Sen. McCain resurrects push for internet content filters: Children’s Internet Protection Act would require schools to install filtering devices to get eRate funds

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has reintroduced a bill that would require schools and libraries receiving eRate discounts to install filtering software on their computers. The bill–which is nearly identical to last year’s Internet School Filtering Act, a measure that failed to gain passage–is sure to rekindle the debate about how best to shield children from harmful material on the internet.

Introduced Jan. 19, Senate bill S. 97, the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA), was cosponsored by Sen. Fritz Hollings, D-S.C. Hollings is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee, which McCain chairs.

The bill aims to protect kids from sexually explicit material on the web. To be eligible for the eRate, which gives discounts on telecommunications services, schools would have to certify with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that they are using or will use a filtering system on all computers with internet access.

“Web surfers using seemingly innocuous terms while searching the world wide web for educational purposes can inadvertently run into adult sites,” McCain said in a statement. “If schools and libraries accept these federally provided subsidies for internet access, they have an absolute responsibility to their communities to [ensure] that children are protected from online content that can harm them.”

Schools and libraries already approved for the eRate also would have to install filters, because the measure would apply retroactively, said Commerce Committee spokeswoman Pia Pialorsi. The bill would require no specific filtering technology, leaving it to local school and library officials to decide which to use.

Closing the loopholes

Last year’s measure, the Internet School Filtering Act, passed in committee but failed to reach a vote on the Senate floor. Pialorsi said the new bill has a better chance of passing, largely because changes to its language purportedly address its critics’ free-speech concerns.

It gives more direction and closes a loophole, she said, by specifying that schools need only block access to material that is “harmful to minors,” the legal definition of unprotected speech.

The new bill also has been tailored to take into account a federal judge’s ruling. Last November, U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema ruled that the Loudoun County, Virginia, public library system could not constitutionally filter internet access for all its patrons. CIPA would require libraries to install filters on at least one computer that could be used by minors.

McCain also tried to distance his bill from the controversy surrounding the similarly named Child Online Protection Act (COPA), which is being contested in court. COPA, which Congress passed last year, would require operators of commercial web sites that publish material deemed “harmful to minors” to verify users’ ages or face fines and imprisonment.

Unfunded mandate

For some critics, the real focus of concern isn’t free speech, but money.

Requiring schools to install filters without giving them the means would represent “a serious cost consideration for school districts,” said Kari Arfstrom, legislative specialist for the American Association of School Administrators (AASA).

McCain’s statement says filtering technology is eligible for subsidy under the eRate program.

Not so, said a representative of the Schools and Libraries Division of the Universal Service Administrative Co. (SLD; formerly known as the Schools and Libraries Corp.), the agency that administers the eRate.

Sen. John McCain

Sen. Fritz Hollings

Text of S.97, the Children’s Internet Protection Act (in PDF format)

American Association of School Administrators

Schools and Libraries Division


eSN EXCLUSIVE: House Republicans craft bill to kill eRate

At least three members of the U.S. House of Representatives have announced their intention to kill the eRate program, which helps schools and libraries defray the costs of connecting to the internet.

On Jan. 26, freshman House member Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., and returning members Pete Sessions, R-Texas, and Ed Royce, R-Calif., sent a letter to their colleagues soliciting support for legislation being drafted by Tancredo and tentatively called the “eRate Termination Act.”

In the letter, the three congressmen described the eRate as a “backdoor tax” that isn’t necessary, because federal funding already exists to improve technology in schools.

“Our intention is to end the program,” Scott Slusher, Tancredo’s press secretary, told eSchool News. When asked why, Slusher said the congressman is “opposed to taxes–whether you call them fees, or access charges, or whatever.”

Slusher said the bill is still being drafted, but that it would be introduced “sooner rather than later.” Though he did not give any names, he said the congressmen were encouraged by other House members who have voiced their support as well.

The letter is sure to renew debate in Congress about whether the eRate should exist, and if so, how it should be paid for. Criticism of the program began last year when telecommunications companies, which subsidize the discounts through fees collected by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), started passing along the program’s cost to their consumers.

If not for impeachment . . .

Bryan Wilkes, Royce’s press secretary, said the congressman’s office has received “a huge amount of mail and eMail” from voters who are angry about the surcharges on their phone bills. “If it wasn’t for the impeachment hearings, this would be the dominant issue,” Wilkes said. “[Royce] is listening to his constituents.”

Surcharges on residential customers’ bills depend on the carrier, but generally cost about a dollar per line per month–though for business customers, the surcharges are higher. Only 19 cents of every dollar actually pays for the eRate, said FCC Chairman William Kennard; the rest supports high-cost, low-income phone customers under the traditional universal service program.

Another reason the congressmen believe the eRate isn’t necessary, Wilkes said, is a 1998 report from the General Accounting Office concluding that some $12 billion in federal money was available to schools for technology last year–though only $2.5 billion, which includes the eRate, was earmarked specifically for technology in K-12 schools, the report said.

The report, which was commissioned by the House Committee on Education and the Work Force and the Senate Commerce Committee to investigate what the committees termed duplicative sources of school technology funding, was released Sept. 15.

Finally, Wilkes said, the congressmen believe the FCC’s implementation of the eRate is unconstitutional because the agency is imposing a tax that only Congress has the authority to levy. Though the eRate was established by the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the congressmen believe the FCC has exceeded the vision Congress had when it passed the legislation, Wilkes said.

A similar legal challenge to the eRate brought by GTE Communications Corp. is before the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. A ruling is expected this spring. Two other plaintiffs, BellSouth Corp. and SBC Communications Inc., have withdrawn their complaints, believing they can resolve their differences with the FCC out of court.

Deadline extended to April 6

Even as House Republicans were planning the eRate’s demise, the Schools and Libraries Division (SLD) of the Universal Service Administrative Co.–the federal agency that administers the program– announced it had reached the billion-dollar mark in issuing funds.

With the eighth wave of funding commitment letters issued Feb. 10, “We’ve rounded third and we’re headed for home,” said SLD president Kate Moore.

Acknowledging that nearly one-third of applicants still hadn’t received letters, the SLD extended the deadline for filing completed 1999 applications to 11:59 p.m. EST on April 6. In order to be considered in the window, schools must file a Form 470, wait 28 days, then file a Form 471 so their entire application is received no later than April 6.

An additional two to four waves of funding commitment letters need to be issued before 1998 funding is completed, Moore said. The agency’s goal is to get funding commitments into the hands of all remaining applicants in time for them to apply for 1999, she said.

Schools and Libraries Division (formerly Schools and Libraries Corp.)

Rep. Ed Royce

Rep. Pete Sessions

Federal Communications Commission


Apple ordered to refund tech support fees: Schools may be entitled to refunds for $35 support calls that were supposed to be free

Your schools might be entitled to refunds from Apple Computer Inc. if you paid for tech support that was supposed to be free under the “Apple Assurance” program.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced on Jan. 26 that Apple had agreed to reimburse thousands of customers who were charged $35 each time they called for tech support starting in October 1997. Apple also agreed to resume providing the free assistance it had promised for products bought between 1992 and 1996.

Confirm nor deny

In an interview with eSchool News, Apple spokeswoman Rhona Hamilton said she could neither confirm nor deny that schools had been offered the free support as consumers had been. If schools were indeed charged for telephone support that was supposed to have been free, she said, then schools, too, would be eligible for refunds.

The Apple Assurance program guaranteed free technical support for as long as customers owned specific equipment.

The FTC didn’t specify how much the settlement will cost Apple or how many machines were sold under the Apple Assurance program. But if schools were offered the guarantee as an incentive to buy its machines–and then were charged for those support phone calls–it could cost the company a bundle.

Linda Badger, an FTC attorney, told eSchool News that Apple will have to file a report detailing its reimbursements, which she expects to be “significant.”

According to Quality Education Data (QED), Apple sold millions of desktop computers to schools between 1992 and 1996–not to mention the printers, scanners, and laptops also covered by the Apple Assurance program.

“For prospective purchasers of computer products, free access to live technical support is especially enticing,” said Jodie Bernstein, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, in a statement. “Companies that make such offers have to live up to their promises.”

More than 100 products

Apple’s settlement with the FTC applies to the more than 100 models of products that were covered by the Apple Assurance guarantee. That includes Performas, PowerMacs, PowerBooks, and Macintoshes. A complete list of the products appears in the list at left.

“The fact is that they made a lifetime promise, and they need to honor it,” said Matthew D. Gold, the FTC attorney in San Francisco who handled the case.

Industry analysts are saying, however, that most consumers have probably moved on to newer products and won’t need technical support for the older models.

According to the San Jose Mercury News, Apple also faces a class-action lawsuit over the matter. Martin W. Anderson, an attorney in Santa Ana, Calif., told the newspaper that he and Apple are close to a settlement.

Anderson, who is seeking damages for all customers who were affected by Apple’s change in policy, said the FTC agreement would help his case. Before changing its policy of providing free tech support, Apple had “hyped the free services on its web site and in its advertising,” said Anderson.

That change in policy, however, was not so well-publicized. In October 1997, Apple reportedly announced it would no longer provide personal toll-free assistance under the program and would instead begin charging customers $35 a call.

The release announcing the change didn’t say the company would be stopping the free service, according to the Mercury News, but merely said it would adopt the same policy as Microsoft.

“Adopting Microsoft’s $35 per call support policy will enable us to do an even better job of supporting our customers,” the release said, quoting Steve Jobs, Apple interim chief executive.

In the wake of the FTC settlement, Apple has said it will mail refund checks or will credit a customer’s bank account for any amount paid for technical support under the Apple Assurance program. The payments probably will begin after the FTC’s order goes into effect late in March, according to Hamilton.

You can call (800) SOS-APPL (767-2775) for more information about the Apple Assurance coverage and refund.

FTC’s list of Apple products

Apple Computer

Equipment affected by FTC ruling:

Performa 200

Performa 400

Performa 405

Performa 410

Performa 430

Performa 450

Performa 460

Performa 466

Performa 467

Performa 475

Performa 476

Performa 520

Performa 550

Performa 560

Performa 575

Performa 577

Performa 578

Performa 580

Performa 600

Performa 630

Performa 631

Performa 635

Performa 636

Performa 637

Performa 638

Performa 640

Performa 5200

Performa 5210

Performa 5215

Performa 5220

Performa 5300

Performa 5320

Performa 6110

Performa 6112

Performa 6115

Performa 6116

Performa 6117

Performa 6118

Performa 6200

Performa 6205

Performa 6210

Performa 6214

Performa 6216

Performa 6218

Performa 6220

Performa 6230

Performa 6290

Performa 6300

Performa 6310

PowerMac 5200

PowerMac 5300

PowerMac 6100

PowerMac 6200

PowerMac 7100

PowerMac 7200

PowerMac 7500

PowerMac 8100

PowerMac 8500

PowerMac 9500

PowerBook 145

PowerBook 150

PowerBook 160

PowerBook 165

PowerBook 180

PowerBook 190

PowerBook Duo 210

PowerBook Duo 230

PowerBook Duo 250

PowerBook Duo 270

PowerBook Duo 280

PowerBook 520

PowerBook 540

PowerBook Duo 2300

PowerBook 5300

Messagepad 100

Messagepad 110

Messagepad 120

Macintosh Color Classic

Macintosh IIvx

Macintosh LC 475

Macintosh LC 520

Macintosh LC 550

Macintosh LC 575

Macintosh LC 580

Macintosh LC 630

Macintosh TV

Quadra 605

Centris/Quadra 610

Quadra 630

Centris/Quadra 650

Centris/Quadra 660

Quadra 800

Quadra 840

Quadra 950

LaserWriter Select 300

LaserWriter Select 310

LaserWriter Personal 320

LaserWriter Select 360

LaserWriter Pro 600

LaserWriter Pro 630

LaserWriter Pro 810

StyleWriter 1500

StyleWriter 2200

StyleWriter 2400

StyleWriter 2500

StyleWriter 1200

Macintosh LC III (+)

LaserWriter II (f,g)

Personal LaserWriter NT,NTR)

StyleWriter II

Personal LaserWriter (LS, SC)

LaserWriter 16/ 600 Color

LaserWriter 12/600

Portable StyleWriter

Apple OneScanner

Apple Color OneScanner

Apple Color OneScanner/27 600

Apple Color Printer

Duo Dock (II, Plus)

AppleColor High-Res RGB

AppleColor RGB

AppleVision 1710 (AV) 1710

Apple AudioVision 14

Apple Basic Color

Apple Color Plus Display

Apple High-Res Mono

Apple Multiple Scan 14

Apple Multiple Scan 15

Apple Multiple Scan 20

Macintosh 12-inch Mono

Macintosh 12-inch RGB

Macintosh 16-inch Color

Macintosh 21-inch Color

Macintosh Color 14 Display

Macintosh Portrait Display

Macintosh Two-Page Mono

Performa Display

Performa Plus Display

QuickTake Camera 100

QuickTake Camera 150

QuickTake Camera for Windows 150

LaserWriter Personal 320

LaserWriter 4/600

ImageWriter II


Intel’s new security chip sparks controversy: Technology would allow web operators to track surfers’ activities

Computer chip maker Intel Corp. drew fire late in January for its plan to embed a unique security technology in its Pentium III processor. The feature would let web-site operators identify a user by his or her computer, but privacy advocates feared the technology could be used to track a user’s web-surfing habits. They said such tracking could pose a special threat to students traversing the web.

Responding to a boycott of Intel products, the company said it would ship the processor with the security feature disabled, leaving it up to users to activate the feature if they desire. But privacy groups said the boycott is still on.

Changing the default setting “is not a solution,” said David Banisar, policy director for the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), which is leading the boycott along with consumer-advocacy group JunkBusters of Green Brook, N.J.

Intel’s decision to set the feature’s default setting to “off” isn’t enough, Banisar said, because some web sites still could require users to activate the feature before they can log on or place an order.

The groups are urging computer buyers and manufacturers to avoid purchasing Intel products until the company drops its security feature from the Pentium III’s design.

An extra security layer

Intel, the world’s largest chip maker with $26.2 billion in sales last year, defended its computer-identification technology as a useful and necessary safety device.

According to company spokesman Chuck Mulloy, the feature–which imprints a random number on a computer’s chip for the purpose of identifying it to a web site operator–is meant to add an extra layer of security to internet documents and transactions.

Among other things, Mulloy said, the technology offers a boon for electronic commerce, letting companies and shoppers feel more secure in the transmission of sensitive data. It also poses a threat to hackers, who would have to steal a user’s computer in order to crack a password.

But privacy advocates, led by EPIC, said the technology puts internet users’ privacy too much at risk. Banisar told eSchool News that it’s an issue of particular concern to schools.

“The question to ask is, how could this information potentially be abused?” Banisar said. “Protecting the privacy of students is a sensitive issue.”

From a practical standpoint, Banisar said, if a processor’s serial number is ever tied to software licensing, it could cause an “administrative nightmare.”

“For instance, if Microsoft starts licensing its software to a particular processor and the old processor dies, you’d have to get it licensed to the new one,” he said.

A great victory

Intel originally had announced that its Pentium III chip would by default transmit its unique serial number internally and to web sites that requested it to help verify a user’s identity.

The feature could be turned off by consumers, but it would be turned back on each time the computer was restarted.

Intel’s concession came only hours after the boycott was launched.

“This acknowledges that consumers want Intel inside their computer, not inside their private lives,” said Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., who had urged Intel to reconsider its plans.

Intel Corp.

Electronic Privacy Information Center

Federal Trade Commission


Annotation software offers a new approach to translation: Surfing the web becomes learning opportunity for students with limited English proficiency

Palo Alto, Calif.-based Sentius Corp. has developed a technology intended to shatter language and literacy barriers. Called RichLink, the software automatically annotates documents on web sites, intranets, and CD-ROMs, allowing readers to understand the meaning, background, and intent of each word, regardless of language or social background.

With RichLink, the company claims, each word or picture in a document can be automatically linked to supplemental information or multimedia content contained within an external database or group of databases residing on a server. RichLink embeds this information directly into the document with a minimal increase in the document’s size.

When a reader wants more information about a particular word or phrase–such as a definition, translation, or example–he or she clicks on the word and a pop-up display presents the information. Pop-up displays can draw information from one or more standard databases or can be customized with an easy-to-use editing tool, Sentius says.

“The objective is instant, on-the-fly understanding,” said Marc Bookman, Sentius founder and chief executive officer. “RichLink enriches the reader’s learning experience in the most convenient way possible, maximizing comprehension while reducing reading time–all without altering the face of the document, incorrectly defining content, or forcing the reader to travel to another site.”

The technology’s creators believe it can have a tremendous impact in educational settings–particularly in today’s climate, where most non-English-speaking students are mainstreamed quickly into English-speaking classrooms.

“We think we have a unique solution that addresses the issue of diversity in the classroom,” said Steven Epstein, vice president for market development. “If you translate a document for someone, you’re almost doing them a disservice. By annotating the English, we’re giving them the support they need in the context of a learning exercise. Our goal is to get people reading in other languages more quickly.”

How RichLink works

According to Sentius, the technology behind RichLink takes the idea of hyperlinking to another level to encompass definitions, translations, picture files, sound files, and other utilities located in a separate database.

To annotate a document, you set up a profile for it. An autolink command lets you annotate each word automatically, using the database you specify. For example, you can use the autolink command to annotate each word of an English-language document in Spanish using an English-to-Spanish translation database.

Using the software’s authoring tool, you can also customize your annotations. According to Sentius, all it takes to use the authoring tool is a knowledge of basic word processing.

Customizing a document profile lets you account for idioms, figures of speech, and hard-to-translate phrases that trip up other translation software, the company said. For example, you can select and annotate the phrase “raining cats and dogs” so when a reader clicks on any word, a pop-up screen will tell the reader what the whole phrase means.

The software’s creators envision other custom applications as well, such as word-by-word sound clips that demonstrate proper pronunciation or picture files that give the visual representation of a word. Such tools could open the door to literacy for students with learning disabilities as well as for non-English-language students, Bookman said.

Recent applications

RichLink is being used by Japan’s largest news service to annotate its English language news feeds from sources such as the New York Times and San Jose Mercury News with pop-up translations into Japanese. And English professor Diane Middlebrook is using RichLink in an innovative way to teach a course on Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” at Stanford University this term.

“Each student is assigned a few lines of the poem to research and annotate,” Middlebrook said. “Students will use the authoring tool to add their commentary to the text. At the end of the semester, we’ll have a full body of work that others can use to analyze the poem.”

The basic authoring tool and the plug-in required to read a document annotated with RichLink are available for free download from Sentius’ web site. The company sells its automated databases, which include the American Heritage Dictionary of English as well as Spanish and Japanese translation databases. French and German databases will be available soon, the company said.

Sentius Corp.

Stanford University


Web feature allows Nevadans to eavesdrop on lawmakers

Nevada is paving the way for online school board and PTA meetings.

An upgrade to the Nevada Legislature web site now allows anyone on the internet to tune into proceedings in the Assembly and Senate and in hearing rooms.

Using RealPlayer software, anyone interested in following the process can listen to any of the legislative hearings simply by clicking on a room number.

While the web site had already included biographies on lawmakers, texts of bills, committee schedules and agendas, the new addition gives the public unprecedented access, Legislative Counsel Bureau chief Lorne Malkiewich says.

Malkiewich said Assembly Speaker Joe Dini and Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio told him to have all the rooms wired for broadcasting. Within a few weeks, he expects all the rooms will be finished.

“This is a benefit to everyone,” said Malkiewich.

Most states’ capital cities aren’t in the most populated areas, and the home page can bring in many more people to the legislative process, he added. “There’s a lot of valuable information there,” he said. “We were one of the last states to put a web site up, but I think we are now one of the better ones out there.”

Copies of bills will be available online before printed versions this year, and will be easier to read with the addition of line and page numbers. A search engine is available to locate bills by subject. A recording and written text of Gov. Kenny Guinn’s state of the state address are also available.

“This is a window to the public that’s a tremendous tool,” Malkiewich said.

Nevada State Legislature


L.A.’s mixed report on Annenberg grant: $100 million to improve LAUSD via technology has yet to show impact

Administrators of a program that drove $100 million into improving Los Angeles County schools say its impact on student achievement has been mixed so far.

“We see some promising things, but they are very few,” said Maria Casillas, president of the Los Angeles Annenberg Metropolitan Project (LAAMP), a coalition of civic, educational, and business leaders working on behalf of the county’s 1.6 million schoolchildren.

“But we didn’t come into this saying we were going to change the world,” she added.

Unreasonable expectations

The program is part of the national Annenberg Challenge, a public-private partnership serving more than 1.3 million students in at least 30 states. Funded by a $53 million matching grant from the Annenberg Foundation, LAAMP seeks to improve educational access and quality throughout Los Angeles County, in part through the use of technology.

On Jan. 27, more than 900 educators, parents, and community leaders gathered at a downtown Los Angeles hotel for a day-long symposium to discuss a report of their progress to date.

The report found that test scores for elementary school students at the 135 participating campuses in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) have gone up. Third grade literacy scores have increased, dropout rates have declined, and more students are taking rigorous courses.

While these results show promise, the report also indicated that test scores at many participating LAUSD high schools went down. And while use of technology in the schools is increasing overall, some schools have yet to actually use donated computers as part of their curriculum.

Barbara Cervone, national coordinator of the Annenberg Challenge, said that expectations may have been raised too high when the project came to Los Angeles.

“With all the money came all sorts of unreasonable expectations,” she said. “What the Annenberg Challenge had to offer was, most of all, hope, and an occasion to mobilize communities around concern for public education. But it never really had the financial resources to do the kind of major investments an operation like LAUSD probably needs.”

School “families”

The LAAMP program was launched in 1995 and will end June 30, 2000. At that time, the program will leave the job of sustaining reform efforts to local funders, partners, educators, parents, and surrounding communities, and LAAMP’s governing board plans to turn itself into a watchdog group.

The program involves 200,000 students and 8,700 teachers. Schools underwent a strict selection process where only the most enthusiastic toward reform were awarded the grants.

LAAMP’s primary mission has been to knit schools into “families” consisting of a high school and its feeder middle and elementary schools to give students a smooth trip from grades K-12. The program helps schools work together to track students’ progress, coordinate teacher training, install computer networks, and carry out other projects.

There are 28 school families participating in the project–14 in LAUSD and 14 outside the district. LAUSD receives about $5 million annually through LAAMP.

The focus of reform for each family varies. While most target literacy, five of the 28 families focus specifically on technology and its use to strengthen curriculum. In addition, LAAMP’s board has created an initiative to identify schools doing great work with technology and help them document their successes.

LAAMP vice president Randy Ross said the group’s next challenge will be to make sense of the schools’ uneven test scores.

“We feel especially good that we’re moving in the right direction,” he said. “The results show that families are focusing their reforms on the elementary schools. Still, there’s the question of what we can do to integrate the high schools more. We believe that you can’t just rest on your laurels.”

The program’s administrators now will try to narrow their focus to emphasize fewer but potentially higher-impact efforts to raise reading scores, expand professional development opportunities for teachers, and integrate new technology into classrooms.

Los Angeles Annenberg Metropolitan Project

Los Angeles Unified School District

Annenberg Foundation


N.J. district sues teacher for allegedly viewing web porn

The Bergenfield, N.J., board of education is suing a physics teacher to recoup wages it paid him while he allegedly viewed computer pornography during school hours. The viewing took place in a school physics room and included times when students were in the room, school officials said.

According to the Associated Press, Alan Ross, who taught 11th- and 12th-grade chemistry, physics, and earth science before being suspended without pay last year, also has a tenure challenge pending. If Ross is found guilty, he would lose tenure and the board would be allowed to fire him.

“I don’t think it’s part of his job description to search pornography off the internet while he’s on the payroll,” school board President Vernon Cox said.

Ross was suspended without pay from his $78,500-a-year job in February 1998 after district officials learned that sexually explicit material had been obtained several times through the internet on the computer he used during school hours.

Students told school officials they saw Ross viewing pornographic pictures on the computer on his desk in the physics room, school officials allege. Board officials then removed the computer from the room and forwarded it to a consulting company to determine what information had been downloaded.

A report on computer-stored information viewed from Nov. 3 through Dec. 19, 1997 showed visits to about 2,900 sites, more than half of which were categorized as adult or personal.

All of the online visits occurred during school time–and about 55 percent while students were present in the physics room, school officials said. No sites were visited on the three days Ross was absent during that period, they said.

Ross has denied the charges and asked the state commissioner of education to dismiss them. Neither Ross nor his attorney, Harold N. Springstead, could be reached for comment.


First high school meteorology course goes online: Teacher’s interactive weather class will be one of the first in nation to be offered over the web

Pulaski County High School (Va.) science teacher David Carroll is designing a class where students can study weather forecasting, jetstreams, pressure systems and cloud movement without stepping outside or opening a book. In fact, they wouldn’t even leave their computer.

Instead, Carroll’s meteorology class will be one of the nation’s first high school courses taught on the internet. Eventually, it will become a college-credit course taught solely on the web.

Besides studying Carroll’s web site, his students will be able to call up radar readings, weather station information, and weather maps, all available on the web.

“Meteorology is one of the few sciences you can look at in real time,” Carroll said. “The amount of weather services that are on the web is just incredible.”

But Carroll is adding a lot of his own material. For the past two years, he has spent about four hours each day patiently adding thousands of his own photos of local weather patterns, diagrams and explanations to his site.

His vision for the project is a class where students can sign on at a designated time, download the day’s lessons, and eMail him questions. Once they have finished a test, they can simply press the “send” button.

“I don’t want this to be an online textbook,” he said. “I want it to be a fully interactive class.”

The concept began in Carroll’s earth science class three years ago, when students became so interested in the semester on meteorology that they suggested turning it into its own course. Carroll started the meteorology course, making it one of the school’s most popular. He and his students would get excited every time they heard about a hurricane, major snow storm, or tornado, he said.

“It is kind of an adrenaline rush,” Carroll said.

But the biggest rush for Carroll has been watching several of his students successfully pursue meteorology at the college level.

“The first college class was a breeze after this,” said J.V. Clark, a 1997 Pulaski County High School graduate who is studying meteorology at the University of Oklahoma. “Pick any weather and I love it. I find it fascinating.”

That success helped create the online version of the course where any student can attend class, no matter where they live. Students throughout the country would have an opportunity to study classes–like meteorology–that their own school system could not afford.

Carroll–along with other local educators–believe that is where education is headed. The idea is inquiry-based learning, allowing students to follow their own interests and develop them using a mix of curriculum.

He is employing the help of Bell Atlantic and Virginia Tech’s Institute for Connecting Science Research to the Classroom.

“The advantage is that students can get to the material,” said John Wenrich, the institute’s associate director.

But Carroll recognizes there are drawbacks as well. Students lose personal interaction with the teacher. They are not as monitored, and they could find new ways to cheat.

“The students may not be used to that type of instruction,” Wenrich said.

But everyone involved thinks the online high school course is something worth trying.

“He is trying new things all the time,” said Barbara Layman, the high school’s chairwoman of the science department. “We’re just real proud of him.”

The first site will be introduced next month, and Carroll concedes it will involve a lot of experimentation and guesswork.

But he can tell you what the expected forecast will be.

This winter “is going to stay average, maybe a little warmer than average. It will be a little dry,” he said. “Our springtime may be more normal.”

Pulaski County High School

Bell Atlantic

Virginia Tech


Alaska governor puts budget plan on internet: Residents respond to Knowles’ proposed income tax with a flurry of site visits and eMail

If Alaska school leaders don’t like Gov. Tony Knowles’ plan for solving the state’s financial problems, they can hop on the internet, play with the budget numbers, and eMail his office with their own proposals.

Supporters are saying that Knowles’ web site shows how government agencies can include community members in making important civic decisions via new technology.

But the web-based budget–which sparked more than 3,300 visitors and more than 100 eMail responses in just a few days–also drew its share of criticism.

Tip the scales

Late in January, Knowles proposed using an income tax and permanent-fund earnings to help pay for state spending. Before the plan even came out, Knowles aides touted it in closed-door meetings with lawmakers and reporters, plugging numbers into a computer spreadsheet projected on a screen.

Now anyone with a computer, the right software and access to a computer can get an online version of that demonstration.

“This will be the first time ever that Alaskans or anyone in the world with an internet connection can dial up Alaska’s budget forecast spreadsheet, download it on their own personal computer, work with the numbers and produce their own plan,” Knowles said.

He also invited the public to eMail their suggestions to the state. “We’re going to let the public tip the scales,” Knowles said.

Low oil prices are expected to cause billion-dollar budget shortfalls that could exhaust the state’s cash reserves in three years on public services, including education. With the spreadsheet, school budget leaders can recalculate the school budget by the rate of inflation, or a percentage rate in addition to enrollment.

Knowles wants to raise $350 million through an income tax and use $4 billion from the permanent fund to beef up the cash reserve. The income tax and income from the larger reserve would balance the budget by 2001, Knowles says.

The formal announcement of the plan prompted demands for the spreadsheet so that budget leaders in the Republican-controlled Legislature could plug in their own assumptions of such variables as oil price, oil production, and the size of the budget.

The Associated Press (AP) reviewed all the eMailed responses and found that residents were split on the income tax. Of the 80 messages the AP deemed credible, 28 rejected and 23 supported some form of a sales tax.

Many others had alternatives of their own. These ranged from creating a seasonal sales tax that would tap tourists for their purchases to establishing a lottery to name the many unnamed mountains and rivers in the state, barring those suggestions that were “degrading, insulting or a cuss word.”

The public spreadsheets ” will be a good tool for us in our caucuses and also a great tool to help educate the public,” said Senate President Drue Pearce, R-Anchorage.

The spreadsheets can be found on the governor’s home page. Comments and balanced budget proposals can be eMailed to the governor’s office at

Governor Knowles’ Home Page