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 balancedbudget@gov.state.ak.us.

Governor Knowles’ Home Page



Kentucky supplies filtering software to its 1,400 schools: State law mandates use of software solution, but allows schools to decide what to filter

Kentucky schools soon will have help in the battle to keep students and teachers from logging on to improper web sites. The state’s department of education is supplying software to each of its 1,400 schools. This will not only weed out inappropriate sites, but also could save the schools $5,000 to $6,000 per year in leased line charges.

David Couch, the state’s associate commissioner for school technology, said the filtering software comes in response to a new state law. Last year, Kentucky legislators demanded that its education department find and distribute software to restrict students’ access to unsuitable material on the internet.

The state hit upon a cost-effective proxy solution that not only protects students from inappropriate content, but also saves useful web sites in a local “electronic library” for lightning-fast retrieval, Couch said.

The solution uses Microsoft’s Proxy Server software to create a three-tiered approach to filtering and caching web sites. It works by creating checkpoints at each school, district office, and state headquarters that can save copies of–and also block–selected internet files.

Because most of the activity takes place between the desktop computers and the proxy server at each school, the state’s schools will be able to achieve the same level of performance as a T1 line would provide with just a 56K connection to the internet, Couch said.

“We’re finding that instead of having to automatically upgrade the schools to T1 lines to increase internet response rates, they can just put in a 56K line, save $5,000 to $6,000 per year per school, and get tremendously fast response rates to meet the needs of students and teachers,” he said.

Kentucky’s effort would put the state in an enviable position if legislation proposed by U.S. Sen. John McCain passes Congress this year. In January, McCain introduced a bill that would require schools receiving eRate discounts to install internet filters on their computers.

The total cost of providing the solution to Kentucky’s 1,400 schools, 176 district offices, and 800 department of education members is $200,000, Couch said.

Local control

Kentucky’s solution calls for installing the proxy software on a server at each of the state’s schools and district offices, as well as on a few high-capacity Pentium II Zeon servers at the state level. The solution sets up a hierarchical caching system to ensure that materials are readily available to all users, Couch said.

When a user requests a web site, the software first looks on the local school file server’s proxy. If the local proxy doesn’t have the site in its cache, it will look to the district office. If the district proxy doesn’t have the material, the software will search at the state level. If that search comes up empty, the user will be routed to the internet. The entire process is quick and transparent to users, Couch said.

Because the software caches sites on a school’s local server, it helps ensure the information is there when teachers need it. It also lets more than one class use the same material at the same time without having to download it from the internet separately. The software can be configured to refresh the material at regular intervals if the data are likely to change, Couch said.

The proxy solution can filter inappropriate sites by exception, by inclusion, or both, Couch said. Though popular educational sites will be cached at the state level, the software gives local schools and districts complete control over what is considered “inappropriate.”

“At the state level we won’t be choosing which internet sites for schools to filter, since we want that to remain the choice and responsibility of each school,” Couch said.

It’s the idea of local control that has led the state’s educators to embrace the solution, Couch said. “With this solution, the technology doesn’t dictate what gets filtered, like with most ‘censorware’ products–the individual school does,” he added.

A tracking feature helps schools keep a log of every web site visited or requested by every computer on the network. The tracking feature helps administrators discover the most popular instructional sites so they can make sure the data get cached on their local proxy server. It also helps identify inappropriate sites to filter and users who have violated the state’s acceptable-use policy.

Couch said the deterrent factor in the tracking system is actually a stronger tool than the ability to filter out sites.

“What we’ve found is that the best temptation reducer is not trying to come up with a list of all the sites people can’t go to. If instead you track exactly where everybody’s been, for how long, and every step he or she took, that’s the best way to keep people on task and from going to non-instructional sites,” he said.

The state plans to have the software installed in every school district by June.

Kentucky Department of Education


Microsoft Proxy Server



School computers may harm posture, study says

According to researchers at Cornell University, children in schools may face the same posture problems as adults in offices because of computer workstation designs–and the haste of school administrators trying to update their classrooms with computers may be to blame.

Researchers who watched 95 elementary schoolchildren from 11 schools found that students sat at keyboards and monitors placed higher than recommended. The results: craned necks, hunched shoulders, awkwardly placed wrists, and other unhealthy postures, said Shawn Oates, the principal author of the study.

In an interview with the New York Times, Oates said classroom computer setups need to be monitored closely because of the nationwide push to get computers into schools and the increasing amount of time children spend using them.

“We need to monitor the situation as we encourage children to use computers on a more frequent basis at home and school,” Oates told the Times.

Alan Hedge, a professor of human factors and ergonomics at Cornell and a co-author of the study, said he feared administrators were paying too little attention to safe design in their push to get technology into classrooms.

“We are trying to alert schools to the fact that when they are planning to include computer use, they should pay some attention to these kinds of issues,” he said.


eSN Special Report — Connectivity: Beyond the promised LAN

Plugging into the Information Age has become a matter so rich with options and possibilities–most of which are changing so rapidly–that it’s easy for even the most dedicated school technology champion to fall behind. Not to worry. A painless update is just moments away.

Familiar issues such as the preferred configuration of the Local Area Network (LAN) have given way to more complex considerations about basic connectivity.

Do your schools need a satellite-based system, infrared or radio-based wireless, fiber optic cable, or one of the several flavors being served up by a telecommunications company near you–from T1 to ISDN to ADSL telephone connections?

The answer ultimately depends on your own situation–geographic location, financial resources, technology vision, local topography. You’ll need to weigh all those variables and more as you breeze through this condensed guided tour of the array of available solutions. The first stop is a school system in a remote corner of the Southwestern United States, miles from the nearest decent telephone hookup.

Tucked away an hour and a half from the next closest town, the Young, Ariz., school system faces all the challenges of a remote rural area. With 26 miles of unpaved road leading north and another 30 miles of dirt stretching south, the district can barely get a decent phone connection. Yet its 85 students in grades K-12 now have affordable high-speed internet access, thanks to satellite provider Helius Inc. of Orem, Utah.

During Christmas vacation, the district installed a satellite dish on the roof of its main building, which catches a wireless internet transmission via satellite and pipes it down to a server in the building’s computer lab. The four remaining classroom buildings, all located on the same school campus, are connected to the server in the main building through category-5 cable.

Because of the district’s remote location, dial-up internet access was often spotty.

“We’re located at the end of the phone line grid, and sometimes we can’t even get a line outside of the building,” said Sue Wade, the district’s vocational agriculture instructor who doubles as its computer technician. “It would take anywhere from one to 20 minutes just to establish a connection. You’re trying to teach a class, and it would take you that long just to download two or three pages.”

Yet internet access was critical for a district in which the library’s most recent encyclopedias were published ten years ago. “A lot of stuff has happened since 1989,” Wade said. “Our kids need access to current information.”

A high-speed data line from a telecommunications carrier would have cost the school system a fortune in access charges to run to such an isolated area. “We looked into getting a T1 line, but the cost was prohibitive for a tiny little school like us,” Wade said.

Enter Helius and its satellite solution. Now the district’s students download web pages at speeds in excess of 400 kilobits per second (Kbps).

“The service is fabulous–I can’t say enough about it,” Wade said. “These folks [at Helius] have gone way past what I’d consider good service. They literally walked us through the set-up page by page on the phone for four hours.”

Satellite-based internet access

Dan Broadbent, vice president of marketing for Helius, said satellite-based internet access is ideal for schools located in isolated parts of the country. “If you can get a T1 line that fits into your budget, that might be the way to go,” Broadbent said. “But satellite is the perfect solution if you’re in a remote area.”

Satellite access fills a chasm between the slower speeds of dial-up access and the higher cost of high-speed lines, Broadbent said. “For schools that need more speed than modem access provides but don’t have high-speed lines available in their area, that’s when satellite wins,” he said.

Here’s how a satellite connection works: Requests for an internet site travel across your local area network (LAN) and are forwarded to your service provider via a standard land-based phone line. The response is routed to a Network Operations Center, where it is beamed up to a satellite and sent back down to your dish at download speeds between 400 Kbps and 1.5 Mbps. With today’s satellite coverage, service is available virtually everywhere in North America.

Helius’ solution consists of three pieces: hardware, software, and a monthly access fee. The hardware–a miniature satellite dish and adapter card–and internet access are supplied by business partner Hughes Network Systems Inc., maker of DirecPC. The dish costs about $300 and the monthly access charge starts at $130 for 30 simultaneous school users.

Helius provides the software to make the Hughes service work in a networked environment. It converts the signal to a format that can be read by Windows NT, Novell Netware, or Linux machines and also streamlines it for maximum throughput to each networked computer.

A base license for up to 30 users is $1,100 for schools, and an unlimited license costs $2,549. As many as 250 users can be logged on simultaneously while enjoying maximum bandwidth, Broadbent said.

Helius also has partnered with networking company JDL Technologies to offer a full satellite-based solution to schools. The service combines Helius’ satellite access with JDL’s network design and implementation. JDL provides an optional CyberLibrary caching system that lets you collect, maintain, and automatically refresh web sites on your local area network so they’re available any time at the speed of the local network.

One disadvantage to satellite service: The high-speed access is incoming only. Data are uploaded at slower speeds. But most schools don’t need a high-speed channel to send information, Broadbent said.

Wireless WANs

A trend that’s just beginning to emerge is the use of wireless technologies to connect multiple school buildings in a wide area network. According to Tom Crotty, president of Willowbrook, Ill.-based Wireless Information Networks, wireless point-to-point networks have become an attractive option because they’re faster than a T1 line and require no monthly fees.

Wireless point-to-point uses the license-free 2.4 gigahertz (GHz) Direct Sequence Spread Spectrum radio band frequency to transmit data between two points up to six miles apart at speeds of two Mbps. Since the band is license-free, there are no traffic charges–and using wireless service also eliminates the need for costly cable trenching and installation, Crotty said.

Point-to-point transmission requires a line of sight to the receiver, so the technology is most effective in rural areas that are relatively flat and in districts where the buildings are fairly close together. The topography of your location and the proximity of your schools will determine whether you’ll need a simple roof antenna or a taller transmission tower.

Depending on your needs, solutions generally run about $5,000 to $7,000 per building, Crotty said–but that figure could easily pay for itself in a year with the money saved in leased-line charges.

The Daviess County, Ky., school system was a pioneer of the wireless WAN. In 1995, the district contracted with local wireless company Solectek Corp. to build wireless towers connecting 14 schools and two administrative buildings to its central office. Five remote schools were connected via 56K leased lines.

Susan Smith, technology coordinator for the district, estimates that Daviess has saved enough in line charges each year to pay the equivalent of four new teachers’ salaries. By 1999, the district had saved more than $226,000, she said: “I consider it a home run for our district.”

Smith said she also likes the fact that the district owns and controls the network. “When you’re leasing phone equipment, you don’t always have the ability to troubleshoot it yourself,” she said.

If you’re considering a wireless WAN, you must have a staff that is willing to take risks and is not afraid of heights, Smith said. Also, get your vendor to thoroughly explain installation and grounding procedures. “When you have to climb a 100-foot tower to fix a problem caused by water leakage or lightning, you don’t want to climb it often,” she said.

Crotty’s company has just finished a proposal for Consolidated High School District 230 of Illinois. The plan would connect three high schools to an administrative building via wireless point-to-point transmission. One of the schools and the administrative building would need a 10-foot mast atop their roofs; the other two schools would require a 50-foot tower.

“Be sure to get a comprehensive site survey if you’re thinking of going wireless,” Crotty said. Wireless Information Networks, for example, uses a hand-held global positioning unit to determine exact point-to-point rooftop distance and an analysis of topographical surveys to pinpoint a district’s precise needs.

Wireless LANs

As the cost of wireless continues to drop and the technology continues to improve, many schools are turning to wireless solutions for their local area networks as well. Wireless LANs typically consist of mobile computers that connect to a server through PC-MCIA cards that send and receive infrared or radio signals. Benefits include greater flexibility, because internet connections aren’t dependent on a cable hook-up, and quicker implementation of the network without disrupting classes.

Joan Kuperstein, a nationally recognized educational technology consultant based in Miami, said wireless LANs offer an ideal solution for districts facing costly infrastructure improvements as they try to wire their older buildings. Besides physical obstacles like a building’s layout or a brick wall, older buildings often harbor costly surprises, Kuperstein said.

“Asbestos is a big concern with many older schools,” she said. “Heaven only knows what they’ll find when they open their walls.”

As long as asbestos remains hidden away behind the walls of older buildings, it doesn’t have to be removed, she said–but as soon as a wall is opened and asbestos is discovered, the school is required by law to remove it. “Nobody wants to take that chance when they already know the outcome,” said Kuperstein.

Another case where a wireless LAN offers the perfect solution is the portable classroom. In school systems like Kuperstein’s Miami-Dade County, where the student population is greater than the available classroom space and enrollment is growing faster than new schools can be built, portable classrooms–often no more than trailers set up on school grounds–have become commonplace.

A wireless LAN lets students in portable classrooms receive the same access to technology as their peers in permanent classrooms, according to Jorge Garcia, principal of Natural Bridge Elementary School in Miami. Garcia is writing a proposal for an Annenberg Foundation grant in partnership with three other city schools to purchase a wireless laptop solution for use in the schools’ portable classrooms.

Mobile learning

Two years ago, Chicago’s Reed Elementary School was forced to give up its computer lab when its student population expanded. The lab was converted into classroom space, and school officials set out to find an alternative.

“We were looking for a solution that would bring the technology to the students, since the students couldn’t go to it,” said Sally Neese, director of technology for the district.

Reed found its solution in the form of a motorized mobile cart that carries 32 laptop computers and a wireless network that includes a printer and charger apparatus. The system, called MobiLAN I, was developed by Wireless Information Networks in conjunction with Mobile Design Corp. and the district.

Teachers can sign up for the cart whenever they have an activity planned in which they want to use the internet or other network resources. The cart comes into the classroom with them. At the end of the day, the MobiLAN system’s built-in charging system recharges the batteries of all 32 laptops simultaneously.

The system relies on Lucent Technology’s WaveLAN technology, which uses a 2.4 GHz radio frequency to send and receive data between machines. Radio transmission offers a big advantage over infrared systems, Crotty said, because it can travel through walls and ceilings. With infrared, you have to have a line of sight.

The laptops are equipped with a PC card that serves as the “antenna” for transmitting and receiving the radio signal. The machines communicate with a wireless bridge made by Lucent. The bridge, which is the only wired part of the network, is connected to a central file server through an Ethernet connection.

The range for communicating from the laptop to the bridge is 75-100 yards, or about four to six classrooms, Crotty said. Reed Elementary has six wireless bridges recessed in the ceiling and spread out across the school for a “full roaming” solution, meaning the students can connect to the internet from anywhere in the building.

“It’s been great for us because we’ve been able to break up students into any size groups and have them do their research,” Neese said. “We can have them access the internet wherever and whenever it can best fit into the curriculum. We can even take our entire school of teachers into the library and do staff development together on the wireless network.”

Cable Internet Access

Giving wireless a run for its money is the heavyweight cable industry. If industry watchers are right, cable soon could become the standard for accessing the internet in schools, thanks largely to an industry-wide initiative called “Cable’s High-Speed Education Connection.”

Launched in July 1996, the program pledges at least one free internet connection for each public school passed by cable in communities where cable internet service is provided. The deal includes a free cable modem for attaching a computer to the coaxial cable TV network and no monthly access charges.

This is particularly good news to schools because more than 80 percent of all districts already are wired for cable, and almost all new schools built today are being hardwired for cable. A 1998 study by the nonprofit group Cable in the Classroom shows that more individual classrooms are cable-ready than have phone lines for internet access.

What’s more, because the coaxial cable used by cable TV provides much greater bandwidth than telephone lines, a school’s existing cable infrastructure can be used to achieve extremely fast speeds on the web. Cable access provides download speeds of four-10 Mbps–more than twice as fast as a T1 line, and 50-100 times faster than a standard phone line.

“It’s so much faster than traditional access,” said Carol Vernon, public affairs director for Cable in the Classroom. “And in a classroom setting, it’s especially important that not a lot of time be spent waiting for web pages to download.”

Schools are beneficiaries

Why such largess from the cable industry? One reason is that cable vendors such as Time Warner and MediaOne want to attract large citywide contracts for their services, and programs that help schools demonstrate their civic commitment.

Cable companies also find themselves in competition with telecommunications companies offering various high-speed services to rapidly expanding geographic areas. As the competition heats up, schools are becoming the beneficiaries.

Boston Public Schools, for example, stands to win big from a franchise deal reached last year between the city and local cable company Cablevision Systems Corp.

With competition from another company looming, the city negotiated a 10-year extension of its franchise agreement with Cablevision. In return, Cablevision agreed to provide free cable modems and internet access to each of the city’s public schools and libraries.

A spokesman from Boston mayor Thomas Menino’s office said the deal marks a tenfold increase in transmission capacity over previous internet access for the city’s schools. The spokesman estimated the value of Cablevision’s donation to be several million dollars per year.

South Dakota Gov. Bill Janklow and U.S. Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., meanwhile, helped broker a deal with Tele-Communications Inc. (TCI) and two local cable companies to bring free cable internet access and filtering software to 115 of South Dakota’s public schools.

Several companies are even going above and beyond their basic pledge to provide a single connection in each school by offering to connect entire labs or providing teacher training for free or at cost, according to Liz Lazlo, director of public affairs for the National Cable Television Association (NCTA).

The El Paso, Texas, Independent School District is one example. Last year, as cable giant Time Warner Communications was looking to roll out its Road Runner high-speed internet service in the city’s residential homes, the company extended the service to the district for free.

Four of El Paso’s high schools now connect to the internet on 25 workstations they were given free by Time Warner. Each of the district’s other 77 schools was supplied with five free workstations.

“It’s lightning fast,” Pat Sullivan, executive technology director for the district, said of the cable access. “Just click and bam, everything is there.”

Duval County Schools

The Duval County, Fla., school system is another example of a successful partnership between a school district and a cable company. Because of a deal it negotiated with cable franchise MediaOne, Duval County schools can expect to save more than $900,000 a year on internet access, officials say.

In exchange for providing hub sites for MediaOne on school property, the district will get a high-speed network connecting more than 150 schools and administrative offices at no cost.

“We’ve crafted a pretty interesting situation,” said Scott Futrell, Duval County’s technology director. “It’s a good arrangement for both sides.”

The network will link every school and office building to the district’s hub via two-way T-1 lines, providing the district with a true routed backbone. The district will be connected to the internet through a 45 Mbps direct link to MediaOne. Once in place, the new network will transfer voice and video data up to 30 times faster than the old system did.

“Having that much bandwidth to each school, we could actually channel it to run voice as well,” Futrell said. “If someone were to make a school-to-school call, it would never have to leave the network. This will let us greatly reduce the communication costs for the district and open the possibilities for video transfer.”

The planned upgrade would have cost the district about $925,000 per year in leased line service charges for the T-1 lines, Futrell said, if not for the district’s deal with MediaOne.

In return for a high-speed network with free internet access, the district will let MediaOne construct 10 buildings on school sites. The buildings will serve as regional hubs through which the company can expand its broadband cable service throughout the community.

School board and community members had a few concerns about the hubs, but they were easily resolved.

“We wanted to make sure [the hubs] were placed in areas that wouldn’t hamper any further construction on school buildings,” Futrell said. Also, the structures housing the hubs will be limited to 1,200 square feet and will have to conform with existing school architecture.

Because cable companies must invest a significant amount of money to upgrade their existing infrastructure before they can supply internet access, service isn’t available in all parts of the country.

According to NCTA’s Lazlo, cable internet access was available in about 130 communities last year, and will be available in more than 700 communities by the end of this year. A full list of communities that have cable access can be found on the NCTA or Cable in the Classroom web sites (see Links at the end of this article).

Telco Internet Service

Finally, vying for your internet business are the telecommunications companies (telcos). The Telecommunications Act of 1996 amped up the competition by allowing telephone companies to deliver video programming and the cable companies to provide telephone service. When it comes to internet service, however, the $100 billion telephone industry may have a leg up on its cable competition.

It boils down to this: the cable guys are looking to upgrade the connection between your neighborhood schools and its base of operations with fiber optic cables. Fiber optic cables can handle two-way data transmission. It’s a massively expensive undertaking.

The telcos, meanwhile, want to keep using the plain old copper wire that carries your phone service. That’s where services like T1, ISDN and ADSL come in.

Top of the line: T1–A T1 connection, according to JDL Technology’s Ira Kolmaister, is “nirvana.” A T1 line, which runs over regular copper wires, gives you a dedicated, 24-hour high-speed pipe out the internet. And it’s super-speedy–a T1 line can achieve speeds of up to 1.54 Mbps. It’s the ultimate option for anyone, said Kolmaister: “It’s very easy to configure . . . there’s no surprises.”

But a T1 line is also very expensive. There are several charges involved, including an installation fee (normally around $1,000), a line fee, and your internet access fee.

The line charge–the fee you pay your telecommunications carrier–is distance-dependent. That means that your fees increase the farther away you are from the telco’s point of local presence.

Your internet access fees will probably run somewhere between $1,000-$2,500 a month. You may be able to do it for cheaper, but Kolmaister cautions against jumping at those $500 monthly deals. At that price, he says, “it’s buyer beware.”

ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network)–Instead of moving to a T1 right away, you might want to start with a slower but more affordable connection, like ISDN. Although ISDN has been around for some time, it never really caught on with K-12 schools, Kolmaister said. There are complicated configuration issues, and ISDN never saw a universal implementation. Plus, those little charges can add up.

An ISDN account involves many of the same charges T1 lines do, such as the leased-line fee, but it’s not distance-dependent, and the charges tend to be lower. An ISDN line starts around $40 a month, but most telcos will charge you a per-minute rate for usage as well.

In Maryland, for instance, commercial users pay $42 a month to lease the ISDN line, plus $.04 a minute. High-end users are looking at bills upwards of $400 a month, Kolmaister says. And, if you’re not careful, he warns, your telco might try to charge you for local voice calls–the kind that are usually free–made over your ISDN line.

Compared to other connectivity options, that’s a lot of money for the speed that you’re getting. Most school users will need to look at other options, such as JDL’s CyberLibrary, to maximize their connectivity time. Otherwise, Kolmaister said, the 128 Kbps (.128 Mbps) delivered by ISDN is “nowhere near sufficient” for school users.

ADSL (Asynchronous Digital Subscriber Line)–A speedier option–though one that the telco’s have been slow to get to K-12 schools–is ADSL.

The beginning of 1999 saw ADSL becoming more than just a blip on the connectivity radar. For starters, SBC Communications, the parent company of Southwestern Bell and Pacific Bell, announced the biggest roll-out of ADSL yet. Plus, major companies such as NBC, America Online, and the internet news service CNET announced their own plans to build portals for high-bandwidth surfing.

A digital subscriber line (DSL) provides fast connections over existing phone lines. With a DSL system, filters split up your existing phone line into three frequency channels. These channels can carry voice, video, or data.

A low-frequency band carries the voice for your telephone service. At the same time, data travels upstream (out to the internet) at rates up to 640 Kbps on another frequency. Data are pumped downstream–toward your computers–at speeds up to eight Mbps using the remaining bandwidth.

With Asynchronous DSL (ADSL), upstream and downstream speeds are different. Because most users are sending far less data upstream than they are pulling downstream, it makes sense to put your power where it’s most needed: downloading data from the internet, for example.

Kolmaister says that K-12 schools tend to use the internet asynchronously. By and large, students and teachers are requesting a great deal of information from the internet, but pumping out very little. You can cut down on expenses by paying only for what you need. “Why pay for this highway leaving your school building when you’re never on the outbound lane?” he asks.

Like a T1 line, ADSL gives users “always-on” high-speed access to campuswide networks and the internet. ADSL can achieve speeds more than 100 times faster than today’s fastest dial-up modems. Like ISDN, ADSL also allows users to make phone calls while they’re online–it’s a simultaneous voice, video and data network.

For the cost of an ISDN line–or less–and with speeds approaching that of a T1, Kolmaister says, ADSL really comes out on top. Here’s an example: Bell Atlantic’s “Infospeed” service offers three packages. The speediest gives you 7.1 Mbps (down) and 680 Kbps (up) for $110 per month. That price doesn’t include your DSL internet service, so you’ll need to check out the service providers in your area.

There are also providers who offer a package for both the line lease and the internet fees. Concentric.net, for example, offers comprehensive ADSL service as low as $150 per month (144 Kbps upload/160 Kbps download). The company charges $359 monthly for 1.5 Mbps/384 Kbps service.

But you might have to wait for DSL service in your area. Trials are being done throughout the country, generally backed by a research university. The University of Miami, BellSouth, and Lucent Technologies, for example, are doing trials with ADSL to allow students to participate in “virtual classrooms.” And SBC Communications Inc., the corporation that owns Southwestern Bell and Pacific Bell, announced in January a nationwide rollout of ADSL.

SBC intends to provide ADSL service from 526 central offices to 8.2 million residential and 1.3 million business customers by the end of 1999, the company said. That’s being called the most comprehensive rollout of any ADSL service in the nation. In California, Pacific Bell will almost triple its current deployment of ADSL, providing service for 70 percent of its customers by the end of the year and slashing costs, the company said.

SBC’s ADSL service is scheduled to reach Texas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Arkansas by the end of 1999. Schools and businesses in Connecticut should begin seeing ADSL trials this year.

Until the company closes on its proposed buyout of Ameritech, the Great Lakes Bell will continue to offer ADSL service only in limited markets. Ameritech is running trials in Ann Arbor, Mich., and elsewhere.

The addition of ADSL to the offerings available from the telcos underscores the growing assortment of options school technology decision makers like you now enjoy–ranging from telephone connections to wireless to satellite systems.

And here’s the best news about connectivity today: No matter which solution is right for you, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that the access you’ll be able to provide your students, staff, and stakeholders will be unparalleled in the history of education.

Wireless Links:

Helius Inc.


Hughes Network Systems Inc.


Wireless Information Networks


Daviess County Schools


Lucent Technologies’ WaveLAN page


CABLE Links:

Cable in the Classroom


National Cable Television Association


Time Warner Cable




El Paso Independent School District


Duval County Schools


TELCO Links:

Pacific Bell


The Telechoice Report on XDSL


ADSL Forum


Bell Atlantic





La. lawmakers: Spend tobacco settlement on school tech: Industry will dole out $4.4 billion to settle lawsuit; six Louisiana state senators push to give half to schools in trust funds

A group of Louisiana state senators want the Legislature to dedicate half the state’s estimated $ 4.4 billion tobacco settlement money to schools–and use it, in part, to buy technology.

The proposed constitutional amendment would create trust funds for each of the state’s 66 school systems with half of the money divided equally and half distributed on the basis of student populations.

The plan would endow the systems with big savings accounts from which they could spend only the annual earnings for needs such as improving technology, hiring more teachers to reduce class sizes, arts and health programs, and after-school tutoring programs.

The proposal is being co-sponsored by Sens. Foster Campbell, D-Elm Grove; Jim Cox, D-Lake Charles; Donald Cravins, D-Lafayette; Max Jordan, R-Lafayette; Ron Landry, D-LaPlace, and Max Malone, R-Shreveport.

“We cannot sit by and watch what is likely to be our last major windfall wasted,” Campbell said. “What better use could we make of this money than to endow our school systems with savings accounts that will serve current and future generations?”

In a similar move, Louisiana last year spent funds from a settlement with an oil company on distance learning and graphing calculators. All in all, the state spent $37.1 million on technology in 1998 and will spend $25 million in 1999. Nearly all the funds came from surplus money in the state’s general fund, according to Education Week’s “Technology Counts” report.

Tobacco coughs up settlement

The proposal likely will kick up a fight in the Legislature. Gov. Mike Foster wants to sell the tobacco settlement for an upfront sum and use the money to pay off state debt, thus freeing up about $ 250 million a year to spend on other things.

Attorney General Richard Ieyoub, who filed the state’s product liability lawsuit against the tobacco companies, wants the money spent on health care, such as cancer research.

The basis of the lawsuit was that tobacco company executives knew they were marketing an addictive product that cost the state money in providing health care for smoking-related diseases.

Ieyoub is not opposed to funding education, but he said spending a majority on health care could save thousands of lives.

“My only concern is before we designate ways the money will be spent, we need to be sure we are, in fact, going to receive the entire $ 4.4 billion that has been forecast,” Ieyoub said.

Only the first seven years of payments–ranging from $144 million to $160 million–are firm amounts. The remainder–from $ 161 million from 2008 to 2017 and $ 180.5 million from 2018 to 2025–are estimates.

The actual amounts will be determined by the total nationwide sales of tobacco products during those years.

Malone said the trust funds would have a heavy impact on poorer, smaller parishes like Red River, which pays teachers the minimum.

“A lot of these school systems can’t get the resources they need,” Malone said. “We’ve got to help education as much as we can.”

Louisiana State Legislature



Texas’ online purchasing system suffers major setback: Technology provider pulls out of state’s electronic procurement service for schools

One of the nation’s first statewide electronic procurement services for school systems suffered a major setback at the end of January, eSchool News has learned.

The BuyBoard, a secured web site designed “to centralize the purchasing activity and increase purchasing power” for schools and other government entities in Texas, is losing its corporate partner. Austin-based Ambac–the parent company of the servicing contractor that has provided the BuyBoard with its system, servers, and software–has announced plans to end its involvement with the purchasing cooperative.

Ambac’s decision came after it posted an after-tax operating loss of $4.5 million for fiscal 1998, according to The Bond Buyer.

The statewide purchasing cooperative is administered by the Texas Association of School Boards (TASB) and endorsed by the Texas Municipal League and the Texas Association of Counties.

The BuyBoard’s simple format was designed to allow purchasing agents point-and-click access to detailed product descriptions, commodity codes, part numbers, and images.

The online service “allows members to make confident buying decisions and streamline the purchasing process,” a description on the TASB web site says. “Buyers simply select products that best fit their needs.”

Ambac’s decision means TASB is scrambling to find ways to continue offering the online ordering service to the 376 Texas school districts TASB says are participating. The association is considering hiring some of the 47 Ambac employees who were laid off, said Gerald Brashears, chief financial officer for TASB.

Ambac Connect Inc. provided software that allows Texas schools to use the internet to obtain everything from calculators to grounds maintenance supplies. School buyers can browse an online catalog of items to purchase via Ambac’s automated system.

The system allows easy soliciting, collecting, and tabulating of bids from vendors competing to provide services and products, TASB said. As a result, TASB could help schools save on large purchases by getting low bids for consolidated purchases, it said.

According to Brashears, “several large school districts” relied on the service, which allowed them to place orders without having to call vendors individually.

Very slow transition

But, according to insiders, a big part of the reason for the pull-out is that not enough schools were using the system. This reportedly caused Ambac to doubt that its investment would pay off.

Brashears acknowledged the service could take two or three years to catch on with school buyers. But that’s too long for companies to wait, said Sabra Brinkmann, a financial analyst for Advest Inc.

Ambac’s decision exemplifies the “very slow transition to online procurement,” Brinkmann said. The company couldn’t justify the $20 million to $30 million investment that would be necessary to develop the online bidding process, she said.

“I think what it means is that the municipal market is not yet ready for internet commerce,” Brinkmann told The Bond Buyer. Many schools have long-standing relationships with vendors they buy from, she said, and they fear losing good deals by participating in a group bid.

The urge to go it alone might be especially strong for big districts that enjoy plenty of buying power. Lester Mays, executive director of purchasing for Dallas City Schools said he has never used the TASB online service because he can do better by contracting with vendors on his own. He can find a vendor to beat the TASB price “nine out of 10 times,” he said.

For smaller school districts that lack the staffing and clout of Dallas, online purchasing might make sense, Mays said. The cooperative can get a small district in West Texas the same low price for instructional supplies that bigger buyers can demand.

Brashears said the online purchasing cooperative is “a great service and we will do whatever we can to maintain it.”



Texas Association of School Boards