“Hope for Urban Education” takes flight

Nine urban elementary schools that have served children of color in poor communities and achieved impressive academic results are the focus of this report released in December at the Department of Education’s third regional Improving America’s Schools conference in Chicago. “What stands out among these schools,” said Education Secretary Richard Riley, “is a clear and unrelenting focus on high standards, a commitment to serving children and ensuring their academic success, and a collective sense of responsibility and persistence among school staff.” Most of the 150-page report (126 pages) is devoted to in-depth case studies of these nine schools: Harriet A. Baldwin School in Boston; Baskin Elementary in San Antonio; Burgess Elementary in Atlanta; Centerville Elementary in East St. Louis, Ill.; Goodale Elementary in Detroit; Hawley Environmental Elementary in Milwaukee; Lora B. Peck Elementary in Houston; Gladys Noon Spellman Elementary in Cheverly, Md.; and James Ward Elementary in Chicago. All are Title I-funded schools that pool resources through “schoolwide projects” to serve all students and improve achievement. This study and report were produced for the Department’s Planning and Evaluation Service by the Charles A. Dana Center at the University of Texas at Austin.

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Mississippi Delta teachers to receive free internet training:

During a visit to east Arkansas in December, President Clinton and Education Secretary Richard Riley announced a program to provide free training on using the internet in the classroom for 100,000 teachers in the seven-state Mississippi Delta region.

The announcement of the free internet training program, called the MarcoPolo Internet Content for the Classroom Initiative, was part of Clinton’s ongoing efforts to increase the prosperity of the Delta region.

The initiative, which is funded by the MCI WorldCom Foundation, will give teachers “unprecedented access to the kind of world-class educational materials that in the past only the wealthiest school districts could afford,” Clinton said.

Teachers in Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, and Tennessee will learn over the next two years how to use the internet in general, and the MarcoPolo web site in particular, as a teaching resource.

The MarcoPolo web site provides lesson plans, panel-approved web links, and original content developed by some of the most prestigious educational organizations in the country, said Caleb Schutz, vice president of the MCI WorldCom Foundation.

Training will be offered to teachers in the Delta states free of charge and is “intended to impact every classroom in every school” in the seven states, Schutz said.

“When I first heard of the program, I thought it was a software package,” said Myrtle Jameison, a high school teacher in Earle, Arkansas. “I didn’t realize it was internet access. It’s just a matter of going to their site.”

She said her students have already surfed the MarcoPolo web site after learning about it during the president’s visit.

“You don’t have to worry about the students getting into something they shouldn’t,” Jameison said. “If they pull information up, you know it’s correct.”

The MarcoPolo Internet Content for the Classroom Initiative is a partnership between the MCI WorldCom Foundation and seven leading nonprofit educational organizations.

Partners include the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Council of the Great City Schools, the Kennedy Center, The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, the National Council on Economic Education, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the National Geographic Society.

The MCI WorldCom Foundation has been dedicated to developing quality internet content for schools for more than three years, Schutz said.

The foundation spends between $4 million and $8 million each year on the MarcoPolo program as a corporate philanthropy project for MCI WorldCom, a global leader in communications services with operations in more than 65 countries.

“We do want to make a profound difference in education in this country,” Schutz said. “And we want to be recognized for doing that.”

The training offered by the foundation works as a pyramid system. Instructors from MarcoPolo train a group of teachers about the program, and those teachers pass on what they have learned to other teachers in their region.

“Unless someone actually demonstrates that this is useful, [teachers] are not going to use it,” said Fred Haller, director of instructional technology at Severn School in Severna Park, Md. Haller also is an instructor for the MarcoPolo program.

Haller said he shows teachers how useful the MarcoPolo program is by walking them through it. The training program is flexible and tailored to the recipient’s needs. “Some of the people I have trained literally needed to be trained on how to use the web,” he said.

Teachers learn how to use a search engine, how to use a web browser, and how resources from the MarcoPolo web site can be used in the classroom.

The MarcoPolo site is designed to avoid several problems involved in internet research, such as finding credible sources, linking to inappropriate sites, and getting lost in a sea of information.

Every link has been reviewed by college professors and experts in the field, Haller said. The site is limited to about 100 links to make research more manageable.

“The lesson plans that are listed are also cross-referenced with national standards,” Haller said. Lesson plans go through “a rigorous evaluation process.” They are peer-reviewed, edited, and re-edited. Cash grants are available to those who contribute lesson plans to the program.

Any state or school district across the country may apply to participate in the training program by filling out an application on the MarcoPolo web site. Districts that participate in the program will receive on-site training sessions taught by internet education specialists and copies of the MarcoPolo Teacher Training Kit, which contains a trainer’s guide, CD-ROM, mouse pad, and classroom poster.

The program is targeted to teachers who must meet rigorous academic goals set by their school districts, according to the foundation.

MarcoPolo Internet Content for the Classroom Initiative
http://www.mciworldcom.com/marcopolo

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Colleges get new tool to train tomorrow’s teachers in technology

As schools fill up with once-scarce computer equipment, administrators are faced with a new challenge: how to find teachers who actually know how to teach using all those brand-new computers.

In a Jan. 10 press conference in Washington, D.C., at the National Conference on Teacher Quality, members of the CEO Forum on Education and Technology, along with U.S. Education Secretary Richard Riley, announced a new component of the group’s plan to address this problem by jump-starting teacher technology education.

The CEO Forum’s newest version of its School Technology and Readiness (STaR) Chart, entitled “Teacher Preparation,” is designed to provide teacher colleges and universities with a self-rating tool that would help these programs produce teachers who are skilled at using technology in their classrooms.

The group has also challenged teacher colleges to make the data they gather public within six months.

In his remarks to the press, Secretary Riley noted, “Unfortunately, as a recent study by the Department’s NCES [National Center for Education Statistics] found, only about 20 percent of new teachers feel ‘very well prepared’ to integrate education technology into [their] classroom instruction.”

John Hendricks, CEO Forum chair and founder and chief executive of Discovery Communications, added, “Some two million new teachers will be entering the work force in the course of the next decade. These teachers will be the principal gatekeepers to the future of our children. They simply must have the technological skills to teach our children how to seize new opportunities.”

The NCES study also found that fewer than half of the nations’ teacher-preparation programs require their students to take classes on technology-based instruction. And only three states—Idaho, North Carolina, and Virginia—require their teachers to be proficient in technology integration. By using the teacher-preparation STaR Chart, colleges of education can assess their technology training programs to ensure that all new teachers have adequate skills by 2001, the group said.

The chart will measure big-picture issues, such as teacher colleges’ strategic plans and funding, as well as everyday issues like the age of computers and the amount of time instructors and candidates must wait for technical support. Equipment that is five years old, for instance, with a several-day wait for service, would rate as Early Tech, the lowest score on the three-level chart.

Third year of the agenda

Founded in 1996, the CEO Forum on Education and Technology is a unique partnership between business and education leaders who share an interest in integrating technology into America’s schools.

The group’s four-year agenda was kicked off with the publication of the “School Technology and Readiness Report,” in which the first version of the STaR Chart was published. Also in its first year, the CEO Forum issued the first STaR Assessment, a benchmark measure of national progress in educational technology.

In the program’s second year, the CEO Forum released another School Technology and Readiness Report, entitled “Professional Development: A Link to Better Learning,” which included an updated STaR chart for assessing professional development and an update of the STaR Assessment.

The most recent update on teacher preparedness marks the beginning of the third year of the program’s formal agenda.

“The physical result of our work has been the STaR Chart,” Hendricks explained. “We have issued two others, focused on the connectivity and professional development in our schools. Later this year, we will issue a fourth on how to develop digital learning environments.”

The charts themselves will be offered to schools, colleges, and departments of education to provide a visual display of key factors for the integration of technology in all aspects of preparing teacher candidates.

This year’s chart outlines three levels of technology use: Early, Developing, and Advanced Technology. Each category also has a Target Tech indicator that sets a goal for the overall implementation. The creators of the charts assume that institutions will fall within various levels across the matrix.

Education leaders hope this year’s STaR Charts will provide colleges of education with the definitive yardstick they need to measure their technology training of new teachers.

“Technology can be the blackboard of the future for America’s teachers. But if we do not give our teachers proper training, it is like denying them the chalk that they use on those blackboards,” said Riley.

CEO Forum on Education and Technology
http://www.ceoforum.org

U.S. Department of Education
http://www.ed.gov

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Preparedness and spending squashed school Y2K bugs

Dire predictions of chaos notwithstanding, it appears that proper planning—and millions of dollars spent in upgrades and labor—have paid off for the nation’s schools, as computer systems hum along despite the threat of Y2K-induced malfunction.

Overall, the nation’s schools have emerged largely unscathed from the turn of the century, according to school officials around the country as well as a preliminary survey conducted by the U. S. Department of Education (ED).

Of the 51 elementary and secondary schools that participated in the survey, 100 percent reported that all systems and infrastructures were operational after Jan. 1, 2000.

Eight percent reported that they had delayed school openings as a planned Y2K precaution, and a mere 2 percent reported minor Y2K problems that were quickly resolved.

For example, one district reported that one of its 35 water heaters had to be turned on manually; one reported that 3 workstations displayed incorrect dates; and one district reported a problem in student services on an older machine.

Over the past few years, educators and private-sector companies alike have been scrambling to update old computer systems, which were not equipped to handle the change of date from 1999 to 2000. Computer experts feared that many older computers would read the new date as Jan. 1, 1900, thereby causing serious problems with all fiscal transactions and other date-sensitive information.

The so-called “millennium bug” didn’t cripple the Simi Valley Unified School District in California, according to a report by the Ventura County Star.

After an extra week of winter vacation, during which educators hoped to sort through any complications arising from the year 2000, students returned from the holiday without incident. “Everything seems to be fine. It’s very uneventful,” Cary Dritz, assistant superintendent of personnel services, told the Star.

In addition to problems with school information services, officials at Simi Valley anticipated a possible malfunction of fuel pumps, which would have disabled school buses and hindered transportation. School officials also feared a failure in refrigeration systems, causing school cafeteria food to spoil. But it appears their fears were unfounded.

Teachers and administrators at Hyde Park Elementary School in Jacksonville, Fla., also breathed a sigh of relief when they came back from winter break to discover it was business as usual, according to the Florida Times-Union.

Robert Monahan, regional technology coordinator for Duval County Schools, said a new software program designed to prevent any Y2K complications and installed across Duval County Schools was a success.

Technology specialists from across the county tested every school computer system, starting with area high schools, but did not find any problems, the Times-Union reported.

An October 1999 survey by ED and the National School Boards Association estimated that 96 percent of the nation’s public schools would be fully compliant by Jan. 1, 2000. Eighty-three percent of those surveyed also added that they would have a contingency plan in place before the new year.

Officials feared there could be significant problems for some of the estimated four percent of schools that would not be fully Y2K-compliant. So far, however, no major problems have been reported.

Given the hype surrounding the Y2K crisis—and the fact that it seems to have passed not with a bang, but a whimper—were schools wise to have invested the money they did to protect their computer systems? Absolutely, said Trevor Shaw, director of technology for St. Benedict’s Preparatory School in New Jersey and eSchool News information technology columnist.

When asked if he thought the Y2K crisis was a legitimate threat or a fabrication of doomsday forecasters and the news media, Shaw replied, “I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle of those extremes.

“Were there any real dangers? Absolutely,” he continued. “Probably not the danger of things shutting off like a switch all over the country. But the amount of money we had to spend was necessary, or there could have been severe disruptions in services otherwise.”

U. S. Department of Education’s Y2K site
http://www.ed.gov/y2k

Simi Valley Unified School District
http://www.simi.k12.ca.us

Duval County Schools
http://www.duval.k12.fl.us

St. Benedict’s Preparatory School
http://www.sbp.org

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Three ‘dot coms’ give school fund raising a new twist:

A new crop of online businesses is helping school organizations find new ways to generate funds—and giving bake sales, magazine drives, and book fairs a run for their money.

Online shoppers log on to a web site—such as schoolpop.com, schoolcash.com, or shopforschool.com—designate a school and click on to one of many online shopping sites. Shoppers buy what they want, and the designated school gets a percentage of the cost, from 1 percent to 30 percent.

“It’s appealing, because it’s a no-pressure type of thing,” said Sheila Roszell, president of the Guy B. Phillips Middle School Parent Teachers Association in Chapel Hill, N.C.

The results aren’t guaranteed. Two school groups in Chapel Hill and Cary collected $100 in a month with an online service; a Raleigh group got only $25 since the fall.

While the amounts aren’t huge, the free money is being welcomed by thousands of cash-strapped schools, parent-teacher organizations, and booster clubs.

The largest of about a dozen such companies, schoolpop.com, was launched in February 1999 and has 14,000 registered schools, about 200 of them in North Carolina. Another company, schoolcash.com, with 3,500 schools, has 84 in North Carolina.

Roszell recently received a flier for schoolcash.com and registered the school. Over the holidays, a sign outside the school encouraged community members to “Shop at school.com and raise $ for Phillips.”

Online fund-raising sites for charities and other nonprofits have been proliferating since the internet boom began, but sites designed specifically for schools and school organizations began sprouting in August.

The services are free, though some companies require or encourage schools to market the sites through fliers and other advertising materials.

Company officials say they are creating an unobtrusive form of raising money that is far removed from the classroom and students.

“Resources in schools are so strained,” said Carl Sangree, director of the New Jersey-based schoolcash.com. “We want to create something for significant financial rewards with minimal volunteer commitment and at an arm’s length from the classroom.”

Tim Sullivan, publisher and president of PTO Today magazine, sees the sites as the ideal fund-raiser.

“You’re not asking folks to buy anything new; you’re just sending schools something based on things they’re already buying,” Sullivan said. “There’s really no down side. Five years from now, if everyone is shopping online, who knows the potential?”

School officials are well aware that the startups could fold or take more of a cut than they say they do. But with all that money being spent on the internet—some estimates say as much as $6 billion was spent online in 1999—schools figure they should try to profit, too.

“It’s pretty easy money, if we ever do see anything,” Roszell said. “If we don’t, we haven’t invested anything.”

One of the newest online fundraising sites, shopforschool.com, has launched an “Adopt-a-School” service that will allow it to expand its sphere of influence in the community. Through the Adopt-a-School program, shopforschool.com will partner with local businesses, which will support schools by encouraging their employees to shop online at the shopforschool.com web site.

Shoppers at shopforschool.com can choose from more than 60 online name-brand merchants, including Barnes & Noble, toysmart.com, Lands’ End, CDNOW, and IBM.

“We are pleased to offer this program to local businesses who are looking for ways to support schools and students in their communities,” said Gary Blackford, chief executive officer of shopforschool.com. “We expect to see a significant growth in contributions to area schools as a result of these partnerships.”

Launched in the Twin Cities of Minnesota, where shopforschool.com is located, the Adopt-a-School program will be rolled out nationally later this year.

schoolpop.com
http://www.schoolpop.com

schoolcash.com
http://www.schoolcash.com

shopforschool.com
http://www.shopforschool.com

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Virtual high school locked in debate over state standards:

A virtual high school run by Indiana University (IU) is drawing fire from critics who say students graduating from the program aren’t fulfilling the same requirements as other students in the state. Some education officials fear the program will push the state a step backward in its efforts to make secondary education more accountable.

At issue is whose standards should govern education that is delivered online, transcending the traditional geographic boundaries. The debate is likely to reach beyond Indiana, as more universities and other organizations launch web-based high school education programs.

“We have very serious concerns about the program,” said Roger Thornton, executive director of the Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents. “The higher education community across the nation, and particularly here in Indiana, has been pushing for higher standards and accountability for high school students.

“Now, one of our premier institutions in Indiana appears to be launching a program that exempts students from successfully passing the state’s graduation exam,” he continued. “If they really believe in higher standards and accountability, which they have been saying to the Legislature and Commission for Higher Education, we think they ought to live it.”

IU has been offering courses for high school students since 1925; the only thing new about the latest program is its use of the internet to deliver instruction and the fact that it lets students earn diplomas as they study.

But those diplomas aren’t accredited by the state. IU High students aren’t required to take the ISTEP-Plus exam—a mandatory step for other Hoosier high school graduates.

In Indiana, the only schools where students can earn state-recognized high school diplomas are public high schools or accredited nonpublic schools, said Mary Tiede Wilhelmus, a representative for the Indiana Department of Education.

Thornton said although the IU diploma will be recognized by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, it will lack at least three requirements for state accreditation: passing the graduation qualifying exam, or ISTEP-Plus; attending a minimum of 180 days of classes per year; and physical education.

“How can a tax-supported institution circumvent the will of the governor, the state superintendent of public instruction, the Legislature, and its own leadership?” Thornton said. “All four of those entities have been major players in moving the state toward the graduation exam for high school students.”

IU is about three months into its first year of operating Indiana University High School, a long-distance virtual high school, where 10 students are studying via computer or mail to receive their high school diplomas. Another 25 or 30 have applied, said Larry Onesti, associate dean of IU’s School of Continuing Studies and principal of IU High School.

“We want to provide opportunities for nontraditional students—for instance, [for] home schoolers, those who live abroad, people who change residences a lot, home-bound students, and those who may not perform optimally in traditional settings,” Onesti said. Courses are $85 each, plus fees for books and materials.

Such students can learn long-distance style, “talking” with state-accredited teachers by telephone or eMail, chatting with other students the same way, and sending in assignments via their computers or the old-fashioned U.S. Postal Service, Onesti said.

Students can even avail themselves of the services of guidance counselors, who keep regular office hours, with toll-free phone numbers and eMail addresses, he said.

Jeremy Dunning, dean of the School of Continuing Studies, which administers the new program, pointed to its target audience of home schoolers, who aren’t enrolled in a public institution, anyway.

IU doesn’t want students to leave the public school system for its service, Dunning said. “We already have a very good high school system in the state,” he said. “We don’t want to take students away from them.”

More than 500 people have requested application materials so far, Dunning said. He predicted that enrollment will go from its current level to several hundred students, mostly from out of state, in the next few months.

Indiana Department of Education
http://ideanet.doe.state.in.us

Indiana University School of Continuing Studies
http://scs.indiana.edu/scs.html

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By The Numbers:

Back in November, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) issued the results of its latest study on “Internet Access in Public and Private Schools.” The fed’s most recent assessment of connectivity in K-12 schools suggests that early results of the eRate—the federal program designed to close the “access gap” among wealthier and poorer schools—may have been mixed.

Between 1994 and 1998, internet access in public schools increased from 35 to 89 percent of schools. The percentage of public school classrooms with internet access also increased during this period, from 3 percent in 1994 to 51 percent in 1998.

With the arrival of the federal eRate program in 1998, some interesting changes can be seen in the schools that actually make up this “connected” demographic.

To illustrate, public schools with the highest student poverty level (defined as 71 percent or more of the student body qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch) were far less likely to have internet access than low-poverty schools (those with fewer than 11 percent of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch) in the years 1994-1997.

In fact, in 1997, the gap between these two groups stood at fully 25 percentage points; while 88 percent of wealthier schools had internet access, only 63 percent of the poorest schools were connected.

Merely a year into the eRate, however, this gap had closed dramatically, with 87 percent of wealthier schools and 80 percent of poorer schools reporting internet access in 1998—a difference of only seven percentage points.

While this trend is no doubt encouraging, it did not apply to the percentage of public school classrooms with internet access in 1998. When it comes to classroom access, the gap between the wealthiest and poorest schools actually increased by a percentage point from 1997 to 1998.

In 1997, 36 percent of classrooms in the wealthiest schools and 14 percent of classrooms in the poorest schools had internet access, a difference of 22 percentage points; in 1998, the figures were 62 and 39 percent, respectively.

There are several factors related to the eRate’s first year that might explain this discrepancy. For one thing, delays in the processing of applications meant that many schools did not receive discounts until early 1999. While the basic pipeline into schools could have been funded out-of-pocket, most recipients of discounts would have had to wait for the money before they could implement costlier internal wiring projects.

In any case, it will be interesting to note whether the gap in classroom access between wealthy and poor schools has closed any further after the second round of eRate discounts, which were issued last fall.

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Read my lips

Our Front Page stories on the maneuvers of Microsoft and America Online are only the latest manifestation of a definite trend. Online business suddenly is the 800-pound gorilla.

What happens on the internet has been a subject of intense interest to Wall Street for some time. But now it’s beginning to matter just as much to Main Street–not to mention the street where your office is.

Educators and analysts have told our reporters how this latest mega-merger might affect our schools directly, but AOL Time Warner also stands as a harbinger of a latter day tectonic shift.

Captains of industry believe business is migrating to the digital marketplace. America Online is only the latest beneficiary of that conviction. No longer is the importance of the internet tied primarily to its status as a wonderful means of communication and research. Now, it’s on the rise for an older reason as well: money.

Some consumer advocates predict the birth of AOL Time Warner will mark the fundamental transformation of the internet–from an avenue of communication controlled by no one to a boulevard of commerce controlled by giant corporations. (Not for nothing do the internet scientists call what you log on to through America Online the “commodity internet.”)

And where there’s big money, big taxes can’t be far behind. Because schools operate primarily on tax revenues, this is a matter that merits some attention.

Visitors at eSchool News Online < http://www.eschoolnews.org> recently took a straw poll about a tax on internet sales–an iTax, if you will. The poll was unscientific, to be sure. But the results were unequivocal.

Only 7 percent of you favored an iTax outright. An additional 18 percent favored it only if most of the proceeds were earmarked for education. But fully 75 percent of you said you oppose such a tax, even if most of the revenues would be spent on education.

The spirit behind those sentiments is laudable. As educators, you put your commitment to knowledge and communication above narrow self-interest. But let’s not be too hasty.

Internet sales are expected to hit $109 billion a year by 2004, and that number is bound to rise thereafter. To put that in perspective, $144 billion represents the total sum U.S. K-12 schools will spend on all goods and services this year.

Consider this: That $100 billion or so of internet spending will not all come from an expanded economy, even if the boom goes on for four more years. Most of the money is sure to be diverted from purchases currently made in brick-and-mortar businesses, in communities just like yours.

The disappearance of the tax revenues on $109 billion a year would decimate state and local government operations, including schools. Even where schools are not direct beneficiaries of sales and use taxes, governors and mayors suddenly bereft of such revenues would waste no time yanking dollars out of school budgets to make up for at least part of such a shortfall.

But, in my opinion, the politicians are never going to let that happen. Even if they swear to impose “no new taxes,” nobody is going to sit back and watch $100 billion-plus migrate online tax free.

It’s true we all hate taxes, and politicians pander to the masses–but only to a degree. Taxes on internet sales are coming, no matter how sincere sound the pledges to the contrary.

Still, good things can happen for bad reasons. The politicians’ urge to pander probably will hold off an iTax long enough to allow internet sales to gain momentum. And that’s all they really need. As long as commerce on the internet is not stamped out aborning, it quickly will become hardy enough to withstand taxation.

Perhaps education’s best bet is to insist that a portion of those new taxes be earmarked for that freer, faster network that should supersede the commodity internet and become an even more effective tool for schools.

This is not the ideal scenario, I’ll grant you. But no matter what the politicians insist today, you may read my lips on this: An iTax is as inevitable as the sunrise.

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Group questions the wisdom of computers in early grades

In today’s tech-savvy classroom, there is no such thing as too much technology, too early. Or is there?

A group of educators, doctors, physiologists, and other professionals formed an alliance in February 1999 to challenge the idea that kids benefit from early, intensive exposure to computers.

In a recent mission statement written by three founding members of the group, the Alliance for Childhood outlined a list of changes it would like to see made in the conventional model of technology integration in K-12 schools.

The group’s “Draft of Guiding Principles, and Request for Comments” was written by Colleen Cordes, a journalist who writes about technology, education, and social policy; Lowell Monke, an education professor at Grinnell College in Iowa; and Stephen Talbott, editor of NetFuture, an online newsletter examining the social implications of technology.

Other prominent members of the Alliance for Childhood include Joan Almon, a longtime teacher and consultant; Jane M. Healey, an educational psychologist; and Bettye Caldwell, professor of pediatrics and former president of the National Association for the Education of Young People.

In recent years, the group argues, educators have felt pressured to start teaching kids how to use computers and the internet as early as possible. But the group believes this current model of technology education is flawed and “does not meet the ultimate goal of educational technology integration: to enable young people to develop their own creative and critical capacities in relating to technology.”

The group outlines three ways that students understand technology. First, students must know how to use a particular tool, whether it’s a chalkboard, a pencil, or a computer.

Second, students must have at least a rudimentary understanding of how the tool works.

Finally, students must develop the capacity to think critically for themselves about “the entire realm of designing, using, and adapting technologies to serve personal, social, and ecological goals in a way that will sustain life on earth.”

In its “Draft of Guiding Principles,” which is published on the NetFuture web site, the Alliance for Childhood argues that the current model only addresses the first of these three issues, because it is the easiest to learn. However, simply knowing how to use technology is the least important of the three objectives, since even the most modern innovations often become outdated in a few months.

The draft’s authors maintain that schools “frequently overlook the second [objective], leaving even older students mystified and overawed by the inner workings of sophisticated hardware and software.”

Finally, the writers accuse schools of “almost uniformly” ignoring the third criteria, which they claim to be the most important of all. The authors argue that “in a democracy, the point of technology literacy should be to prepare students to be morally responsible citizens, actively participating in creating the nation’s technological future, rather than merely reacting to it as a passive consumer.”

Four suggestions

The Alliance offers four suggestions for improving technology education.

First, the group advocates that “in early childhood and elementary school, at least through the sixth grade, [educators should] focus on developing the child’s own inner powers, not exploiting machine power.”

This is perhaps the most controversial issue addressed by the Alliance for Childhood because it directly flies in the face of common edict, which supports computer training for elementary school students. The authors advocate the use of low-tech tools—like crayons, blocks, and balls—at this grade level, claiming these tools “stimulate connections between the rich world of the child’s imagination and the equally rich physical world in ways no complex symbolic machine can.”

“Before children are exposed to complex technology, they ought to be well acquainted with simpler technology,” Monke said. Almon agreed, saying, “Young children need a very hands-on approach to learning, and I don’t mean hands on a machine.”

But technology advocates, such as Karen Smith of the non-profit group TECH CORPS, disagree. “The purpose of educational technology is not to eliminate crayons, or books, or recess, but rather it is to add technology as a tool to enhance the educational experience,” Smith explained.

Members of the Alliance argue that the use of computers at an early age sends children the message that they are incapable of learning basic skills like math, reading, and writing without the help of a machine. In fact, the draft’s authors claim, students who use computers regularly at a very early age are at a disadvantage when they reach the job market, since they have to unlearn obsolete computer skills.

The second principle that Alliance members hope to convey to educators and parents is the importance of incorporating ethics and responsibility into regular technology training. Given the influence of computer technology over modern life, the group believes that educators have a responsibility to ensure that kids are able to discern the social issues related to it.

The group’s third suggestion advocates the study of how computers work as part of the high school core curriculum. A required course in information technology would “encourage critical thinking about what the technology is good for, and what it is not so good for,” according to the document.

“Rather than try and make technology ubiquitous and invisible in schools, we want to make it consciously studied in curriculum. Technology is an important element of what drives our culture. If students don’t understand technology, they can’t control it,” Monke explained.

Finally, the group advocates making the history of technology as a social force a part of every high schooler’s core curriculum. In the draft, the authors state, “The goal of such instruction would be to help students understand that technologies, from fire to the most advanced information devices, have had profound social, political, and environmental consequences, both positive and negative, intended and unintended, throughout human history.”

In a New York Times interview, Talbott summarized his concerns for the current state of educational technology training in schools: “There’s been this powerful general sense that the next new technology—radio, television, now the web—was absolutely essential for education. But then each one gets abandoned and the next one embraced without anyone asking, ‘Are we any more clear on it this time?'”

Many technology advocates, like TECH CORPS’ Smith, disagree with the precepts outlined in the draft, but they encourage an open discussion of these issues.

“I think anyone in the business of education technology welcomes the examination of the proper use of technology in schools,” Smith said. But she added that computers should be treated differently than previous technologies because “radio, TV, and other technologies were not an integral part of the work environment. Computer technology is different in that all future adults will need it to survive in the workplace.”

The Alliance for Childhood plans to file for non-profit status, expand its “Draft of Guiding Principles,” and publish a report examining children and computers next year. The draft’s authors are asking for responses at the group’s web site to help in creating a final statement of the group’s mission.

The Alliance for Childhood
http://www.allianceforchildhood.net

Technology Literacy Draft Statement on the NetFuture site
http://www.oreilly.com/people/staff/stevet/netfuture/1999/Dec0999_99.html#3

TECH CORPS
http://www.techcorps.org

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Schools mull AOL/Time Warner deal:

Most educators seemed cautiously optimistic about the merger announced Jan. 10 between America Online (AOL) and Time Warner. School leaders who spoke with eSchool News shortly after the announcement expressed the hope that the pact might help close the “digital divide” by increasing high-speed internet access to poor schools.

Some said the deal might increase the amount of digital content available to enrich instruction. Others expressed concerns about too much media concentration and about whether the deal would cool AOL’s enthusiasm for open cable access.

Assuming the transaction is approved by federal regulators, the $162 billion stock deal would be the biggest corporate merger of all time, as well as an aggressive bet that online delivery of media is the wave of the future.

“This merger will launch the next internet revolution,” said Steve Case, America Online’s chairman and chief executive. “We’re still just scratching the surface.”

Case will be chairman of the new company, which will be called AOL Time Warner Inc., and Time Warner chairman Gerald Levin will be its chief executive. America Online shareholders will own 55 percent of the company, and Time Warner shareholders the rest.

The deal marks a major turning point in the media industry, providing irrevocable proof of the massive power and value that internet companies like AOL have built up over the past several years.

In combining the leading internet company with the leading traditional media company, the deal also shows that despite the many differences between vanguards of “new media” and “old media,” the two sides need each other more than ever before.

AOL needed access not only to Time Warner’s media content machine—which produces films, music, TV shows, and magazines—but also to Time Warner’s large network of cable TV lines, which is second only to AT&T’s and reaches 20 percent of U.S. households.

Time Warner, like other major media companies, has been in the middle of a major effort to reinvent its own internet strategy. Last year it named its chief financial officer, Richard Bressler, to lead a company-wide effort to take advantage of internet opportunities and set aside $500 million to invest in them.

With the AOL deal, Time Warner acquired a large, well-established online platform of 22 million subscribers for delivering its content to users, a goal it has had for some time. “This really completes the digital transformation of Time Warner,” Levin said. “These two companies are a natural fit.”

Early reaction from observers to the merger was mixed.

Aware that telephone dialup connections are too slow to provide the kind of online TV, movies, and music people want, AOL has been on a campaign to force cable providers to open up access to their lines, which can provide much faster access than phone lines. Some consumer groups now fear that AOL will reverse its field. Set to own a major cable provider, it now might ease up on its efforts to ensure “open access” to cable systems for other service providers.

Coming just four months after the latest blockbuster media merger—the proposed combination of CBS Corp. and Viacom Inc.—the AOL/Time Warner deal also raised concerns from consumer groups and at least one U.S. senator about the increasing consolidation of ownership among major media companies.

Sen. Mike DeWine (R.-Ohio), chair of the antitrust subcommittee, said the deal “raises a whole host of competition and public policy issues.”

“Is this merger the beginning of the end of the internet as an effective counterweight to traditional media outlets, or is this just another step on the road to making the internet a more useful and viable source of information?” DeWine asked rhetorically.

Many were cheered by the announcement, however. Bob Moore, director of instructional technology for the Blue Valley School District in Kansas, is excited about the potential benefits of a merger between traditional and cutting-edge media.

“Look how the internet has evolved since its creation,” Moore said. “At first, most of the content was free, and now a lot isn’t. Change should be expected. I think this merging of content providers and access providers is probably pretty important to the evolution of the internet.”

Moore added that media and internet mergers like this one could be very beneficial in the effort to close the digital divide. “Many poorer urban areas that do not have high-speed DSL access [now] will have cable access. This will bring a new level of equity to these schools,” he noted.

He also dismissed fears that the merger of the two mega-conglomerates might stifle the free-flow nature of internet content. “If this brings a new wave of users in, it could create a wave of new content, which could potentially benefit schools,” he said.

For his part, Case said the company remains committed to providing consumers with as many choices as possible, and he predicted the deal would result in several new companies offering internet access service.

The deal is subject to regulatory approvals and the approval of AOL and Time Warner shareholders. The companies said the merger is expected to be finalized by the end of the year.

The Justice Department said it was unclear whether it or the Federal Trade Commission will be asked to approve the proposed merger. Each agency has its own group of antitrust experts, and they typically split regulatory reviews after deciding among themselves whose experts are most appropriate to decide the questions that such a mega-merger might raise.

The new company will be headquartered in New York, the current location of Time Warner’s corporate offices, and will have a significant presence in Dulles, Va., where AOL has its main office.

America Online
http://www.aol.com

Time Warner
http://www.pathfinder.com/corp

Federal Communications Commission
http://www.fcc.gov

U.S. Justice Department
http://www.usdoj.gov

Federal Trade Commission
http://www.ftc.gov

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