‘Cookies’ can bite unwary school personnel

Calories and cholesterol aren’t the only reasons to think twice about cookies these days. Now, electronic cookies received by your web browser are threatening your students’ privacy‹and maybe your own.

In the online world, a cookie is a small piece of information saved to your hard drive the first time you visit a site that uses cookies. The cookie is passed to your hard drive by the web site’s server and is saved in a text file called “cookie.txt.” When you return to that site, the web server is able to identify you by reading information in the cookie.

Cookie files are very small, taking up no more than 4K of space. They are supported by most major browsers, including Netscape and Internet Explorer. Because cookies are passed on to you without your knowledge or consent, they have become a cause for alarm. But not to worry‹eSchool News will brief you on how to safeguard yourself and your students.

Why cookies?

The main purpose of a cookie is to identify a web site’s users and possibly prepare customized web pages for them. When you access a site that uses cookies, you may be asked to fill out a form providing information such as your name and interests. This information is packaged into a cookie and saved on your hard drive.

The next time you visit the same web site, your browser will send the cookie to the web server. The server then can use this information to present you with customized web pages. Instead of seeing just a generic welcome page, for example, you might see a welcome page with your name on it.

Cookies are also used to identify you when you want to access a site that requires registration, such as the New York Times web site. The cookie records the information you give the site when you first register and recalls it when you type in your user name and password the next time you visit. If you didn’t have a cookie, you’d have to reregister each time you tried to access the site.

So cookies were originally conceived to make it easier for you to access your favorite web sites without having to go through a lengthy process of identifying yourself each time you visit. They were also designed to create greater interactivity between a web site and its user.

What are the dangers?

Yet somewhere along the way, the original intent of cookies has been expanded. Advertisers have realized the value of information stored in cookie files as a marketing tool, and they’ve begun using cookies to target ads to you based on your profile of interests and browsing habits.

This has led to concerns about how the information you provide to a site is being used. Some sites have begun selling or trading the information stored in your cookie to advertisers or others.

The less information you provide about yourself or your students, the lower the risk of abuse. Cookies can only contain the information you provide to a web site‹they cannot read your hard drive to find out who you are or where you live.

Even so, concern is growing about how cookies can “track” your surfing habits and store this information for someone else to use.

A case now pending in a federal court might determine whether cookies stored on government (or school) computers are public records (see eSchool News, March), subject to the scrutiny of anyone who wishes to access them, or whether they are private. The plaintiff in the case, the publisher of an online newspaper, filed suit against the town of Cookeville, Tenn., claiming the town government’s refusal to hand over access to its employees’ cookie files violated his First Amendment rights. The newspaper wanted to see what sites the government employees were visiting.

The decision in this case could set a dangerous precedent. (Imagine being fired because your browser’s cookies revealed you’d visited a pornographic site‹when you were only checking whether your filtering software blocked that particular site.)

How to protect yourselves and your students

An informative site called Cookie Central gives information on how to find and edit your cookies in the latest browser versions and how to configure your browser to reject cookies. It also offers cookie demos, frequently asked questions, and information about cookie-blocking software.

The trouble with blocking cookies, though, is that they’re still useful in many ways. Mark Powers, the webmaster for NationalGeographic.com‹a popular education site‹told eSchool News that some areas of his site won’t function properly if your browser is set up to refuse cookies. This is true particularly if students are playing an interactive online game, Powers said.

NationalGeographic.com posts a privacy policy on its home page that tells visitors what type of information its cookies collect and how that information is used by the site. The policy pledges that information is never collected from children under 18 without an adult’s consent and that personal information is never given out to third parties for any reason. Information is given to advertisers only in the form of grouped statistics.

“No web site can retrieve personal information about students that they don’t type in themselves,” Powers said. “Protecting students’ privacy becomes an issue of training‹we have to teach kids not to give out information online.”

Powers suggested that you take steps to limit students’ internet use to sites that are reputable‹for example, those that post a privacy policy such as NationalGeographic.com’s or that otherwise protect their users’ privacy.

“I’m a fan of limiting sites rather than limiting the technology used to browse those sites,” said Powers.

Some software companies make cookie protection software that will allow your browser to accept or reject cookies according to your specifications. Limit Software’s Cookie Crusher is one example. You can configure it with a list of sites that should and should not be allowed to set cookies. This feature allows you and your students to view trusted sites freely, while still protecting your browsing privacy.

Cookie Central


National Geographic


The Limit Software



Gore lashes out at eRate foes: America must close schools’ ‘digital divide,’ Veep declares

Vice President Al Gore, attending a technology conference in Washington late in February, lashed out at opponents of the eRate, pledging to defend the program and charging that legislators who seek to restrict billions in technology discounts for schools and libraries are threatening the future of the nation’s neediest students.

“There are those who would pick the money from the pockets of our poorest schools,” Gore said. “I would like to say to them loudly and clearly: Your effort to block the eRate is an effort to ration information and ration education, and it would darken the future of some of our brightest students. We will not let you do it.”

Gore’s declaration came during the Connecting All Americans conference in Washington, D.C., Feb. 24-27, where fears ran high that Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, is drafting legislation to cut back eRate funds. The eRate program, part of the Universal Service Funds mandated by the 1996 Telecommunications Act, would give $2.25 billion in federal discounts to help public schools and libraries connect to the internet.

No bill to scale back the eRate had yet been drafted, said Mitch Rose, an aide to Stevens. Rose told reporters that both parties are having conversations and floating proposals through both houses of Congress to make alterations to the program.

“Nobody is sitting here saying let’s kill the program; let’s cripple it,” Rose said. “There is just a general concern about the rate increase.”

At issue is $625 million being collected for the first half of the year from telecommunications companies (telecos) to subsidize the discounts. Among the many issues connected to the eRate, the one legislators reportedly fear most is that residential phone rates will be increased to help cover the outlay by the telecos. Business rates, according to Stevens’ office, have already gone up 4.9 percent as a result of the program.

eRate controversy

It was Stevens who prompted the congressional General Accounting Office (GAO) to investigate the Schools and Libraries Corp., the nonprofit organization established by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to administer eRate funds. The GAO ruled in February that the FCC overstepped its authority by creating the organization.

The Senate is expected to hold a hearing on the GAO ruling. And Stevens has asked for an FCC report on the implementation of Universal Service provisions of the 1996 Telecommunications Act. The report is due April 10.

While the Schools & Libraries Corp. (SLC) continues to maintain its official silence on the controversy, one agency insider told eSchool News that the SLC does not expect Congress to act on the GAO’s ruling. The office had collected more than 30,000 applications for eRate discounts within weeks of the program’s official opening in January.

With so many applicants, some are wondering how far funds will go to cover schools’ expenses. Ira Fishman, head of the SLC, said recently that schools “most in need”‹many of whom are entitled to reimbursements up to 90 percent of their technology expenses‹would be awarded funds first, should requests exceed available funds.

If big city schools are put in the neediest category, the SLC’s $625 million first-half funding would be exhausted in a hurry. New York City schools alone reportedly have asked for $200 million in eRate discounts, for example.

Internet School Filtering Act

A bill introduced by Sen. John McCain, R.-Ariz., would force schools and libraries to regulate internet access by means of content-filtering software before they would qualify for eRate discounts.

McCain’s bill, cosponsored by the committee’s senior Democrat, Sen. Ernest Hollings of South Carolina, would require schools and libraries to install filtering software before they could apply for the eRate.

A related measure, sponsored by Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., was introduced last November. Coats’ bill would prevent commercial distribution of online materials deemed “harmful to minors.” Coats is also co-sponsoring the McCain bill, along with Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., whose state is home to Microsoft and the filtering company NetNanny.

“We have an obligation to parents that their children will have some protection when [parents] are not in the home,” McCain said. “That’s what this is all about.”

Many disagree. Critics of the McCain bill are saying it is yet another attempt to forestall the collection and distribution of eRate funds. McCain‹whose campaign contributors have included political action committees of AT&T, Sprint, and U.S. West‹has been vocal in expressing his opposition to the eRate.

To receive a subsidy under the McCain bill, a school would have to meet a new requirement. It would have to certify it was using screening software to protect children from accessing web sites with objectionable content. Libraries would need to have at least one computer available for public use that was running screening software.

McCain’s bill “takes away the ability of schools to make a decision at the local level about whether or not to use blocking or filtering software,” the National Education Association’s John Bernstein told eSchool News. “It puts up one further obstacle to successfully having schools apply for the eRate discounts.”

The bill’s chances of passage are unclear. Observers note that the Republican majority opposes Clinton administration proposals to set voluntary national testing standards. Republican opposition is grounded on the argument that such standards would violate local control. Opponents say local control also would be undermined by a mandate as specific and invasive as the one contained in the McCain bill.

But the CDT’s Weitzner sees the McCain bill as a real threat. “This bill is a very serious proposal and is gathering support daily,” Weitzner said. “[It] could be passed.”

Telecos complaining

The telecos agreed in 1996 to underwrite schools’ and libraries’ internet expenses, but they have since begun to lobby against the program, complaining that internet service providers aren’t being asked to pitch in, too.

FCC Chair William Kennard said the commission is taking steps to help the telecos balance losses.

In the past two years, he said, the FCC has cut access charges for long-distance companies by $2 billion, with the theory that those savings would be used to offset eRate costs.

But there’s no evidence of the impact of those savings, and Kennard sent a letter to the three biggest long-distance companies in February asking them to show cause for believing the savings are not simply being added to company profits.

“If they have chosen to pocket those extra dollars, I want to know about it, and you need to know about it,” he said.

The amount of a school’s discount depends on factors such as the number of free or reduced-price lunches it serves and whether it is located in a rural or urban area.

The SLC set off alarm bells when it announced plans to collect less money from the telecos in the first six months than originally intended. The initial teleco contribution had been pegged at $2.25 billion for the year, but the SLC said it would collect only $625 million for the first half of the year. The agency based the reduction on its stated belief that fewer schools than originally expected would actually be ready to apply for funds in the first half of 1998. SLC officials indicated they could increase the amount of funding collected in the second half of the year to make up for the difference if more schools than anticipated applied right away.

But Gore, Kennard, and others at the Connecting All Americans conference emphasized the need for maximum financing to make sure inner-city and rural schools and libraries have the same opportunities as suburban schools.

“It is critical that we connect all our children to the internet to give them the tools that will help shape their future,” Gore said. “We must bridge the ‘digital divide’ and provide a direct link to all classrooms, so low-income and rural students don’t get left behind. All of us must stand together to oppose those who would take the future from our kids by destroying this program.”

Gore cited numbers from a new study by the Department of Education (ED) that shows the share of schools connected to the internet has nearly doubled to 80 percent and the number of classrooms wired has increased nine times since the Clinton administration took office in 1994.

“We have made great progress,” Gore said, “but it’s not even close to what we need.”

The ED study he cited shows schools with 50 percent or more minority students and 71 percent or more low-income students still lag behind.

General Accounting Office


Federal Communications Commission


Schools and Libraries Corporation


Sen. John McCain



New digital ‘ADSL’ lines will streamline internet access

ADSL, a lightning-fast internet access technology that could make clicking through web pages as easy as flipping through a book, might be widely available to your schools by this fall.

ADSL (short for “asymmetric digital subscriber line”) has been hailed as one of the most exciting developments in connectivity in years, offering zippy speeds over standard telephone lines at reasonable costs.

Larry Plumb, director of media relations for Bell Atlantic’s internet services, said ADSL could be a significant option for school districts. “By increasing bandwidth, you can incorporate more video, graphics, and movement into the medium,” he said. “These applications play a role in helping students become excited about learning and technology.”

Also, Plumb noted, higher bandwidth means faster download time for web pages, so more time can be spent in the discovery process. “Time is at a premium in a 40-minute class,” he noted.

Heretofore, ADSL hasn’t been quite ready for national use. But now, Microsoft, Compaq, and Intel have all joined forces with the regional Bell operating companies (rBOCs) to develop a single ADSL standard, which would satisfy the demand for faster, affordable internet access. Meanwhile, U.S. West has announced plans to offer ADSL to its subscribers in 40 cities across 14 states by the end of June.

ADSL explained

ADSL would allow connection speeds up to 30 times faster than the fastest modems commonly available. Because ADSL works over regular telephone lines, it’s expected to be cheaper and easier to install than the two better-known means of getting a high-speed hook-up to the internet‹specialized lines, such as the T1, and cable modems.

Digital subscriber line (DSL) technology increases the rate at which data can travel across regular copper phone lines. ADSL is one type of DSL technology, called “asymmetric” because it offers a faster connection to your desktop (the direction techies call “downstream”) than from your desktop (“upstream”). Currently, ADSL can support downstream rates of up to 1.5 Mbps. By comparison, ISDN lines allow speeds of “only” 128 Kbps.

ADSL is not a new technology. But previously, it was very expensive. Because technicians had to install voice-data splitters at each customer’s location, telecommunications companies would charge more than $250 per month for ADSL.

Now, a new “splitterless” technology is being developed that would eliminate the necessity of a house call and make ADSL access as easy as buying a DSL modem, for about $200. Because of the lower installation and service costs made possible by splitterless DSL, or DSL “lite,” monthly ADSL service is expected to run as low as $40 per month.

Universal ADSL working group

In tandem with the arrival of splitterless technology, some of the biggest companies in the computer industry have thrown their support behind ADSL. Microsoft, Compaq, and Intel have teamed up with the five Bell companies, as well as GTE, Sprint, and numerous networking technology companies to form a consortium called the Universal ADSL Working Group (UAWG).

UAWG officially launched on Jan. 26. The group’s goal is to develop a single standard that would accelerate the deployment of ADSL technology to thousands of users. Having a single standard would enable an ADSL modem to communicate through any network. In current ADSL technologies offered throughout the country, the equipment used in one place is not necessarily compatible with the hardware used elsewhere.

Industry analysts are saying that such broad support from the telecos and the computer industry might be just what is needed to push ADSL into widespread use. “[UAWG has] all the major players,” said Barbara Ells, an analyst with the internet watching Zona Research Inc. “It’s a great step forward for internet access.”

U.S. West jumps in

Some telecos already are promising splitterless ADSL service by the end of the summer. U.S. West announced it would make ADSL available in 40 cities among its 14 states within the first half of the year, using a version of ADSL technology that does not conform to the standard that UAWG is developing.

Mike Roulea, vice president of marketing for U.S. West, said his company will use a technology known as Multiple Virtual Line (MVL) because, he said, it solves all the deployment problems UAWG hopes its standard will solve, plus it’s available in the near term.

“We’ll use this system because it’s available now, and it’s the only thing I’ve seen that can work like today’s modems from the customer perspective,” Roulea said. If UAWG comes up with a standard by year’s end and equipment becomes available, Roulea said, then U.S. West will use that equipment as well.

The problem with waiting, Roulea said, is the tremendous demand for faster internet access. Users simply can’t wait until a new standard is developed and new equipment is put up for sale.

Other telecos may follow U.S. West’s lead.

Bell Atlantic spokesman Plumb said his company is pushing to make ADSL available by third quarter 1998‹whether a standard has been developed or not.

“There’s such a huge demand for more bandwidth,” he said. “We certainly would like a standard technology, but at the same time, we’d like to make ADSL available as soon as we can.”

One big “if”

One characteristic of the technology might keep some remote school districts from reaping its benefits. ADSL can operate only on lines that have relatively short runs (typically less than 20,000 feet) to the phone company’s central office.

Plumb said that “rate-adaptive” technology‹in which the signal is sent out in 64 Kb chunks‹could help increase ADSL’s range to some extent, but he acknowledged that many schools in rural areas would not have access to ADSL. “My best guess is that between 60 and 90 percent of our customers would be eligible for ADSL service,” he said.

Despite its geographical limitations, the potential for ADSL might be enormous. With a theoretical upper limit of 8 million Bps, ADSL connections one day could transmit the complete works of Shakespeare to your schools’ computers in under five seconds‹and all you’d need is a special modem and a service provider.

Universal ADSL Working Group


U.S. West


Bell Atlantic


Reading is the secret to writing successful grant proposals

No, that wasn’t a copy of War and Peace that hit your desk last week. It was the application guidelines from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s Telecommunications and Information Infrastructure Assistance Program, whose guide to 1998 funding is almost as unwieldy as its name.

Despite its heft, the NTIA/TIIAP (as it’s known by those in the biz) is actually one of the user-friendliest guidelines you’ll see from the government‹or just about anywhere. I helped a nonprofit organization apply for one of these babies last year and was impressed then, as I am today, with the department’s clear, succinct advice on filling out its forms and writing the project narrative. And heck, they even share excerpts from successful grants in the past. How many programs bother to do that?

So I thought I’d take this opportunity to talk about reading an application guideline, or RFP (request for proposals), as it’s often called.

Why bother?

“The first thing I would tell people is read the guidelines,” says Don Druker, an NTIA/TIIAP program officer. “Which is almost like telling people who buy a computer to read the user’s manual.”

Now, I’m one of those people who will dig the manual for my computer out of its carton only as a last resort. But I learned early on that there’s only one way to win a federal grant: figure out what they’re looking for and then be that thing.

To do this, you have to read the guidelines.

Are applications from those who’ve read the guidelines really so different from those who haven’t?

“Oh yeah,” says Druker. “You can tell that right away.”

There are several reasons to become intimately acquainted with a grantor’s guidelines.

First, you endear yourself to the funder. The panel who’s reading your proposal will see that you took the time to consider the priorities. You will distinguish and endear yourself for not wasting their time with a project that’s inappropriate.

You find out what they’re looking for! This is extremely important.

Druker says that the Number One problem he sees with the grants that come into his office is that the proposed project doesn’t address the funding priorities. Funding priorities tell you want the grantor wants to see in a proposal. Every grant-making body has them‹from the feds to your local Catholic diocese.

Apparently it bears saying again: Funders want to fund projects that they want to fund. It’s really that simple.

Finally, you save yourself time by applying your limited resources to the areas where you expect the highest success.

It’s tempting to send your stock proposal to everyone under the sun in the hopes that someone will grab it. This kind of scatter-shot approach, however, is not the best use of your time and energy.

Jenine Korfant, who writes grants for the Independent Residential Living facility in Indiana, agrees. Like most fund raisers in nonprofit agencies, Korfant has limited resources to meet her organization’s budget needs. “Really make sure what you’re proposing matches their priorities,” she advises. “Don’t waste your time doing something that’s not a fit.”

Showing such disregard for your readers is also likely to alienate funders who may be interested in another proposal of yours down the road. You risk burning a bridge that you might need later on.

What to read for

Only by reading the guidelines will you understand how your project fits into the program’s funding priorities. When you have a thorough knowledge of what a funder will and will not support, you can create a persuasive argument that clearly states why this funder‹and not any other‹must help meet your need.

“We find a lot of projects that are in search of a funder,” Druker said. “People don’t read the guidelines, or they do with their own agenda in mind. That can produce a document that’s very much at cross-purposes to the funder.”

So, first, understand the grantor’s priorities. Then, learn how to prepare and submit your application. And, finally, understand how to persuade this audience to give you money.

In my mind, anyway, this means you’ll need three different colored highlighters.

Put the really important things in pink, which I find an alarming color:

€ how funds can and cannot be used

€ page limits and formatting rules

€ funding priorities

€ mailing/drop off address and number of copies

€ funding priorities

You must also‹pronto‹find the application deadline and determine whether this is the date the application package is due in the office, or if it’s a postmark deadline. In the case of TIIAP, it must be “received by NTIA no later than 9:00 P.M. EST, March 12, 1998.” Now, that’s pretty clear.

Use another color, good old yellow, for secondary information and any general suggestions, such as “Do not use pointers to online resources.” You really don’t want to irritate your readers with small violations.

And in green mark passages that will help you when you sit down to write. Highlight any buzzwords that you might use in your proposal. TIIAP buzz, for example, includes “haves and have-nots” and “underserved.” The TIIAP guidelines also say that this year’s emphasis is on projects that “deploy, use, and evaluate” the use of information infrastructure as their goal. Should your goal statement includes these words? Oh, I think so.

Also mark excerpts from successful proposals. TIIAP is more generous about giving you good models to follow than most other guidelines‹use this to your advantage.

When you’re examining these excerpts for their content, remember too to look for any stylistic hints. It’s just as important to note the style of the passage: “We expect patient’s self-esteem and satisfaction with their hospital stay to increase,” reads one proposal excerpt from this year’s TIIAP guidelines.

Did you notice how the applicant used pretty common, everyday words? There’s no “inflated” language or overwrought phrases. Nice sentence.

You’ll also notice that it’s written in the first person. This is a highly contested point in the grants writing world that you should approach with common sense. If you can put a sentence into the active voice (“we believe” as opposed to “it is believed”) and you’re writing about a subject like self-esteem (and not mortgages), the first person is perfectly fine, as the crafters of the TIIAP guidelines aretelling us.

Pulling it all together

Another thing to read for is the overall structure of your application package. With TIIAP, you’ve got 40 pages for your application‹including your eight-page project narrative and 32 pages of appendices. Your budget information and some of the forms will make your application package even larger.

You’re not wrong to quake a bit by the task before you. But it is manageable if you read the guidelines for help.

I use the guidelines to create a master control document where I identify each section of the application: project narrative (and all the subheadings under it), budget, the various appendices and forms, etc. Then I’ll indicate my own deadlines for completion and who needs to be involved in pulling that part together.

Druker emphasizes that a common problem with proposals is a lack of coherence. Weak proposals, Druker says, feel as if they’ve been written by a committee of different people with different ideas about the project and limited knowledge of all the funding priorities.

“It really causes applicants to lose points,” Druker says. Inconsistent, haphazard proposals can, at best, confuse your readers or, at worst, give the impression that your organization is slipshod and lacking in solid management‹not an impression that inspires trust.

The project narrative

One of the hardest parts of your application package will be the project narrative. Here’s where a deep understanding of the guidelines and priorities can set you apart from the teeming others.

Some RFPs simply ask you to “describe your project.” Jeez, where to begin, huh? Luckily, the TIIAP guidelines tell you how to organize your project narrative. TIIAP suggests that you organize your narrative around the review criteria‹project purpose, project feasibility, community involvement, reducing disparities, and evaluation, documentation, and dissemination‹an excellent suggestion. Other RFPs won’t be so clear. In those cases, you want to do the same thing: find the review criteria and make those your subject headings.

Yes, use subject headings! It will help the review panel find the information they’re looking for. If you’ve got a boldfaced, underlined section titled “Project Feasibility,” for example, you’re telling your audience that you’ve considered this area. If you’re weak on feasibility and it’s one of the main criteria for awards, hiding it won’t help you.

Use the review criteria to help you think your project through completely.

It’s a good idea to begin an outline in a document where you can type in “buzz words” and other helpful phrases from the guidelines. Under “community involvement,” one of the criteria for the TIIAP, I’d certainly make a note that the reviewers will be looking for plans for “training end users, upgrading their skills, and building community awareness and knowledge of the project.” These can even become sub-headings of their own. This way, you build a useful outline of the elements you’ll need for your proposal as you go through the guidelines. It makes the task of building a persuasive project narrative much easier if you break it down into components. And if those components can be structured on review criteria the panel knows to look for, so much the better!

Reading for Budget

Druker says the second biggest problem he sees with applications is when the “budget tells one story and the narrative tells another story.” The story your numbers tell need to be as persuasive as your words, and they must jibe with your needs statement and your project activities. Nothing kills a proposal faster than numbers that seem inflated or, on the other end, naively optimistic.

Going over the guidelines will help you understand what you can and can’t do with your budget.

Your budget needs to conform to the program’s total project cost specification. NTIA, for example, will contribute up to 50 percent of the total project cost, unless you can document extraordinary circumstances that warrant a grant of up to 75 percent. This is all very helpful to know!

The TIIAP outlines specific project cost categories for you to use. These are pretty consistent categories you can use in other grant proposals that don’t offer such specific guidelines: personnel (salary for project staff), fringe benefits (health insurance, social security, workers comp, retirement benefits of the full-time personnel); travel; equipment; supplies (office supplies); contractual (contractual services and consultant fees); and other (telephone, office space, etc.).

You might also be asked to write a budget narrative. The TIIAP guidelines offers helpful models of a budget narrative. You might take a look at this section even if you’re not applying to the NTIA‹it’s that helpful.

Reading the proposal will also tell you nifty little facts such as…to be eligible to receive a TIIAP grant this year, you’ll need to have already applied for the eRate Universal Service Discount before purchasing telecommunications services with grant funds. You won’t be able to use federal or matching funds to cover the costs that can be covered through your eRate discount. In addition, you can’t count your Universal Service Fund discounts as matching funds.

Now, if I were writing this proposal, I’d have a dozen questions about this. When exactly should I have applied for eRate? How do I prove this? What are “costs that can be covered” and is that costs before the discount or after? And I’d be keeping a list of questions to ask my program officer when I call him or her to discuss my project.

Yes, call the program officer

A tip: develop a relationship with your program officer. It’s the most important thing (after reading the guidelines!) that you can do to help yourself win grants. But you must do your homework. If you call one of the helpful people at TIIAP and say, “What kind of projects are you giving money for?” they’re likely to hang up on you and add your name to the Giant List of People Not To Take Phone Calls From. (OK, I can’t prove that such a list exists, but I’ve felt like there’ve been a few with my name on it before.)

Let’s face it, these are busy people who are constantly being appealed to. Don’t waste their time by calling unprepared.

Do call, though. It’s good to get your name into their heads somehow, and if you’re lucky you can get them to listen to your project and offer you some of the good insider guidance you won’t find in the RFP.


Grant Awards

$1.5 million to1998 Curriculum Grant Program award winners

Microsoft Corp. announced the winners of its 1998 Curriculum Grant Program to reward high schools and vocational schools for innovative uses of technology in computer science, programming, web development, and information systems curricula. More than $1.5 million in software licenses were awarded to 44 schools representing 20 states: Alabama, California, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Washington, and Wyoming.

Awards ranged from $18,000 to $6 3,000 in software per school. As part of the award, faculty members have agreed to post their curricula on the Academic Cooperative web site.


Illinois: $100,000

The Fox Lake School District in Illinois has been awarded a $100,000 grant by the Illinois State Board of Education to improve technology use. Portions of the grant are earmarked for more computers and audiovisual equipment. District Curriculum Director Sandra Schuenemann, who applied for the grant, told local reporters that it will also fund staff training to ensure the new equipment is successfully used.

North Carolina: $75,000

Leland Middle School in North Carolina has received a $75,000 School Improvement Grant funded by the federal government and awarded by the state Department of Public Instruction. The grant will pay for 17 new computers and will fund after-school and evening computer and word processing tutorials for students and parents.

NetDay Grants from Bell South

The Bell South Foundation has announced several recipients of its 1998 NetDay grants, awarded to schools in the Southeast to encourage the use of the internet and telecommunications technology in their curricula.

1998 ShowCase Grants ($10,000 each) went to:

Charlotte-Mecklenburg School System, and Goldsboro Middle School, North Carolina; Bethel-Hanberry Elementary School and Blackville Public Schools, South Carolina; R.T. Danneel Magnet, New Orleans Science and Mathematics High School and Joseph C. Clark Senior High School, Louisiana; Booker T. Washington High School and Saint Bernard Academy, Tennessee.

Grants of $2,000 each went to:

Cotswold Elementary School, Charlotte, N.C.

Starmount Elementary School, Charlotte, N.C.

Sunset Park Elementary School, Wilmington, N.C..

L.A. Cook Middle School, Winston-Salem, N.C. .

Canterbury School, Greensboro, N.C.

Myers Park High School, Charlotte, N.C. .

Paul Knox Middle School, North Augusta, S.C.

Airport High School, West Columbia, S.C.

Whitesides Elementary School, S.C.

Silver Bluff High School, Aiken, S.C.

Mitchel Road Elementary School, Greenville, S.C.

Ella C. Pittman Elementary School, Harvey, La.

William J. Guste Elementary School, New Orleans

St. Anthony of Padua School, New Orleans

St. Agnes School, Jefferson, La.

O. Perry Walker Extension School, New Orleans

John McDonogh Senior High School, New Orleans

Eleanor McMain Magnet Secondary School, New Orleans

Edna Karr Magnet School, New Orleans

Joseph C. Clark Senior High School, New Orleans


El Paso’s savvy Pat Sullivan has bandwith to burn

At a recent eRate seminar in Colorado, Pat Sullivan fell to comparing her district’s internet-access speed with a contingent of colleagues from Silicon Valley. Sullivan, executive technology director from El Paso, Texas, let it slip that her schools have cable access to the internet.

“They were salivating at the mouth,” laughed Sullivan.

She has a right to be gleeful. The scorching speeds her school district achieves on those cable lines clock in at somewhere between 4 and 10 megs per second. That’s about 100 times faster than a residential telephone line.

And it’s not costing her a dime.

The El Paso Independent School District, together with two other El Paso school systems, are the first in TexasÐand only the seventh in the nationÐto receive free cable access from Time Warner’s Road Runner service. The El Paso Independent School District is the largest system in the city, with nearly 70,000 students in 83 buildings.

If industry watchers are right, cable could become the standard in accessing the internet for schools. More classrooms are wired for cable than for telephones, according to a recent study by Cable in the Classroom. To attract city contracts, cable vendors such as Time Warner are offering free cable internet access to public schools. Sullivan heard about the offer and began working to make it happen in El Paso.

El Paso was ready for cabled internet service because it had been chosen for another Time Warner project five years earlier. Extensive fiber optic cabling was laid around the city, Sullivan said, but the project for video on-demand bombed.

Residential cable internet service began in October in select homes. (Not surprisingly, Sullivan’s house was one of those beta sites.) Schools started using the service in January.

Four of El Paso’s high schoolsÐ El Paso High, Burges High, Irvin High, and Coronado HighÐaccess the internet on 25 workstations they were given free by Time Warner. Each of the other 77 schools is being supplied with five free workstations. Over the next three years, Sullivan expects to tether the rest of her schools to the cable network.

Sullivan says El Paso has suffered some setbacks as a result of the NAFTA Treaty and is struggling to retrain its workers for a high tech workplace.

“Our technology plan works in concert with city and county efforts in this regard,” she says. The district is beginning a Cisco Academy that will certify interested students in networking hardware and configurationsÐjobs skills that are in great demand in El Paso, according to Sullivan.

Sullivan, who was preparing her district’s eRate application when she spoke with eSchool News, says machines and modems are now her greatest need. There aren’t even computers in all of her classrooms.

But those she has are flying.

“It’s lightning fast. Just click and bam, everything is there,” Sullivan says. “It just makes it all happen.”

Up & running

Sullivan took the technology helm at El Paso Independent School District in July of 1997. Before that, she was director of technology at Socorro Independent School District, a smaller district, also in El Paso. A district re-organization had lumped together two departments that had been operating independently, and Sullivan was given jurisdiction over both the purchase and classroom use of technology.

Since then Sullivan has worked to get a strategic plan for technology written, reviewed, and approved. She helped persuade the school board to commit the resources necessary to install cable in every classroom for access to eMail and the web via a Wide Area Network.

This is the first year of Sullivan’s plan, and the district already has begun building the district hub and has an eMail server ready for all employees and students. The cable access allows wired schools to have video-conferencing as well. In the fall, high school students will be able to take postsecondary classes through the use of the two-way video technology.

To support the infrastructure, Sullivan says, a large staff-development session will be held for teachers over the summer. “The biggest challenges involve seeing that the teachers and students realize the full potential of what is being offered to them,” Sullivan says. She emphasizes that technical implementation as well as the staff development must progress together. “Support groups for all need to be ongoing.”<

Meep meep

Sullivan loves to cite the fact that, with cable, the entire text of Moby Dick can be downloaded in about four seconds.

Those speeds will slow down somewhat as the rest of El Paso plugs its computers into the cable. Data bandwidth is shared by users in individual homes, so performance varies depending on how many customers are actively using the system at any given time. But Road Runner guarantees a “worst-case” bandwidth exceeding that of ISDN service, and that worst case assumes continuous, maximal usage by every user in a neighborhood, simultaneously.

Other Road Runner sites are in San Diego, Calif.; Tampa Bay, Fla.; Oahu, Hawaii; Portland, Maine; Albany, Binghamton, Corning, Elmira, Norwich, Troy, and Saratoga, N.Y.; Akron, Canton, Columbus, and Youngstown, Ohio; and Memphis, Tenn.

El Paso Independent School District


Road Runner



SLC’s eRate contingency: For the first time, Fishman reveals how feds would handle possible eRate funding shortfall

ORLANDO, Fla. — If eRate funding can’t cover all those who apply, schools most in need will go to the head of the queue, said Ira Fishman, head of the Schools and Libraries Corporation (SLC) that administers the eRate program. Fishman spelled out his eRate funding hierarchy during the Florida Education Technology Conference (FETC) here on March 7.

Fishman’s explanation was the first indication of what would happen if eRate requests exceed available funds.

The schools “most in need” are also those slated to get the largest payments ‹reimbursement for up to 90 percent of their covered technology expenses.

Because large urban districts have filed for the biggest amounts in total discounts, audience members protested, the $625 million being collected for the first half of 1998 could quickly disappear.

New York City alone, for example, has applied for $200 million in eRate discounts, according to one FETC attendee who questioned Fishman.

Joe Salvati, who is preparing the application for New York City schools, wouldn’t say exactly how much the consortium is going in for, but acknowledged that the figure is in the quarter billion ballpark‹although it “could be substantially less,” he told eSchool News.

The four-day FETC conference drew some 16,500 people from coast to coast to the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, according to FETC organizers. The K-20 educators came to learn about education technology and browse a huge exhibit hall full of products and services.

Topic A on the agendas of most convention-goers was the eRate. Fishman spoke to that issue during a panel discussion with Linda Roberts, the director of the Department of Education’s Office of School Technology, and two local officials.

The SLC has come under close scrutiny lately by lawmakers seeking to introduce legislation that would limit the eRate. One strategy taken by legislators was to question the legitimacy of the SLC, which administers the eRate. Fishman declined to comment on the ruling, issued in February by the congressional General Accounting Office.

Fishman was responding to audience concerns about recent bills introduced to restrict funds to schools and libraries for internet access. Several audience members raised questions about the availability of funds.

Acknowledging that the agency had received over 21,000 applications in the six weeks since the application window opened, he said requests ranged from “very, very small” to “large numbers [from] large systems.”

Applicants are vying for the $625 million collected from telecommunications companies. One audience member‹who later described preparing his school’s eRate application as “sheer hell”‹made this point: If the $625 million were to be evenly distributed only among those applicants who already have applied, each would receive only $30,000.

That’s when Fishman revealed for the first time that, in the event of a short fall in eRate funding, the discounts won’t be distributed evenly but on the basis of student economic status.

Fishman added that the agency is optimistic the eRate program will survive, despite recent actions on the part of lawmakers to derail the program.

“Doing anything new in Washington is hard,” Fishman explained. But “even those in Congress who raise questions [about the eRate] are very careful to say, `We support this program.'” Legislator’s questions are about how best to distribute funds, Fishman said, not whether to do so.

“At the end of the day whether this program survives will depend on whether it works in schools and libraries,” Fishman said. As part of the evaluation of the eRate program, Fishman said, the Federal Communications Commission is expected to retain an academic institution to determine the program’s impact on students.

This means schools that receive eRate funding in 1998 should be prepared to document in 1999 the positive ways they used the money.


ISPs target AOL price hike with cheaper access rates

The decision by America Online (AOL) to raise its monthly rates from $19.95 to $21.95, beginning with its April billing cycle, had many analysts predicting other internet service providers (ISPs) would soon follow suit. Instead, some service providers are choosing to lower their rates, in hopes of snatching some of AOL’s customers‹and perhaps your schools. Some 21 percent of the nation’s schools use AOL for internet connections.

AOL’s move could be good news for schools, according to Kate Delhagen, senior analyst with Forrester Research. “I expect we’ll see a flurry of competition now,” said Delhagen. “We’ll look back on this as a turning point when some of the local [telecommunications companies] got serious about getting consumers online.”

Several companies are looking to lure unhappy AOL customers. U.S. Internet, a Minnesota-based ISP that boasts tens of thousands of customers, has launched a program called “1-888-LEAVE-AOL.” EarthLink Network Inc., is countering with a “Get Out of AOL Free” campaign.

As the nation’s largest internet access provider, AOL was already a target for marketing campaigns by the competition. But the online service giant alienated many of its customers by raising rates while its empire continued to grow.

AOL claims its price increase is necessary to keep pace with the rising costs of its members’ usage. “Our expanding members have told us‹and their usage demonstrates‹that they want us to continue to provide AOL on an unlimited basis,” chief executive officer Steve Case said in a statement. “The price changes…will help AOL continue to make the necessary investments to provide the best possible online experience.”

Telecos could ultimately have the advantage in the pricing war, because they can offer bundling deals for their customers that other ISPs cannot. MCI long distance customers, for example, can have unlimited internet access for $14.95 per month.

America Online


U.S. Inernet Leave AOL


EarthLink Network





Virtual high school is nothing but net

A publicly funded virtual high school is now operating in the central region of Florida. It may soon offer students in Orange and Alachua counties an opportunity to earn diplomas without setting foot in a classroom. All their instruction would come via the internet.

Numerous schools have started programs that let students take courses over the internet. But most of these programs are intended to supplement a student’s in-class learning, not replace it.

With the blessing of Florida Education Commissioner Frank Brogan, The Florida High School (TFHS) aims to become a fully accredited, online public high school able to confer diplomas. It will be the first such institution in FloridaÐperhaps in the country.

Current technology makes such a program entirely feasible, but is it desirable?

Absolutely, says Julie Young, TFHS’ principal for curriculum and instruction. The benefits for students who are motivated to succeed, she said, could be enormous.

“Any time, any place, any path, any pace”

“Research shows that many kids drop out of school just because they’re bored,” Young said. “In an online format, students can learn at their own pace. Our motto is, ‘Any time, any place, any path, any pace.'”

Not only can students learn and progress as quickly as their abilities will allow, said Young; they also can receive more individual instruction if they need it. Because teachers are free to spend additional time with students on concepts they are having trouble understanding, students aren’t left behind to struggle on their own in the wake of the material.

Carol Mitchell, who teaches the math portion of the school’s SAT prep class, agreed. “In a traditional school, I felt like I could never spend enough time with the kids who needed help. Here, I can provide a lot of one-on-one coaching.”

Young noted that many students simply don’t thrive in the structure of a traditional school setting. “I feel we’re meeting the needs of many students who aren’t being reached,” she said.

Luke Levesque, a junior at Winter Park High School, cited distractions by other students as the reason he decided to take his computer programming class online at TFHS. “I’m a lot more comfortable at home,” he said.

Young outlined several other cases in which distance learning offers an advantage: students who are supporting their families and would otherwise have to drop out of school; child professionalsÐmusicians, actors, athletesÐwho are often out on the road; children of divorced families, who must shuffle back and forth between two homes; and children of parents who travel for a living.

“Every day, I get a phone call that presents a new scenario,” said Young.

Though in its first year, TFHS actually dates back to the summer of 1996, when three teachers and a technology coordinator in Orange County began putting classes on the web. Around the same time, Alachua County officials were writing a request for a distance-learning grant.

That Florida state endowment, a $200,000 “Break the Mold” grant, provided the initial funding to cover the program’s administrative costs. At the suggestion of state officials, Alachua and Orange counties collaborated on the project, then called “Web School,” and the program was offered as a seventh period class for students of the two counties during the 1996-97 school year.

Now, 170 students from six school districts are enrolled in TFHS courses, such as algebra, American government, economics, and web design. Though students currently must attend classes at a geographical school as well, TFHS expects to add enough classes to offer a complete high school education to its students within three years.

Fuel for controversy?

TFHS officials are seeking full-time equivalency funding from the state to make this happen. But the idea of a fully online public school makes some people uneasy.

One question often posed to school officials is whether the absence of socialization or extra-curricular opportunities would inhibit students’ personal growth.

“Home schoolers have been dealing with these kinds of issues for years,” said Young. She pointed to a variety of opportunities for students to socialize and interact with their peers, such as community centers, clubs, organizations, and sporting leagues.

Also, Young said, all courses at TFHS require communication with other students as part of the curriculum. Students often are required to work in teams or collaborate on projects via eMail, and they discuss class material online. Many courses also require students to interview members of the community and report on what they’ve learned.

Another question Young frequently fields is how the integrity of student work is monitored online. Final evaluations for all classesÐwhether in the form of an exam, a speech, an explanation of a portfolio, or participation in a labÐare held in person, she said. Students must provide proof of their identity, and the evaluations determine whether students have done the work themselves or not.

Perhaps the biggest question facing the program is how to replace the benefits of daily, in-person interaction with teachersÐand how to keep kids on task without direct supervision. Although the school’s teachers spend a great deal of time emphasizing course requirements, communicating what is expected of their students, and maintaining contact with students by phone or eMail, Young admitted the lack of face-to-face interaction could be a problem for some students.

“We do our best to prepare students for the type of experience they’ll be embarking on, and to make sure they understand what it will require,” said Young. “But not every student is ready to assume that kind of responsibility. That’s going to be a constant challenge for us.”

Funding still a hurdle

TFHS could certainly help Florida’s overcrowding problemÐa crisis facing tens of thousands of schools nationwide. President Clinton has proposed $20 billion in zero-interest bonds over the next two years to build new schools and provide relief for overcrowded classrooms. Online schools such as TFHS would help stem the problem as well.

But first, the school must get the full-time equivalency funding it is seeking. The problem is one of logistics more than politics. “No one knows how to fund an organization that does not have seat time and attendance,” said Young.

While surprisingly few voters have questioned the wisdom of funneling education dollars into an online high school, Young said some school employees have expressed concern about losing part of their own funding to TFHS.

“We need to find or develop a funding model that is a win-win situation for all parties involved,” said Young.

The Florida High School



eSN Special Report: ‘Interactive Curriculum Systems’ Replace ILS

If you think the instructional computer programs we used to refer to as “integrated learning systems” are big, rigid, and focused only on repetitive practice ‹ what critics call “drill and kill” ‹ take another look. Software companies are selling automated curriculum services in smaller, less-costly packages, adding more sophisticated instructional design, and giving teachers more control. Some are even integrating the internet into their systems.

For all their development, integrated learning systems‹or “interactive curriculum systems (ICS),” as they now might more accurately be called ‹still do what they were designed to do back in the late 1970s. By integrating many hours of instructional material, assessment tools, and a “manager,” they:

  1. Assess a student’s weaknesses and strengths.

  2. Create individualized instruction by selecting from their integrated lessons and exercises the material the system deems best suited to a student’s needs.

  3. Manage instruction so the student is led through the material in small, sequential steps. When a step is mastered, the “manager” introduces the next step. If a step isn’t mastered, the manager reteaches the material.

  4. Create detailed student performance reports, allowing a teacher to spot problems easily and intervene.

“The real value of the program is its ability to individualize instruction,” says Anne Vietmeyer, technology coordinator at the Gunston Elementary School in Lorton, Va.. Gunston has been using Computer Curriculum Corp.’s “SuccessMaker” system since 1994.

“Each student can work at their own level. With a very large range of ability levels in a single classroom, the program becomes a tool to meet the many individual needs in the classroom,” says Vietmeyer.

Computer Curriculum Corp. (CCC) and Jostens Learning Corp.(JLC) are the largest providers of interactive curriculum systems. When sales of their regular courseware are added to their ICS revenues, they rank as the country’s largest creators of K-12 educational software. Each holds about 18 percent of the K-12 market, with sales exceeding $100 million a year, according to sources in the industry.

The other K-12 ICS providers are TRO Learning, Inc., which in the school market focuses on grades 7-12, SkillsBank Corp.(grades 3-12), American Education Corp.(grades 1-12), and New Century Education Corp. (K-10).

From the beginning, automated curriculum services were controversial.

Critics complained their drill-and-practice instructional design was ill-suited to modern education with its emphasis on learning through experience and creativity and on students’ abilities to work cooperatively, synthesize, and communicate.

Critics also complained the systems were inflexible. The computer pretty well determined the instructional program. If it didn’t teach to the standards the school was accountable for, tough. If the teacher wanted to integrate software from another company into a lesson, or even just modify a lesson, there was little choice. And if the system didn’t suit a child’s learning style, too bad.

Plus, the systems were big and expensive. Their market was largely limited to Title 1 schools that could use federal money to buy them and that needed their reports to meet Washington’s hunger for paperwork.

“Clients wanted the ‘manager’ to be more open and flexible,” said JLC President Terry Crane. “They wanted assessment to be aligned with the assessment they are being held accountable for. Curriculum needed to be more tutorial and less drill and practice. They wanted more problem solving and more writing activities. And they wanted systems to be less costly. That’s the way all of our new products are being developed.”

Jostens is not alone. All ICS companies are responding. One of the most important developments has been the increase in flexibility. ICS managers now give teachers greater control, and most allow users to include third-party software in their lessons. American Education’s “A+dvanced Learning System” permits teachers to rewrite lessons completely, even to the extent of editing video and sound.

Another big improvement is the addition of instructional designs that go far beyond drill and practice. All ICS companies have added sound, graphics, and video for aural and visual learners. For K-4, for instance, CCC has just launched “Math Corner,” which includes many of the popular “manipulatives”‹at least graphical renderings of them‹that kids can move around on the screen.

To help students learn by doing, ICS companies have introduced problem-solving exercises and activities such as writing exercises, science simulations, and the creation of multimedia reports. To support these activities, they have added tools, such as a word processor, spreadsheet, graphing tool, and project planner.

For example, American Education’s “MediaWeaver” and CCC’s new “Reading Adventures Primary,” which teach reading and process writing, include a word processor. In May, TRO will launch “Mathematics Problem Solving,” the first of a series of releases that will add problem-solving throughout its curriculum.

In a typical TRO exercise, students prepare greenhouse lilies for a spring sale by managing temperature and moisture.

“The student uses an array of on-screen tools‹a flow chart, a graphing engine, a calendar, thermostat, and temperature charts,” says John Super, TRO’s head of marketing.

Ann Henson, Jostens Learning’s vice president for sales operations, says, “We not only want to teach content. We also want students to use tools to solve problems and to communicate. That’s what they’ll be doing in the real world.”

Another development in instructional design is the inclusion of theme-based instruction. JLC’s courseware includes thematic units. Moreover, Jostens breaks lessons into parts, so teachers can create themes from pieces of different lessons.

“Our system breaks the curriculum down to activity levels,” says Henson. “A lesson on fractions may include 10 activities. The teacher can reorder the sequence of activities. She can also delete and add activities. And if she finds a cool third-party ‘edutainment’ package that helps kids add fractions, she can insert it wherever she wants.”

In February the company launched “Vital Tools,” which can search all the instructional resources available to a teacher to find material for use in constructing units.

“A teacher who wants to build a unique thematic unit‹on money, say‹will want to be able to read about money, do math about money, and study the history of money. We have given teachers the ability to pull apart Jostens curriculum and use it in ways we haven’t thought of. But it could take a lot of time to construct a thematic unit. Vital Tools takes care of searching for you,” says Henson.

Introduction of new instructional designs creates a need for new assessment techniques. But computers do poorly at grading many recently added learning strategies, such as writing exercises and the use of manipulatives.

CCC and American Education are among the first ICS providers that have begun to address the issue. For each student, they create a “portfolio,” which is a folder where work done on the computer is stored for review and grading by the teacher.

Another area of development is in the use of the internet. TRO is delivering lessons of its “PLATO” ICS over the net, with more than 1,000 hours of instruction available, the company says. Jostens Learning is pilot testing internet delivery of its lessons.

American Education, CCC, and Jostens all have products that work with their interactive curriculum systems to bring internet web sites into their lessons. Earlier this year, SkillsBank launched a module that teaches internet skills and that can take students to a SkillsBank web site to practice.

While ICS companies have been adding to their systems, they’ve also been breaking them up and selling pieces at lower prices. A complete version of CCC’s SuccessMaker K-8 costs approximately $2,000 for every computer licensed to use it. A school that wants to use SuccessMaker on 25 networked computers will pay something around $50,000. The price rises to hundreds of thousands of dollars when SuccessMaker is installed on a district network serving several schools. And there are ongoing licensing and maintenance fees.

TRO Learning has a $300,000 contract to install its “PLATO” ICS throughout Illinois’ U-46 school district.

To bring prices down, CCC in 1997 introduced “ClassPacks”‹one subject for one grade (for example, a course in grade-three reading, complete with assessment and management tools).

Jostens also has introduced modules, offering its flagship ICS, “Tomorrow’s Promise,” by grade and subject. A new stand-alone version of Tomorrow’s Promise (grade one spelling) costs $99.95 for use on one computer. Language arts for one grade costs $279.95. Algebra for grades 7-12 costs $1,049.95.

SkillsBank also sells modules, although its systems never were as comprehensive, or as expensive, as the others. Rather than offering their comprehensive curriculum, SkillsBank sees itself as a supplement that teachers can use to teach basic skill. So SkillsBank’s system includes fewer hours of instruction.

A full, networked SkillsBank installation covering grades 9- 12 runs $6,000-$7,000. Stand-alone modules that include assessment and management tools cost as little as $149.

TRO and American Education systems traditionally have been sold in modules, and New Century President Dennis Tarzian says his company will follow soon.