This page is from the Modern Language Association’s web site. It lists the MLA’s authorized guidelines for citing internet sources. The guidelines include fourteen items to consider when citing a source from the internet and are followed by several examples. Teachers of all subjects may find this site useful in guiding students to use the internet in their research papers and homework.
The web brings the world to your school, but now educators are finding out that it works the other way, too. With more web sites handing your students a virtual worldwide soapbox and megaphone, some schools are wondering if they have any control left over what their students are saying on the internet.
One online high school newspaper called the Bolt Reporter, written by students across the country, has devoted its “Banned on Bolt” section to controversial stories‹many of which have been censored from the writers’ own school papers.
Launched last October, Bolt Reporter is an offshoot of Bolt.com, a free online service for teens. Funded through advertising, Bolt Reporter tackles subjects that might be considered too sensitive in a traditional school setting. Stories slated for March‹all written by high schoolers‹include “Virginity‹is it really an option?” and “Assuming a secret identity: Fake IDs, alcohol, and teens.”
“The internet is a giant underground electronic newspaper,” Ann Brick, staff attorney for the Northern California American Civil Liberties Union, told eSchool News. Brick said students are using the internet to express themselves in ways that traditionally haven’t been allowed in schools, making editorial decisions, even making mistakes. And she applauds it: “In the area of school newspapers, administrators have been unwilling to take advantage of that kind of experience, which is really too bad.”
Banned on Bolt
“Banned on Bolt’s” first story, a report on a Naperville (Ill.) North High School teacher accused of sexually abusing a student, reportedly was censored from the school’s newspaper, the North Star. “When a teacher is fired from working at a school, the student body has a right to be informed,” wrote Adrian Holovaty, North Star’s editor-in-chief and a Naperville North student, in her “Banned on Bolt” article.
Holovaty and five other school reporters wanted to clear up the rumors buzzing around their school. They gathered facts about the teacher’s dismissal, but were told by the principal they couldn’t write anything concerning “student-faculty relations.” Plus, the principal said, he wanted to protect the rights of the girl involved.
The reporters pressed on, writing a short, factual, yet sensitive account that made no mention of the girl’s name. They approached the superintendent, but he supported the principal’s decision not to run the story. So the students took their case to the national media‹where the “Bolt Reporter” weighed in on the students’ side.
Elizabeth Hurchalla, senior producer for Bolt.com, said the “Bolt Reporter” site empowers teens by offering them a venue to express their views online. “Kids can speak out about the issues affecting them without having to worry that their views are controversial or don’t fit their school’s agenda,” Hurchalla said.
Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier
The debate about students’ rights to free speech has persisted for years. Now the internet has opened a new battleground for the debate.
Because a public school is a government institution, it falls under the aegis of the First Amendment. Yet as an educational facility, a school is responsible to its community and is held to the community’s standards of decency‹particularly for its children.
The precedent commonly used to decide when a school has the right to censor its students is the 1988 Supreme Court decision Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier. The Hazelwood standard allows school officials to censor a school-sponsored publication or organization if they can show they have a “valid educational purpose” and the censorship is not intended merely to silence an unpopular viewpoint.
But Mark Goodman, executive director of the Student Press Law Center (SPLC), pointed out the Hazelwood standard is far from perfect.
“The problem with Hazelwood is that it’s an objective standard,” Goodman said. “It’s also not very clear.”
The Hazelwood case upheld a Missouri school’s right to censor stories about teen pregnancy and the effects of divorce on children from a school-sponsored student newspaper. The court ruled that the school paper was not a “forum for public expression” by students, and thus the students’ First Amendment rights did not apply.
New learning opportunities
Brick sees enormous potential for the internet‹which is precisely a “forum for public expression”‹to teach students about the responsibilities that come with free speech.
“None of the justification that has been raised to allow censorship apply [on the internet],” Brick continued. “The imprimatur of the school is on the school newspaper. But that isn’t an issue when the kids are using the internet at home.”
Brick advocates the kind of learning experience provided by the internet‹one where students are allowed to be autonomous, use their own judgment about what is appropriate and what is not, and make mistakes that they can learn from.
Not every school official would agree, however. The New York Times ran a story last week highlighting student web sites that cast schools in an unfavorable light.
One example cited by the Times involved a middle school student in McKinney, Texas, who was transferred out of his computer lab for publishing a site called “Chihuahua Haters of the World.” The school was besieged with protests from animal-rights activists as a result of the site.
“This was a bizarre intrusion on his free speech rights,” Ann Beeson of the ACLU told the Times. “It was a web site created off campus, completely unrelated to school, and he has every right to announce to the world that he goes to that school. It doesn’t give the school any right to exert any power over his web page.” The courts agreed and ordered the school to reinstate the student’s access to the computer lab.
Though legal cases of this nature are still relatively new, Goodman believes the standards of Hazelwood will be what determine whether a school has the right to censor a student’s web page. “Only if it’s a school-sponsored medium‹like a school’s web page‹and the censorship is judged to be for an educational purpose would such censorship be allowed, if at all,” Goodman said.
American Civil Liberties Union
Student Press Law Center
New York Times
A school district will pay $30,000 to one of its students who was suspended for making fun of his band teacher on the internet, according to the Associated Press (AP). In return, the student will drop his half-a-million-dollar lawsuit against the district for the 10-day suspension, AP reported.
Superintendent Beverly Reep of the Westlake school district in suburban Cleveland was ordered in March by a federal judge to reinstate16-year-old Sean O’Brien. O’Brien had been suspended for using his home computer to create a web site disparaging a band teacher.
The superintendent said the district suspended O’Brien for violating a policy forbidding students from showing disrespect to employees. A federal court told the school district to stop trying to restrict O’Brien’s right to free expression.
Superintendent Reep said school officials suspended O’Brien because they thought his web site violated a policy that forbids students from demonstrating “physical, written or verbal disrespect/threat” to employees.
“We felt there was harm done here,” Reep said on March 19. “This is cyberspace, and it’s the first time we’ve dealt with something like this.”
The high school junior doesn’t like his high school band teacher. So the youngster decided to vent his frustrations on the internet. The teen-age baritone horn player built a web site through his home computer dedicated to his problems with teacher Raymond Walczuk. On the web site, the boy called Walczuk “an overweight middle-aged man who doesn’t like to get haircuts” and accused the teacher of favoring some students over others.
O’Brien told a couple of buddies about the site, word spread through Westlake High School, and trouble followed.
While awaiting a full hearing in court, O’Brien returned to school on March 19. It was also his first day back in Walczuk’s class.
“It was pretty much as I expected,” O’Brien said of his return. “It seemed like a normal day at school. There was no conflict with Mr. Walczuk. I went to band class ‹ we did band things, like practicing music.’
The day before, Senior U.S. District Judge John M. Manos had also ordered Westlake school district officials not to restrict what the teen-ager puts on a web site set up through his own computer.
Attorneys for O’Brien and Chris Link, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, said they believe the case is the first of its kind regarding a student’s free-speech rights on the internet.
O’Brien sued the Westlake school board and five district officials, claiming his First Amendment rights were violated. The lawsuit asks for $550,000 in damages.
“We say the situation is analogous to Sean talking to his friends in a coffee shop,” said Kenneth Myers, an attorney for O’Brien. “Why can’t he say something critical of the band teacher? He’s on his own time, he’s on his own turf.”
O’Brien’s web site was on the internet for about three weeks in February and early March, until the student closed it down.
On it, O’Brien posted a yearbook photo of Walczuk along with the teacher’s address and home telephone number. The teen-ager also wrote about several confrontations he had with Walczuk during the school year.
“He likes to involve himself in everything you do, demands that band be your No. 1 priority, and favors people,” the student wrote. “He often thinks that problems are caused by a certain student and/or group of students and no one else.”
Walczuk did not return reporters telephone messages.
Superintendent Reep said high school administrators’ recommended expelling O’Brien but that she decided to suspend him for 10 days. O’Brien served eight days of his suspension before Manos’ order allowed him to return to Westlake.
The teen-ager closed down his web site after his March 6 suspension, but the judge’s order allows him to restore it. At press time, O’Brien said he didn’t yet know if he would reopen the site.
Naval Academy engineer Bob Bruninga has written software that will allow students to exchange eMail messages with the crew of the Russian space station Mir. Bruninga’s software will allow anyone within a 2,000-mile radius of the orbiting station to send an eMail message via the cosmonauts’ amateur radio system.
Bruninga sees teachers using the software to spur an interest in science among their students. “This would be like a chat room for schools, live via Mir, to talk about outer space,” he said.
The software is available to schools at no charge and can be downloaded at http://web.usna.navy.mil/~bruninga/mirex.html. To transmit messages, you’ll need a special radio modem called a terminal node controller, which costs around $150. But any school can monitor the exchanges between other schools and Mir. You can scroll through all the messages being sent, and the location of Mir and the sender appear as blinking points on a map of the United States.
Bruninga’s ultimate goal is to make the site interactive, with cosmonauts and astronauts at computer terminals typing responses to some of the questions that are beamed up from below.
A school in Cloverdale, Calif., is being criticized for its decision to shut down student access to the internet after two local teens were accused of hacking Pentagon computers. Some charge the school overreacted in issuing the internet ban, but school officials disagree.
The two students, sophomores at Cloverdale High School, have not been charged with any crimes, and investigators are certain the school’s computer network was not used during any of the attacks. But the fear of sabotage or retaliation compelled school officials to close down access to the internet for all students at the school on March 5.
An Israeli man suspected of orchestrating the hacks said he was in constant contact with the Cloverdale youths. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu describef 18- year-old Ehud TenebaumÐ who is known as “The Analyzer’ because of his ability to analyze security weaknesses in computer systemsÐ as “damn good’ but also “very dangerous.’
Tenebaum is under house arrest in a suburb of Tel Aviv.
Some 800 government, military, and university networks were “cracked” between February 14 and 25. Hit during the attacks were Army, Air Force and Navy sites, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, NASA, and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
Government technicians were able to trace the attacks back to two internet service providers (ISPs) in Santa Rosa, Calif. The owners of the ISPs, Bill Zane of NetDex and Dane Jasper of Sonic, then tracked the infiltrations backwards to the homes of the two boys.
On Feb. 25, only days after the attack on Pentagon systems, the FBI raided the houses of the teen-agers, seizing computers, printers, and CDs. Neither student has yet been arrested.
Both, however, were told to stay off school computers while the feds continue to investigate their role in the hack, called “the most systematic, methodical, and concerted effort to attack government and military computers ever seen.”
Although the FBI had not contacted the school, John Hudspeth, the boys’ computer science teacher, disabled the hackers’ network accounts and froze their personal directories.
But the next day Wired magazine reported Cloverdale High sophomore Aaron Crayford, one of the alleged hackers, still had internet access at school. Crayford reportedly sent an eMail to John Vranesevich, the 19-year-old founder of the hacker-friendly computer security group AntiOnline.
School officials have been quoted saying they did not know if the published report was true, but decided to temporarily shut down the school’s access to the internet anyway.
“We had tried to limit the privileges of only the two hacking students, to allow the rest of the student body and faculty to enjoy continued online services,” said Bill Cox, president of the board of education. “But either other students were helping our hackers outÐthrough friendship or because they saw hacking as ‘cool’Ðor our hackers had captured other account passwords and were using those accounts in direct violation of our Acceptable Use Contract that all network users sign.”
Threats of further retaliation in the Wired article coupled with attacks on one of the ISPs were enough to convinced Cox that strong action was necessary. “Do we just wait around for our high school server to be trashed?” he said.
Cox might have good reason to be concerned about the school’s network. One of the systems allegedly hacked by the teens was a Michigan K-12 school district, administered by Leonard Peirce. Peirce, a Unix systems manager at the Western Michigan University, spent an entire day reinstalling the operating system at the school and reassigning pass codes to more than 4,000 school staff and administrative network users.
“Anybody that’s connected to the network needs to be concerned about security,” Peirce said. Schools might be particularly vulnerable because, Peirce says, hackers regard K-12 network administrators as “pretty clueless.”
School officials said the temporary suspension was needed to allow them to regroup and learn more about security. Cox also felt that the student body needed to think about the hacking issues in a more reasoned light.
“We were also bothered by an oft-heard student comment that this hacking episode was ‘cool,'” Cox said. “This district holds that hacking is both illegal and unethical. So we decided to engage the whole school in a discussion on the reasons for temporarily downing the net connection and the ethics of hacking.”
A memo that circulated throughout the school read, in part:
“We now see that it is necessary to pause, stand back and review the current status of our electronic environment. Recent hacking episodes have alerted us to issues of security and access that we had not anticipated when we designed our network. Once we work these out, we’ll return with the services that we can securely manage. We can’t say when, we hope it will be soon.”
Joe Simao, president of the student body, said he was disturbed by the decision.
“I think it’s an outrage that these resources are being wasted after being bought and paid for, just because of media hype that may not be true,” Simao said.
The decision to shut down all internet access at the school drew comment from the American Civil Liberties Union as well. “It seemed as if the school might have panicked,” said Ann Brick, staff attorney with the ACLU of Northern California. Brick said she was surprised when she first heard about the school’s action.
“If you had a couple kids who took the tools from their home workshop and used them to commit a burglary, [you] wouldn’t expect the school to shut down its shop class because other kids might use those tools,” Brick said.
Barry Steinhardt, executive director of the Electronic Frontier Forum, pointed out that the allegations against the students have yet to be proven. “It would be particularly disappointing for schools to deny its students internet accessÐwhich is really necessary for their preparation for the worldÐmerely because their fellow students are accused of misconduct off-campus,” Steinhardt said. “There’s an atmosphere out there of ‘blame the internet’ and a fear of the internet which is causing . . . schools to overreact.”
Even Cox admits the policy is unfair. “Is it fair to deny service to 400 kids for the actions of a few students? Clearly not. But right now, we have no selective solution in hand to apply.”
Others think the school was right to suspend access. Nick Tipon, a curriculum resource assistant in technology in neighboring Santa Rosa City School District, said the internet ban is “probably something that I would have done” too. “I’d also want to assess the whole situation.”
Another defender of the school’s action is Bill Zane, owner of the Santa Rosa-based ISP NetDex. NetDex was one of the ISPs that discovered the hackersÐand was subsequently hacked by “Analyzer.”
“To use the information superhighway as a metaphor, you don’t put a kid in the car and turn him out on the highway,” said Zane. Teen-agers’ online activities, Zane said, should be very closely supervised. “It’s one thing when it is a freestanding computer in a corner; it is another thing with computers on the internet.”
Power and prestige
Since Zane spoke to reporters at the San Francisco Examiner NetDex was subject to attack by “Analyzer.” As of March 10, the only information that could be found on the NetDex web site was a letter reassuring subscribers of the safety of their information, and a list of prices. An eMail query to the ISP was returned with the heading “Nobody listening,” and company phones were off the hook.
Cox told eSchool News the duration of the ban was “unknown at this point. When we can securely manage our environment, we’ll resume.”
Cloverdale High’s computer program has been praised for its advanced equipment and training. Currently in the third year of a four-year $256,000 technology plan, the school has spent $192,000 to give its students internet access and other computer experiences. Cloverdale is a high-tech community of 5,500 north of San Francisco.
The motivations of the youthful alleged hackers are unknown. The FBI continues its investigation but refuses to comment.
AntiOnline’s “Pentagon Hacker” Section
Full Coverage from Yahoo! http://headlines.yahoo.com/Full_Coverage/Tech/Pentagon_Computers_Hacked/
Hacked NetDex Page
As the Cendant story and others in this issue make clear, education technology now is inextricably linked to giant corporations. Sometimes for good and sometimes for ill.
In the short term, it’s troubling to see a problem of such magnitude afflict a key supplier of school software. That situation underscores the risk of having the development and distribution of important curriculum applications concentrated in so few corporate hands.
But bigness has its advantages, too. Large companies such as Cendant and The Learning Company can attract substantial programming talent to education products. They also can sustain R&D projects that are often beyond the reach of smaller players.
Enlightened self-interest among corporations also can benefit education. Sun Microsystems, for example, has just announced it has begun making sophisticated web authoring tools available to students and schoolsÐcompletely free of charge.
In fact, engagement with the school field has become central for some corporate behemoths. The Los Angeles Times now reports that education largesse was to be the linchpin in Microsoft’s campaign to burnish its image with the public, Washington regulators, and attorneys general in 11 states.
Nearly every major technology vendor now puts K-12 schools squarely among its most important markets. To the extent that such “most favored” status results in high-quality products and services for schools, this is a commendable trend.
How much we all have riding on the happy outcome of the ever-closer relationship between corporations and education is thrown into sharp relief by yet another report on a corporate development in this issue: McDonald’s decision to begin phasing-in robotic cooking equipment.
Technology is not so slowly eradicating the few remaining refuges for the ill schooled. “Self-service” ran the gas station off the road as a low-skill career choice. It takes an understanding of global positioning satellites and computerized weather forecasting to stay down on the farm these days. And now, McDonald’s has set out to make hamburger flippers and french fry dunkers as common as blacksmiths.
Big business needs your schools more than ever. That’s why you’re so close to their corporate hearts (that and the $30 billion you’ll spend on technology in the next few years).
After Cendant, no one could say immediately how a similar bookkeeping blunder could be avoided in the future. It’s a safe bet, though, that a better-educated work force wouldn’t hurt.
Gregg W. Downey
Editor & Publisher
Hamburger flipping as the last refuge of the unskilled worker might be going the way of the gas station attendant. The change underscores why your schools must prepare every one of your students for more intellectually demanding careers.
McDonald’s, the restaurant chain that has defined “fast food” for four decades, has announced plans to install new computerized and partially robotic kitchens in all its U.S. outlets by the end of next year.
Prototype kitchens tested in a handful of McDonald’s sites have included a computer-driven machine that dumps frozen french fries into a basket, which is dunked automatically into hot oil for cooking. The machine then shakes the fries and dumps them into bins for serving. Robot machines elsewhere prepare drinks.
“This is in keeping with the natural trend of things,” said David Pearce Snyder, editor of Futurist magazine. Snyder sees technology changing the landscape of the labor force‹and warns that schools will need to reflect the change as well.
“We’re automating out of existence the drudgery jobs, and replacing them with jobs that require learning and adapting,” Snyder said. “The blue-collar worker of the future is going to need more higher-order skills to make decisions.”
No more heat lamps
The innovations at McDonald’s are part of a program called “Made for You,” an effort to reduce operating costs and improve the quality of food and service. The machines allow McDonald’s restaurants to serve fresh, made-to-order food that would slow down the old kitchens too much.
Some McDonald’s franchises cook their burgers earlier in the day, then reheat them. Adding a couple of pickles or skipping the “special sauce” can mean waiting another 15 minutes. The new “Made for You” system addresses those problems in an attempt to lure more customers to the burger behemoth.
Gone will be the heat lamps, replaced by computer-run holding bins that regulate the temperature of cooked meat to keep it hot and juicy. By keeping track of the time meat was placed in each bin, store managers know to throw the food away if it hasn’t been consumed after 30 minutes, said McDonald’s.
Other innovations include a computer system to track what items have been selling lately and when the lunch or dinner rush is likely to begin. The computer alerts the staff to start making burgers in anticipation of the rush.
It all adds up to a more efficient process‹and one that Snyder refers to as “informating” the workplace.
“We’re going to see much more of these ‘expert systems’ in the future,” he said. “‘Expert systems’ enable even the lowest of the low-skilled workers to react, make decisions, and provide input based on what the computer is suggesting.”
Snyder said schools can prepare their students most effectively for the workplace of the future by emphasizing simulation-based learning, where students perform hands-on tasks that require decisions and higher-order thinking. Simulation software programs, similar to the popular computer game “Sim City,” soon might become the dominant tools for learning, he said.
“We’re getting rid of jobs that don’t encourage people to rise to their full potential,” Snyder said.
For schools, the challenge has become to prepare all of today’s students for a workplace of the future where the idea of “unskilled” labor is only a memory‹even at McDonald’s.
David Pearce Snyder
The overall number of schools connected to the internet is steadily climbing, but low-income and minority students are still much less likely to attend schools with internet access than are white and more affluent students, according to a new report from the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES), a branch of the U.S. Department of Education (ED).
The study caught the attention of Vice President Gore, who told attendees at a recent technology conference, “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.” That rhetoric now is being implemented in policy decisions by the agency in charge of the eRate program, which was created to underwrite some of the costs of connecting schools and libraries to the internet.
NCES sent its survey to 1,000 U.S. public schools and received responses from more than 90 percent. NCES then sorted the responses according to each school’s size, location, and socioeconomic and racial demographics.
The NCES study reveals that from 1994 to 1997, the percentage of schools connected to the internet has more than doubled. In 1994, when the survey first began, 35 percent of schools had internet access; by 1997, 78 percent of schools had access.
Moreover, the percentage of classrooms wired to the internet for instructional purposes has increased by nine times in the same span, from 3 percent in 1994 to 27 percent in 1997.
Among schools with minority enrollments of 6 percent or less, 84 percent have access to the internet. In schools where the minority enrollment is 50 percent or more, only 63 percent of those schools have access ‹ a 21 point difference.
Furthermore, among schools where less than 11 percent of their students are eligible for reduced-price lunches, 88 percent report internet access. Among schools where 71 percent or more of the students are eligible for reduced-price lunches, only 63 percent of the schools have internet access ‹ a discrepancy of 25 percentage points.
The question of internet access in schools becomes all the more significant in light of another recent study by market research firm Computer Intelligence (CI). CI reports that students from affluent families are more than three times as likely to own a computer at home than their less-affluent peers. The CI study shows that 80 percent of households with incomes of $100,000 or more own a PC, compared to only 25 percent of homes with incomes of $30,000 or less.
According to Linda Roberts, ED’s director of educational technology, the best way to compensate for these differences is to ensure that those students who are least likely to have access to a PC and the internet at home receive that access at school.
“We can’t let the divide between the haves and the have-nots grow even larger,” Roberts said.
Just how these students might be left behind has taken a new turn recently. For years, educators have agreed that computer skills would serve students well in the job market. Now, these skills are becoming essential to succeed in college.
The University of Florida (UF) has joined a growing list of four-year colleges that will require students to own or use computers as part of their degree programs. The UF policy states, “Competency in the basic use of a computer is a requirement for graduation. Class assignments may require use of a computer, academic advising and registration can be done by computer, and official university correspondence is often sent via eMail.”
Other colleges that have established similar requirements include the University of North Carolina (UNC) and Georgia Tech.
Mark Hale, director of UF’s Center for Instructional and Research Computing Activities (CIRCA), acknowledged that students who come from high schools without access to computer-based instruction or the internet might not be as prepared for UF’s computer requirement as students who have had such access.
“But making computers a requirement will actually help students in the long run,” Hale said. “We’re ensuring that the cost of a computer will now be considered in a student’s financial aid package.”
Linwood Futrelle, director of distributed support for UNC’s Academic Technology and Networks department, agreed that college computer requirements ultimately will benefit students. “They’re already at a disadvantage, whether there’s a computer requirement or not,” Futrelle said of low-income freshman. “This will help level the playing field.”
Futrelle said the university is developing training programs to help students who have not had access to computers or the internet in their elementary or secondary studies. Still, Futrelle said, “It’s critical that every child have access at the K-12 level also.”
Leveling the K-12 playing field
The eRate was specifically created so low-income schools and districts could afford networking and internet access. But as of March 10, schools have filed more than 30,000 eRate applications with the Schools and Libraries Corporation (SLC). This raises questions about what would happen if eRate requests exceed available funds.
Speaking at the Florida Education Technology Conference on Mar. 7, SLC chief Ira Fishman said the schools most in need would receive top priority for eRate discounts.
Jodie Buenning, SLC’s deputy director of outreach and communications, confirmed that should the demand exceed the program’s funding, those schools and districts most in need‹as measured by the percentage of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches‹would receive discounts before schools and districts with less perceived need.
If such a scenario were to occur, Buenning couldn’t say whether the SLC would award full discounts on all requested services to schools who make the cut, or cut back on the amount of each discount to spread the discounts around to a larger number of schools. “When we close the application window, we’ll have a better sense of what the demands of the program will warrant,” she said.
Of course, for the eRate to have any success in bridging the digital divide, low-income and minority districts must take advantage of the program. Buenning said the SLC has made a significant effort to raise awareness about the eRate among low-income and rural districts. SLC’s outreach staff has conducted over 100 workshops with schools in rural states such as Mississippi and Montana and districts with high concentrations of low income students, such as New York City’s, she said.
In addition, the SLC has worked closely with minority groups, such as the National Alliance of Black School Educators, to ensure these groups were adequately informed and prepared to apply for their share of the discounts.
How well the SLC’s outreach efforts have succeeded remains unclear. It’s too early to tell how many of the eRate applicants so far are low-income or minority schools, Buenning said.
The school field in recent weeks has been receiving diametrically opposite messages about the Schools and Libraries Corporation (SLC), the agency created by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to handle eRate discount applications.
The agency announced on April 8 that it was doubling its client service staff in an effort to handle the deluge of eRate inquiries pouring in by phone, fax, and eMail. (Schools and libraries must submit their plans to the SLC as a prelude to receiving funding to offset the costs of connecting to the internet.)
At the same time, the very future of the SLC was cast in doubt. On March 31, the Senate approved a bill requiring the FCC to revamp its universal service programs.
The bill, S 1768, would require the FCC to come up with a plan to combine the SLC with the Rural Health Care Corporation, the nonprofit entity that doles out universal service discounts to rural health care providers.
The FCC’s plan, scheduled to arrive in Congress on May 8, also must include a detailed report on how the eRate is being funded.
The measure came in response to a congressional opinion that declared the SLC an illegal institution. Prompted by Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, who also drafted S 1768, the General Accounting Office (GAO) held on Feb. 11 that the FCC had overstepped its legal authority when it created the SLC. The GAO cited a 1945 law that forbids federal agencies from creating or acquiring corporations without congressional approval.
The FCC, meanwhile, has maintained repeatedly that it acted legally when it established the SLC.
Congressional staffers and FCC officials would not comment on whether the proposed legislation would have any impact on the nearly 50,000 schools, districts, and libraries that already have applied for the eRate this year. But one thing is clearÐthe debate over how the eRate will be implemented is far from over.
The FCC has faced heavy criticism about how it has implemented universal service from key members of Congress, most notably Sen. Stevens, who chairs the communications subcommittee; Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., chairman of the Commerce Committee; and Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., a member of both committees. They and other lawmakers argue that the FCC has created a bloated bureaucracy to administer the eRate when the agency itself could have handled this function.
Lawmakers call the SLC’s budget exorbitant. For the second quarter of 1998 alone, the SLC requested $4.1 million in funding to cover its operating costs. That amount is taken from the pool of money earmarked to subsidize eRate discounts to schools and libraries. The National Exchange Carrier Association, which filled in for the SLC before the corporation was organized, had previously estimated that the SLC would spend $7.8 million for the entire year.
Critics in Congress complain that SLC’s salaries in particular are lavish. SLC chief executive officer Ira Fishman reportedly earns $200,000 per year, plus a potential $50,000 bonus. A provision in Senate bill S 1768 would cap the salary of FishmanÐor whoever ends up heading a new entityÐat level 1 pay for government executives such as the secretaries of state or defense, which currently top out at about $155,000 per year.
Testifying before the House Commerce Committee on March 31, Fishman defended the SLC’s budget.
“One of our central operating principles is to minimize administrative costs,” he told the committee. “This is the reason we have built a lean staff and relied upon outside contractors whose costs can be reduced over time as appropriate.”
Fishman’s testimony preceded the April 8 announcement about staff increases. At that time, the SLC had 13 full-time employees in Washington and 84 outside contractors in Iowa and New Jersey to handle the volume of calls and process the mountain of applications received. At press time, Fishman said the SLC had fielded 45,934 calls and 6,500 eMail requests for information, while nearly 50,000 applications have poured in.
Many of the organization’s costs are one-time expenses, Fishman also told the Congress. He cited construction of the SLC web site and development of program-integrity procedures as substantial initial investments that won’t have to be repeated.
Kowtowing to the Veep
But the SLC’s operating costs are not the only point of contention. Stevens and Burns both have questioned whether the collection of fees from telecommunications carriers to subsidize the eRate would raise residential phone rates. Both senators represent rural constituents, many of whom rely on universal service subsidies for their basic telephone service.
At a Senate appropriations subcommittee hearing March 19, Stevens blasted FCC Chairman William Kennard for kowtowing to the vice president’s political agenda of wiring all schools to the internet, at the expense of basic phone service for poor and rural citizens.
“I’m just appalled at the way the [eRate] program has been accelerated for political purposes. I think you’re going to end up destroying the universal service fund,” Stevens told Kennard.
Sources on Capitol Hill said the original language of Senate bill S 1768Ðas written by StevensÐwould have dumped the SLC and the Rural Health Care Corp. altogether rather than combining them into a single entity.
Some businesses have reported increased costs for their telecommunications services as a result of eRate subsidies, but it is unclear what the impact will be on residential consumers or on the universal service fund at large.
S 1768 would require the FCC to provide Congress with a detailed account of how much was contributed to the universal service fund for schools and libraries by five different types of carriers during the second quarter of 1998. The commission also would have to compute the amount recovered by these carriers from their subscribers.
And that’s not all. Stevens and his supporters also want to know exactly how much the eRate program is going to cost. Under provisions of his bill, the FCC’s report to Congress would have to include the amounts requested by schools and libraries through April 15 for telecommunications services, internal connections, and internet access. The FCC also would have to supply a justification for any proposed discounts for schools and libraries that exceed the funding collected through the first half of 1998.
As are many school leaders, members of Congress say they are concerned that the universal service fund will fall short of the money it needs to pay for the eRate. Senate Commerce Committee members John D. Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, expressed just such concerns in a March letter to the FCC’s Kennard.
Rockefeller and Snowe also argued that internet service providers (ISPs) should be required to pay into the universal service fund. Proponents of this ideaÐmost notably long-distance carriers such as AT&TÐargue that ISPs stand to benefit from schools using eRate discounts, so they should have to contribute to the pool that funds the discounts as well.
Other lawmakers, including Sen. McCain, argue that ISPs shouldn’t be required to contribute to universal service. Bringing ISPs under the jurisdiction of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 would be “disastrous to the growth and development of [their] services,” McCain wrote in his own letter to Kennard.
By requiring the FCC to report separately on the amount requested by schools for telecommunications services and for internet services, Congress hopes to get a clearer assessment of how ISPs stand to benefit from the eRate and whether they should be required to contribute to its funding.
Senate bill S 1768, as originally drafted, also would have required the FCC to “prioritize assistance [to schools and libraries] on the basis of need.” But many eRate advocates, including Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., believed that Sen. Stevens’ language split radically from the requirements of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The bill’s current form omits any reference to awarding eRate discounts solely on the basis of need.
Pia Pialorsi, a spokeswoman for Sen. McCain, told eSchool News that McCain planned to introduce legislation of his own that would grant eRate funds first to schools that can demonstrate need. Although such legislation has been tabled for now, Pialorsi said, it remains “on the radar screen.”
Schools & Libraries Corp.
Federal Communications Commission
Sen. Conrad Burns
Sen. Byron Dorgan
Sen. John McCain
Sen. Ted Stevens
Cendant Corp., one of two massive parent companies now controlling the development and sales of most curriculum software, announced on April 15 a nearly $15 billion drop in stock value resulting from bookkeeping irregularities. News of the accounting problem set off a selling frenzy that sent Cendant stock plummeting.
Investors watched Cendant stock lose nearly 50 percent of its value in one afternoon, and employees held their breath as corporate officers struggled to find ways to absorb the $15 billion shortfall.
Cendant’s setback reminded educators yet again of the steady consolidation that has gripped school software vendors for months. Although most analysts were saying Cendant remains fundamentally robust, its financial jolt accentuates one of the risks of having so much school software production concentrated in so few corporations.
Cendant is a $22 billion company whose subsidiaries include Sierra Online, the publisher of more than 200 games and simulation software; Knowledge Adventure, the maker of Jumpstart software for children in grades pre-K through 2; and Davidson & Associates, once a leading independent curriculum software company, that specializes in critically acclaimed interactive science and math programs.
The setback is likely to hamper the battle of Cendant’s school division to depose the nation’s No. 1 curriculum software maker, The Learning Company (TLC).
TLC had just added to its own powerful lineup. In March, TLC bought rival software maker Mindscape for $150 million from its British parent, Pearson Plc.
TLC added Mindscape to its rapidly growing list of acquisitions, which in the past year alone has swelled to include SkillsBank, Creative Wonders, Learning Services, and Microsystems Software, the maker of CyberPatrol internet filtering software. Best known for its ChessMaster software, Mindscape publishes such education titles as GeoBee Challenge, a geography quiz game from National Geographic.
Two days before the Cendant debacle, the electronic newsletter HotWired reported TLC and Cendant together now control 60 percent of the education software market‹up from 50 percent just five months ago.
“It’s incredible consolidation,” said Jeanne Hayes, president of the market research firm Quality Education Data (QED). “Everything is becoming more centralized.”
But the buildup of TLC and Cendant has some people fearing the consequences for schools, HotWired reported.
“These companies, due to consolidation, are offering less choice than before,” said Peter Kelman, an industry consultant and former education instructor at Dartmouth College. “They are not doing the kind of new development that is good for schools.”
The Microsoft effect
The reason for the consolidation is simple: as companies merge, their development and distribution costs decrease. The good news is that cheaper production costs should, in turn, create savings for schools.
But Kelman and others told HotWired that developments in the education software market parallel Microsoft’s achievement of a near-monopoly state in the operating systems market. They fear that larger companies soon will squeeze smaller software makers out of existence. Then, as fewer companies control the market, they will have less incentive to design innovative products.
Valerie Chernek, corporate communications manager for SkillsBank‹now owned by The Learning Company‹disputes such claims.
“[Our merger with TLC] allows us to do a lot of in-depth development that we couldn’t do before,” Chernek said. “We look at it as creating more efficiency.”
The money it has saved in distribution costs, said Chernek, has allowed SkillsBank to focus its resources on developing new products. The company is expanding its Cornerstone line of language arts and math programs for students in grades 3-8, for example. SkillsBank also will debut audio versions of Cornerstone products next month.
Chernek pointed to another benefit from the merger as well: “We never were able to offer pre-school programs to schools before, but now we’re able to take advantage of The Learning Company’s expertise in this area.”
The Learning Company
Quality Education Data