Properly employed, ICS works

Interactive curriculum systems (ICS) have shown that when well-used, they raise students’ standardized test scores. But they have yet to show they consistently improve performance in areas beyond the scope of standardized tests, such as writing ability and real-world problem-solving.

One of the best studies of how well ICS does with basic skills comes from the United Kingdom’s National Council for Educational Technology. It focused on whether interactive curriculum systems could improve pupils’ numeracy and literacy skills‹the stuff of standardized tests.

The evaluation looked at eight British schools using Computer Curriculum Corp.’s SuccessMaker. The study concludes that for numeracy, pupils using SuccessMaker achieved significantly higher results than the control groups. For reading, the findings are less clear: Some SuccessMaker students did better and some did worse than control groups.

The study also finds improved student attitudes and self-esteem. Teachers appreciate being freed of mechanical aspects of teaching. It concludes, “The role of the teachers was found to be crucial in achieving learning gains in literacy.”

Students do best when they use the program regularly, have sufficient time on the computer, and are well-supervised. Teacher training is essential.

Similar gains have been seen when an ICS is used effectively in U.S. schools. At Gunston Elementary in Lorton, Va., the Iowa survey showed sixth-graders who used SuccessMaker math for one school year gained in grade level a little more than a year and a half. Fifth-graders gained almost 1.6 years, and fourth-graders gained just over one year.

Similar successes come from schools using systems by Jostens Learning, TRO, SkillsBank, American Education, and New Century.

But not all schools are success stories. Some complain of technical problems, delays, and poor service. Some are disappointed with students’ performance. ICS companies say poor performance is due to systems being poorly implemented or used ineffectively.

ICS companies now are expanding their courseware to teach critical thinking and other more complex skills. Evidence is insufficient to assess their effectiveness in attaining these objectives. At this point, anecdotes are all we have to go on. But indications are that interactive curriculum systems may be successful at this level, too.


Software pirates in your schools could make you walk the plank

It is estimated that violations of computer software copyrights cost software publishers $2.8 billion a year in the U.S. and $15.2 billion worldwide. As could be expected software publishers have become increasingly aggressive in their attempts to enforce their rights.

What you can’t do

The copyright protection on software is fairly clear ‹ you can’t use what you haven’t paid for. (Shareware, free ware, and public domain software, as the names indicate, are exceptions to this ‹ because owners exert limited or no copyright authority.)

Typically, a software license sets out the rights and limitations for the use of software. Generally, the limitation is to the program and one backup copy. Licenses can also be purchased for multiple copies or for use by the entire organization. Most major software publishers allow you to purchase software licenses according to your specific needs.

The copyright statute (17 U.S.C. 101 et seq.) prohibits

€ duplicating software for profit,

€ making multiple copies for use by different users within an organization,

€ giving an unauthorized copy to another individual, and

€ commercial renting, leasing, or lending of software without express written permission

You may make one backup copy of software for your own use. No other copies may be made without specific authorization from the copyright owner. The law does provide an exception for nonprofit educational institutions. It allows for the “transfer of possession of a lawfully made copy of a computer program by a nonprofit educational institution to another nonprofit educational institution or to faculty, staff, or students.” This exception allows the complete transfer of the program ‹ it does not give educational institutions authority to make additional copies of software.

What can happen if you do

If found in violation of copyright laws, an organization or individual can be prosecuted criminally or found liable for damages in a civil action. Criminal penalties for copyright infringement include fines up to $250,000, jail terms of up to five years, or both. In addition, the copyright owner can pursue the violator in a civil action and get an injunction, actual damages (lost profits), statutory damages (up to $100,000 per infringement), and costs and attorneys’ fees.

What you should do

To protect the school district from possible liability, you can implement a number of procedures and policies:

€ Make employees and students aware of their responsibilities and restrictions when using software. Many people are unaware of the restrictions and thus pirate software inadvertently. Draft a memo explaining these restrictions and send it out ‹ or cover the restrictions during any computer inservice training.

€ Consider asking employees and students to sign a software code of ethics, setting out the rules and regulations for software use.

€ Consider, as some districts have done, enacting policies prohibiting students and employees from downloading or uploading copyrighted software.

€ Conduct an internal audit to make sure there are enough licenses to cover the programs the district runs. You can purchase software commercially to run an audit, contract with an audit service provider, or conduct it manually yourself. Audits should be conducted regularly. Any illegal software discovered during the audit should be deleted.

€ Consider purchasing a network metering package if you run programs off a shared server. This restricts the number of simultaneous users according to the number of licenses purchased.

€ Most importantly, make someone in the district accountable. A software manager should monitor software used and keep a good inventory of licenses.

The Software Publishers Association has dedicated a portion of its web site to the copyright his issue. It provides information that can help you come into and stay in compliance with software copyright laws. The site offers a “Sample Software Policy and Procedures,” including a suggested auditing policy and a software code of ethics.

Software Publishers Association<


Add spice to your web site: Try slicing and dicing your audience

Looking for some fresh ideas to spice up your web site?

“Content is King!” is a common web mantra, but how do we make sure that the information we post is relevant, timely, and truly “news you can use”?

Like good cooking, strategic communication on the web takes advanced planning and attention to detail. The key to creating savory web sites is to slice your audiences into wafer-thin segments and then develop your content accordingly.

“Segmenting” is dividing up your audience and their needs and interests so that you can give them content that’s appropriate. (Advertisers run beer commercials during the Super Bowl. You see the point!)

Rather than lumping all parents together as one massive audience, try segmenting their needs and interests by grade level, neighborhood/proximity to the school, shared values, technology access and sophistication, years of residency, employment, community activities, or level of involvement in the classroom.

Then, identify several opinion leaders in each of these segments. Opinion leaders are those “EF Hutton” folks whose ideas, concerns, values, and interests influence the opinions of others in their group: Whether they represent business executives or the maintenance crew…When they speak, people listen.

A matter of focus

Now, take a look at what your web site offers these newly identified VIPs. You may discover that your home pages simply repeat the district’s promotional brochure or offer a limited menu of poor quality photos, calendars, enrollment procedures, and maps.

You may need to regroup. The critical question you need to address is, “How can our web site help each target audience in a unique and time-saving way?” If you can’t answer the question, you might need to: 1) find out more about your audience’s communication needs via a “pop up” survey, “guest book,” or other research techniques, or 2) pursue a different channel of communication.

The key to targeting any audience more effectively is to focus on their cares, concerns, values, and interests. Too many of us focus only on what we think is important, as evidenced by the rash of board members’ photos, discipline codes, and curriculum “mumbo-jumbo” scattered across the nation’s school web sites.

Maybe elementary school parents would appreciate teachers’ tips on choosing high-quality books or toys, child rearing, helping with homework, coping with divorce, or juggling family and work demands.

Most parents are also desperate for online information and registration for after-school activities, summer camps, and enrichment programs. To add even more value to your web page, add links to related community resources on the web, such as the YMCA’s latch-key program or the zoo’s junior safari classes for kids.

For high school parents, try providing information and links to reputable sites on career planning, technical training, job market forecasts, summer internship opportunities, local colleges and universities, and college search and financial aid sites. At the very least, provide eMail addresses for your guidance and counseling departments.

By segmenting your audiences with greater precision and by matching your messages (content) to their needs and interests, not only does your web site become a preferred communication channel for your key constituents, but you also strengthen your school’s position and image as a valuable community resource worthy of trust and support.

Did your town’s largest employer just announce a merger or a move? Post sample resumes, and highlight ways your district or community can help adult workers attain the new skills they need.

Model web sites

Here are a few school web cites that match message to audience exceptionally well:

€ A national award-winner, Farmington (Mich.) Public Schools’ web site has special features for specific audiences, including a new alumni information section and an on-line catalog and registration for adult and community education. Farmington’s “Just for Kids” section includes a listing of community youth services, the daily lunch menu, and other news. The “Announcements” pages give parents, staff, and the media a quick, complete look at current district news, activities, and events.

€ Anyone who has helped a teen struggle through a first research paper will appreciate Jackson (N.J.) Memorial High School’s home page, which includes a highly detailed “research guide.” Jackson also offers a virtual tour and updates on block scheduling, computer technology, guidance department services, sports, clubs, and activities. A survey and “eMail us” button help Jackson’s web masters keep their electronic fingers on the pulse of key stakeholders.

€ Francis Tuttle (Okla.) Vo-Tech Center’s “Future of Learning” home page targets students and faculty effectively by hosting special chat rooms and sections designed just for them. Francis Tuttle’s “Cyber Student Union” includes a student forum, online class schedule, tips for building your own web site, ride-sharing information, and campus job listings. Teachers can tap into the faculty “cyber lounge” to discuss business needs in education and other topics. Committed to “one-to-one” marketing and service, Francis Tuttle also makes it easy for patrons to provide feedback on the site or contact staff members with specific questions by eMail, phone, fax, or mail.

€ Our own web site, the Cooperating School Districts (CSD) of Greater St. Louis (Mo.), shows why linking key audience segments with other web resources makes strategic sense. Since adding links to other educational and cultural institutions such as the St. Louis Science Center and Missouri Botanical Gardens, hits by teachers, administrators, students, and other web surfers have increased dramatically, according to Carl Hoagland, director of educational technology. CSD’s link to the United Nations is its most frequently visited site, followed by its online catalog of videos, and correlations that match videos to the state’s new academic standards. Thanks to online ordering, teachers can request audiovisual materials from CSD at their convenience, 24-hours-a-day.

€ Richland County (S.C.) School District One has segmented its home page very effectively, with special features for parents, job seekers, and teachers. (I especially like their “Getting Involved” primer for parents.) Richland also manages to trumpet its good news announcements and updates without slowing down or annoying its web visitors.

Knowing your customers on a one-to-one basis and then building an ongoing relationship with them are the basic ingredients for all effective web communication. Spicing your efforts with personalized, tailor-made information, interactivity, and relevant, meaningful content might just give your marketing mix the additional flavor it needs.

For more information, contact Nora Carr:

Farmington Public Schools

Jackson Memorial High School

Francis Tuttle Vo-Tech

Cooperating School Districts of Greater St. Louis

Richland County School District One


Operation Reboot: Maryland cuts the kid-to-computer ratio

Students waiting in line for a turn at the computer could become a quaint memory if an innovative program being developed by the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) catches on nationwide.

To kick things off, MSDE will be giving 350 refurbished computers to three disadvantaged school districts this spring as part of the new project, dubbed Operation Reboot.

Through Operation Reboot, outdated corporate and federal computers are given new life in schools. It’s an idea whose time has come, said Darla Strouse, director of the office of research and development, in an interview with eSchool News. For many disadvantaged schools, Strouse pointed out, fixed-up 386s and 486s that would otherwise be abandoned are put to good use.

“The reality is there’s pretty good stuff out there,” said Strouse, who’s been leading the effort, a loose collaboration between MSDE, the Department of General Services, and the National Cristina Foundation. “And in many cases the computers can be outfitted even for internet use.”

The project thrives on gifts and donations. Volunteers refurbish systems that have been cast off by area businesses and government agencies. They work in a loaner wing of a local state mental hospital. Computer parts, telephone systems, and other equipment are held in a warehouse space courtesy of Baltimore Gas & Electric (BG&E) and delivered in a retooled Army truck that was given to the project by the Department of General Services.

Operation Reboot has recycled more than $10 million worth of donated computer equipment to schoolsÐentirely for free.

Until recently Operation Reboot has refurbished and distributed about 1,000 computers to schools “on a shoe string” budget each year, Strouse said. But she thinks the project must grow to accommodate several large recent donations. “[W]e didn’t ask anybody for any money,” said Strouse. “I’m not running to my superintendent and saying, ‘I need ten thousand dollars.’ I would like to boost it up because now we’ve got hundreds of computers coming in.”

Although the Maryland program is farther along than many, an increasing number of computer recycling efforts are under way across the country. Operation Reboot is one of the largest, with financial backing from the state and hefty equipment contributions coming in from nearby federal offices. The Social Security Administration office, for example, is expected to unload a slew of computers over the next three years as it upgrades.

Recycling philosophy

Some argue that schools are better off with no computers than with computers that aren’t state-of-the-art, noted Strouse. According to this perspective, “If it’s not Pentiums or doesn’t connect to the internet, it’s useless.”

Many more schools, she said, are happy to take 486 and even 386 processors. “They’re saying, ‘they don’t have to be the fastest, the very best in the world, but we need this,'” Strouse said. She pointed out that teachers are often more comfortable with a level of use more appropriate to less powerful computers.

“It’s a big issue in recycling. If the theory is, we’re not interested in any of the equipment unless it meets these specificationsÐand, of course, the specifications are for machines that no one’s giving away . . . then the whole recycling effort doesn’t make sense.”

But as one Operation Reboot volunteer points out, most of the equipment he sees come in isn’t broken or even frustratingly slow. It’s just not top-of-the-line. For schools in districts such as impoverished Garrett countyÐwhere for two years the technology budget for the entire county was only $35,000Ðaccess to any computer is significant.

Human nature

The project benefits all participants, Strouse said, emphasizing the power of philanthropy. “[Y]ou know how people can’t stand to give away a cardboard box . . . you say, it’s such a beautiful box, what can I do with it? Well, can you imagine how horrible it is in terms of human nature to [throw] away a computer that you know works? The happiness involved in giving this stuff to schools and to kids is a tremendous value.”

Studies show, Strouse said, that private sector workers are inclined to take better care of computer equipment if they know schools are going to use it later.

For every three machines that are donated, Strouse said, 2.5 can be updated and reused. Operation Reboot also gives refurbished equipment to local community groups with education-related projects.

Not all of its gifts are computers. One substantial gift came in the form of Apple software donated to the local teacher’s unionÐto the tune of about $100,000. A nearly new telephone system valued at $20,000 was snapped up by the Baltimore County public schoolsÐone of the most economically disadvantaged systems in the country.

“Baltimore county grabbed it,” Strouse said. “They were thrilled.”

The National Cristina Foundation was founded to provide computers to children with disabilities. Dr. Yvette Marrin, president and co-founder, said the foundation is concerned with developing community-based solutions.

“We broadened that to include disadvantaged kids and special populations,” said Strouse. “We’ve identified twelve districts in Maryland that are really in need.”

Companies that donate their old equipment can take federal deductions. Past contributors include Honeywell, Martin Marietta, and BG&E.

Maryland Department of Education

The National Cristina Foundation

PEP National Directory of Computer Recycling Programs


Best Practices–Internet: Online report cards get an ‘A’ from parents

Parents of Dixon Middle School students in Provo, Utah, now can track their children’s homework assignments, test scores, and attendance via phone or the internet.

The tracking system, called ParentLink, became fully operational at Dixon just weeks ago, and it makes the school one of the first public schools in the country to offer so much information to parents online.

“This will free up teachers to spend more time on individual student development and improvement, and it will help us reach our goal of increased parent involvement,” said Bob Gentry, the school’s principal.

Improving accountability

The ParentLink system is the product of Dixon’s partnership with Parlant Technology, a local company. Gentry said his school began working closely with Parlant six years ago to develop a way to give parents up-to-date information about their children’s grades and assignments.

“As a parent, it’s frustrating when you ask your child, ‘Don’t you have any homework tonight?’ and your child answers, ‘No,'” said Gentry. “We wanted a system where parents truly could be kept informed.”

“This puts more power into parents’ hands,” echoed Gene Paulsen, the system’s administrator. “Students can’t hide their progress reports any more.”

Paulsen, who also teaches vocational education at Dixon, said he has more than 180 students.

Trying to stay connected to all the parents used to be overwhelming. “Now all I have to do is put in their grades, and they’re available to parents and students almost automaticallyÐ24 hours a day, seven days a week,” he said.

When teachers enter their students’ grades and attendance into an electronic gradebook, the ParentLink system loads this information on a central server, where it’s stored and transmitted over phone and internet lines. Parents can call or log onto the system using their child’s student ID and password any time of day to monitor their child’s progress.

Teachers are required to update their student records at least once every two weeks, Gentry said, so parents will have access to the latest indicators of their child’s learning.

“The response we have received from our students and parents has been phenomenal,” Gentry said. “Everyone is so excited about the new system.”

The security issue

Posting grades and attendance online is a practice that might become commonplace within the next few years. Yet for now, the security of such a system has a few people concerned. Mike Aldrich, president of Aldrich Computer Services Inc. questions whether posting grades online is the right way to notify parents of their children’s performance.

“I’d love to know what my child’s homework assignments are online, but for notification of how she’s doing in class, eMail would be better,” said Aldrich. “My feeling is if you could do this by eMail, it would solve some of the privacy issues involved with posting that information to a central source.”

In response to the issue of privacy, Gentry pointed out that Dixon’s system offers two levels of securityÐa student ID number and a passwordÐand noted that the password can be changed any time at a parent’s request.

What about the possibility that a computer-savvy teen could hack into the system and change his or her grade? Paulsen said the files stored at the central server are read-only files protected by Novell Netware security. He couldn’t say unequivocally that a security breach is impossible, but he did insist the chances of it happening are slim.

“As far as security goes, I think we’ve got a pretty good system,” Gentry said.

Wave of the future

Gentry pointed out that teachers are still encouraged to send out progress reports and maintain traditional contact with parents. “Just because we post the grades over the phone and the internet doesn’t mean that parents will always take the time to access them,” he said.

But it’s a great step nonetheless, he added. “How do we motivate students to really care? By having parents who really care. And how do you get the parents more involved? By keeping them informed.”

Dixon continues to work with Parlant Technologies to add features to the ParentLink system, such as more detail on missed assignments. Meanwhile, according to a press release from Parlant, more than 100 schools plan to implement the system by the end of this year.

Parlant isn’t the only company to develop such an online information system for schools. Educational Technologies, a software company in Raleigh, N.C., recently announced plans to release its own version of the technology as part of a total package for administrators called Advantage 2000. Marble Thomas, a company representative, said, “We see this as the wave of the future.”

Dixon Middle School

Parlant Technology

Educational Technologies Software and Services, Inc.

Aldrich Computer Services, Inc.