Democrats float $5K bonus for IT-certified teachers

Congressional Democrats, under one new initiative, would use $5,000 cash bonuses to entice teachers to become certified in information technology (IT). Under another initiative, Democrats would double the funding available in two existing school technology programs.

Michael Cannon, a representative for the Senate Republican Policy Committee, told eSchool News that such legislation would run counter to his party’s philosophy of flexible block grants to the states.

Republicans prefer to offer funding in block grants that are flexible and held to accountability standards, Cannon said. “[Block grants] are far less restrictive than Democrat plans. They [Democrats] write a lot of bills that would give states a lot of money.”

But their bills also come with a lot strings attached that dictate exactly how the money should be spent, he said. “Republicans are trying to move away from that policy …We’re on the threshold of changing education and making it a lot less prescriptive.”

Cash bonus for IT certification

Under the Information Technology Act of 2000, teachers would get $5,000 cash bonuses if they become certified in an IT course. Dubbed the “Teacher Technology Bonus,” the cash would reward teachers for increasing their technological skills.

“Teachers need the right tools to prepare our kids for a fast-paced global economy,” said Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D. “My bill rewards hard-working teachers, but leaves local school officials with control over how bonuses will be earned and awarded.”

The IT 2000 Act was introduced by Conrad and cosponsored by several Democratic senators, including Harry Reid, D-Nev.; Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark.; and Carl Levin, D-Mich. Representatives Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., and Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D., are introducing a companion bill in the House.

Republican Cannon said the Democratic plan would take resources away from hiring new teachers. “With five or six of those grants, you’ve taken away the likelihood of hiring a new teacher,” he said.

The bill is supported by many education and technology organizations, including the National Education Association, Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), and International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE).

“We see it as an innovative way to stimulate technology,” said Keith Krueger, CoSN’s executive director. “We need to get average teachers to use these powerful tools in their everyday teaching.”

The bill would set aside $500 million over five years to fund the teacher bonuses. The secretaries of education and labor would develop eligibility guidelines for the program. State school officials would work with professional IT associations, such as ISTE and the Information Technology Training Association, to determine the certification requirements.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, an estimated 3.1 million public school teachers have not had any technology-related professional development.

The bill also would authorize $100 million in the next fiscal year in matching federal grants for partnerships between higher education organizations and private companies to train workers underrepresented in technology professions. This initiative would teach women, veterans, older Americans, dislocated workers, and high school dropouts to work in the IT field.

National Digital Empowerment Act

Another Democratic initiative would increase funding under a pair of existing programs. An amendment to the National Digital Empowerment Act (NDEA), introduced into the Senate Budget Resolution by Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Paul Sarbanes, D-Md., would double funding for the Preparing Tomorrow’s Teachers to Use Technology program from $75 million to $150 million. It also would increase the Technology Literacy Challenge Fund from $450 million to $850 million.

Preparing Tomorrow’s Teachers to Use Technology provides grants to consortia of K-12 districts and schools to train pre-service teachers in integrating technology into their classrooms. The Technology Literacy Challenge Fund provides block grants for states to administer in support of various local school technology programs.

Boxer said that NDEA, which was written by Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., is designed to close the digital divide by accomplishing the proposals outlined in the president’s State of the Union address in January. The legislation’s goal is for all children to be computer literate by the eighth grade, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, income, geography, or disability, she said.

“I see technology as a tool for empowerment,” Boxer said. “No child or community can be left behind.”

The provisions outlined in the bill are numerous and affect teacher training, technology funding, the eRate, technical volunteer recruitment, and the development of community technology centers.

“Chances are, it won’t get passed as one big bill—it will get broken up and added to other legislative vehicles,” said Johanna Ramos-Boyer, a Mikulski representative.

The legislation proposes creating a one-stop shop for technology education, where schools could get all the technology information they need from the U.S. Department of Education. The department would serve as a central location to provide schools with information on all federal technology programs, as well as public and private efforts to bring technology to underserved areas.

In addition to doubling the funding of some programs, the bill would expand the eligibility for eRate discounts to structured after-school programs, Head Start centers, and programs that receive federal job training funds.

The bill would also give AmeriCorps $25 million to create eCorps, a program that will enable 2,000 volunteers to offer technology support to schools, libraries, and communities.

In addition, the bill would authorize $100 million in federal grants to create up to 1,000 community-based technology centers in low-income areas. NDEA also would extend the current enhanced deduction for donations of computer technology through 2004, and it proposes $10 million to implement a pilot program that puts computers in students’ homes.

Several House Democrats, including Reps. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, and Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, have introduced companion legislation.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md.

U.S. Department of Education

Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D.

Consortium for School Networking

International Society for Technology in Education


New ITEA tech-ed standards target tech illiteracy

The International Technology Education Association (ITEA) has released new education standards delineating what K-12 students should know about technology.

“Every aspect of what you do in your daily life is so tied to technology, and you don’t even notice until something goes wrong,” said Kendall Starkweather, ITEA’s executive director. “The technology-illiterate are totally at the mercy of the people [who] know what’s going on.”

Our society is highly dependent on technology. In the morning, we use it to brush our teeth, make coffee, and commute to work. Yet, most people don’t know what is involved with getting the water to the tap, the spoon to the drawer, or the car on the road.

The ITEA’s new technology standards aim to change that. The standards were rigorously reviewed and developed by some of the leading experts and scholars in the country. The National Science Foundation (NSF) and NASA funded the project, while both the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) and the National Research Council (NRC) reviewed the standards on numerous occasions.

These top research organizations all agree: T he United States has developed a technology-illiterate society. By teaching kids technology as an academic subject—including its history, processes, and nature—they hope people eventually will become more informed about the world around them.

“Technology education has not received as much attention as it deserves,” said Vicki Hancock, a spokeswoman from the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

The term “technology education” is different from “educational technology.” The second refers to the devices and systems used to enhance learning and teaching, while “technology education” is the study of technology itself.

These standards are different than the ones developed by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). The ISTE standards stress instructional technology, especially computers. ITEA’s standards deal with technology innovations.

George Bugliarello, chairman of the National Academy of Engineering, said technology as a subject is “a forgotten element in education.”

Gerhard Salinger, program officer at the National Science Foundation, agrees. “The country was built on technology resources, but our schools never taught it,” he said.

The standards document released by ITEA—called the “Standards for Technological Literacy: Content for the Study of Technology”—was developed by ITEA’s Technology for All Americans Project.

The document identifies 20 different standards and their related benchmarks. It also contains a vision for incorporating the study of technology across the curriculum.

“They don’t tell what should be taught, they tell what should be known,” Bugliarello said.

The standards tell what students should know at each grade level. The depth and breadth of the knowledge increases toward the higher grades.

The requirements can be incorporated into other subjects such as math, history, or science. Or, they can be taught as an entire subject.

Hancock said the study of technology connects many disciplines together and provides students with a better background in subjects such as science and math.

The words “technology” and “science” are often used to mean the same thing, but they don’t, Starkweather pointed out.

“Science is the study of the natural world, and technology is what humans did after they got here,” he said.

A tough sell?

ITEA expects some initial difficulties in implementing its new standards. One problem is that the current curriculum in schools is already crowded.

“We’re going to be faced with the same challenges that other subjects like math and science have faced,” Starkweather said.

State supervisors, school districts, and teachers need to see how these standards apply to their curriculum and choose whether or not to adjust their content accordingly, Salinger said.

Hancock said, “Some or much of what they are teaching might already match the standards.”

Some teachers will need to take part in extra professional development, ITEA indicated: Teachers also will have to make time to teach these content requirements, despite the time constraints they already face.

“If we look again in 10 years and see they’ve made it to some extent, we’d be quite pleased,” Salinger said.

Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development

International Technology Education Association

National Academy of Engineering

National Research Council

National Science Foundation


Bond issues, board elections are ripe for online balloting

The nation’s first-ever binding election that included online voting went so well in the Arizona Democratic primary in February that some school leaders now are talking about moving education elections to the internet.

In the Arizona primary, voter turnout was six times higher in this year’s Democratic contest than it was four years ago. In a primary election that allowed balloting over the internet, via the postal system, and at traditional polling stations, Arizona Democrats cast more than 76,000 votes this year. In 1996, the count was 12,800.

No one claims electronic access is the sole reason for the increase, but those close to the Arizona primary process say voting via the internet definitely was a factor.

“The remote voting alone tripled the voter turnout,” said Joe Mohen, chief executive officer of, the company that provided the internet voting service for the Arizona Democratic primary.

Brad Shields, school board president of the Eanes, Texas, Independent School District, already is talking with about holding online elections in the district’s highly wired community.

Online voting “might increase voter participation and make it easier for voters in our community,” Shields said. “It’s hard to motivate voters to leave their homes to go to a polling place.”

Internet voting increases voter turnout, because it provides an easy alternative for those who work long hours, have last-minute business trips, or are away from home, proponents say.

Having more choices means more parents will vote—and that’s important for making decisions in education, Mohen said. “If you allow internet voting, more parents than retirees would be likely to vote and, therefore, more budget issues and bond issues will get passed,” he said.

Shields said his board might first hold a nonbinding election, such as a referendum, asking the community if they should build a new school. This vote would test the capabilities of online voting. After that, he said, the district would conduct a bond election over the internet.

“Sometime in the future, we might actually try elections of school board members by electronic voting,” he added.

Shields said the district would open the online polls for about a week. It also would ensure that people could cast only one vote and that everyone has ample access.

“We would still make voting available to those without computers,” he said, by setting up polling stations in libraries and schools.

Online voting doesn’t exclude people who have to work late or can’t get a baby-sitter, Mohen said. “There is a voting divide right now,” he said, and internet voting “improves the voting divide. We are trying to make democracy work by being all-inclusive.”

Because computers are so prevalent in society, even those who don’t own a computer can find a way to access the internet, Mohen said—whether it’s through work, the library, a relative, or a copy center like Kinko’s. has held more than 200 major online elections in the past 13 months for political organizations, labor unions, and school districts, Mohen said. Globally, the company has produced internet elections on every continent, he added.

Because of the time constraints involved in organizing Arizona’s online Democratic primary, organizers said, only previously registered Democrats could vote over the internet. The state’s counties supplied with a list of registered voters. mailed a personal identification number (PIN) and instructions on how to vote online to the previously registered Democrats. Voters could log on at any time from any internet-connected machine and vote. Before voting, they had to type in their PIN and answer a series of authenticating questions. collects existing voter registration lists and runs integrity checks on the data by checking death certificates and registrations from multiple addresses. The company also prepares a “challenge list” of voters whose registration must be verified before they can vote.

The Voting Integrity Project, a Virginia group that unsuccessfully sued to block the Arizona vote, fears internet voting won’t protect the privacy of each vote and the integrity of the count. The group also worries that with the advent of online voting, election officials across the country will not ensure that everyone has equal access to vote on election day.

During the Arizona vote,’s system stood up to tests by hackers and media scrutiny, the company reported.

“The security of voting over the internet during the election was as solid as a rock,” Mohen declared. “We actually go way beyond existing security systems.”

Arizona’s experience highlighted a number of areas that need fine-tuning before online voting could become widespread.

For example, the security technology used by actually created difficulties for some voters. Because the system’s advanced encryption mechanism is not compatible with older browsers, some voters couldn’t access the ballot without upgrading their browser first.

Then, some voters didn’t receive their PINs and had to call to get them. Others ran into “system busy” messages or blank screens when they tried to link to the voting web site, because there were so many users. In fact, so many people flooded telephone help lines in the early voting, that many got only busy signals.

Phil Noble, president of PoliticsOnline, a South Carolina-based company that provides internet tools for politics, said security and system-capacity issues won’t stand in the way for long.

And, he said, the push for internet voting is coming from the public.

“Arizona in many ways was an internet field of dreams,'” he said. “Build it and they will come. Well, they knocked down the gates to get to it.”

Eanes Independent School District

The Voting Integrity Project


AAUW: Technology doesn’t scare girls; it bores them

Girls continue to be underrepresented in an increasingly computer-dominated culture. As a result, the way information technology (IT) is used, applied, and taught in the nation’s classrooms must change, according to a study released April 11 by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) Educational Foundation.

Published by the foundation’s 14-member Commission on Technology, Gender, and Teacher Education—which includes researchers, educators, journalists, and entrepreneurs—the study tries to debunk what it calls a popular misconception about why girls are turned off to technology careers. It’s not that they’re afraid of technology, the study argues; it’s that they’re bored by violent electronic games and dull programming classes.

“The commission makes it clear that girls are critical of the computer culture, not computer phobic,” said Sherry Turkle, professor of sociology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and co-chair of the commission. “Instead of trying to make girls fit into the existing computer culture, the computer culture must become more inviting for girls.”

The 18-month study, commissioned in 1998 and called “Tech-Savvy: Educating Girls in the New Computer Age,” surveyed 70 middle and high school girls on the East Coast and nearly 900 teachers nationwide.

The study found that, by and large, girls are not participating in computer clubs and are taking far fewer programming and computer science courses than their male counterparts. Last year, only 17 percent of students taking the Advanced Placement computer science test were girls, the study said. And though women make up roughly half of the work force, they fill only 20 percent of all IT-related positions.

The main explanation for such a disparity, according to the study, is that girls “have reservations about the computer culture—and with good reason.”

For example, one Baltimore high school girl said, “Guys are more interested in taking apart things. It’s part of their nature to do more electrical stuff than girls. They like to brag.” A Fairfax, Va., girl agreed, saying, “Girls have other priorities. Guys are more computer-type people.”

According to the study, responses like these have traditionally been dismissed as “symptoms of anxiety or incompetence” in girls. But commissioners argued against this misconception, saying that “girls are pointing out important deficits in the technology and in the culture in which it is embedded.”

The study expressed further concerns about how girls are choosing to participate in the computer culture.

The commission found that many girls are opting to take classes on computer “tools”—namely, databases, page layout programs, graphics, and the like—instead of taking classes that encourage the mastery of “critical skills, concepts, and problem-solving abilities that permit full citizenship into the contemporary eCulture.”

Yet technological “fluency” requires far more than merely being able to use computer “tools”; programs that merely explain specific computer functions won’t do the job, the study said.

The AAUW report includes several recommendations for making technology more accessible to girls:

• Computers should be integrated fully into school curricula, not separated into “lab-based” activities.

• Schools should respect “multiple points of entry,” meaning that students will develop an interest in computing through a variety of instructional experiences. Curriculum developers, teachers, technology experts, and school officials need to cultivate girls’ interest by infusing technology concepts and uses into all subject areas so as to interest a broader array of learners.

• Professional development for teachers must emphasize more than the use of computers as productivity tools. It must give teachers enough understanding of how computer technology works so that they become empowered users.

• School districts should introduce the issue of gender equity into their technology planning.

• Members of the news media, teachers, and other adults should break down stereotypes that computer or IT professionals live in a solitary, antisocial world.

• Girls should be encouraged to engage in technological activities, clubs, and classes by all educators.

Researchers and observers agreed that access to technology alone is not the answer to getting girls more involved in the computer culture. According to educator and technology advocate Bonnie Bracey, the answer is simple: “Let women be involved in the planning, meaningful training, reflection, and exploration of the use of technology as a tool, not as a silver bullet.”

Tech-Savvy: Educating Girls in the New Computer Age


Online teacher recruiting expands choices for everybody

The never-ending search for effective new teachers is just a little easier now—thanks to some brand-new recruitment web sites.

“Until now, there was really no way for schools to recruit on a nationwide basis. The only way was to visit schools and place ads, neither of which are time-effective or cost-effective,” explained Michael Garmisa, cofounder of, a commercial internet forum that fills teaching and other education-related posts.

“The pending teacher shortage has antiquated other education job sites, which place all selection tools in the hands of school administrators,” said William R. Mason, vice president of SchoolMatch, which created “Teacher candidates and others looking for employment in education are in a seller’s market and can be more selective.” does not provide information on job openings; instead, it helps educators prepare to offer their services to any school system they choose. The site also offers to sell visitors information about specific schools. A detailed report on a listed school sells for $19.95.

Sites like and are attempting to fill the void for superintendents, principals, and school administrators charged with the task of recruiting high-quality teachers from their own areas—and across the country.

Until now, school districts seeking to fill positions for teachers, administrators, and other school personnel had to place expensive ads in newspapers or travel to job fairs across the country.

“Teacher shortages have plagued the U.S. educational system for years, in part because there was no efficient mechanism to recruit nationally,” said Mark Schulman, who cofounded with Garmisa.

“We’re able to do this for a fraction of the price of other methods of recruitment,” Garmisa added.

Commercial recruitment sites generally charge schools or districts a flat rate for a year of unlimited use, and the sites allow for frequent updates on the schools’ ad listings.

“Schools can pay per ad. It’s $105 for a 30-day ad with unlimited space or $1,000 per year for membership and unlimited ads. The New York Times charges $800 per day for one square inch in their paper. [A year’s membership to] SchoolJobs is the same price as placing one ad in a metropolitan newspaper,” Garmisa said.

Recruitment web sites for educators also have the potential to relieve an enormous burden from school personnel who are in charge of finding new hires.

John Fraser, one of the founders of the Pennsylvania National School Applications Network (NSAN), a school-based recruiting organization, estimated that his secretary used to spend two and a half months per year opening mail from teaching applicants.

This deluge of paper flowing into school personnel departments each day is a common problem, according to educators.

“We are a small district, but it would not be unusual to get 1,000 applications and hire 20 of those,” said Allison Muehlhauser, personnel and grant assistant for Missouri’s Affton School District.

“From an administrative point of view, online recruitment cuts down on paperwork and allows schools to request only the exact paperwork they need from applicants.”

Fraser decided to give online school recruitment a try in Pennsylvania, where 33 school districts in the state have said they will sign up for the Regional Education Applicant & Placement (REAP) program, the NSAN’s online component.

“REAP is the combination of old technology, like databases, with new technology, like using the internet for data mining,” said George Simpson, deputy executive director for the Cooperating School Districts of St. Louis, the group that created REAP.

Muehlhauser expects that the web might someday replace other forms of teacher recruitment. “Affton Schools hopes to move exclusively to REAP as soon as possible,” she said. “I personally think [the REAP program] is very cutting edge, and it just gets easier as they continue to make adjustments.”

The original REAP system in Missouri has been operating for a little more than two years, and of more than 9,000 applicants, 4,000 have been placed in schools. went live in February and claims about 100 district memberships so far, representing about 1,000 schools.



If Microsoft verdict sticks, school tech folk fear compatibility trouble

As Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates was vowing to fight the April 3 decision that his company violated U.S. antitrust laws by mounting a “deliberate assault” on competition in the internet browser market, school technology personnel tried to assess the fallout from the landmark ruling.

Some school leaders thought the ruling could be a boon for educators, because it might foster competition, resulting in lower software prices. Others worried that the decision could lead to a proliferation of incompatible products. But all agreed that whatever the fallout, the judge’s decision will have a measurable impact on school technology use.

“Microsoft placed an oppressive thumb on the scale of competitive fortune, thereby effectively guaranteeing its continued dominance,” U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson wrote in a sweeping decision that said Microsoft violated the Sherman Act, the same law used to break up monopolies from Standard Oil to AT&T.

The ruling could lead to drastic punishment, including the breakup of one of the world’s major corporations.

The judge issued his ruling April 3 after the stock market closed, but word that it was coming caused Microsoft stock to drop by more than $15 a share to around $90, costing Gates about $12.1 billion in paper losses. At press time, the stock had dropped below $80 a share.

Educators initially feared a long and drawn-out appeals and punishment process. “I would be very surprised if there is any immediate action taken. It could be months at the very least,” said Bob Moore, instructional technology director for Blue Valley School District in Kansas.

But the courts appear to have taken this concern into account, issuing a statement on April 5 setting the timeline for completing the penalties phase at 60 days.

“My transcendent objective is to get this thing before an appellate tribunal … as quickly as possible, because I don’t want to disrupt the economy or waste any more of yours or my time,” Jackson said.

Gates, the super-competitive Harvard University dropout who in 25 years built Microsoft into a multibillion-dollar empire that dominates the personal computer software market, immediately promised to appeal.

“We believe we have a strong case,” he said. “This ruling turns on its head the reality that consumers know: that our software has helped make PCs accessible and more affordable to millions of Americans.”

Jamie Morse, director of technology services for the Cambrian School District in California, agreed with Gates. “Right now, the integration [that Microsoft has] is great. And the cost can’t be beat,” he said. “Microsoft is for the masses. When it decentralizes, will it still be for the masses? I don’t know.”

Jackson’s ruling came days after settlement talks broke down between the Redmond, Wash.-based company and government lawyers, but both sides left the door open to an agreement.

Justice Department antitrust chief Joel Klein said he was willing to consider a settlement as long as it resolved the violations Jackson cited. Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer said the company would be open to more negotiations, but Microsoft “would need to see an appropriate openness” from the government.

Possible penalties range from breaking up the company, whose Windows operating system runs most of the world’s personal computers, to forcing it to share its software code with competitors.

School technology coordinators were divided about the potential fallout from the decision. “This is pure speculation, but I think it depends on what, exactly, the breakup is. It could be good or bad, but it will definitely change the way technology professionals do business,” said Moore.

Guilford County, N.C., distance learning coordinator Michael Parrish said, “At this point, it could really go either way. On one hand, it will be good for price structures if it fosters competition. On the other hand, it could create noncompatible products. It is already hard in a school to keep everybody on the same page.”

The lack of compatibility between several smaller software companies is of great concern to many school officials.

“It will make our jobs that much more difficult,” said Morse. “Calling for tech support will definitely be more difficult if the operating systems and software are two distinct entities. There will be a lot of ‘don’t ask us, ask them’ going on.

“The only way schools can become more accountable is through an integrated computer system,” he added. “By this, I mean desktop operating systems, network operating systems, productivity suites like Microsoft Office, and the back office program that manages everything.”

The April 3 decision affirms Jackson’s previous ruling in November that the software giant is a monopoly that illegally bullied competitors and stifled innovation, hurting consumers in the process.

The judge said Microsoft was guilty of “unlawfully tying its web browser” to Windows. But many school personnel believe this is the power behind the mega-corporation.

“The operating system is almost becoming the same as the browser these days, but this breakup would cause a division there. I mean, for example, Netscape crashes all the time. Microsoft’s Internet Explorer is just so much more stable,” said Morse. Moore agreed: “The dominant factor here is connectivity. The web is far bigger than Microsoft.”

“Microsoft mounted a deliberate assault upon entrepreneurial efforts that, left to rise or fall on their own merits, could well have enabled the introduction of competition into the market,” Jackson wrote. “Microsoft’s anticompetitive actions trammeled the competitive process through which the computer software industry generally stimulates innovation.”

Microsoft didn’t lose the entire case: Jackson ruled that the government failed to prove that Microsoft’s exclusive marketing arrangements with other companies violated federal antitrust law.

The Justice Department vowed to press the case until consumers are rewarded.

“Thanks to this ruling, consumers who have been harmed can now look forward to benefits,” Attorney General Janet Reno said.

Consumer advocate Ralph Nader said, “The judge has laid the foundation for the breakup of Microsoft. Anything less than that will be like a thundering elephant emitting the squeak of a mouse.”

However, Gates said, “As we look ahead to the appeals process, innovation will continue to be the Number 1 priority at Microsoft. It’s important to note how much the high-technology industry has changed just in the two years since this case has been filed.”

In an interview published in the Wall Street Journal before Jackson released his ruling, Gates said that regardless of what the judge decided, his company would continue to integrate the internet into its Windows software, even though that linkage was at the core of the Justice Department’s lawsuit.

Klein told reporters that Microsoft’s violations occurred after the company reached an agreement with the Justice Department in a previous case about five years ago. The government will seek a remedy that “ensures that we not have this continued pattern of antitrust violation,” he added.

Both sides in the case had reasons to seek a settlement. For Microsoft, the verdict is expected to spur more consumer lawsuits. Microsoft already faces dozens of class-action lawsuits seeking potentially billions of dollars in damages.

At least one school leader was able to keep a sense of humor about the verdict. Lowell Wolff, administrator for planning and technology at Fargo, N.D., Public Schools, joked, “If it’s anything like the AT&T break up, it means prices will go up and we’ll have people calling us at dinnertime to solicit our business.”

Microsoft Corp.

U.S. Department of Justice Antitrust Division


Computer donor halts operation, citing dwindling support

The Detwiler Foundation, a California-based nonprofit that pioneered the practice of placing donated computers into schools, has pulled the plug on its national Computers for Schools program. The decision comes in the midst of a heated debate about whether computer donations help—or hurt—schools.

Started in 1991 by entrepreneur and philanthropist John Detwiler, the foundation solicited used computers from businesses, had them refurbished by prison inmates, then placed them in needy schools. In partnership with state Departments of Education, the program spread to about 20 states and supplied some 75,000 donated machines to schools nationwide.

But in early March, Detwiler sent a letter to donors saying the foundation would no longer accept or process computer donations. In an interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune, he cited dwindling support as the primary reason for his decision.

“We’ve reached the point … where we can help children better by concentrating on helping other organizations,” Detwiler was quoted as saying.

According to the Union-Tribune, the Detwiler Foundation will remain in existence to share its knowledge with other computer donation programs across the country. But Detwiler told the San Diego newspaper that there’s a “decided lack of interest” in his cause these days by schools, corporations, parents, and the press. Repeated attempts by eSchool News to reach Detwiler were unsuccessful.

New Millennium Classrooms Act

The news that Detwiler is halting his computer donation philanthropy comes at a time when Congress is considering a controversial bill that would give companies greater incentive to donate their used machines to schools.

The New Millennium Classrooms Act, introduced by Sen. Spencer Abraham, R-Mich., and cosponsored by 30 senators of both parties, would expand a 1997 law that gives businesses tax incentives for donating computers to schools. The 1997 law, known as the 21st Century Classrooms Act, was set to expire this year.

Under the new bill, companies would be eligible for a more valuable tax credit of 30 percent of the computer’s “fair market value,” or 50 percent for computers donated in federally recognized empowerment zones or Indian reservations.

The new bill also would extend the age of machines that could be donated from 2 to 3 years old, and the legislation would apply to computer manufacturers as well—so companies that provide a three-year computer lease could donate their trade-ins and receive a tax break.

Many school groups and technology organizations oppose the measure, however, believing that schools would benefit more from new computers with faster operating systems that can take advantage of the internet and multimedia software.

“While this [bill] is intended to help schools, it may, in fact, place an additional burden on schools,” said Keith Krueger, executive director of the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), a nonprofit group that promotes the use of technology in schools. “Encouraging a tax credit for 3-year-old computers will only slow the progress we are making.”

Roger Hoyer, associate superintendent for California’s New Haven Unified School District, agrees. “Software developers are only writing programs for the new machines,” he said. “If schools start off with 3-year-old computers, it’s a real problem. We have to keep our staff and students near the edge of the technology curve.”

Krueger cited several recent studies, including one by Market Data Retrieval, which show the number of students per instructional computer has dipped below six for the first time in history. This is down from 19 students per computer in 1992 and almost reaches the goal set by the U.S. Department of Education of five students for every computer, he said.

But “the data [are] less impressive when you look at students per instructional multimedia computers [those equipped with a sound card and CD-ROM drive],” Krueger said. That figure is one for every 9.8 students. The problem is no longer that students don’t have access to computers, Krueger said—it’s that they don’t have access to multimedia machines.

Yet proponents of the bill, which include the National Association of Secondary School Principals, note that 3-year-old computers are mostly Pentiums running Windows 95—and still vastly outperform the Apple IIs that exist in some schools.

Peter Gentieu, director of operations at Computer Reclamation Inc., a nonprofit organization in metropolitan Washington, D.C., told eSchool News, “The attitude [that schools must have brand-new computers] shows a technical misunderstanding as to what can actually be done. I simply challenge anyone to tell me why a Pentium II will not do the job … What are these kids doing, building hydrogen bombs?”

Even the Detwiler Foundation raised its standards for donations last year, accepting only Pentium-based or equivalent computers.

Willie Cade, president of the Chicago-based Computers for Schools Association—which plans to take over the Detwiler Foundation’s national donation program—expressed his support of the New Millennium Classrooms Act in testimony before the House Ways and Means Committee in March.

In an interview with eSchool News, Cade said schools need 12 million computers to bring the ratio to the recommended level of one for every five students. But, he added, the average age of a school computer is 7 years old, “so on average, we should throw all those computers out of our schools.”

Standardizing equipment

For opponents of computer donations, access to the latest computers isn’t the only issue driving the debate. “To have a hodgepodge of donated computers just creates too many additional costs for schools,” Hoyer said.

According to a study on total cost of ownership (TCO) conducted last year by CoSN, “One of the widely held principles of controlling the [TCO] of computers in the business environment is that the more hardware can be standardized throughout an organization, the less the organization will have to spend on tech support, maintenance, stockpiling replacement parts, and training staff.”

Supporters of the Detwiler Foundation’s efforts believe they benefited all parties involved. “The Detwilers moved access to technology into the forefront of the public agenda in a way that hadn’t really been done before,” Samuel Ingersoll-Weng, a former grant-writer for the foundation, told the Union-Tribune.

But even federal officials seem to be distancing themselves from computer donation programs—despite the fact that the federal government operates one such program, called Computers for Learning.

Linda Roberts, White House adviser on educational technology, told eSchool News her personal feeling about the New Millennium Classrooms Act was that “it’s really not the direction that we think we need to take to help the advancement of modern technology in our schools.”

Detwiler Foundation

Consortium for School Networking

Computers for Learning


Internet portal deal could reap Denver schools $425K

If a proposed portal deal goes through, the Denver Public Schools stand to earn nearly half a million dollars in new revenue, according to school officials and executives of the new web portal company offers yet another twist to the idea of the online fundraiser: Schools that use the web site as their gateway to the internet receive a penny and a half per web “click” from the site’s search engine and reference links. For large school systems, such as Denver’s, the offer could translate into several hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.

Of course, there’s a catch to all this free money—the site features paid commercial advertisements controlled by the district.

Assuming its three-year contract with is approved by the school board, the Denver Public Schools will become the first school system in the country to integrate the site into its technology program on a district-wide basis.

Under the deal, will provide a portal for the district’s web pages similar to those offered by companies such as Yahoo! and Excite. Every time an internet user passes through the portal, the district will earn money.

The Denver schools have 7,500 internet-connected computers in their classrooms, and 45 percent of the homes of the district’s 67,000 students have internet access. At least 100,000 searches and web hits related to the district occur each day, school officials said.

With the amount of web traffic that occurs in the district, officials said their deal with could net the Denver Public Schools at least $425,000 per year.

But like ZapMe! Corp., which gives schools free computers and internet access in exchange for browser-based ads targeted at teens, has fueled controversy in Colorado. Some parents and community members fear the introduction of commercialism in public schools.

“I don’t believe we have many options for revenue streams,” board Vice President Bennie Milliner was quoted as saying at a March 9 meeting. “People might say we’re selling our souls, but I think we’ve crafted this deal very carefully.”

Denver school officials compare their deal with to the lucrative—and controversial—contracts that districts across the country are signing with the likes of Coca-Cola Co. and Pepsi-Cola Co.

Here’s how the program works: A school or district signs up for the service and receives a portal page with news feeds, reference links, and a section where the administrator can customize content, said Janice Grissom Scott,’s vice president of sales.

In addition to a reward for each web click generated through the portal, schools also receive a portion of sales—up to 20 percent—from about 150 online merchants.

According to Scott, half of the site’s total revenue goes to schools even before Kickstart figures in any of its own costs. Kickstart gets 3 cents from its advertisers and business partners for each click on a search engine or reference link and up to 40 percent of each eCommerce transaction.

In its deal with the Denver Public Schools, Kickstart will distribute the page-view revenue to the district, which plans to use that money to expand its bandwidth. The revenue from purchases will go directly to the class, team, or group specified by the person browsing or shopping on the site.

Denver school officials aren’t worried about the commercial implications of the program. Using the same web portal consistently—rather than letting students choose Yahoo!, Excite, or the like—will actually give teachers more control over the content their students are exposed to, said Denver partnership director Christine Smith.

“This gives schools, districts, and teachers more control over what kids are doing online. We can make sure the things they see are age-appropriate,” she said. “Another benefit we hold dear is the final advertiser approval.”

Added Scott, “Kids are already being exposed to advertising. The Kickstart portal gives several advantages. First, there is the financial incentive, and second, there’s the guarantee that ads won’t be inappropriate. Other search engines have gambling ads, ads for Budweiser. And they don’t help schools raise money.”

Kickstart is developing a specialized home page to be featured in classrooms. The classroom portal will exclude shopping and eMail features, so students can’t be distracted from their studies, the company said.

Denver Public Schools


Florida school board tests financial planning software

A Florida school board has agreed to try a management-style computer program, similar to those used by large corporations, to track its spending and improve accountability. If the software proves successful, it could serve as a model for school systems across the country, according to its creator, Mark Hunter.

Hunter, a retired businessman and school volunteer, is developing the computer program—called Long Range Financial Planning Model (LRFP)—at no cost to help his local school district operate more like a business.

Hunter found the need for a management system after reviewing the Hillsborough County School Board’s strategic plan. He said he saw a vision statement, a mission statement, core values, and priorities—but no numbers.

Hunter said he asked the school board members, “If I were to ask you, point for point, what the [Florida Comprehensive Achievement Test] costs, could you tell me?” The answer was no, he said—they had no idea.

He said a school district, with its various schools and departments, is set up like a business and, therefore, should track its finances and create strategies like one.

Drawing upon his background in corporate banking and expertise in developing management systems, Hunter is designing an elaborate computer system that will assist the school board in creating a long-range financial plan.

“They have budget people, finance people, accounting people—but they don’t have strategic planners,” Hunter said of the district’s personnel. The software will “help them internally to make more effective decisions with limited funds.”

Earl Lennard, superintendent of the Hillsborough County School District, said Hunter brings “a businessman’s perspective” and “a fresh approach” to the district. “He has looked at ways we can align our priorities with our resources,” he said.

LRFP is a blend of customized statistical and spreadsheet software with dozens of formulas and financial equations. The software is Windows-based and uses Excel and statistical software called SAS, from the Cary, N.C.-based SAS Institute.

“It’s as sophisticated as any bank across the country would use,” Hunter said. He described LRFP as an elaborate, massive computer system that is capable of forecasting enrollment, resource allocation, expenditures, productivity ratios, return on investment, and outlook projections for test scores.

“It projects the school system’s expenditures and revenue for three to five years,” Hunter said. LRFP considers outside influences, such as inflation rates and oil prices, as well as internal issues, including test scores, teachers’ salaries, retirement, and new school construction.

“General Motors would turn over and sink if they only budgeted for one year, and yet that’s what schools do,” Hunter said.

Hunter said the data are to be updated quarterly, using input from local principals and administrators. The system probably will require a dedicated staff member and computer to operate the software and add data, he said, because it is so comprehensive.

The system will make the district’s financial data interactive, Hunter said. It will be able to answer questions, such as “How much time is devoted to reading?” and “What does reading cost per student to teach?”

“If you asked me how much money we spend on reading in high school, I couldn’t tell you,” said Carolyn Bricklemeyer, chairman of Hillsborough County School Board. “I need to be aware of where the money is being spent, so I can make better decisions.”

Bricklemeyer is excited about a system that promises to make the board more aware of its spending and help it develop strategies to meet the district’s priorities.

“We’ve got to look long-term,” Bricklemeyer said. With 5,000 new students each year and a school population of about 150,000, the district must have a plan to provide appropriate facilities and policies. “We want to be certain we’re using every single dollar as appropriately as possible.”

Currently, the school board gets its financial information from an accounting system that Bricklemeyer describes as complicated. Using LRFP, administrators easily will be able to see where they are improving and where they are going, she said.

“It will hold us accountable for how we spend our money,” Bricklemeyer said. “It will build in an evaluation that looks at how we spend our money [to see] if it was effective.”

“If you are running a business or a bank, which is my background, you’ll do all of this,” Hunter said. “I hope we lead the country with this.”

School District of Hillsborough County

SAS Institute


K-12 curriculum options open wide as dental colleges go DVD

When classes begin next fall, dental students at seven higher education institutions across the country will buy four years’ worth of textbooks and manuals on one digital video disk (DVD). Soon, developers say, students in elementary and secondary schools also will be able to use individual DVDs to access all their curriculum materials.

From slides to movie segments to handouts, the dental school DVDs will house all the course materials students will use throughout their program. To keep the disks up-to-date, they will be replaced every six months.

The idea of an all-inclusive DVD is not about replacing books, it’s about making text part of the curriculum in a high-tech society, said Todd Watkins, founder and chief executive officer of Raleigh, N.C.-based Vital Source Technologies, which produces the dental school DVDs.

The disks will make course material interactive, expansive, and more manageable, Watkins said. Students will be able to search the material by keyword. Their texts will cover more material than what is targeted just to their current level of study. And they won’t have to lug heavy books.

“We were looking for ways to improve student learning,” said Fred More, associate dean for academic affairs at the New York University College of Dentistry, one of the schools trying the digital curriculum.

“Students saw books as somewhat optional,” he said, and so they were not buying most of the assigned reading materials. He also found content is changing so quickly that the books a student bought in the first year of the program would be out of date by the time he or she graduated.

Brigit Glass, associate dean for academic affairs at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, hopes the DVDs will enhance the lessons the professors give.

“We expect that the faculty will become more motivated to develop web-based curriculum,” Glass said. The faculty also will be able to incorporate more problem-based learning, where students are given a problem they have to solve independently.

“The students have to scatter all over to find these resources,” she said, but now, using DVD, they will be able to search for the answers in many textbooks more quickly and all at once.

After Vital Source sees the results of the digital curriculum at the dental schools, the company plans to begin producing curriculum DVDs for sixth- to 12th-graders, Watkins said.

“We have just now started doing tests in [the upper K-12 grades],” he said, especially in science subjects.

Using this technology, students are challenged to work beyond their year of study, because the DVD can contain several years’ worth of curriculum content.

“We put artificial limits on our students, because we categorize them by grade,” Watkins said. The DVDs will offer students deeper content than what current textbooks can provide, which will encourage students to learn beyond the minimum requirement, he said.

Watkins also said that, because of reduced publication costs, the DVD could house several different textbooks on the same subject, giving students more information than does the single text currently issued to students.

The DVD uses a proprietary keyword search engine. Students type in a topic such as “the human skull,” and all relevant information relating to that topic appears for them to study.

Educators can customize the DVD by choosing what textbooks and materials they want it to contain. Vital Source is trying to work with as many publishers as possible to increase the choices available to teachers.

“We are not trying to replace paper. There are just some things that are stupid to put on paper,” Watkins said.

Gary Shapiro, senior vice president for intellectual property at Follet, a company that operates college bookstores, thinks that not all school subjects are ideal candidates for this kind of searchable software.

“The way dental students interact with their books is different from the way a history student uses books,” Shapiro said.

Watkins agrees, admitting the graphic-driven health/science field is more suited for this kind of technology. “If you’re reading things from cover to cover—I mean from beginning to end—there are other technologies that are better for that,” he said. “Where our technology really shines is where you need to build relationships between things.”

New York University College of Dentistry

University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio

Vital Source Technologies