From supe to ‘nets: Seattle Public Schools taps a superintendent as its new technology chief

It’s not often that the superintendent of a 29,000-student district leaves her post to head the technology department of another school system. And it’s equally rare for a large, high-profile urban district to appoint a career teacher and administrator with no formal computer education as its technology chief.

But that’s just what happened when Seattle Public Schools tapped Judy Margrath-Huge, superintendent for the past six years at Adams Twelve Five Star Schools in Northglenn, Colo., as its new chief information officer (CIO) in June.

“Being a superintendent was wonderful, but [it] doesn’t mean you always have to be,” Margrath-Huge said. She said the Adams Twelve school board offered to extend her contract, but she welcomed the chance to make a difference with technology instead.

Dick Barkey, the executive director of information technology at Margrath-Huge’s former district, understands her decision to work for the Seattle Public Schools.

“Most of us in similar jobs work with budgets that range from $1.5 million to $5 million,” said Barkey. “To have [$26 million in resources] available would be very attractive, especially for those who think technology adds to the quality of education.”

As CIO, Margrath-Huge will assume responsibility for the district’s technology functions, including its computer systems and support, instructional technology, telecommunications, broadcast studio, and library services.

She’ll also get to spend a $25.9 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Magrath-Huge’s selection as Seattle CIO might signal an upgrade in how school technology managers are coming to be viewed. As school districts continue to boost their investment in learning technologies, the position of technology chief is evolving into an increasingly important role, a role in which political leadership and educational vision count as much as technical savvy.

“To have someone with superintendent skills and superintendent capabilities on our team to lead our information effort is really tremendous,” said Seattle Superintendent Joseph Olchefske.

“Judy’s role is going to be far more than a traditional technology CIO-type position,” Olchefske said. “Her role is to use the power of information technology to really drive school reform and transformation.”

Margrath-Huge’s abilities and skills make her “fluent in the operational areas—like budget and logistics and construction and technology—but also fluent in the instructional and programmatic areas of school reform,” said Olchefske.

She also has a superintendent’s ability to work well with large groups of people, he added.

“I’m not a software engineer by any means, and I couldn’t pull open the back of a computer and rewire it,” Margrath-Huge said. “That’s not the kind of experience I’m bringing to the position.”

Because superintendents are responsible for all facets of education, Margrath-Huge’s background provides a strong foundation for leading the implementation of both technology and reform, Olchefske said.

The opportunity to work in an urban, vibrant district with an unusually large technology budget was very appealing, Margrath-Huge said.

“Seattle Public Schools [are] at a very exciting time right now, implementing student standards and looking at how technology can enhance student learning and administration,” she said.

Margrath-Huge said she plans to use technology to reinvent schooling and instructional media.

“Not only are reinvention of schooling and structural processes important, but you need funding to do it,” she said. “This $26 million [grant] gives us the opportunity to do it much quicker.”

Her primary goal, she said, is to support the district’s vision of increasing student achievement.

“The Gates grant is not about buying hardware or software. It’s about meeting the students’ needs,” Margrath-Huge said. In particular, she wants to invest in technology that will target students who are not being challenged or who are being left behind.

Her other goals include merging the information systems team with the information technology team, implementing a new student information system, and having a say in the school’s reform agenda.

She also said she wants to coordinate technology activities into grade-level benchmarks and make those activities easily accessible to teachers.

Although she’ll have lots of money to spend, Margrath-Huge anticipates some challenges in her new position.

“There is an achievement gap in Seattle Public Schools,” she said. “All ethnic groups’ and gender groups’ scores are increasing, but there is still a gap in the scores.”

She also has to figure out how to address the various levels of technology in the district’s schools—and teachers’ disparate abilities to use it.

“Not all the schools have been wired,” she said. “We have different levels of needs. Some people are way farther ahead than others.”

The successful implementation of meaningful technology in the Seattle schools will require thoughtful planning, Margrath-Huge said.

“We need to keep this whole use of technology in perspective,” she said. “The goal isn’t to increase technology. The goal is to use technology to increase student achievement.”

Links:

Seattle Public Schools
http://www.seattleschools.org

Adams Twelve Five Star Schools
http://www.ad12.k12.co.us

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Union demands liability protection when students abuse teachers’ computers

In what might be a first in the nation, the school board in St. Lucie County, Fla., has tentatively agreed to a collective bargaining demand that will protect teachers from liability should students access inappropriate material on the internet. The agreement was set to take effect in August.

The issue arose after police charged two St. Lucie teachers in separate incidents involving computers and pornography. It was students acting without permission, not they, who had used the computers to access pornography, both teachers said. Charges ultimately were dropped in both cases.

In the wake of these incidents, the St. Lucie County Classroom Teachers Association successfully negotiated a clause that would protect teachers from liability for “unauthorized use” of school computers by their students, as long as teachers follow proper school board policy in preventing such use.

“I think the union was looking for assurance that [teachers wouldn’t] be held responsible for a person other than themselves accessing inappropriate material without their knowledge,” said Sue Renew, director of personnel for the St. Lucie County school system. “That said, teachers are responsible for providing appropriate supervision.”

The St. Lucie case marks a growing trend in school systems across the country, according to the National Education Association (NEA), the nation’s largest teachers’ union. As more schools connect their classrooms to the internet—raising a host of legal issues in the process—teacher unions are heading for the bargaining table with the issue of liability for student internet safety.

“I do know that other associations have included in their contract bargaining language for the use of the internet,” said Barbara Stein, senior policy analyst for the NEA’s Center for Teaching and Learning. “With students having so much access to the internet, we do not want teachers blamed for student misuse, as long as there is not a flagrant lack of student supervision.

“You can’t leave a group of fifth graders alone with a computer for four hours,” she continued. “But even with filtering software, it is just not possible to make sure students can’t ever see something inappropriate.”

The highly publicized events in St. Lucie involved allegations that county teachers allowed students to view pornographic web sites in class.

In December, eighth-grade science teacher Edra Tullis was arrested and suspended without pay after evidence of visits to more than 600 pornographic sites was found on his computer at Lincoln Park Academy. Tullis was charged with displaying obscenity to a minor, a felony offense.

The charges were dropped in April. Throughout the ordeal, Tullis maintained that he rarely used his computer. He said he suspected students may have viewed the questionable sites without his knowledge. Tullis has since resigned, claiming in a news conference that he was “unfairly treated from the start.”

The other incident occurred at St. Lucie’s Westwood High School in April, when a student was able to pull up pornography on teacher Charles Johnson’s computer. Charges were dropped against Johnson when other students testified they had seen a 15-year-old boy access the pornography when Johnson stepped out of the classroom.

Clara Cook, president of the St. Lucie County Classroom Teachers Association, told the Port St. Lucie News, “There are some very serious consequences for teachers when this kind of thing is found on their computers—and there should be—but we don’t have enough security and safeguards in place to know who went to a site.”

Following these incidents, a 14-member task force was created to address proper internet use and safety in the county’s schools.

Meanwhile, the St. Lucie school board and teachers’ union have concluded contract negotiations and will vote to ratify the contract sometime in August.

According to Renew, the language regarding the county’s new internet policy, pending ratification, reads: “A teacher shall not be liable for unauthorized use of a computer by another person unless it can be proven that a teacher did not follow school board procedures in preventing unauthorized use. All teachers are required to follow school board policy, including St. Lucie County school board’s acceptable use policy, [which] will be provided to each teacher at the start of the school year.”

Procedures to prevent unauthorized use of computers include always logging off a computer before leaving a classroom and making sure doors are locked so students can’t access computers when a teacher isn’t in the room, Renew said.

Renew said deliberations regarding internet policy were inevitable, regardless of the recent and highly publicized security breaches: “Teachers were calling for this. The proposal was put on the table by the union and the school board didn’t have a problem with it, because when an investigation is conducted, we don’t want to discipline someone for something someone else did.

“It’s not fear that motivated this, but certainly teachers are concerned about the security of the technology that’s in place,” she continued. “We take strong disciplinary action against those found viewing inappropriate material and, of course, people worry about someone else logging on to their computer.”

School officials in St. Lucie County say the district uses the CyberPatrol filter on their network, but officials admit that filters are not foolproof.

School law expert David Splitt agreed, saying, “There is just no software that can protect against this sort of thing. Kids are just too smart.”

Links:

National Education Association
http://www.nea.org

Port St. Lucie News
http://www.tcpalm.com/portstlucie/index.shtml

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Microsoft adds new privacy features to its web browser

In an effort to address concerns about online privacy, Microsoft Corp. is beta-testing new “privacy-enhancing” features for its latest web browser, Internet Explorer 5.5, which will be available to the schools and others by the end of the summer.

Although the two leading web browsers used by schools, Internet Explorer and Netscape, already include customizable features that notify users about incoming cookies, Microsoft’s new features promise to give users a better understanding of different types of cookies and where they come from.

Cookies, or tiny files placed on a computer’s hard drive, help web sites identify returning visitors. Many web sites use cookies to profile web surfers’ online behavior by noting their every mouse click, recording such information as eMail addresses, clothing sizes, and zip codes.

This function is helpful when you’ve established a relationship with a web site and you want to go back and have special, personalized services delivered to your browser, such as an automatic login or your local weather forecast.

But it’s not just the web site you’re browsing that might be feeding you cookies. Behind the scenes, third-party market research firms and advertising networks, such as DoubleClick and Engage, also plant cookies on your computer. These third-party cookies often are used to measure web usage and create targeted advertising.

Imagine being followed every time you go shopping and having someone record everything you look at. That’s what third-party cookies do on the web. And that’s what worries online privacy advocates.

“The biggest concern about cookies has always been third-party cookies,” said Ari Schwartz, privacy policy analyst at the Center for Democracy and Technology. “There are third parties spying on you—people you don’t have a relationship with.”

In a sense, third-party cookies take unauthorized information from people.

“When that same information is stored by a third party, you don’t have to be notified,” Schwartz said. The government could seize that information from the company holding it or the company could sell it, he warns.

Although he hasn’t seen Microsoft’s online privacy-enhancing features, Schwartz said he is certainly encouraged by the idea.

IE’s new security features

When a cookie is being served or read on the hard drive, Internet Explorer 5.5 will alert the user with a pop-up message that will tell if the cookie is from a first or third party and give the option to accept or refuse the cookie.

IE also will give the user the choice to get more information about cookies from the help menu; Microsoft plans to add new help topics that address cookies and cookie management. Microsoft said users will get “balanced descriptions” of cookies and their uses, clearly differentiating between first- and third-party cookies.

In addition, Microsoft has added a “delete all cookies” button to its customizable controls, located under the Preferences menu, where users can adjust how the browser handles cookies.

“Microsoft is not opposed to the use of third-party persistent cookies. In fact, this is a primary business model of the web, used by small, medium, and large web sites, including ours,” Richard Purcell, Microsoft’s director of corporate privacy, said in a press release.

“We all want to educate, not alarm, consumers about cookies,” Purcell said. “With these new features, consumers will have a much better understanding of how cookies are used by sites that are collecting information and tailoring pages to fit the consumer’s preferences.”

But some observers say more needs to be done.

“Third-party cookies should just be stopped,” said Jason Catlett, president of Junkbusters Corp., a privacy advocacy group. “It’s not fair to place a tracking device that the user isn’t even aware of.”

He suggests that schools install ad-blocking software such as Guidescope and set their browsers to block cookies.

“Parents shouldn’t have to worry that their children are being continually tracked on the web,” Catlett said. “It’s fairly easy for school administrators to put a stop to web tracking with all of the filters available.”

Microsoft’s latest privacy technology comes at a time when the issue of protecting students’ privacy online is being examined by Congress.

United States Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., is spearheading an effort to require schools to get parents’ consent before they accept free computer equipment and internet services from companies. In exchange for such gifts, he argues, schools let companies gather valuable marketing information from students.

“If parents do not want their children to be objects of market research firms while in school, they should have the right to say ‘no,'” Miller said in April, when the House education committee added a parental consent provision to a larger education policy bill.

The legislation would require schools to get parental permission before a company can collect personal information from students and use it for commercial purposes. Schools that didn’t comply could lose their eligibility for federal funding.

Stephanie Ash, director of technology services at Dothan City Schools in Alabama, said she is not worried about online privacy or web tracking at school because of the logistics of internet use in classrooms and computer labs, although she doesn’t like features that let things happen behind the scenes.

“You have eight individuals who are using a machine each day, not including the students who do after-school assignments,” Ash said. “At home, I want to know when those cookies are coming about, but in a classroom situation with so many users, it wouldn’t be accurate data.”

Douglas Smith, technology coordinator at Indiana’s Beech Grove High School, said Microsoft’s informative notification might make students ask more questions—but, ultimately, it won’t make a difference.

“This whole generation of kids is pretty ignorant about the information they give over out over the web. I don’t think this generation of kids will give a hoot,” Smith said. “They really don’t understand about privacy and its ramifications.”

Platform for Privacy Preferences

This update for IE is Microsoft’s first step toward establishing a privacy solution based on the Platform for Privacy Preferences Program (P3P), which is a privacy technology being developed by the World Wide Web Consortium.

The group is developing standards that will provide an automated way for web surfers to find out how the sites they visit handle their personal information. P3P-compliant web sites make their privacy policies readable by P3P-enabled browsers, so the browser can compare the site’s policy to the user’s own set of privacy preferences.

“Cookie management alone is not the answer to consumer privacy,” Microsoft’s Purcell said. That’s why Microsoft is working with other industry participants to promote the adoption of the P3P specification, which helps users decide if the web sites they visit meet their privacy preferences.

In June, Junkbusters and the Electronic Privacy Information Center released a report, called “Pretty Poor Privacy,” that says the P3P specification is inadequate at maintaining privacy.

“We’ve been critical of P3P as a technology that’s not going to do much about online privacy,” said Junkbusters’ Catlett.

The report describes P3P as “a complex and confusing protocol that will make it more difficult for internet users to protect their privacy” and “likely to undermine public confidence in internet privacy.”

According to the New York Times, the Federal Trade Commission soon might endorse a privacy agreement, negotiated with the advertising industry, that sets rules about “profiling” to protect web surfers. The agreement states that companies would be allowed to self-regulate their practices, but advertisers would have to tell web surfers if they are profiling and give them the choice not to participate.

Links:

Microsoft Corp.
http://www.microsoft.com

Center for Democracy and Technology
http://www.cdt.org

Junkbusters
http://www.junkbusters.com

Platform for Privacy Preferences Program
http://www.w3.org/P3P

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Some schools are fighting poor acoustics with microphones and amplifiers

This spring, the classrooms of Concord Elementary School in Portland, Ore., buzzed with the ordinary sounds of a grade school: student voices, feet landing on soft carpets, and rustling papers.

But Elizabeth Mueller’s classroom was something altogether different. Mueller’s crisp voice—carried by microphone and a small speaker stationed atop the chalkboard—dominated the room, finding its way even to the most reluctant ear.

For Mueller, a veteran elementary school teacher accustomed to competing with the knock and rattle of an ancient heating system, the microphone has become as elemental as chalk and paper. The fourth-grade teacher no longer strains her voice to get students’ attention. She also knows her hearing-impaired students aren’t struggling to hear her.

Across the country, hundreds of elementary schools have installed microphone and speaker systems in classrooms, libraries, cafeterias, and even gymnasiums.

The microphones make it easier for young students to hear their teachers over background noises common in grade-school classrooms.

In the past three years, elementary school classrooms in Oregon’s Gresham-Barlow, Portland, Reynolds, Beaverton, and North Clackamas districts, where Concord is, have been wired for sound at an estimated cost of $1,000 per room.

The result, teachers and principals say, is a dramatic difference in students’ listening and speaking skills.

Students sitting in the last row of the classroom hear as well as those in the front. And because many classrooms are equipped with a second microphone for students to use when speaking, teachers say their students are clamoring to speak out.

“Even if you are timid and shy, everybody hears you and can understand you,” said Lori Prouty, whose son, Spencer, is in Mueller’s class. “It makes a huge difference in the attention span of the kids.”

Audiologists and speech experts say classroom sound systems are growing in popularity nationwide in response to research that shows poor classroom acoustics hinders listening and learning.

An Ohio State University study conducted last year by speech and hearing experts found poor acoustics in 30 out of 32 grade school classrooms in central Ohio.

Voices bounced off hard classroom floors, drowning out words and interfering with students’ ability to listen, researchers found.

The hiss and whir of heating and cooling systems were among the biggest sources of noise.

For children, being able to hear clearly is crucial to developing language, audiologists said.

Poor acoustics only compound problems for the hearing impaired; up to one-third of students in primary grades experience some temporary hearing loss due to infections or wax buildup in their ears on any given day.

“Young kids, whether they are hearing-impaired or not, have more trouble in noisy environments because they are still learning their language,” said Lawrence Feth, a professor of speech and hearing science at Ohio State and one of the researchers who participated in the classroom acoustics study.

“They need even quieter backgrounds or stronger speech signals in order to get the same level of information that adults have,” he said.

Teachers have long tried to compensate for poor acoustics by laying pieces of carpet on tile floors or sticking tennis balls on the feet of metal chairs to keep them from scraping.

Some schools hang sound-absorbing paneling on walls to dull noise.

Microphones are just the latest way educators are trying to improve sound quality in the classroom. And there is evidence to show that it works.

A 1993-95 study done in Florida found children in amplified classrooms paid attention longer, completed their assignments in reading and math, and generally maintained an academic edge over their peers in nonamplified rooms, said Gail G. Rosenberg, an audiologist with the Sarasota schools in Florida and one of the leaders of the study.

Rosenberg works with students with hearing impairment and evaluates classroom amplification systems in Sarasota schools.

The study involved 94 classrooms in 33 schools and is the most comprehensive look to date at the effectiveness of microphones in the classroom, it was reported.

In addition to improved performance among students, the study found that microphones protected teachers’ voices, Rosenberg said.

“Teachers are less stressed because their voices aren’t damaged or strained the way you are when you have to project over everyone,” said Thelma Rueppell, principal at Bethany Elementary in Beaverton, Ore., where classrooms are amplified.

Students in these classrooms also are more willing to speak out, teachers said.

“Using the hand-held microphone just gives them a feel of self-confidence, that there is something they can rely on to project their voice,” said Teri Geist, principal at Laurelhurst Elementary, where every room was amplified about 18 months ago.

The school, one of three in Portland using amplification, bought an estimated $22,000 in equipment with grants and parent contributions, Geist said.

Prouty, the Concord Elementary parent, thought microphones would help her son, who experienced occasional hearing impairment because of ear infections. She suggested the idea after attending a computer class where the instructor used a microphone.

“I could hear,” she said. “I was following so well. The second day, his microphone broke. I just couldn’t believe the difference just in my own comprehension as far as how clearly I could hear and understand. The difference between the two days was night and day.”

Five months later, Prouty said she’s noticed a difference when she volunteers in her son’s class. Students pay more attention, and they are eager to speak in front of their classmates.

Now, she’s raising money to buy amplification systems for the entire school.

“I don’t want my sons to ever be in a classroom without it,” she said.

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‘Bluetooth’ will streamline school connectivity, proponents say

For years, computer scientists have been trying to find a way to connect the latest wireless gadgets so they can interface with one another seamlessly. Now, supporters of the new “Bluetooth” technology believe it could be the answer for schools and businesses that want to streamline their technology.

Bluetooth, named after Harald Bluetooth the medieval Danish king who unified Denmark and Norway, uses radio waves to enable palm-top devices, laptops, and cell phones to “talk” to one another. Like its namesake, the technology aims to bring together the warring “factions” of technology under a unified banner.

According to the Bluetooth Special Interest Group, the term Bluetooth refers to a “de facto standard, as well as a specification for … low-cost, short-range radio links between mobile PCs, mobile phones, and other portable devices.”

Radio technology is a far more economical alternative to installing telephones into mobile PCs, Bluetooth’s supporters claim. Why? The cost of installing a telephone in all laptops is too high, there are too many types of phones to choose from, and there is no universally accepted standard for cell phones around the world.

In a time when connectivity is becoming increasingly integral to education, wireless technology has become the “holy grail” for many school officials seeking the ultimate in portable, interactive devices. Bluetooth’s supporters say the technology soon could offer schools the following benefits:

  • Bluetooth will enable a laptop user to surf the internet without a cordless connection through a mobile phone, and without a telephone jack to plug into.

  • Documents will be instantly accessible to participants in meetings and conferences without any wired land connections.

  • Users will be able to connect their wireless headsets to their mobile phones, laptops, or any wired connection to keep their hands free in the car or at their desk.

  • Bluetooth will enable automatic synchronization of a user’s desktop, laptop, and mobile phone. For example, if an appointment is entered into a user’s laptop, the same entry automatically will show up on the user’s desktop computer as well.

Bluetooth technology will allow a cell phone to function in three ways, proponents say. At home, the phone will operate from a fixed line charge. When the user is traveling, it will operate with a cellular charge. When the cell phone comes within range of another Bluetooth-enabled cell phone, it will operate like a walkie-talkie (no phone charge at all).

According to Steve Parker, product line manager for new mobile platforms at 3Com Corp. and one of the foremost experts on Bluetooth technology, 30 percent of people right now have a cell phone, a Palm device, a laptop, or more than one of these products. If a person is carrying more than one of these products on their person, the devices will be able to “talk” to one another if they are Bluetooth-enabled.

This means that if a user is carrying a cell phone and a laptop, he or she can call up the internet with the cell phone, which then can wirelessly connect the user’s laptop through Bluetooth’s radio signals, assuming both devices are within range of one another. Potentially, this means no more plugging the cell phone into the laptop to get internet access.

Parker believes the technology will have a significant impact on education. “New technologies are often more readily adopted by the younger generation,” he said. He also noted that busy school administrators also stand to benefit.

Daryl Ann Borel, assistant superintendent for technology at Houston Independent School District, also sees the potential of Bluetooth-enabled technology for schools. “It will be useful not just during the school day, but also, in an urban school district like Houston, we need to take steps to bridge the digital divide any way we can. The issue here is connectivity,” she said.

Parker said that schools wishing to employ Bluetooth technology would have to install wireless access points in areas of the school where personal computing and the use of Palm Pilots and cell phones is allowed, such as the cafeteria, office, or computer lab. The wireless access points are about the size as a smoke detector and are wired to the network. Students, teachers, and administrators within range of one of the access points could connect directly to the internet wirelessly.

“With high-powered radio signals, the access point has a 100-meter radius in open air. But in a building or an office, with things like walls and cubicles blocking the way, we realistically expect the radius to be about 30 meters,” said Parker.

“What this means in terms of streamlining for schools and school administrators is that if they deploy these Bluetooth access points within their school environment, they can control the access of the people within that environment,” he added. “This way, the school administrators are in control of what services they provide and to whom.”

The Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG), comprising leaders in the telecommunications, computing, and network industries, is driving development of the technology and bringing it to market. The group includes promoter companies 3Com, Ericsson, IBM, Intel, Lucent, Microsoft, and Toshiba, as well as several “Adopter/Associate” member companies.

The Bluetooth SIG exists to promote the Bluetooth wireless technology, to ensure the interoperability of diverse qualified Bluetooth products, to handle relevant legal matters, and to drive the development of next-generation technology.

According to Parker, Ericsson has announced it will be shipping a cell phone with Bluetooth capability in the third quarter of this year, and a wave of products from other companies will be released toward the end of the year. Most analysts are saying that by the end of next year, all manners of devices will be rolled out with Bluetooth capability.

“Practically all manufacturers of electronic products are working on this,” Parker said.

Price will not be a deterrent to those interested in implementing Bluetooth, Parker said. “Today, the cost for the silicon in the chip is around $20 or $30, but we believe this will come down toward the first of the year to less than half of that. I expect the second generation to be in the $7 to $10 range. By the third generation, it may be down to $5,” he said.

Links:

Bluetooth
http://www.bluetooth.com

Houston Independent School District
http://www.houston.isd.tenet.edu

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FBI urges schools to ban web-site student photos, but not all educators agree

Responding to what they call a dramatic increase in the number of pedophile cases perpetrated though school web sites and the internet, the United States Attorney’s Office of Maryland and the Baltimore FBI Division have teamed up to make parents and teachers aware of the dangers children face on the internet.

“We recognize that [internet-related crime against children] is a big problem, and it’s going to get bigger—not because there’s more pedophiles out there, but because more children have access to the internet,” said Special Agent Peter Gulotta, media representative for the FBI Baltimore Division.

Gulotta works with an undercover FBI operation, called Innocent Images, in which officers seek out pedophiles by engaging in chat room conversations where pedophiles might be lurking. Pretending to be a young girl or boy, the officers look for people who transmit pornographic images to children and those who actually travel to meet and have sex with children so they can make an arrest.

In 1999, Innocent Images handled 1,500 cases, up from 700 in 1998. The program began in 1995, and now 15 of the 58 FBI offices across the country operate Innocent Images task forces.

To curb the frequency of these crimes, volunteers from the state attorney’s office, the FBI’s Innocent Images task force in Baltimore, and local police have been making presentations at teacher staff meetings and to PTA groups at elementary and middle schools throughout Maryland.

Drawing on real-life incidences, they tell educators and parents about cases in which children using the internet were lured into meeting attackers face to face.

“We use our cases as examples because they are pretty scary,” said Marcia Murphy, assistant to the attorney in the U.S. Attorney’s Office of Maryland. “Parents had no idea what was happening to their kids.”

Pedophiles using the internet often initiate contact with their victims through online chat rooms, according to the FBI, and they later visit school web sites looking for more information about the children they’ve encountered. Pedophiles who find pictures and information on school web pages can then show up at the school looking for specific children, federal agents said.

“Some things seem very innocent, like putting up kids’ pictures on a school web page—but we don’t recommend that at all,” Murphy said. “A lot of pedophiles go to school web sites. We have had people in our prosecutions who have gone to the child’s school because of the web site.”

According to a recent report, “Online Victimization: A Report on the Nation’s Youth,” funded by the U.S. Congress through a grant to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, approximately one in five youths between the ages of 10 and 17 were sexually solicited or approached over the internet last year.

Only 17 percent of youths and 10 percent of parents could name a specific authority—such as the FBI, CyberTipline, or an internet service provider—to which they could report an offense.

Marilyn Barber, technology specialist at Buck Lodge Middle School in Adelphi, Md., invited the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI to give their internet safety presentation to teachers and parents at her school.

“It was very frank and to the point about internet safety,” Barber said. “They were really thorough and they sited real cases. It was a reality check.”

Debate over students’ photos

But some educators think the FBI’s presentation is an overreaction.

The officials from the state attorney’s office and the FBI recommend that schools do not publish any student photographs or personal information, including names or even activity schedules, on school web sites. If a school does publish a student photo, the FBI says it should be a distant group photo, and faces should be angled and unidentifiable.

Many schools that add student photos to their web sites see nothing wrong with doing so. At Andrews Independent School District in Texas, teachers like to publish photos of students participating in theme days, or special accomplishments such as the valedictory, although the district doesn’t use full names on its site.

“Our school policy is no last names, but what kind of recognition is that? Blair L. or David P. To me, that is not enough. I think kids do much better when acknowledged for their accomplishments,” said Annell Cribbs, the district’s web master.

“Students are motivated by seeing themselves on the web—that translates into a lot of excitement in the classroom,” agrees Mark Johnson, co-founder of HighWired.com, an internet company that hosts web pages and newspapers for high schools and, more recently, junior high schools.

“We encourage the use of photographs, particularly group shots. We are wary of single, individual photos,” Johnson said.

Many of HighWired’s clients post student pictures on their web pages without thinking of it as dangerous, he said, although the students are all older than 13.

“We would be against schools taking pictures off school web sites,” Johnson said, since the pictures of student athletes and drama clubs are highly motivating to students. “We think that might be taking it a tad too far.”

Like Andrews ISD, many school districts give parents the choice by requiring legal guardians to sign a release form before they publish a student’s picture on the web or in a newspaper.

Bob Moore, instruction technology director for the Blue Valley School District in Kansas, said the policy should vary from community to community, depending on a community’s residents and their experiences.

“If you’re in a community that had a problem, that would certainly affect the approach you take,” said Moore, who noted that law enforcement officials “tend to err on the conservative, cautious side.”

Rob Schleck, director of technology for Milwaukee Public Schools, said he can understand the perspective of government law, and he acknowledges that pedophiles and stalkers do exist.

“If it means a child getting abducted from school, than it’s not worth the risk, even if it’s one kid in two million,” Schleck said. “You have to balance reality with the risk, I guess.”

He also points out that school web pages could focus more on school work and student achievements instead. “You can certainly do great web pages without featuring pictures of students,” Schleck said. “It’s just unfortunate that we have to worry about stuff like this.”

Some of the FBI’s advice includes suggestions that no educator would argue with. Kids should not be left unsupervised with computers. Internet activities should be structured, and teachers should preview web pages before letting students access them.

“We tell children that they never, ever should give out personal information to people they don’t know,” Gulotta said. “That includes phone number, address, where you go to school, what grade you’re in.”

Supporters of the FBI’s presentations say that kids need to hear the horror stories of these internet crimes, because it’s the most effective way to get the message across to them.

“Young people think they are invincible. They don’t see the danger. They don’t see the death,” Gulotta said. “You don’t know what you’re dealing with out there, and kids have to understand that.”

Links:

Federal Bureau of Investigation
http://www.fbi.gov

Buck Lodge Middle School
http://www.pgcps.pg.k12.md.us/~blms

International Center for Missing or Exploited Children
http://www.missingkids.com

Andrews Independent School District
http://andrews.esc18.net

Blue Valley School District
http://www.bluevalleyk12.org

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Group develops new standards for records transfer.

New computer protocols being developed by a U.S. Department of Education task force soon could make it easy to exchange student transcripts and other information electronically from one school district to another, from a school district to a college, or from a school district to a state or federal government agency.

Currently, it can take up to two weeks for schools to receive the transcripts of students who transfer to another district or state, school officials say. The delay often means school officials don’t have the information they need to place students in the appropriate classes right away, and valuable education time is lost.

But cutting-edge information sharing environments like those used in the federal Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) program can make possible the near-instant transfer of this information, regardless of what type of student information system a school district uses, according to Ray Yeagley, superintendent of Rochester, N.H., School District and chairman of the National Center for Education Statistics’ EDI Task Force.

“I think this type of thing is inevitable,” Yeagley told eSchool News. “We all want to cut down on paper and eliminate the errors that occur when sets of information have to be entered repeatedly. But more important to the students is the fact that it speeds up what happens with their information.”

According to the National Center for Education Statistics web site, EDI is “the exchange of routine business transactions in a computer-processable format, covering such traditional applications as inquiries, planning, purchasing, … , financial reporting—and now, education information.”

The initiative actually began in 1979, when the American National Standards Institute chartered a new committee—now known as the Accredited Standards Committee (ASC) X12, Electronic Data Interchange—to develop uniform standards for electronic interchange of business transactions.

EDI standards were created to solve the problems that arise when widely varying formats used by trading partners hinder the efficient exchange of electronic information. But forward-thinking educators saw the implications of these standards for use in K-12 schools as well.

“There are more than 100 different student information programs used in schools, [programs] such as Chancery’s Mac School and NCS’s SASI,” Yeagley said. “But with such a disparate community of users, it has not been practical until now to create an EDI” standard for the education community.

Once EDI is generally accepted among schools, Yeagley said, it will reduce the staff time required to send high school transcripts to colleges, enable schools receiving transfer students to have virtually instant access to academic information that is critical to their placement, and facilitate the direct transmission of state and federal reports without introducing errors from manual data entry.

How EDI works

EDI works by establishing “translation sets” that tell the software how to convert information from one format to another.

“There are a number of educational translation sets,” said Yeagley. “For example, the student record has all the individual student information, while the institutional record contains information … [such as] financial reporting or enrollment.”

Yeagley’s task force has begun testing a pilot web server for schools, nicknamed CHARLOTTE, which translates data from a variety of commercial and custom student information systems to a standard ANSI X12 format. The server then forwards the data to a receiving school, district, or postsecondary institution.

If the receiving institution cannot read X12-formatted data, the server will translate the data from the X12 format back into the format used by the receiving school before sending the record. The server uses internet, eMail, and file transfer protocols to carry out its information exchanges.

Currently, CHARLOTTE is operating as a prototype on a single server at Sierra Systems in Arlington, Va. Six pilot institutions—three public school systems and three state departments of education—have participated in data transfer testing with the University of Maryland. The Rochester School District is one of two districts that have successfully completed their transactions with the university.

As it exists now, CHARLOTTE is designed to relay information only from NCS’s SASIxp administrative software program into X12, but Yeagley said its creators are mapping the server for use with other software programs as well. “It takes three or four days to map for one program,” he said.

Yeagley’s task force hopes to achieve the same success with EDI in schools that has been seen in online business. “EDI currently drives eCommerce,” he said. “For example, one of the X12 translation sets allows UPS to track its packages, no matter where they are.”

EDI and SIF

One problem that EDI might not be able to solve is how to allow a variety of different school applications to communicate with one another within a particular school or district.

Schools must repeatedly re-enter information for the same student into many different applications, such as attendance software, health records, and school lunch programs, Yeagley points out.

The Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA) has attempted to solve this problem by developing a data-interchange system using the new XML format, rather than EDI’s X12 standard. Called the Schools Interoperability Framework (SIF), SIIA’s program allows school personnel to unify the many different applications used within a school.

But SIF standards do not offer the same benefits as EDI, Yeagley said. One important difference is that SIF is vendor-generated to let applications within a district communicate with each other, rather than from district to district. That means SIF is not as useful for transferring student records from district to district, or from state to state, as EDI is intended to be.

On the other hand, the SIF standard is more flexible, because it asks the vendor to handle the translation and mapping, rather than the data interchange program itself.

Observers view the eventual compatibility between the business-driven EDI and education-driven SIF standards as a necessity.

“We’re straddling the technology world right now,” said Barbara Andrepont, SIF working group co-chair. “EDI is more mature [than SIF], and many businesses and universities already have a vested interest in X12. We can’t ignore that these two [standards] have to be able to cross-talk.”

Challenges to adoption

Both EDI and SIF face the problem of how to ensure that student information transmitted electronically remains secure. But for EDI, the challenge is greater, because student data must be sent out over the internet and not over a more secure environment such as a districtwide intranet.

“This is extremely sensitive information, and steps must be taken to limit access to only those who are authorized,” said David Sobel, general counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

Yeagley said privacy should not present a major problem for K-12 schools: “CHARLOTTE works in a highly secure environment with encryption. The risk is about the same as sending your credit card number to an eCommerce site. Security on the net has really come a long way.”

A greater challenge could be building enough momentum on a national level for EDI to catch on in schools. Though CHARLOTTE is a federally funded pilot project, the actual implementation of EDI is being left up to states and individual school districts.

“It does Rochester, New Hampshire, no good to be able to send transcripts to Palo Alto, California, when we send one out of a million kids there,” Yeagley explained. “A majority of our high school kids go to the University of New Hampshire. We need to rely on EDI locally, and it makes sense to create regional or statewide [EDI] servers.”

Leland Tack, EDI Task Force member and financial and information services administrator for the Iowa Department of Education, agreed. “Given that education is still primarily a state function, it really requires each state to accept and implement this,” he said. “It has to be a district/state partnership, and there must be a critical mass to get the whole thing moving.”

The Iowa Legislature is spending about $500,000 per year to enable its school districts to transfer records electronically using EDI, Tack said. Currently, 55 percent of the state’s school districts are EDI-enabled, as well as 15 community colleges and three state universities.

“To be EDI-compatible, school districts must use software that has EDI translation sets built in, or they can use special EDI Control Center software developed by NCS,” Tack said.

Iowa’s implementation of the protocol means that EDI-enabled districts can send student transcripts electronically to the three universities involved, and they can also submit information to the state via computer for student reporting.

“If a district [or a state] wanted to do this, they could just get the tools and do it,” said Tim Newell, account manager at Sierra Systems and one of CHARLOTTE’s developers. “It is now just a matter of people buying into the concept.”

National Center for Education Statistics’ EDI information

http://nces.ed.gov/edi

Sierra Systems Group Inc.

http://www.sierrasystems.com

Iowa Department of Education

http://www.state.ia.us/educate

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Web filters show inconsistency

An experiment conducted during the last few months by the free-speech advocacy group Peacefire suggests that many of the leading internet filtering companies apply their criteria inconsistently when choosing which web sites their software should block.

Peacefire took antigay passages word for word from four well-known conservative web sites—Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, Concerned Women for America, and the official web site of radio talk show host Dr. Laura Schlessinger—and created bait web pages using that content.

Through anonymous Hotmail accounts, Peacefire submitted these bait pages to several internet-filtering companies and suggested the pages be blocked because they contained derogatory comments about homosexuality. The filtering programs targeted by Peacefire included SurfWatch, N2H2’s Bess, Cyber Patrol, NetNanny, WebSENSE, and SmartFilter.

These particular programs block offensive web sites based on evaluations made by staff members. Other types of filters, not included in this experiment, block web sites according to keywords that appear on the sites.

The filtering companies contacted by Peacefire all chose to add the bait sites to their lists of sites that should be blocked as “hate speech”—despite the fact that none of the programs filter the four well-known sites from which the content was taken.

Peacefire says it then asked these companies if they would block the original sources of the content, but as of early June, none of the companies had agreed to do so.

“They all blocked the bait pages we submitted to them, and so far, they’re all sort of backpedaling to get out of this situation,” said Bennett Haselton, Peacefire’s founder.

Haselton said the experiment shows these filtering companies, which use subjective criteria for evaluating web content, are inconsistent at best—and might even apply a double standard.

“If they don’t block the original source site, that proves they’re applying their criteria inconsistently, depending on whether the organization has lots of lawyers and fax machines and ability [to create] a high-profile backlash,” Haselton told Wired.

Another reason some makers of filtering software might be hesitant to block the sites of powerful conservative groups: They often have similar goals and marketing alliances. NetNanny, for instance, counts Focus on the Family among its business partners.

The filtering companies, for their part, say overall context is an important consideration when evaluating web sites. Many of their products also give school officials the ability to add or delete sites from the companies’ lists of “blocked” sites, in case educators disagree with any selections.

In response to Peacefire’s charge of double standards, Susan Getgood, vice president and general manager for Cyber Patrol, said, “We are, indeed, reviewing those four sites. We have to determine whether it is intolerance.

“It takes time to review these sites, because they are much larger than the one-page sites of Peacefire’s bait pages,” she said. “If, at the end of our review, we choose not to block these sites, it [will be] because … the content was opinion or because, in context, it was not intolerant.”

N2H2, which sells a server-based internet filter called Bess to K-12 schools, also said it would re-evaluate the four web sites.

“We look at every single page for what it is” and then assign each page to a category like sexually explicit, hate speech, or eCommerce, said Jessica Lyman, director of web analysis for N2H2.

“A lot of these sites change, and we go back and go through these sites,” Lyman said. “It’s impossible to catch every single thing as it comes out, and that’s why we have these processes in place. It allows us to be 90-percent effective.”

Although N2H2, with a staff of 150 people, reviews 10,000 to 15,000 web sites a day, the company said it relies mostly on customer recommendations of which sites to review.

“At the peak of the school season, we were getting 3,000 eMails a day,” Lyman said. “We encourage customers to let us know if there are any inconsistencies. It’s important feedback.”

Peacefire’s “Project Bait and Switch”

http://www.peacefire.org/BaitAndSwitch

N2H2 Inc.

http://www.n2h2.com

Cyber Patrol

http://www.cyberpatrol.com

Official Dr. Laura web site

http://www.drlaura.com/main

Concerned Women of America

http://www.cwfa.org

Family Research Council

http://www.frc.org

Focus on the Family

http://www.family.org

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Another virus attacks school PCs

Just when school technology staff members were recovering from the highly destructive “Love Bug” virus, a new virus began eating its way through computers, and this one is smarter and more destructive than the worldwide Love Bug plague that inspired it, experts say. They have christened it “NewLove” or “Spammer.”

The Love Bug was easy to detect with the “ILOVEYOU” subject line of the eMail messages that carried it, but the new virus changes subject lines every time it is sent. It also destroys most of the files on the computers it infects.

“Each time the virus spreads, it mutates itself to evade detection,” according to Symantec Corp., a California antivirus software maker.

The virus was detected at several large companies on May 18, said Dave Perry, spokesman for another antivirus software maker, Trend Micro Inc. At one company, 5,000 computers were infected, said Perry, who would not identify any of the companies affected.

“If this gets to 100,000 machines vs. millions for the Love Bug, that’s more damaging,” because of the way it crashes computers, Perry said.

Schools are especially susceptible to widespread computer viruses like this one, say school network administrators.

“We have been very lucky so far, because we are primarily Macintosh-based, but PC-based districts will definitely have problems,” said Tom Plati, director of libraries and educational technology for Wellesley Public Schools in Massachusetts.

“The problem that schools have that businesses do not is that we don’t have a network technical staff to help us recover when a virus hits,” he said.

The subject line of an eMail message infected with the new virus starts with “FW:” and includes the name of a randomly chosen attachment from a previous eMail message on an infected computer. The eMail message will have an attachment with the same name, but ending in “.vbs.”

For example, the virus might find the file “mydoc.txt” on the user’s system and send off a message with the subject line “FW: mydoc.txt” and an attachment of “mydoc.txt.vbs.”

Clicking on the attachment will activate the virus. Like Love Bug, it will send itself to everyone in the user’s address book. It will then overwrite most files on the hard drive, rendering the computer useless until the operating system is reinstalled.

So far, Microsoft’s Outlook is the only eMail program the virus is attacking, said Anita Chen, a spokeswoman for Trend Micro. Microsoft has reportedly said it soon will make available a modification to Outlook that will warn users about suspect eMail attachments.

Antivirus software has proven fairly ineffective in combating quick-spreading viruses such as this newest example, experts agree. Desktop programs prevent only known viruses, matching them up with a set series of “fingerprints” that identify a virus as harmful.

Antivirus companies respond to these virulent viruses by setting up web sites allowing users to quickly download the needed antivirus program onto their computer. But according to wire service reports, that method of controlling the spread of computer viruses leaves room for considerable human error, leading some experts to call for a more aggressive effort by internet service providers (ISPs).

“Internet service providers have the capability to block and filter some of these malicious viruses before they get to desktops,” Greg Olsen, chief executive officer of the eMail software company Sendmail Inc., told reporters.

John Pescatore, director of network security at the Gartner Group research firm, agreed, saying, “The job is definitely heading for the ISPs to handle. But consumers aren’t going to pay for it as a line item. They only get concerned when there’s a Melissa or Love Bug, and they forget about them pretty quickly.”

eMail servers are likely to crash as a direct result of the size of the attachments that are sent with the new virus, experts said. The Love Bug had a small attachment, but crashed eMail servers all over the world when it sent millions of copies of itself through the systems at once.

The Love Bug spread like wildfire to millions of computers in early May. Estimates of the damages caused range up to $10 billion, and investigators have questioned several people in the Philippines during the search for the author.

The relatively simple Love Bug virus was followed some hours later by slightly modified variants, posing as jokes or confirmations on Mother’s Day gifts. None of the variants was very widespread.

Trend Micro’s Perry said he hoped that increased awareness among eMail users would hold back the spread of the new virus.

“Any time a virus hits a week after another virus, its potency is diminished,” he said. “People tend to be a little more cautious.”

The CERT Coordination Center, a government-chartered computer emergency team at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, reported that it was aware of the outbreak, but that it had not immediately been contacted by virus victims.

Gartner Group

http://gartner4.gartnerweb.com/public/static/home/home.html

Sendmail Inc.

http://www2.sendmail.com

Symantec

http://www.symantec.com

Trend Micro

http://www.trend.com

Microsoft

http://www.microsoft.com

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Ariz. braces for computer purchases

Browsing at tables displaying laptops and PCs and getting an earful about wireless technology, Arizona educators began a process that will put nearly 50,000 new computers in classrooms across the state.

The state plans to spend $50 million on hardware, software, training, and support as it brings school facilities and equipment up to minimum state standards, nearly doubling the approximately 60,000 modern computers already in public schools.

“What I really like is the fact that Arizona is taking the lead on putting technology in students’ hands,” said David Roman, a gifted-education teacher and technology coordinator at Toltec Elementary School in Eloy, Ariz.

About 300 teachers and school officials attended a May 24 technology fair at the Glendale Civic Center, hearing presentations on how technology in education is likely to evolve and what they should consider getting for their schools.

Ten manufacturers and six other vendors displayed their wares, providing demonstrations for people scooping literature, mousepads, and other promotional material into plastic sacks as they went from table to table.

Districts will be able to select which computers they want from among those offered under discounted bids solicited by the state, under a school program that reportedly will save taxpayers an estimated $10 million.

Installation also is included, but it will make sense in many older schools to get wireless systems so that walls do not have to be opened up to put in cables, said Phil Geiger, the School Facilities Board’s executive director.

School districts will get as many computers as they need to comply with the state’s standard of one computer for every eight students.

Districts that already have enough computers to meet the state’s quality standard won’t get any more, but most will get at least a few, along with teacher training and technical support.

Merrell Hamblin, technology coordinator for the 1,700-student Round Valley Unified School District in Springerville, Ariz., said his district will get only 12 computers because it used its own money for computers over the years.

That’s frustrating, but Round Valley still expects to gain from the teacher training that will accompany the few computers it does get, Hamblin said: “Being so far out, it’s tough to get our teachers trained.”

Wendy Hawkins, a manager of Intel Corp.’s teacher training initiative, said the importance of student computers in schools cannot be overstated.

“You can’t work in a garage, you can’t work on a farm, you can’t work in the lumber industry without touching a computer these days,” she said.

Roman, the teacher at Toltec Elementary School, agreed.

“I didn’t get my first computer until I was in college. The kids that I work with use it for everything,” the 36-year-old said.

Toltec Elementary has 23 up-to-date computers but plans to get 67 more from the state program, Roman said.

The 760-student school used its own money and got grants and donations to get the computers it has, but that’s hard to do in rural areas without major companies, he said.

Districts have until October to place their orders and can schedule delivery through next May.

John Vipond, a Compaq Computer Corp. account manager, said the industry was surprised the state’s computer standard is actually producing action.

“I thought it was just a big wish list,” Vipond said.

Arizona School Facilities Board

http://www.sfb.state.az.us/sfb/sfbpub/ sfbindex.htm

Intel Corp.

http://www.intel.com

Compaq Computer Corp.

http://www.compaq.com

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