Technology Champions–Vancouver schools roll out laptop learning: Apple may have discontinued its eMate line, but this district maintained its commitment to giving students computers to take home

When the idea of introducing computer labs on wheels hit an unexpected rough patch in nine schools of the Vancouver, Wash., School District, Terry Allan, the district’s resource coordinator for technology, was able to shift gears in a hurry and keep the pilot program on track.

The idea for the rolling labs began as the district was narrowing the scope of its application for a ComTech grant, a state-matched funding program that uses federal technology dollars.

The plan was two-fold: The district wanted to bring mobile computers to its elementary and middle-school classrooms to ease the scheduling problems that go with traditional fixed labs, and it also wanted students without computers at home to be able to sign out the laptops overnight.

Together with three other area districts, the Vancouver School District secured the ComTech grant last spring and was set to purchase several hundred eMate laptops from Apple. Soon after, however, Apple discontinued the product, leaving the districts with a lot of money but nothing to buy.

Working with Washington State University and Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory, the districts embarked on an evaluation of some 13 products, which eventually pointed them to Brother Corp.’s PN9000 laptop.

‘Blessing in disguise’

“Losing the eMate option proved to be a blessing in disguise,” said Allan. “The fact is, Brother had a better unit and at a better price.”

Even beyond its low cost (he got the machine at $240 per unit, though it retails for $399), Allan says the PN9000 had a leg up on other units in terms of its durability, comparatively long battery life (4-6 hours), screen size (24 lines, 80-character width), and built-in floppy drive for file transfers to other computers.

Because the units were to be used specifically for the district’s introduction to word processing and keyboarding courses, Allan said the evaluation looked carefully at those two functions. Compared to other laptops, the Brother unit again proved superior in Allan’s estimation.

The built-in word processor, Allan said, is comparable to others that students would come across in school or at home. An added bonus is the PN9000’s built-in spreadsheet, which allows for the machines to be used for some math instruction.

Brother even threw in an extra battery for every unit and a laser printer for each cart, Allen said. There are 20 machines per cart.

A second cart holds the teachers’ GeoBook laptops, which are more powerful and have built-in modems for internet access, and a plug-in projector for classroom displays.

Take-home program

The rolling labs were distributed to the nine pilot schools based on applications submitted by teachers in groups of four. Each group was awarded two student carts and two instructor carts.

As for the take-home program, the district is using a teacher check-out system. Parents sign a consent form allowing their child to bring a laptop home, though this does not make them responsible for the machines.

Students check out the units overnight, with teachers providing instruction sheets for home use.

The laptop program will continue as a pilot for the life of the ComTech grant, when the district will then consider bringing in more schools and more machines. Two schools now under construction may use the cart system, too, Allen said.

Vancouver School District

Washington State University

Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory

Brother Corp.


Viewpoint: Manage technology to ensure computer fluency

The need for quality computer education in our schools is creating a great opportunity and a tremendous problem at the same time. The opportunity comes through the application of new and exciting tools to foster increased learning for students through technology integration. The problem arises, however, when technology plans are poorly designed or implemented, leading to a lack of measurable results, high frustration levels, and budget overruns.

So how can schools better manage technology programs to ensure computer fluency among both students and faculty? By addressing the five primary components of a successful technology plan: a long-term vision, hardware and software, professional development, student curriculum, and evaluation and assessment.

Long-term vision

Imagine the state of education five, 10, or even 20 years from now. In schools of the future, students and teachers will have technology at their fingertips and they will use it in an environment of heightened learning. Students will communicate, collaborate, create, express themselves, access information, and process information using technology that is seamlessly integrated into all classroom activities. The academic lessons of tomorrow won’t prepare students for the future in an abstract manner, but rather they will actively simulate real-world experiences utilizing ambitious interdisciplinary projects that inspire and engage children.

Remember, students need special training in reading and writing in order to make reading and writing incidental to the study of other subjects or to the execution of professional work. Along the same lines, computer fluency is a prerequisite to the very high level work that occurs in industry today and that will occur in tomorrow’s schools.

Selecting hardware and software

Educators often find themselves thrown into an arena full of clashing operating systems, development uncertainties, and software turmoil when faced with the prospect of upgrading or purchasing new equipment for computer labs and classrooms.

What hardware should schools buy? The answer is simple: Buy the market. Buy equipment the way businesses buy it. Measure performance, price, and software stability.

Consider carefully the return on investment when buying today. Analyze your needs for the next three to five years minimum, and buy the most powerful systems your budget will allow.

Also, be sure the platform purchased will support the software necessary to develop skills students need to succeed in tomorrow’s workforce. These skills encompass 10 core technology areas: desktop publishing, telecommunications, spreadsheets, databases, programming, multimedia, applied technology, word processing, operating systems, and graphic design.

In addition to educational titles, purchase software that is commonly used in business, such as Microsoft Office.

Finally, your operating budget needs to include a line item for annual hardware and software upgrades, not just for the initial capital expenditures.

Professional development

Once you’ve selected the right hardware and software, teachers must be properly trained to use it.

Most educators today have come to the realization that teachers need formal training when it comes to learning how to use technology. This is achieved through structured, comprehensive professional development programs that train teachers in the 10 core technology areas.

Professional development should utilize curricula specially designed for educators, promoting mastery of the 10 technology areas through real-world, hands-on exercises that directly relate to the teaching experience.

Once teachers have mastered those areas, professional development needs to move into a second phase: integration training. “Technology integration” has become a real buzzword in education these days. It sounds easy when you think about it: just train the teachers and students in how to use the computer, and then use it in the classroom. But we are having a very hard time achieving it. Why? Because many schools try to do the last thing first. In the rush to achieve technology integration, they often bypass the fundamental technology training itself.

Through integration training, teachers learn to incorporate computers, CD-ROMS, educational software, the internet, and other technology tools into their own classroom activities and teaching materials. Then, the real transformation of education begins to take place.

Curricula for students

Once your building is outfitted with the best hardware and software and your teachers confident in their computing skills, the next component of the plan is implementing grade-specific technology curricula.

An effective curriculum should integrate key learning objectives with software specially selected for its academic value and its ability to help students gain lifelong technology skills. Learning objectives should be defined by a scope and sequence document and cover the 10 core areas.

Another factor to consider in developing curricula is the National Educational Technology Standards (NETS), recently developed by the International Society for Technology Education (ISTE). These standards provide an excellent blueprint for the development of results-oriented, grade-specific curricula.


Technology plans and all of their components need to be continually monitored for effectiveness.

Some questions to ask in your assessment process are: How effectively do your teachers integrate technology and use technology resources to enhance learning? Is higher academic achievement being realized? Are student grades, on the average, increasing? If your answers are insufficient, perhaps you need to reassess how your technology program’s goals and tactics are being implemented.

Professional development training should include pre- and post-testing to assess teacher learning. Refresher courses or supplemental training may be needed as technology evolves. Additionally, the content of the professional development courses themselves needs to be reviewed regularly, since the technology areas we emphasize today may be totally different two years from now.


Grant Awards

$23 million from Pennsylvania Department of Education

For various technology initiatives, $23 million to 127 Pennsylvania school districts and the state’s 29 Intermediate Units. $17 million was awarded to 91 districts throught the state’s Technology Literacy Challenge Fund. An additional $5 million was awarded to the Intermediate Units to support technology in Pennsylvania’s non-public schools, and $1 million was given to 36 districts for the Web Companies Project, which provides teachers and students with the resources and training to design web sites for organizations in their communities.

(717) 783-9802

$2 million from New Hampshire Board of Education

For the Technology Literacy Challenge Fund, $2.02 million to 25 New Hampshire school districts and consortia. Because the grants take into account pre-established scores for economic, educational, and social need, a number of winning proposals were consortia pairing needy with advanced districts. Bow Consortium, for example, which pairs Bow and Merrimack Valley districts, received $149,991 to develop a distance learning network linking 10 schools and to provide joint faculty computer camps in the summers of 1999 and 2000.

(603) 271-3494

$173,835 from Jackson Foundation

To finance the school’s technology program, $173,835 to Richmond, Va., Community High School. The grant will be used to buy four computers and one printer per classroom, a computer presentation system for each department, and equipment for a production room. Funds will also be used to pay for staff training, supplies, and an upgrade to the school’s network server. The Richmond-based Jackson Foundation is a family foundation that finances a variety of local initiatives.

(804) 285-1015

$100,000 in equipment and training from Sun Microsystems

For the Open Gateways Program, which provides networking and Java technology for classroom use, more than $100,000 in equipment and training to seven Silicon Valley and Massachusetts schools. The grants consist of a Sun Enterprise Ultra 5S server, Sun server software, 30 Javastations, a one-year service contract, 20+ hours of teacher training, and Sun volunteers to provide further resources. The next round of Open Gateways applications will be available during the second week in April. Silicon Valley and Massachusetts schools are eligible to apply.

(650) 336-0487

$40,000 from Shaklee Corp.

For staff development in technology, $40,000 to Norman, Okla., Public Schools. The grant renews a donation made last year to provide in-service training to teachers in the area of technology. Shaklee Corp., a leader in nutritional research, owns a major manufacturing plant in Norman.

(405) 364-1339

$36,000 in cash and equipment from Proxima Corp.

For the Projecting Education Grants program, $36,000 in cash and equipment to four educators. Entrants were asked to submit a proposal for using a multimedia projector in the classroom. The winners–one each from the categories K-8, 9-12, community college, and university–receive a $2,500 grant and a Proxima Desktop 6800 projector. The K-12 winners were Diana Skinner of Johnston County, N.C., Schools, and Douglas Romney of Chaffee High School in Montclair, Calif.

(800) 447-7692

$27,000 from Global EDGE Tech Prep

For technology lab equipment, $27,000 to four Collin County, Texas, high schools. Global EDGE Tech Prep is a workforce development consortium housed at Collin County Community College. It seeks to restructure high school and community college curricula to give students applicable workplace skills. The following schools received awards: Celina High School, $4,500; Frisco High School, $3,000; Allen High School, $10,000; and Princeton High School, $9,500. Matching funds from the schools will be used to complete the labs.

(972) 548-6723


eRate agency commits $1.66 billion: First-year funding capped for schools and libraries

The Schools and Libraries Division (SLD) of the Universal Service Administrative Co., the group that administers the eRate, issued its final wave of 1998 funding commitment letters Feb. 27. The tenth and final wave brings the total dollar amount committed to schools and libraries to $1.66 billion for the program’s inaugural year.

The SLD’s announcement, which was made March 1, came on the same day President Clinton released 1998 figures showing more than half of the nation’s public school classrooms wired to the internet. With help from the eRate, Clinton said he expects all classrooms to be wired by 2000 as promised.

“Vice President Gore and I have set a goal of connecting every classroom in America to the internet by the year 2000,” the president said in a White House statement. “And thanks to new eRate discounts that help schools and libraries connect to the internet, we will reach our goal by the year 2000.”

According to the Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics, the percentage of public school classrooms connected to the internet nearly doubled last year, from 27 percent in 1997 to 51 percent in 1998.

SLD officials estimate that as a result of the eRate, nearly 650,000 additional public school classrooms will be wired for internet access this year. That figure would increase the total percentage of U.S. public school classrooms with internet access by another 25 percent, to more than 75 percent by the end of 1999, officials said.

Those figures assume that all applicants complete their wiring projects by the deadline, which now stands at June 30. But the SLD has filed an ex parte motion with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) asking that the deadline be moved back to Sept. 30, which would give schools the entire summer to complete their projects.

“The future is now,” said SLD president Kate Moore. “This commitment of $1.66 billion will enable thousands of students and library patrons to leapfrog into the realm of internet connectivity, which would have otherwise taken years to reach. The result will be a more highly educated society and a more competitive workforce.”

First-year overview

According to the SLD, telecommunications services and internet access were funded for all eligible schools and libraries that successfully completed applications within the filing window. But only applicants who qualified for discounts of 70 percent and above received funding for internal connections, which were designated as a lower priority by the FCC last June.

Of the 30,121 eRate applications submitted within last year’s filing window, 25,785 (about 85 percent) were funded. Most of the unfunded applications requested only internal connections but fell below the 70 percent cutoff point, Moore said.

Internal connections accounted for 54 percent of the total funds committed, she said. Telecommunications services accounted for 40 percent, and 6 percent supported basic internet access. About 60 percent of the total funding went to the neediest applicants–those for whom at least half of the student population qualified for free or reduced-price lunches.

The $1.66 billion is about $265 million short of the $1.925 billion total collected by the FCC to fund the program’s first 18 months. Part of the $265 million difference was set aside in case the FCC decides to allow the extension of contracts that expired before Dec. 31, 1998, Moore said.

When the FCC extended the first year of the eRate by six months–to June 30, 1999–the agency initially ruled that contracts expiring before Dec. 31, 1998, could not be extended to cover the extra six-month period. The Council of Chief State School Officers recently asked the FCC to allow extensions for such contracts, and a final decision is expected from the agency soon.

Another $45 million was set aside to pay for administrative expenses, Moore said, including about $12 million in one-time start-up costs. The rest of the difference will be kept in a contingency fund to cover awards to schools and libraries that win more money by appealing SLD rulings, she added.

Highs–and lows

States that received the most funding were generally those with the largest populations. California, for example, received $206 million in funding, followed by New York with $165 million and Texas with $128 million.

One notable exception was Georgia, which received nearly $78 million–the fifth-highest total among the 50 states. More than $28 million was awarded to the Metropolitan Regional Educational Service Agency (MRESA) alone, a consortium of 14 Georgia school districts that includes the 11 metropolitan Atlanta school systems, three associate systems, and more than a half-million students.

MRESA received funding for an internet-based educational video distribution and multimedia network called MRESAnet 2000. The system will use the data communication lines currently being installed through the state Department of Education’s Peachnet initiative, along with the satellite broadcasting capabilities of the Atlanta Public Schools and Georgia Public Television, to bring video-on-demand to each school in the MRESA region.

“This is going to be a real shot in the arm for the school districts involved,” said Bernard Hatch, executive director of MRESA.

Not everyone was happy with the disbursement of funds, however. The SLD turned down a request for nearly $17 million in funding from the Tennessee Department of Education to upgrade the state’s education network, ConnecTEN.

Tennessee’s application proved controversial from the beginning. Because states are not eligible to receive eRate discounts for improving their wide area networks, Tennessee sold its network to a private company, Education Networks of America. In return, ENA offered to install a point of presence at each of the state’s 1,600 schools so it could charge the state for direct internet access to the schools, rather than the routers, hubs, and switches necessary to improve the network.

In rejecting Tennessee’s request, the SLD said the network hardware costs did not qualify as internet access expenses under the eRate. State education commissioner Jane Walters told The Tennessean she would appeal the agency’s decision to the FCC.

Still, the state’s schools and libraries netted more than $27 million from the program because many school districts chose to apply on their own. Memphis City School District, for example, was awarded $10.5 million to bring six cable drops per classroom and 100MB Ethernet connectivity to every desktop in 63 of the district’s 166 schools.

Schools and Libraries Division

National Center for Education Statistics

Federal Communications Commission

Metropolitan Regional Educational Service Agency

Tennessee Department of Education

Memphis City School District


Stakeholder & Community Relations: Boost your public image with smart online PR

If educators have a consistent gripe, it’s that we don’t recognize our schools or ourselves in the news coverage we receive.

We know that the vast majority of our schools are safe, well-managed, and high achieving. Yet each day we’re bombarded with words and pictures to the contrary. Some fear–and they may be right–the unfettered nature of the web is only making the problem worse.

Getting the media’s attention for the good things your schools are doing can be a challenge–after all, bad news and bad behavior sell.

If we’re going to change our schools’ image, it’s up to us. It’s not the media’s job to tell our story. It’s our job to convince them there’s a better story to tell.

Digital defense

That’s where the web can help. Most reporters like to tap into national news and trends. Like the rest of us, they’re also pressed for time.

Use this to your advantage. Design your home page with the media in mind, and post news releases, daily events, and staff members’ expertise and eMail addresses.

Package your good news in a way that makes it easy for reporters to do business with you. Scan key web sites–like–that feature breaking education news and issues and tie your media pitch to what’s happening nationally.

News you can use

New surveys, reports, legislation, and major program announcements can serve as launching pads for in-depth features on pressing issues and good news stories about students and staff.

Here’s a few recent examples you can use:

• New educational technology standards for students were published in February by the International Society for Technology in Education. How do local schools measure up?

• A new national study published in February finds that schools must change to prepare students for the digital age. (See “Preparing Schools and School Systems for the 21st Century” on the American Association of School Administrators’ web page.)

• Schools’ spending on software–already at $822 million–is increasing rapidly. What’s the return on investment? How are your schools ensuring that money is being spent wisely? (See the Software and Information Industry Association’s “1999 Education Market Report K-12,” and related news coverage in Education Week.)

Big-picture issues

We recently used these big-picture issues to frame several technology story possibilities for our local media, offering our staff as expert interviews. The news “hook” that made the timing right for a technology story was our Midwest Educational Technology Conference, an annual event that attracted more than 1,500 participants from 28 states.

The result? Strong local television segments on two different stations–with a print story in the works–on technology in schools and the importance of teacher training, with our organization positioned as an expert resource and one of our member districts highlighted as a powerful example of how schools can integrate technology into the curriculum.

The next step? Develop a “good news” section on your web site for anyone who might have missed the originals and advertise its availability through eMail, fax broadcasting, snail mail, and other communication channels. (For an excellent example of this technique, see Rockwood School District’s web site.)

Changing education’s image in the media is going to take time, resources, and a new level of sophistication and skill. Given the growing gap between the public and our nation’s public schools (See Public Agenda’s web site), yesterday is not too soon to get started.

International Society for Technology in Education

American Association of School Administrators

Education Week

Rockwood School District

Public Agenda


Ethics & Law: In the virtual Garden of Eden, beware of snakes

For many educators, parents, and students, the internet has become the Garden of Eden, the ultimate resource, with the fruit of knowledge hanging from every tree.

Of course, there are the usual temptations, the rotten apples (that’s a small “a,” Mac lovers), and the occasional snake in the weeds. But beyond the purveyors of porn and the vendors of violence, one of the most obnoxious plunderers of the internet paradise has been spam.

Web users are learning how to get the spam off the menu. Firewall filters and browser blocks help, as have the internet service provider (ISP) policies that block unfettered relaying of bulk messages.

The courts and Congress have joined in the fray, with legislators touting laws that would make spam illegal and judges balancing free speech with the rights of solicitors. Although no court has yet found it unconstitutional to yell “spam!” in a crowded theater, the First Amendment protection afforded to spammers has been limited like other commercial speech.

Paradise lost

In Cyber Promotions Inc. vs. America Online, a U.S. District Court judge in Pennsylvania ruled that AOL’s eMail servers were “private” property. Therefore, AOL had the right to fence out unwanted spammers with blocking software.

The old common law theory of “Trespass to Chattels” reared its head in CompuServe Inc. vs. Cyber Promotions. Like the 17th-century Londoner who sued his neighbor for having an affair with his wife, spammers could be liable for intentionally “touching” your computer with a few less-than-tender bytes.

While other legislation is pending before Congress and in several states to ban the practice of spam advertising, the bottom line for school officials is: With the screening software available, keeping the spam out of your school computers should be a piece of cake.

Banner day

But there are other, more benign serpents lurking amid the greenery of the web. The proliferation of banner-type advertising on web pages poses some interesting issues for educators.

Rather than charge admission to web sites that offer information and other services, site builders offer billboard space to “sponsors.” In many cases, a mouse click on the banner will whisk you through a hyperlink to the home page of the advertiser. In other instances, a web page using frames technology can create a seamless link that opens the commercial web site in a new windowpane on the web page you are viewing.

Most educators would probably think twice about accepting an offer from a textbook company to supply reduced-price history books filled with advertisements, paid ads in overhead panels of school buses, or flashy commercial posters to decorate school hallways. But how many have questioned students using school computers to browse web sites filled with colorful come-ons? Many sites that cater to young web surfers also tout everything from toys to sugarcoated breakfast cereal.

Of course, for every problem there is at least one solution. Products like Siemens’ Web Washer that wipe banner ad content off web pages as they download may be seen as a convenient way to reduce the number of commercials reaching your students as they research homework topics.

But these relatively new programs are not without technical glitches and may give rise to legal skirmishes. After all, advertisers paying to reach web site visitors will be less than pleased if their efforts can be erased like yesterday’s blackboard math quiz.

Advertisers may put pressure on web sites to block access to browsers with anti-ad plug-ins. The worst-case scenario would be legal action against users (like your school district) who intentionally block the commercial banners. After all, your students are using the free stuff that they sponsor.

Web Washer


Technology vendors up the ante for education at AASA: Gates’ vision of a ‘digital nervous system’ for schools played out in technology-rich exhibit hall

He missed last year’s American Association of School Administrators (AASA) conference because of a federal investigation, but on Feb. 22 Microsoft chairman Bill Gates made time to map the digital future of schools and tell superintendents and other school leaders that the software giant is leading an industry initiative to improve the interoperability of software for schools.

Speaking at this year’s AASA conference, held in New Orleans Feb. 19-22, Gates was on hand mainly to promote Microsoft’s new software interoperability initiative (see cover story, page 1). But along the way he also set forth his concept of a “digital nervous system.”

In this “digital nervous system,” Gates said, any school “ought to be able to call up the data about its basic operation, collaborate about its planning, make it easy to interact with…the students and the parents, and really have better organizational reflexes than it’s possible to have when things are simply done on paper.”

To encourage the growth of this “digital nervous system” in schools, Gates said, administrators should think about six key concerns about how technology is being used at their schools:

1. Student involvement. “How do you get the students to be the ones that often manage and help maintain the systems so that there’s not personnel costs or very little personnel costs in setting [networks] up?” Gates asked.

2. Curriculum integration. “It’s only when you get the interaction with the computer to be rich enough,” Gates said, “that it’s part of learning, not just of testing.”

3. Student data storage and retrieval. “Is it easy to look up and see the trends in terms of attendance and grades? Is it easy to look at your seniors, what colleges are they going to, how does that correlate to the different programs that they’ve gone through?”

4. Office paper elimination. “This is a challenge I make to businesses and schools alike,” Gates said. “At Microsoft we’ve completely eliminated all the paper forms we used to use internally.”

5. Streamlining routine tasks for administrators. “And when it comes to something like placing an order to buy something, can you get all the information about the necessary criteria and how that’s going to be tracked, how it relates to the budget?” Gates asked.

6. Giving teachers and parents greater access to classroom learning and school activities.

Exhibit highlights

Gates’ idea that technology will soon permeate every facet of school life was confirmed on the exhibit floor, which was crowded with curriculum and management software, hardware and network equipment, and computer-based professional development companies.

Here are some highlights from the three days of the conference:

FamilyEducation Network (FEN) began showing off its new set of web tools for schools. FEN provides schools with a low-maintenance solution for establishing (or enhancing) your web sites at no cost. Its new “InterCom WebTools” allow web authors to add to and maintain the web site FEN gives you without having to know HTML or other computer languages. The tools should be available to school users before the end of the academic year.

Teacher Universe announced its premiere at the conference. Teacher Universe offers a range of technology and professional development programs. Its services will include tools to help schools develop technology plans that conform to state, district and school requirements; training for administrators in using productivity tools and technology systems; and hands-on instruction in how to infuse technology into the daily curriculum. Teacher Universe is a Knowledge Universe company.

Brother Corp. announced a pretty nice special show promotion for schools: buy 20 of its GeoBooks (or Super PowerNotes) and receive a free Laser Printer. The GeoBook is a portable laptop that runs on the BrotherWorks operating system. It offers students low-cost access to a word processor, spreadsheet, internet and eMail applications, and more. At $399, $499, and $599, the GeoBooks are some of the most affordable machines available to teach children basic computing skills. You can find more details about the offer on the Brother web site.

The Bedford, Mass.-based Pre-Owned Electronics, which rebuilds and repairs computers to sell at super-cheap prices, said it will offer PowerMacs at $700. The PowerMac can run many education software programs, access the internet through built-in ethernet support, and can be upgraded to a G3 system with an upgrade card. Pre-Owned Electronics also carries service parts for Compaq and Mac equipment-including that long list of service parts Apple recently discontinued.

Makers of administrative tools for the public sector, FreeBalance announced that it is offering free financial management software for schools. School financial managers can download a free, five-user copy of the “FreeBalance Foundation” software, which includes basic fund, budget, and general ledger and expenditure applications. The company says that school board financial managers can use the suite for immediate production purposes or as a low-cost contingency solution to their Year 2000 financial system replacements initiatives. You can find the software on the company’s web site.

The Lightspan Partnership is showing some impressive results with its “Lightspan Adventures” learning curriculum. According to the company, a recent survey showed that 95 percent of teachers who used the curriculum said it improved student performance in math, and 97 percent said it helped students perform better in reading. The curriculum can also be run on an inexpensive Sony Playstation game console-making it accessible for schools or families who can’t afford computers.

DISH Network announced its satellite-based offerings for schools. Its program menu includes the Schoolhouse Network, courses and learning materials developed by K-12 providers such as the L.A. County Office of Education’s TEAMS and ETN projects. Other professional development and interactive learning programs offered by DISH Network include the Jason Project, National Schools Conference Institute, and Foreign Language TV. Contact the company for prices.

Sphere Communications Inc. announced that its ATM-based phone service is now available to schools across the country and qualifies for eRate support. With new technology that allows voice and data to travel over the same line, Sphere is able to offer “Centrex-like” phone capabilities over your high-speed ATM (asynchronous transfer mode) data network for a fraction of the cost of a conventional phone system. “We can now offer phone service in virtually every classroom, with features and functions that boost productivity and ensure greater safety and improved communications with staff and parents,” said John Schmidt, the technology leader of the Schenectady, N.Y., School District.

New Century Education Corporation demonstrated its Integrated Instructional System, a computer-based curriculum designed to align with state and national instructional standards. Teachers can correlate standards to the appropriate lessons offered by New Century on its web site. The curriculum also offers integrated assessment and individualized test preparation tools.

Acer America Corp. introduced its “EduCart,” a hardware system designed to help teachers present interactive lessons to classrooms. The system consists of a PC connected to a projector, video camera, and a document camera. Specially-designed software allows the components to work together to allow teachers to project images from web sites or printed materials and make annotations which can be captured as PowerPoint slides or HTML pages. Any Windows-based application can also be projected and annotated.

Voyager launched its middle school curriculum package, which includes interactive lessons, parent and teacher guides, and optional training sessions for instructors. The curriculum is designed to give students opportunities to learn through real-world contexts, explore future career possibilities, discuss moral and ethical issues, and develop problem-solving skills. Programs include “Pre+Med Code Blue,” “Prelaw Justice for All,” and “American Dream,” where students explore history, government, economics and sociology through the context of the American “melting pot.”

Educational Technologies Software & Services Inc. (ETSS) unveiled a product that combines the federal reporting and test-analysis components of one popular ETSS product with the student-management abilities of another. According to ETSS President Nancy Driscoll, Advantage 5.0 is a Y2K-compliant student information management system offering totally integrated student information, analysis, grading, and scheduling. The software is designed with standards and accountability requirements in mind, offers rapid implementation, and can link to Human Resources and payroll systems. It features on-menu data analysis, special capabilities for case-management for high-risk students, and extensive family and language data, but requires no complicated query protocols.

HTE Education Systems, another provider of software applications for K-12 administrators and business managers, featured its “Student Administration System.” This student-oriented system provides comprehensive tracking and maintenance of student information, said Pam Kelly, a company representative. The package includes registration, attendance, scheduling, grade reporting, and transcripts. The software also supports bar coding and scanning for attendance and grade reporting, and it has the capability to store and print student photos for ID cards, homeroom lists, and rolodex cards. The company’s applications run in a Microsoft Windows NT environment and integrate fully with Microsoft Office applications to provide a complete school administration solution, Kelly said.

SNAP Systems highlighted its WinSNAP software, reportedly the first food-service software product to take full advantage of the emerging hardware and operating systems now dominating the market. The beauty of WinSNAP lies in its design, the company said. The software is written specifically for Windows 95/Windows NT and the 32-bit operating environment. Software modules include menu planning, point-of-sale accounting, communications, reports, edits, production, inventory, purchasing, free and reduced-price meals tracking, a commodity maximizer, utilities, and nutrient analysis. WinSNAP also can be connected to student and financial systems, the company said.

Microsoft Corp.

Schools Interoperability Framework initiative

Acer America Corporation

Brother Corp.

Educational Technologies Software & Service Inc.

DISH Network

FamilyEducation Network


HTE Education Systems

Lightspan Partnership

New Century Education Corporation

Pre-Owned Electronics

SNAP Systems

Sphere Communications Inc.

Teacher Universe



Virtual tour of capitol enlivens Oklahoma civics classes

A new interactive educational tool will enable Oklahoma middle school students to take a virtual tour of the state Capitol and learn how legislation is passed.

“A Capitol Idea: The Oklahoma Learning Machine” is a CD-ROM that provides lessons on how a bill becomes law in Oklahoma, using animation and humor to help students understand how the state legislature works.

The project is a joint effort of the Oklahoma legislature, the state Department of Central Services, the Oklahoma Educational Television Authority (OETA), and AT&T.

“This educational initiative joins history and art with technology while promoting Oklahoma’s spirit and pride,” said Gov. Frank Keating. “It is exactly the kind of high-tech educational tool we need in our classrooms today to help our young people learn more about Oklahoma history and the work done in the capitol by our legislators.”

The CD-ROM is free to public middle schools in the state as well as public and university libraries.

A total of 10,000 copies were scheduled to be distributed to middle schools by the state’s Department of Education by March 31. The department helped develop the content for the CD-ROM to ensure that it fit in with its curriculum goals.

In addition to the virtual tour and step-by-step legislative lesson, the CD-ROM also provides historical information on the state capitol.

“Most students would rather play a video game than read a textbook,” said state Superintendent of Schools Sandy Garrett. “This CD will hold students’ interest while teaching valuable components of Oklahoma government and history.”

“As we prepare the Capitol to be the focal point of the statehood centennial, it is increasingly important that more of our students and citizens develop a pride in their seat of government and the unity it symbolizes,” added Pam Warren, secretary of administration. “We anticipate the CD will prove its value immediately and be sought after for years to come.”

AT&T funded the project through a foundation grant of $67,000, along with in-kind donations from OETA and Central Services.

Avant Digital Marketing of Edmond, Okla., was responsible for the creative concept and software development. The project, which took about five months to complete, is similar to another AT&T-supported effort in neighboring Texas.

AT&T Corp.

Avant Digital Marketing


eSN Special Report: Bar-coded cards offer security–and much more

One K-12 trend on the rise is the use of bar-coded, magnetic stripe, and “smart chip” student ID cards to streamline a wide range of student management functions, from attendance tracking and library transactions to cafeteria accounting and computer-lab access control.

More and more schools are issuing bar-coded ID cards to students, faculty, staff, and even outsiders such as construction workers and contractors. In many instances, schools are using the same cards to handle multiple functions, though this requires compatibility among administrative software applications.

If you’ve invested in student ID cards for, say, security and attendance purposes, you can use those same cards for grading and discipline tracking, library and cafeteria transactions, busing, facility access, and parental consent internet access. The cards can even be used as prepaid activity passes.

If you’re thinking of implementing an advanced ID system, there are several options to consider. What function or functions do you have in mind for the cards? What budget do you want to tap to implement the system? Do you want to go with traditional film-based cards or the more advanced, digital imaging technology?

Harrison, Colo., School District faced these same questions not long ago as the school system sought a way to handle growth, address school security, and increase its efficiency of operation.

With enrollment at the district’s two high schools growing to approximately 1,200 students each, the student services department wanted to abandon its old, nonfunctional ID card system for one that could keep a better tab on the schools’ expanding populations. The department also wanted a system that could streamline its cafeteria operation and eventually handle library services and a range of other functions.

“We were really looking for one photo ID system to do it all,” said district official Dixie Maez. “We wanted all our information to travel through a single, centralized server made accessible by students and staff carrying their ID cards.”

Maez’s research led her to the digital technology of Denver-based DataCard Corp.

Digital ID cards have many advantages over their traditional film-based counterparts, including more durability, superior resistance to tampering, and a replacement cost that’s about one-fourth that of replacing film-based cards, according to Maez.

DataCard was able to provide the district with a system that could be easily integrated with the district’s various databases and platforms, Maez said. The firm also provides all the equipment a district needs to produce the cards, from software and printers to digital cameras and other accessories.

Using funds from its yearly security budget, the district purchased three complete ID systems from DataCard and began producing cards at the beginning of the 1998-99 school year.

“We batch-printed more than 1,200 photo IDs at each school in just a few days,” recalled Harrison High School assistant principal Rob Ransdell. “[The DataCard] systems offered the reliability and performance we needed to produce such a large number of photo IDs in such a short period of time.”

Initially, the district’s two high schools are using the digital cards as student and staff ID badges. The ID cards have also been integrated with the schools’ food service database, allowing for faster moving lines in the cafeteria as well as improved privacy for students on subsidized meal plans.

The district hopes to integrate the cards for library transactions in the 1999-2000 school year. Further down the road, the district plans to add even more functions, such as attendance, access to school events, busing verification, and internet access.

“With safety and cost issues driving how schools are run, I truly believe that digital photo ID technology is the wave of the future for schools,” Maez remarked. “Fortunately, our district had the foresight to recognize this trend early on, and we’re seeing the benefits already.”


eSN Special Report: Managing schools with technology

The proliferation of new technologies to handle front and back office functions is the same for education as it has been for every other industry, with one major exception: School districts have a dizzying number of simultaneous functions to manage.

Hundreds of technology vendors tout thousands of software applications–all promising to lower a district’s administrative costs and boost its efficiency.

With limited resources, so many functions to address, and so many vendors to choose from, school technology decision makers definitely have their work cut out for them.

As schools increasingly rely on technology to manage day-to-day tasks such as payroll, inventory, transportation, lunch room management, class scheduling, record keeping, grade reporting, student enrollment, and curriculum management, probably the greatest challenge lies in developing a system where the various software functions can communicate with one another.

Daniel Aggen, vice president and general manager of education technology consultant inc., agrees. When it comes to software incompatibility in schools, Aggen has seen just about everything.

There was the school district administrative building in which various departments were actively using three very different and incompatible word processors, for example. “So even inter-office memos had to be delivered in paper form,” Aggen recalled.

A more common incompatibility problem occurs when offices and classrooms are operating on different equipment, he said.

“In many school districts, the administration will be existing in a PC world, while teachers are using Macintosh in the classrooms,” Aggen said. “It’s almost like they’ve created two separate worlds.”

When a client needs multiple systems to handle various office functions, Aggen said his firm always looks for systems that are compatible. Unfortunately, he conceded, many districts are restricted by tight budgets and tend to go with the vendor that pitches the lowest price, regardless of whether that vendor’s software is compatible with other systems being used by the district.

Still, many options exist for school districts to make decisions with compatibility in mind–decisions that at the very least will ensure that related functions are run on like systems.

For example, this summer the Homer, Ill., Public School District will implement a new student administrative system from Specialized Data Systems Inc. (SDS), along with a $20,000 transportation application program called VersaTrans from Creighton Manning of Delmar, N.Y. District business manager John Lavelle said the attendance functions of SDS will be integrated with VersaTrans to create the district’s transportation routing schedule.

The SDS administrative software is also compatible with the district’s Jackson Software-provided GradeQuick reporting system, Lavelle said. The end result is that administrators will only have to enter a student’s information once to maintain multiple functions such as demographics, grade reporting, and busing.

Complete solutions

School districts looking to avoid the messy complications of incompatible software systems now have another ally: Several companies are beginning to offer “turnkey” solutions that combine several school management functions into a single package or family of products.

For example, HTE Education Solutions (formerly Phoenix Systems) of Lake Mary, Fla., says it can provide a complete administrative solution for school districts. HTE provides fully integrated applications for general accounting, human resources, payroll, and comprehensive student management. All applications run in a Microsoft NT environment and allow for complete integration with Microsoft Office programs.

HTE’s Student Administration System handles everything from registration, attendance, and scheduling to grade reporting and transcripts. It stores and maintains a wide range of data–including student parking information, health background, activities, locker assignment, transportation, homeroom assignment, and student profile. It can also integrate bar code scanner systems for attendance and grade reporting.

HTE also provides a suite of products that integrate back office functions. The company’s General Accounting System allows for access to multiple users and includes a variety of functions, such as general ledger, accounts payable and receivable, budget development, purchasing, invoicing, vendor history, Form 1099 generation, integrated reporting, requisitions, check reconciliation, and state reporting. The system also features a secure environment and the ability to conform to either accrual, modified accrual, or cash accounting standards.

For staffing needs, HTE’s Human Resources application features online processing and management of employee records. It stores both current and historical data to compile complete reports based on demographics, academic and professional credentials, compensation and benefits, or attendance and assignments. The human resources system can also store a digital photo along with an employee’s records.

For online processing of staff compensation, you can add a payroll application capable of handling direct deposit, retirement fund contributions, multiple pay schedules, and unlimited deductions.

The Bloomfield, Conn., School District uses HTE’s software to manage its 2,650 students and operate its five schools. Since each of the district’s buildings is networked, data can be shared online among its various departments. Payroll can be linked to staff attendence over the network, for example, saving a great deal of time and paperwork.

The system “has made life easier because we have just one point of contact,” said Jean Gilmore, the district’s business manager. Using one vendor also assures the district that its systems will be interoperable, Gilmore added.

Student tracking and reporting

Educational Technologies Software & Services Inc. (ETSS) of Raleigh, N.C., recently unveiled a student information system of note that combines the federal reporting and test-analysis components of one popular ETSS product, Advantage, with the student management functions of another, Success. Known as Advantage 5.0, the hybrid offers educators a comprehensive approach to student management.

Launched in 1986 as a teacher recruitment and training company, ETSS later delved into curriculum and administrative software. Advantage was soon created to help school districts deal with federally-mandated Title I and migrant education reporting requirements, while Success was geared toward managing troubled students.

A combination of the two, Advantage 5.0 is Y2K-compliant and offers fully integrated student data, analysis, grading, and scheduling capabilities for complete school-by-school analysis.

The application is an “open system” that uses a standard Microsoft interface, meaning users will work with Microsoft Office programs such as Word, Excel, and Access. Another feature, called “Quick Queries,” allows for “point-and-click” analysis of student information, meaning school districts can concentrate on getting the information they need and spend less time training personnel on query protocols.

To help schools comply with state-mandated reports, Advantage 5.0 is customizable and allows all minimum standard requirements to be entered into the system’s achievement table, ETSS said. The system can hold historical data and can produce a wide range of graphical charts and reports.

As for compatibility with other systems, ETSS says it has relationships with other vendors to address those concerns. For instance, if a school district wants to completely integrate a database to manage student information and staffing needs, ETSS said it can establish a link to SAP’s K-12 Human Resource System. Similar links can be built to bring food service functions and transportation scheduling online as well, the company said.

Schools Interoperability Framework

But even if a district has the budget to be selective and carefully chooses software packages that create minimal or no incompatibilities within its own operations, there’s no way to avoid the problems that come with installing a replacement system or sharing data between two or more school systems.

For example, what happens when a school or district decides to change to a completely new system, such as converting to a new database? Riverton High School in Wyoming is in the midst of doing just that, according to computer teacher Sarah Giard, who said the conversion has been anything but easy.

“Some of the student data did not transfer over, so the information is being reentered for over 1,200 students in our high school,” Giard said, adding that the conversion has also disrupted data uploads from the district’s middle schools.

And the issues only increase when school systems try to communicate with each another.

“Common formats would greatly facilitate the essential task of integrating information on students transferring into a district,” said Charles Rosengard, manager of information systems and technology for Kern, Calif., High School District.

Rosengard should know. Last fall, when Kern enrolled 7,500 freshmen from more than 20 different K-8 school districts, student data from these districts were forwarded in a wide range of formats.

Problems such as these are the main catalyst behind the Schools Interoperability Framework (SIF), a Microsoft-led initiative that aims to establish the standard that has thus far been lacking in the K-12 technology industry (see cover story, page 1).

The initiative had the support of 18 other companies as of late February, when Microsoft chairman and CEO Bill Gates announced the framework at the AASA conference in New Orleans.

According to Manish Sharma, Microsoft’s representative to the SIF working group, corporate interest in the initiative picked up just after the Gates announcement. Missing notables such as Apple and Oracle are said to be considering whether to participate.

Sharma said the specification will be posted on the SIF web site and can be used by any vendor that wants to comply with the framework. That’s when vendors and administrators will find out if SIF will truly become a standard for the educational technology industry.

Though hopeful, some observers–including Aggen–have their doubts. “I just don’t know how you’re going to get all those vendors aboard one boat,” Aggen said.

While not a vendor itself, does have some influence with the software developers it works with, Aggen said, adding that the firm will definitely encourage those vendors to support the new framework. “It would do nothing but benefit our school district partners,” he said.

With Microsoft’s clout behind the effort, SIF promises at least to make more noise than previous efforts such as SPEEDE/ExPRESS. If enough vendors agree to use the specification, the initiative could very well prove to be an important missing link for schools wrestling with incompatible systems. inc.

HTE Education Solutions

Educational Technologies Software & Services Inc.

Harrison School District

DataCard Corp.