pointed out that technology spending makes up only a small percentage of the total federal education appropriation of $34 billion—not nearly enough to wire all the nation’s schools and provide training for teachers.

“It’s really just a drop in the bucket in terms of the problem,” said Moursund. “The feds can’t do it all by themselves, but hopefully this will seed progress in technology spending.”

The Challenge Fund provides noncompetitive formula grants to state education agencies. Those grants, in turn, will be used for competitive funding to local education agencies (including local school systems) that are using new technologies to improve education.

The Technology Innovation Challenge Grants are intended to complement the work of the Challenge Fund by developing and refining new applications of technology that make significant contributions to school improvement.

The Challenge Grant initiative includes $106 million—an increase of 86 percent from last year’s $57 million—to support up to 30 new projects. Half of the new projects will focus specifically on helping teachers learn educational technology. The law also renews the funding for many existing technology projects.

The Challenge Fund was created by the Technology for Education Act of 1994, under the primary sponsorship of Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M.

“The primary focus has long been on obtaining high-tech equipment for our schools—and not on training to use it effectively,” Bingaman said. “Clearly, computers and the internet are effective teaching tools, and students who have access to this technology will be in a far better position to succeed in tomorrow’s work force.”

The technology funding represents the largest spending gain of any program in ED’s overall $34 billion budget. The Labor, Health and Human Services and Education appropriations bill was passed on Nov. 8 by a 352-65 House vote and the next day by 91-4 in the Senate.

In state-by-state allocations California will come away with $46.5 million, followed by New York with $37.7 million, and Texas with $35.3 million. A table of state-by-state funding allocations can be found at the ED site:

http://www.ed.gov/offices/OUS/Budget98/StateTables/techlit.html

For more information about the Technology Literacy Challenge Fund, contact your state education agency directly. Or call ED at 202.401.003 or 1.800.USA.LEARN.

Links:

Department of Education—Technology
http://www.ed.gov/Technology

International Society for Technology in Education
http://isteonline.uoregon.edu

State-by-State Funding Allocations
http://www.ed.gov/offices/

tags

ASD school web sites face probe

The American School Directory (ASD) is under fire. The internet-based marketing operation sells magazine subscriptions on some 106,000 home pages bearing the names of every private and public school in the United States—including yours. Now, the Connecticut attorney general’s office is looking into allegations of misrepresentation and unfair practices aimed at ASD by educators across the country. And Apple Computer Inc., a major ASD sponsor, has dropped its support of the internet project.

In spite of the controversy, ASD and its parent corporation, Computers for Education Inc., a subscription marketing firm in Murfreesboro, Tenn., have refused to close web pages that have been posted on the internet without the knowledge or authorization of most schools.

Computers for Education is a 12-year-old direct marketing company that reportedly returns a portion of its magazine-subscription proceeds to schools for technology purchases. At ASD web sites, which the company acknowledges are made to resemble a school’s own, visitors are hit with the company’s sales pitch for magazine purchases.

ASD, according to its web site, is supported by IBM, Vanderbilt University, the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), and the Greensboro, N.C., magazine marketer Innisbrook Wraps.

Under Investigation

ASD’s right to use publicly available information — such as a school’s name, address, enrollment figures, grade ranges, administrative personnel — is not disputed. But some educators — and Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal — are concerned about how the web sites appear to visitors. To the casual viewer, the sites look like official school web sites. But they are not. In most cases, schools did not design or endorse their ASD page. Furthermore, they have no ability to regulate what goes on sites bearing their names.

“It’s unconscionable to take public information and tag on a money-making venture,” said Randall Collins, superintendent of the Waterford (Conn.) public schools. “They’re making something off of this.”

ASD has made some attempts to accommodate schools that don’t want the company soliciting funds on their behalf. ASD says it will place a disclaimer banner or supply a hot link to a school’s official web site — but only if specifically asked to do so. And the features that create the look and feel of a school home page — such as an alumni directory, “creative corner” for art work, news and weather, and “Create-A-Note” — will remain.

“Obviously, it was designed to look like a school site,” acknowledged Tom Crook, CEO of Computers for Education. “It was built that way.”

Jon Carson, president of the Family Education Network, agreed that ASD seems to be capitalizing on schools. Carson’s web site also provides web pages to schools — the difference, Carson says, is based on a sense of mission and community partnership.

“There’s a business strategy there, not a mission,” said Carson, referring to ASD. “They want your school to sign up for their fund-raising program.”

It’s not a strategy likely to cull favor with schools, Carson says. “If your organization isn’t mission-driven, educators can sense it. It shows through in your decision-making.”

NASSP Continues Support

But not all educators take issue with ASD. NASSP, for example, continues to sponsor the directory project.

Superintendent Collins expressed surprise to learn that NASSP sponsored the site and has tried to call association officials to voice his concerns. “You think they’d be sensitive to the abuse of the internet, [the ASD] making money off high schools,” Collins said. “I don’t understand the persistence of NASSP. That’s their bread and butter, membership from high schools.”

Robert Mahaffey, NASSP’s director of communications, told eSchool News his association will stand by the ASD. “We think it is a good support service for schools,” said Mahaffey. “Our intent was to make home pages available to all schools. For us, it was an equity issue.”

At the urging of Collins and others, the Connecticut state attorney general’s office is conducting an investigation of the ASD. State Attorney General Blumenthal told eSchool News his office is looking into possible misrepresentation and unfair trade practices.

“In many instances, it may appear that the site is endorsed by a specific school if no disclaimer is properly displayed,” Blumenthal said. The attorney general’s office wants to ensure that visitors aren’t left with the impression that ASD sites are endorsed by individual schools.

Apple Computer Inc. originally signed on to draft a manual that would help schools set up their own home pages.

“Based on [educators’] concerns, Apple chose not to renew its one-year contract with ASD,” said John Santoro, manager of public relations for Apple’s education division.

Apple’s interest was in encouraging schools to build their own home pages and begin online projects. “What we saw developing made us choose not to continue our relationship,” Santoro said. “Based on customer feedback, we had to re-evaluate. We chose to step away and focus our energies elsewhere.”

At press time, IBM had not responded to questions about the status of its support for ASD.

“School Store” Dispute

ASD has disabled the fund-raising mechanism on each site, unless a school specifically has requested otherwise. Through the online sales of magazines, an online explanation states, “as much as 40% of every purchase” goes toward a designated school. Schools can receive their cut in the form of ASD “technology points” or as cash rebates. If a school opts for cash, it reportedly receives 50 cents on each dollar represented in “technology points.” If it opts to redeem the “technology points,” it may do so with only seven specific vendors, such as MicroWarehouse, a specialty catalog retailer.

NAIS Issues Warning

ASD’s operation seems to have touched the sorest spot with private schools, which keep tight controls on their publicity and fund-raising campaigns.

The National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) warned its members about the ASD site in a recent newsletter. NAIS said it turned up inaccurate information ASD provided at a school site. The group said it believes most private schools have no idea they’re even listed.

According to ASD’s Crook, all school stores had been removed as of Dec. 9. But a spot check on the same day by Margaret Goldsborough, a spokeswoman for NAIS, found otherwise. She said: “We’re disappointed to see the school store buttons had not been removed.”

NAIS is conducting its own legal probe into the matter, she said: “We’ll continue our investigation; we’ll continue our battle.”

The school store buttons, because they are part of the generic school home page template, will not likely be removed. If you click on the school store button of a school that isn’t participating in the fund-raising activity, you’re brought to a page urging you to visit ASD’s Family Magazine Catalog, where “up to 40% of all new and renewal subscription dollars are given to [your school] . . . .” Two paragraphs later, there’s a note suggesting you visit another school, because the one you’ve chosen has not yet signed up to be a member.

NAIS is concerned about ASD because private schools raise an estimated $350 million in funds each year. Tuition and fees cover only about 80 percent of the cost of an independent school education, NAIS said. Consequently, private schools rely on gifts from alumni, parents, and friends to make up the remainder.

Casual visitors would have to explore features of several ASD school pages to realize that certain features — such as the “alumni directory” — are based on identical, generic templates.

So far, according to Crook, only about 500 schools have contacted ASD to have the disclaimer banner put on the sites bearing their schools’ names. Crook is adamant about not removing a school’s home page.

“That’s where I draw the line,” he told eSchool News. “I mean, is this an America’s school directory, or isn’t it?”

Superintendent Collins is dissatisfied with that response. “They must stop giving the impression through interactive features — not just the school store — that we’re in cahoots,” says Collins. “I don’t want to give the impression that we’re benefiting from or endorsing anything.”

ASD is reluctant to work with school leaders who call with concerns, according to the superintendent. Collins, who has contacted ASD a number of times, said the company wouldn’t tell him, for instance, how many technology points his school would need to make a purchase.

Collins also pointed out that, through the “Create-A-Note” function on ASD web sites, anyone can communicate with his students in a way that appears to be school-sanctioned.

The issue is especially sensitive because it involves the new frontier of online communications. Collins is concerned about answering to parents when he’s powerless to control what’s said or done on the ASD web site. “People actually think that I can change this,” he said.

So who is responsible? Not the company, according to its web site. In its disclaimer, ASD’s parent company asserts it is “under no obligation to monitor the information residing on or transmitted to this server, and assumes no responsibility for any harm or damages that may be incurred by its users as a result of their voluntary exposure to such information.”

There are other reasons schools don’t want their sites confused with ASD’s. Private schools that have invested time and effort in making distinct, sophisticated web sites will be hurt by the confusion, said Goldsborough.

Independent schools also want to retain their special access to donors. “This site is asking our alumni to sign up in the school store and [is] probably splattering their names all over the internet for other solicitations,” said Cathy Meany, technology director of the Shore County (Mass.) Day School. “It’s bad advertising for us.”

Crook emphasizes that the service isn’t just for schools. Using the search functions, for instance, any newcomer can find information about local schools merely by entering the zip code.

ASD’s chief executive said he has been caught off guard by the controversy. “We were blind to the fact that some schools had their own web sites and might object to what we were doing,” said Crook.

One solution some have suggested is to preserve ASD web sites for those schools that ask for them while creating a directory of information on all K-12 schools. Crook ruled that out. Given the way the ASD on-site data base is managed, he said, such a change would be impossible.

In addition to new subscription sales, ASD’s parent company recently announced an agreement to handle lucrative subscription renewals for more than 800 magazines.

Links:

The American School Directory
http://www.asd.com

Computers for Education Inc.
http://www.cfe.com

The National Association of Independent Schools
http://www.nais-schools.org

Connecticut Attorney General’s Office
http://www.cslnet.ctstateu.edu/attygenl/

Apple Computers Inc.
http://www.apple.com

National Association of Secondary School Principals
http://www.nassp.org/

Family Education Network
http://familyeducation.com/index.asp

IBM
http://www.ibm.com

Vanderbilt University
http://peabody.vanderbilt.edu/ltc/general/

tags

School eRate funding under attack

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee and an outspoken critic of the eRate, introduced a bill on Feb. 10 that would tie eRate discounts to internet access restrictions. The move came less than a month after the FCC voted to scale back the collection of eRate subsidies from $1 billion, as originally planned, to $625 million through the first half of 1998.

The FCC’s surprise move lowers the amount of money that telecommunications carriers must contribute to the Universal Service Fund, which subsidizes the eRate. Carriers contribute to the fund based on a sliding scale. Money from the fund is then handed back to companies who service schools and libraries to pay for the discounts.

Maryanne McCormick, a spokeswoman for the FCC, told eSchool News the cutback merely anticipates less of a demand for eRate discounts through the first half of the year than originally thought.

“We don’t want to have money just sitting around in the fund,” McCormick said. “We want to collect only as much as we think we are going to need.”<

McCormick said the demand for discounts will be less through the first six months of 1998 partly because the program is new, and partly because of the length of time it will take before the discounts actually go into effect. The delay in opening the program to applications until Jan. 30 and the 75-day filing window mean that schools won’t receive discounts until April at the earliest.

But many people question whether the FCC is telling the whole story. In the wake of protests by telecommunications carriers, some lawmakers have voiced concern that carriers may raise residential phone bills to offset the cost of funding the eRate. One week before the FCC’s decision, House Commerce Committee chair Thomas Bliley, R-VA, had asked the FCC to delay implementing the eRate to ensure it would not raise residential rates. Such political pressure, many are saying, is the real reason behind the FCC’s reversal.

The FCC has maintained all along that residential rates will not increase because of the eRate. But extra fees have already cropped up on some AT&T and MCI invoices for their business customers.

Educators fear that the cutbacks in eRate funding will spell less money for their schools. “What is unclear about the FCC’s action,” said Don Feuerstein, a senior adviser for the U.S. Department of Education, “is whether it will ultimately reduce the amount of money available for discounts.”

In May, the FCC adopted a $2.25 billion annual eRate cap. When the commission set the cap, FCC Commissioner Susan Ness explained, the agency was trying to reassure telecommunications companies that the eRate was not a blank check and to reassure schools and libraries that the program would have sufficient funds to do what it promised—underwrite their telecommunications services.

McCormick insisted the $2.25 billion cap would remain intact. But she said the FCC is not required to provide subsidies at the maximum level each year unless the demand warrants it.

The FCC will vote later in the spring to determine how much money will be collected from telecommunications carriers through the second half of the year. Unless the FCC approves more than $1.6 billion in subsidies through the second half of 1998—instead of the $1.25 billion originally planned—the $2.25 billion total will not be collected.

Feuerstein offered this scenario: “If less than $2 billion is collected in 1998, but $2.25 billion in discounts are requested by schools, will the difference be reimbursed from the fund? If 1999 collections can’t be used for 1998 expenditures, then they’ve changed the amount of the cap.”

Though FCC officials assured eSchool News that the cap will be met if necessary, the agency has no contingency plan about where to find the money should demand exceed the program’s funding this year.

If potential cutbacks in the eRate funding weren’t enough to worry some educators, McCain’s announcement might have been. The senator, who made his remarks in a statement outlining his legislative agenda for 1998, was not available for comment, but a staff member from his office told eSchool News the bill’s objective would be to “ensure that federal subsidies do not fund children’s access to pornography.”

As details of the senator’s plan emerged at press time, it became clear that his bill would require schools to install filtering software to qualify for the eRate.

Education officials were disturbed by the implications of McCain’s proposal. The press secretary for the U.S. Department of Education, Julie Green, told eSchool News, “We would be concerned about any effort to mandate that schools must follow a particular agenda in order to qualify.”

Telecommunications lobbyists and Democratic aides in the Senate, speaking on condition of anonymity, doubted McCain’s proposal could either pass Congress or win the support of the Clinton administration. So far, the administration has taken a hands-off approach in regulating internet access, leaving decisions about how to shield children from questionable content to individual communities.

That’s the way it should remain, said Kari Arfstrom, legislative specialist for the American Association of School Administrators. “Decisions about whether, and how, to restrict internet access should not be made by the federal government,” Arfstrom told eSchool News. “These decisions belong at the school level.”

Links:

U.S. Department of Education
http://www.ed.gov

Federal Communications Commission
http://www.fcc.gov

Senator John McCain
http://www.senate.gov/~mccain

American Association of School Administrators
http://www.aasa.org

tags

Educast lets you customize internet resources

http://www.educast.com

Educast, an educational broadcast network, also delivers free personalized information to teachers and administrators using the internet. Its selling point is a feature through which you can program your interests, and customized information is then automatically delivered to your computer. Educast’s resources include customized current-events based lesson plans, education news, career development information, stories of community partnerships, and information on the latest software, books, and other classroom resources.

tags

Got questions? AskERIC!

http://ericir.syr.edu

AskERIC is a personalized internet service providing information and assistance to teachers, librarians, counselors, administrators, and parents. It’s a division of the Educational Resources Information Center, a federally-funded national information system sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education, Syracuse University, and the CASE Center. You can post questions to the AskERIC web site, such as how to develop an acceptable use policy, and a specialist will respond within 48 hours. Another feature of the site is a virtual library containing lesson plans, archives of education-related listserves, InfoGuides (online pathfinders to electronic, print, and ERIC resources), and access to other education sites.

tags