FLORIDA COMMUNITY BANKS ON ‘COINS FOR COMPUTERS’ PROGRAM

Spare change could help some Tampa-area schools get new computers. At least, that’s the thinking behind a program sponsored by the Greater Temple Terrace Chamber of Commerce.

The chamber is distributing plastic canisters to businesses throughout Temple Terrace, hoping the town’s residents will donate their spare change for new school computers. The canisters will be placed on counter tops, next to cash registers or wherever they’re easily accessible.

Project coordinator Phil Lentsch, president of Office Dynamics, said he thought of the program after seeing the computers at the district’s Greco Middle School. “All you have to do is look at their computers and you just want to cry. They’re about 15 years out of date,” he told the Tampa Tribune. “It’s really scary to see how bad it is.”

Lentsch said 370 businesses are members of the chamber. If each one raises just $10 a month, he said, that’s $ 3,700 a month for the program.

The Hillsborough Education Foundation has agreed to match the chamber’s funds, offering $667 for each $1,000 the chamber raises. That would bring the total to more than $5,500 a month, presuming each business raised $10 a month. “It’s all going for computers,” Lentsch said of the money raised.

Ideally, the chamber would like to purchase six computers a month, Lentsch said. He has sent letters to major computer manufacturers such as Compaq, Dell, and Apple seeking a package deal on pricing, he said.

The computers will go to the cluster of schools serving Temple Terrace, including King High School, Greco Middle School, Temple Terrace Elementary School, Riverhills Ele

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Group readies report on child internet safety

A federally created commission studying online child protection will recommend to Congress that an independent research bureau be created to review filtering software. The commission may also push for a special kid-friendly internet zone, its chairman says.

The group has toyed with many recommendations for how to keep children safe while not running afoul of privacy and free speech concerns.

“There is no magic bullet,” said Donald Telage, chairman of the Child Online Protection Act (COPA) Commission and former president of Network Solutions Inc.

The COPA panel includes representatives from government and industry, such as The Walt Disney Co., Yahoo, and America Online. It also has activists like the Washington-based Center for Democracy and Technology.

On Sept. 19, the group rated all of its possible recommendations on the basis of cost, effectiveness, privacy and First Amendment issues, and other criteria.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Telage said he expects the commission will recommend that an independent research bureau provide evaluations of online filtering products.

Companies that make those products are very secretive with their lists of “banned” sites and how they scan for objectionable content. Telage said the commission would heighten competition and expose false claims.

Telage said there is a “50-50 shot” that new web domain categories could be created, like “.kids,” reserved for kid-friendly content. Others have advocated “.xxx” for adult sites, although Telage said the commission has free-speech reservations about that suggestion.

Age verification techniques, content labeling, and education initiatives also are under discussion.

Even a seemingly simple suggestion like boosting funds for law enforcement agencies for more pornography-related prosecutions faced intense debate.

More prosecutions could have a chilling effect on purveyors of porn, argues Donna Rice Hughes, an anti-porn activist who gained notoriety for her relationship with 1988 presidential candidate Gary Hart.

“One of the reasons we have such enormous abuse in the obscenity area is that they know they’re not going to be prosecuted,” Rice Hughes said. “Some very well-placed prosecutions could send a loud, clear message that there is some risk associated with this.”

An internet industry representative considers it futile, however, since U.S. regulations and prosecutions couldn’t touch foreign companies.

“The deterrent effect of increased prosecution outside the U.S. borders is precisely zero,” said John LoGalbo of PSINet Inc. The company’s founder, William L. Schrader, is on the commission. “There’s a lot of pornography outside the U.S.”

J. Robert Flores of the National Law Center for Children and Families pointed to the adult industry chastising its own members for some especially hard-core pornography, after it brought the unwanted attention of local legislators.

“This industry is extremely sensitive to the smallest prosecution,” Flores said.

The panel was established under the Child Online Protection Act, which has been roundly lambasted by the courts. In June, a federal court upheld the injunction against the law, calling it too restrictive, confused, and impossible to enforce. None of the judges in any court that has reviewed the law has ever voted to uphold it.

The commission is due to present its final recommendations to Congress Oct. 21. Among the 17 ideas evaluated by commission members on Sept. 19 are:

  • Online information resources;
  • Parent education programs;
  • Server-side and client-side filtering using URL lists or content analysis;
  • First-party or third-party labeling and/or rating;
  • Age verifications systems based on credit cards or independently-issued IDs;
  • Establishment of a new top-level domain or zoning for HTM and non-HTM content;
  • Establishment of “green-light” zones or “red-light” zones by means of allocating a new set of internet protocol (IP) numbers;
  • Hotlines or warning systems;
  • Monitoring and time-limiting tools;
  • Acceptable use policies or family contracts; and
  • Increased prosecution.

Links:

COPA Commission
http://www.copacommission.com

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San Antonio district jarred by nearly $2 million in missing computer equipment

The San Antonio Independent School District is taking steps to ensure that staff members are held more responsible for keeping track of district-owned computer equipment. The changes come after an in-house audit of fixed assets conducted this year revealed that the district can’t account for nearly $2 million in computers, printers, and other devices.

That figure comes from a story in the San Antonio Express-News, which found that $904,142 worth of equipment and other assets has been reported lost since the 1996-97 school year, and another $825,529 could not be accounted for—a total of $1,729,671 in missing equipment.

Under the district’s current policy, each campus conducts an annual fiscal evaluation. According to Tony Juarez, associate superintendent for finance, San Antonio has an inventory category for lost, stolen, destroyed, or removed items, which is separate from items that are unaccounted for.

“Certainly, one interpretation is that some district employees did not follow procedure [when assessing fixed assets],” said Juarez. “We believe a number of forms were not completed that would have accounted for the missing items. Also, some reports are still in progress.”

He also noted that the $1.7 million figure quoted in the Express-News includes three years of losses and mis-filings. “The self-evaluations are conducted annually, but some of those items were unaccounted for in previous years,” he said.

Juarez could not say why the unaccounted-for items were not caught in a previous year’s audit. “That is one of the things we need to establish now,” he said.

Most district officials agree that the problem does not lie with excessive criminal activity or theft.

“I think that someone is not doing what they were supposed to be doing. Over the years, the equipment could have been destroyed, or it’s laying in a closet somewhere. It doesn’t mean there is criminal activity involved,” trustee James Howard told local reporters.

“A few years ago we did a massive replacement of computer equipment at the high school level, and we hired a company to install the new computers and replace the old ones. It’s believed that the proper paperwork did not get filled out when the old computers were removed,” said Juarez.

Juarez also explained that the losses occurred over a three-year period, before he came to the district. “One thing I need to clarify is that I started in March 2000, and I just can’t speak to things that happened before that,” he said. “One of the reasons I was hired was to work on these issues.”

In response to alarmed citizens and school board trustees, however, Juarez and the district are taking measures to revamp the old accountability policy for fixed assets and to determine where the old system went awry.

“Basically, we are now conducting a full self-evaluation of all assets, in all departments,” Juarez said.

The district has come up with a plan for re-evaluating an audit system that seems to have failed thus far.

“We’ve had a meeting with principals and department heads already and we plan to have another one [Sept. 21], in which we will provide them with a complete list of their inventory,” Juarez said.

Principals and department heads were instructed to go back to their campuses and pour over their entire inventory. They will report their inventory to the district in three weeks at the latest.

“We have to do this right away. We just can’t afford to wait,” said Juarez.

As part of the proposed revision of its audit system, district officials have created a fixed assets accountability team that includes the superintendent and his staff, about 25 principals, and members of the district’s police, technology, fixed assets, and plant and operations departments.

The team will be responsible for reviewing the results of the individual campus audits and using those results to do a more comprehensive review of the district’s current policies and procedures for tracking fixed assets.

Once the accountability team has reached some conclusions, Juarez said it will recommend that the school board adopt a new fiscal management and accountability policy that will do three things.

“First, it will define responsibility for the fiscal policy of each campus, including fixed assets, textbooks, budget, and the student activity fund,” he said.

“Second, the finance department will issue an annual fiscal management accountability report for each principal and department supervisor on campus.”

Finally, this report will reflect a rating for each area (fixed assets, textbooks, budget, and student activity fund) and will assign an overall rating for the school. The ratings will range from one to four and will rate acceptable and unacceptable levels of discrepancy in fixed assets.

“A principal or department supervisor who receives a rating of ‘unacceptable’ will be given one year to correct the situation,” said Juarez. “If they receive an ‘unacceptable’ rating again the next year, that principal or department chairperson’s position will come under review.”

The district is looking at technological solutions to tracking fixed assets, Juarez added.

“Our equipment has bar codes, but right now we do not have the equipment to read the bar codes. When we purchase new administrative software we hope to find [a package] that integrates with the bar code reading system, so that when a new item is purchased, the system automatically updates,” he said. “Right now, none of our software [systems] can talk to each other. Our system is probably 20 or 30 years behind.”

Links:

San Antonio Independent School District
http://www.saisd.net

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NYC portal plan could bring in millions of dollars for technology

The nation’s largest school district is expected to OK plans this week to create a money-making internet portal—complete with educational content and eCommerce capabilities—so it can raise funds to buy more technology for its schools.

“If we sit around and try to get government money, it’s not going to happen fast enough,” said Ninfa Segarra, chair of the New York City Board of Education’s technology committee.

The board wants to provide students with the top technological tools of the new economy—and it wants every student in the city to have equal access to them.

“Kids need to be exposed to technology,” Segarra said. “We have one million kids in New York City, and that’s part of the problem.”

According to a feasibility study of the plan conducted by Andersen Consulting, “the creation of such a portal by the board is indeed doable and would generate cumulative revenue ranging from $120 million to $11.5 billion.”

The study also said the board’s portal would rank among the top 100 portals in terms of users—and it has the potential to become one of the top 10 portals in the world.

Since the city’s schools were lacking an equitable technology plan, the board formed the Teaching and Learning Cyberspace Task Force to come up with one. The task force developed a number of recommendations, one of which was for the board to partner with a company to create a revenue-generating portal complete with internet service.

Andersen Consulting, a member of the task force, agreed to do a feasibility study of the idea at no cost to the district.

Funding and content

“Great ideas aren’t practical to do if you can’t afford to finance them,” Segarra said. “The idea is that the costs [of the portal] are absorbed by the instrument itself.”

Already, the board has sent out a request for proposals to see if anyone in the private sector would be interested in funding the creation of the portal at an estimated $900 million.

Interested parties must be willing to put down the money up front and profit from the site down the road, Segarra said. It’s a good financial opportunity for a company to develop a portal system that works and then expand it to other school districts across the country, she said.

“We’re not talking about investing our dollars to up-front this,” Segarra said. “Andersen Consulting thinks there are companies out there that are willing to do this.”

The portal would offer academic content, communication services (such as eMail), and many eCommerce opportunities. It will have a search engine, mailing lists, a bulletin board, and other information services.

It’ll be a one-stop-shop for accessing the board’s web pages, Segarra said. Educators will be able to buy educational materials through the site.

Different web pages will be tailored to various groups of people, such as students, parents, teachers, and administrators. Some areas will have restricted access, so users will need a login and password.

Overall, the portal would target students, teachers, parents, administrators, and community members.

“It provides us [with] a tool or place where all this educational content exists for everyone,” Segarra said. More importantly, it will involve parents. “What’s an easier way for them at three o’clock in the morning to be able to check their [child’s] homework,” she said.

The Anderson Consulting study recommends that the board split the portal into two zones—an educational zone and a partner zone.

The education zone would focus on content and applications that facilitate learning. It would be a parent-controlled, commercial-free area for students and educators.

“In order for a child to enter that zone, they’ll have to have parental permission,” Segarra said. The company that partners with the board “will know up front the educational zone is purely advertisement-free.”

The partner zone would provide adults and family members with ad-sponsored internet access and services targeted to their needs.

The next step

The Andersen Consulting study cautions that the decisions the board makes about how the portal is governed, what technology it installs and maintains, and what revenue streams it chooses will impact the portal’s viability and financial value significantly.

Once the board gives the go-ahead, “we have a lot of homework to do,” Segarra said.

The board’s technology committee will have to develop a business plan and secure support from a company. It also needs to figure out how the portal will work in accordance with the board’s policy and the state’s laws.

“We can’t do anything until the chancellor and the members of the board are comfortable with the principles of this proposal,” Segarra said.

The portal will require advertising and, although advertising is not a new idea in New York City since the sides of school buses now display advertisements, it’s still controversial, Segarra said.

The site will have to make money, but at the same time district officials are responsible for protecting students’ confidentiality, Segarra said. They also must consider what types of companies they’re willing to partner with, since they already know they won’t be accepting support from cigarette makers.

In addition, they have to determine how they’ll regulate the naming of the portal, especially if a corporation or individual contributes money. Also, the committee will have to decide if the school district should operate the portal or if it should contract the operation to an outside entity, like the district does with its custodial work.

“We’re in the business of educating youngsters,” Segarra said, and that’s what the board has to remember above all else. “Whatever risks may lie [ahead], the benefits outweigh the risks.”

From the proceeds of the portal, every staff member would get eMail and internet access, which is a huge task considering the city has 78,000 teachers. Every teacher and student in grades four and up would get a portable, wireless networked laptop. These would either be free or significantly discounted.

“While we are doing this very extensive review, we are not stopping movement [forward],” Segarra said. The board is buying internet appliances now, since the Andersen Consulting report recommended them as a feasible and economical way of dispersing computers throughout all schools, especially for younger grades.

Will the board OK this proposal? So far, Segarra said, “no one has raised serious objections.”

Links:

New York City Board of Education
http://www.nycenet.edu

Andersen Consulting
http://www.ac.com

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FCC RULING NULLIFIES MILLIONS IN eRATE

Hundreds of small schools in Oklahoma were denied $20 million worth of subsidies for internet service when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruled that their eRate applications violated the program’s competitive bidding requirements.

In response to the FCC’s ruling, the Schools and Libraries Division (SLD) of the Universal Service Administrative Co., the group that administers the eRate, pulled an additional 312 applications from its web site. The agency said these additional applications, which came from schools and libraries around the country, violated the same statute upheld by the FCC’s ruling.

The FCC found that MasterMind Internet Services Inc., a Tulsa-based company that provides internet service and assistance to about 120 small schools in the state, was too involved in helping schools apply for federal subsidies for their computer systems.

Instead of listing a school employee as the contact person on their eRate applications, the schools listed a MasterMind employee.

The FCC decided this was unfair to the competitive bidding process, because MasterMind provides the internet service for the schools seeking federal aid and the schools are supposed to solicit and consider bids from other providers.

When a vendor employee is listed as the contact person, the FCC explained, a provider seeking more information about a school’s needs would actually be contacting a potential competitor. Patrick Taylor, technology coordinator for schools in Grandfield, Snyder, and Davidson, said he thinks the decision is crucial to the future of Oklahoma students in rural districts.

“It will kill us if it cuts off money,” Taylor told the Daily Oklahoman. “Can you imagine cutting off the information now? We live in an information world.”

The eRate was established by the 1996 Telecommunications Act to make technology more affordable for students, particularly in rural and poorer areas. The program is paid for through fees assessed on telephone bills.

According to SLD spokesman Mel Blackwell, more than 100,000 applications have been filed in the three years since the program began-but the Oklahoma situation is the first of its kind.

“At least to our knowledge, this is the first to come to our attention,” Blackwell said. “On its face, it undermines the competitive process, which is one of the cornerstones of the program.” The agency rejected the applications in question last year, but the FCC ruled in May on an appeal made by MasterMind.

Blackwell said funding was denied for the second year of the program and that the schools can apply again for the third year. Schools and libraries must apply for the funding each year.

But funding for Year Three of the eRate is available only on a first-come, first-served basis now, and since the demand for Year Three discounts far exceeds the available funding, it’s likely the Oklahoma schools will have to wait until the program’s fourth year before they see any funding.

Ron Gates, president of MasterMind, which provides technical services to many of the schools denied funding, said he thinks the commission ignored the company’s arguments.

“We don’t think they addressed our defense accurately,” Gates said.

In rural Oklahoma, where several districts have only one school and the superintendent sometimes doubles as the school bus driver, most districts can’t afford to hire technology directors to handle applications for grants and subsidies. In addition to providing internet access, MasterMind also assists schools in applying for government funding.

“We help with the grant writing process. In some instances, we’ll just write a grant proposal for them,” said Chris Webber, director of educational services at MasterMind, who was listed as the contact person on the applications.

The schools in question “were struggling to answer those questions, because they don’t have a technology director on-site,” he said.

After submitting a Form 470 application to the SLD, applicants must wait 28 days before choosing a vendor. During that time, an applicant’s contact person is responsible for answering questions and sending out requests for proposals (RFPs) to vendors.

“We didn’t violate any rules,” Webber said. “We handed out over 300 RFPs and answered questions about the schools when competitors called.”

MasterMind maintains there was no rule prohibiting a vendor employee from being listed as the contact person when it filed the applications.

“In an attempt to help schools, we wound up getting trapped by a policy that was not existent at the time,” Webber said. The SLD “reviewed our marketing materials before this, and they understood we were completing 470 Forms for schools.”

In response to MasterMind’s arguments, the FCC said in its ruling that, although the language on the applications did not specifically say “service providers can’t sign the forms,” it did note that a competitive bidding process is required (Instructions 2-5 on Form 470).

“We do not find persuasive MasterMind’s claims that, notwithstanding its participation, the bidding processes were fair and open,” the ruling said.

Since the FCC’s ruling, the SLD has removed all Year Three Forms 470 from its web site that were signed by service provider employees. The agency said those applications, which total 312, also will be denied funding.

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Project models educational benefits of enhanced digital TV

Maryland parents, students, and teachers will be among the first to reap the educational benefits of enhanced digital television programming, thanks to a $10 million grant awarded to Maryland Public Television (MPT).

Using the grant money, MPT will develop educational video and online content for digital TV broadcasting, as well as professional development tools for Maryland educators.

“With the advent of digital broadcasting, technology finally enables the television set to become a self-contained, fully interactive communications device. MPT is proud to bring this promise to life for Maryland and the nation,” said Robert J. Shuman, MPT president and chief executive.

Added Shuman, “This lays the foundation for the final convergence of broadcasting and data into a single, seamless interactive medium.”

The U.S. Department of Education’s “Star Schools” program provided the grant. Founded in 1988, Star Schools funds innovative projects using technology for distance education.

What makes MPT’s ambitious plans possible is a physical feature of the digital broadcast signal enabling the transmission of several content streams simultaneously, known within the industry as “multicasting.”

Multicasting allows broadcasters to transmit not only the audio and video signals commonly associated with television, but also large streams of data. The combination of the two into a single program is known as “enhanced television.”

Using enhanced television signals, viewers can explore content addressed in the program in greater detail, providing for a more meaningful viewing experience. Data accompanying enhanced television programs is likely to include web links, bibliographies, transcripts, and detailed background material on the show’s subject.

‘Digital Schools’ initiative

While all broadcasters will transmit signals enabling multicasting by 2003, MPT’s initiative is unique in that the station is devoting a portion of its new digital spectrum to enhanced educational programming for teachers and the general public.

An entire department of creative talent is being added to MPT to develop original enhanced television programming. These new programs will incorporate lesson plans, internet tools, and guided learning activities for use in the classroom and at home, all embedded within the digital television signal.

The materials will be prepared in conjunction with teams of teachers throughout Maryland and will be distributed under the moniker “Maryland Digital Schools.”

Content will be delivered via MPT’s statewide network of digital stations located throughout Maryland and surrounding areas.

MPT’s Gail Porter Long, vice president of community learning ventures, said, “We want to target the bulk of our programming to teachers, students, and the families of students in grades K-12. However, we also want to include material appropriate for the community at large.”

According to Long, MPT’s signal extends beyond the border of Maryland, touching the District of Columbia, northern Virginia, southern Pennsylvania, and parts of eastern West Virginia.

“The advantage of our developing this content using digital television rather than some other delivery channel is that the content will be available free of charge to anyone in our viewing area with access to a digital television set—be that at home, at school, in a public library, or in some other places we haven’t yet imagined,” said Long.

But she acknowledges that digital television is not a magic bullet to solve all technology and curriculum woes.

“From a school’s perspective, it provides another set of tools. I’m very wary of saying that any one technology is an absolute answer for education,” she said. Instead, Long claims that this technology is good at addressing certain issues.

“For instance, though many schools are wired, few have multiple T1 lines. Digital TV allows us to °obroadcast’ web sites that can be cached on a school’s server, so they can later be accessed through the school’s intranet. That way, kids are only accessing things that are most germane to the particular broadcast they are using in their studies,” she explained.

Long notes that educators, not broadcasters, will decide what is useful in Maryland schools. Montgomery County, Baltimore County, and Prince George’s County Public Schools, in particular, will be important to the development of the Maryland Digital Schools project.

“All of us in education have learned that projects to improve teaching and learning cannot be developed apart from schools. We are working closely with teachers, curriculum specialists, technology specialists, and administrators,” she said.

Enhanced television

With the ability of the digital signal to accommodate large streams of data, many new learning tools will be available to students and the general public. Resources complementing and supporting the new enhanced television content will include:

Online field trips;

E Intensive, on-site training on integrating technology and project-based activities into the classroom for teachers in poorly performing schools;

New online content supporting learning at home and in school;

Creation of an enhanced television demonstration project;

Development of brief educational messages to be aired between programs on Maryland Public Television; and

Airing of a monthly segment on education and emerging technologies on Newsnight Maryland, MPT’s evening news program.

Digital broadcasting will allow three things, according to MPT.

“First, bits and bytes take up less room in the broadcast spectrum than analog sound waves. That means we can broadcast more material,” Long explained.

“Second, high-definition television (HDTV) offers crystal-clear picture and sound like you’ve only heard in a movie theater,” she said.

Finally, the ability to broadcast data will change. With enhanced television, broadcasters can embed web-like content into television programs. For example, enhanced television will allow MPT to embed a teacher’s guide into a science program, Long said.

Plans for the future

MPT currently broadcasts a digital signal only from WMPT-DT in Annapolis. The network won’t have all six of its transmitters converted to full-time digital broadcasting until 2003. Nevertheless, the pieces are in place to begin implementing the enhanced television project.

According to officials from project partner Johns Hopkins University, the grant will support the creation of a web portal with supplemental content for both parents and educators, designed to complement the digital television programming by MPT. The web portal is expected to be up and running by the start of the next school year.

As digital signals become more accessible to viewers over the next 24 to 36 months, this content will migrate to the programs themselves, where it will be embedded in the transmission.

“It is going to change TV from a sit-back, passive medium to a lean-forward, active medium. When enhanced television is fully implemented, we’ll be able to invite viewers to send inquiries to our experts and engage in chats related to our programming,” Long said.

Joining MPT in this venture are the Johns Hopkins University Center for Technology in Education and Macro International Inc., a Prince George’s County research firm that will provide a third-party evaluation of the project’s effectiveness.

Johns Hopkins University will provide training to K-12 educators on how to use enhanced television and how to anchor the broadcasts to effective instruction, according to Lynne Mainzer, program director at the Johns Hopkins Center for Technology in Education.

The actual number of teachers to receive instruction has yet to be determined, but Mainzer said workshops and training institutes will begin this year to prepare educators for the program rollout in the 2001-02 school year.

“We will use a hybrid professional development [program]. It is a combination of face-to-face and online learning. We hope the teacher training will help the expert teachers become more expert, as well as help teachers [who] may be struggling,” Mainzer said.

Other organizations sharing their expertise with MPT are Verizon Maryland Inc., Maryland Teaching and Learning with Technology Consortium, National School Boards Association, and Towson University College of Education.

Maryland Public Television is a nonprofit, state-licensed public television network serving the communities of Maryland and beyond through a variety of broadcast and non-broadcast activities. Beyond its broadcasts, MPT creates instructional videos, develops training, and builds internet sites that serve tens of thousands of students, teachers, and child-care providers annually.

Links:

Maryland Public Television
http://www.mpt.org

Johns Hopkins University Center for Technology in Education
http://cte.jhu.edu

Verizon
http://www.verizon.com

National School Boards Association
http://www.nsba.org

U.S. Department of Education’s Star Schools program
http://www.ed.gov/prog_info/StarSchools

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Riley calls for more research, funding to prepare teachers

As Congress continues to deliberate next year’s spending, Education Secretary Richard Riley repeated the Clinton administration’s call for an increase in federal funding to prepare teachers to use technology.

Although most teachers and students now have access to computers, Riley said, teachers still are not fully prepared to use them.

“We are asking Congress to double the funding—to $150 million—to help prepare [tomorrow’s] teachers to use technology,” he said. “Unfortunately, Congress hasn’t fully agreed to this increase. But it isn’t too late. In the next few weeks, they have another opportunity to fully fund this initiative.”

Riley’s comments came at the U.S. Department of Education’s annual Conference on Educational Technology, held Sept. 11-12 in Arlington, Va. During the conference, officials showcased promising school technology initiatives and called for more research into what works and what doesn’t.

Riley, Federal Communications Commission Chairman William Kennard, and keynote speaker Eric Benhamou, president and chief executive of 3Com Corp., released a study that shows how instrumental the eRate has been in helping connect most public schools—especially those in high-poverty areas—to the internet.

“eRate and the Digital Divide,” written by the Urban Institute, shows that the eRate has provided more than $3 billion for America’s public schools, three out of four public schools and districts applied for the program in its first two years, and per-pupil eRate funding for high-poverty schools was more than twice the national average and nearly 10 times that of the wealthiest schools.

But despite the fact that the program targets the poorest schools, the most impoverished schools submitted the fewest applications. Also, larger districts and schools were more likely to apply than smaller ones, the study found.

Although this was only a preliminary study, the writers pointed out that future reports could be obtained easily and quickly because of the detailed information submitted by each school or district on its eRate application forms.

Riley also announced the results of a second study, called “Teachers’ Tools for the 21st Century: A Report on Teachers’ Use of Technology,” which found that although most teachers have access to computers, only half use them for classroom instruction.

Based on information gathered from surveys conducted in 1999, this National Center for Education Statistics report found that teachers use computers mostly for word processing or creating spreadsheets, followed by internet research and practice drills.

Teachers were more likely to use a computer if it was located in their classroom, while students were most likely to use computers outside of the classroom. Although 84 percent of teachers said they had at least one computer in their classroom, only 10 percent reported having more than five computers in their room.

According to the report, the two biggest barriers to using computers and the internet for instruction are lack of release time for teachers to learn how to integrate computers into the curriculum (82 percent) and lack of time in the schedule for students to use computers in class (80 percent).

Promising practices

Despite these challenges, pockets of innovation do exist in schools around the country, Riley said. At the conference, students and educators from select schools demonstrated how they have learned to use technology to enhance classroom instruction.

Students from a Virginia-based organization called Kidz Online broadcast the entire two-day conference over the internet while nearly 600 participants listened and dined.

High school students from South Burlington, Vermont, showed off digital graphics and animation they created in a course designed by English teacher Tim Comolli. In the course, students learn to use industry-standard graphic software such as Adobe Photoshop.

Conference attendees gave two students from Mott Hall School in New York City a standing ovation after their speech about how technology has transformed the learning experience since every student and teacher at the school received a laptop computer.

“I became the [technology] expert in the family,” said thirteeen-year-old Anthony Reyes in an interview. “My mom uses it. My whole family uses it. It’s cool.”

Besides helping him to be more organized and creative, Reyes said his laptop brings information and resources right to him, which makes the trip to the library almost unnecessary.

Mott Hall School commissioned a study of its laptop program by Metis Associates Inc. to see how it affects student achievement.

“Our research has proven significant improvement in writing, critical thinking, and research skills,” said Principal Mirian Acost-Sing.

At the conference, Microsoft Corp. also released a study of its Anytime Anywhere Learning program, in which all students in a school own laptops that use Microsoft software. After three years of the program, research done by Rockman et al suggests that students become better writers, collaborate more in group projects, and are more involved in their schoolwork.

The study also suggests that teachers who use laptops also show greater confidence in using technology tools.

A need for more evaluation

Though conference speakers and attendees shared anecdotal evidence of technology’s impact on learning, officials also called for more extensive research on the topic. The need for more studies was underscored by a Sept. 12 press conference in nearby Washington, D.C., in which participants called for a moratorium on technology spending until there is further proof of technology’s impact. (See “Group says computers offer much glitz, little substance for schools.”)

Several speakers discussed tools and strategies they are developing to help them measure and evaluate the success of their educational technology programs.

“The challenge we’ve had as a school district is, what impact is [educational technology] having on student behavior, achievement, and learning,” said Liz Glowa, director of technology at Montgomery County (Md.) Public Schools. Glowa is working with Hofstra University Professor Charol Shakeshaft to determine how student achievement is affected by educational technology.

Elliot Soloway, a professor at the University of Michigan, described a tool he and some colleagues are developing, called the Online Snapshot Survey, that allows schools and districts to gather input from teachers and administrators by conducting an online survey so officials can make more informed decisions about technology.

“If you do a survey, you can get a sense of distribution in your district and where you should buy,” Soloway said. He said once the web site is running, educators could choose from approximately 80 existing surveys or they could make their own.

Sarah Skerker, a technology specialist at Mantua Elementary School in Fairfax, Va., discussed a program developed by her school, called Comprehensive Interdisciplinary Performance Assessment (CIPA), that measures a culmination of students’ skills—including the ability to use technology as a research, analysis, and communication tool.

Groups of sixth-grade students are given a real-world problem they have two weeks to solve. Skerker said this test encourages them to use whatever skills they have acquired during their time at Mantua Elementary, which is a technology-rich school. All students at the school are assigned their own Alphasmart computer in the primary grades and eMate in the higher grades. Teachers record the students’ decision-making and progress with a digital camera along the way.

Because the results from these projects are so complicated, researchers from the University of Virginia are analyzing the data and helping to improve CIPA so officials can determine scientifically what impact the technology-rich education has on students’ progress.

Jim Nazworthy of the High Plains Regional Technology in Education Consortium (R*TEC) discussed Profiler, a tool that surveys teachers to assess their professional development needs. It’s essentially a knowledge audit, he said.

By taking the survey, teachers can assess their technology abilities, and Profiler helps them find someone at their school or district who can help them learn the skills they don’t know.

Links:

The Secretary’s Conference on Education Technology
http://ed.gov/Technology/techconf/2000

The eRate and the Digital Divide
http://www.ed.gov/offices/OUS/eval/erate_fr.pdf

Teachers’ Tools for the 21st Century: A Report on Teachers’ Use of Technology
http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2000102

Kidz Online
http://www.kidzonline.org

South Burlington High School Imaging Lab
http://imagelab.sburl.k12.vt.us

Mott Hall Elementary School
http://mhs.csd6.k12.ny.us

Montgomery County Public Schools
http://www.mcps.k12.md.us

The Online Snapshot Survey
http://snapshotsurvey.org

Mantua Elementary School
http://www.mantua-school.com

Profiler
http://profiler.scrtec.org

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Group says computers offer much glitz, little substance for schools

The United States should halt its push to get computers into classrooms until there is substantial evidence to show that computers can help children learn, a group of 75 educators, child development experts, health officials, and technology authorities said Sept. 12.

The group held a press conference in Washington, D.C., to call for a moratorium on federal attempts to computerize education, especially at the elementary level. The call for a “computer timeout” coincided with the release of a report titled “Fool’s Gold: A Critical Look at Computers in Childhood” by the Alliance for Childhood, an international partnership of educators, doctors, and psychologists based in College Park, Md.

The 75 signers of the call for a moratorium included such notable figures as psychiatrist Alvin Poussaint of Harvard Medical School; Andy Baumgartner, 1999 National Teacher of the Year; Larry Cuban, a professor of education at Stanford University and former president of the American Educational Research Association; and former Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch.

“When we put children before a screen to learn—be it a television screen or a computer screen—we are giving them a very narrow slice of life,” said Joan Almon, a former Baltimore kindergarten teacher and the United States coordinator of the Alliance for Childhood.

Edward Miller, co-coordinator of the Alliance for Childhood’s Task Force on Computers and Childhood, agreed. “Many Americans assume that even very young children must learn to use computers to guarantee their future success in school and work,” he said. “In fact, 30 years of research on educational technology has produced almost no evidence of a clear link between using computers in the early grades and improved learning.”

The Alliance for Childhood report said that despite limited research on the impact of computers on education, United States public schools have spent more than $27 billion on computers and related technology in the past five years. In the 1999-2000 school year alone, the report said, public elementary schools spent $4 billion on computers, peripherals, and internet connections that deliver few, if any, long-term benefits.

At the same time this money is being spent on technology, less money is being allocated in the nation’s schools for field trips, hands-on science experiments, music, the arts, library books, and time for play or recess, “Fool’s Gold” said. Furthermore, the money being pumped into hardware, software, and connectivity could be better spent on other educational priorities, such as reducing class sizes, repairing schools, and eliminating lead poisoning, the report concluded.

“When it comes to our children’s readiness to learn, being ‘unleaded’ is a lot more urgent than being online,” said Dr. Bailus Walker, professor of environmental and occupational medicine at Howard University College of Medicine. Walker is an expert on the effects of lead poisoning on education.

“Fool’s Gold” warns that computers may account for a rise in health problems among children, including repetitive stress injuries and eye strain.

Repetitive stress injury “is a time bomb waiting to go off,” said Margit Bleecker, M.D., a neurologist and repetitive stress specialist.

Too much computer use can even lead to obesity among children, some fear. “Computers tend to be a passive activity in the life of a child. The surgeon general has said this is the most sedentary generation we’ve ever seen,” Almon said.

Focusing too much on technology also distracts children from the social interaction they need to develop language skills and bond with adults, according to the report. “Computers—like fool’s gold—glitter, but they are not really valuable,” said Colleen Cordes, co-author of the report and co-coordinator of the Task Force on Computers and Children.

“We’ve gone down this highway of bringing computers into elementary schools with so little debate,” Almon agreed. “If we were spending so much money on other aspects of education with so little evidence of gain, we’d be ashamed of ourselves.”

An old debate

Educational technology advocates agree there needs to be more research to pinpoint how technology can be used effectively as a learning tool.

“They’re right, there needs to be a lot more research,” said Keith Krueger, executive director of the Consortium for School Networking, in response to the report.

“Computers and use of the internet is a tool, and sometimes we have over-promised the use and effectiveness of that tool.”

But Krueger and others say the call for a moratorium on school technology spending is an overreaction, and one that reopens an old debate.

“The question isn’t whether we should throw out the computer from the classroom, but how we can use the technology in a stimulating and engaging way,” Krueger said.

One of the complaints made of schools is that they do not engage students’ interest, he said. It’s only logical, therefore, for schools to incorporate computer activities, so lessons can as compelling and captivating as the computer games kids play before and after school.

Furthermore, there have been a few studies—and many anecdotal examples—that suggest the use of computers has improved learning, Krueger said.

“In every instance, you’re dependent on a good teacher using the internet and computer in a good way,” he said. “To say we don’t want computers in school is stripping out a very powerful tool used by exemplary teachers … Computers can enrich world experiences in ways that we haven’t been able to do before.”

As for the argument that computers can cause health problems among students, “their assumption is that kids just sit in front of a computer all day,” Krueger said. “If you look at the real data, that’s not true … Likewise, reading books at night with dim light can be very harmful to the eyes, but should we burn all the books? Not likely.”

For its part, the Alliance for Childhood vows to continue researching the benefits of a “time out” from policies that emphasize computers as an ideal instructional tool for toddlers, pre-schoolers, and elementary school students.

Alliance members reject the view of a computer as a tool like any other; instead, they liken the computer to a car. To drive a car, a child must reach a certain age and level of maturity. The group argues that computer technology should have similar restrictions—but it denies accusations that it is anti-technology.

“What the alliance is trying to do is get past the utopian rhetoric and past the defensive Luddite rhetoric and take a realistic look at technology in education,” said David Shenk, a technology writer and alliance member.

“Computers begin to shape the consciousness of the people using them. We suggest that you need maturity to handle a computer and not be handled by it,” Almon said.

Links:

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

Consortium for School Networking
http://www.cosn.org

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Testing agency begins selling students’ eMail addresses to colleges

High school students whose mailboxes overflow with college publications each summer and fall soon might find the same onslaught in their virtual mailboxes.

The College Board, administrator of the SAT and the ACT, began selling students’ eMail addresses to colleges and universities this summer for the first time. The nonprofit testing service has sold lists of test-takers’ names and addresses to accredited colleges since the 1970s.

“We’ve only been collecting eMails for two years, and this is the first time we have made that information available to colleges,” said Steve Graff, director of enrollment planning services at the Reston, Va.-based College Board.

“The College Board now has a critical mass of eMail addresses to make this possible,” he added.

“We’re talking about providing colleges sometimes hundreds and thousands of names where they’re really cultivating first contact,” said Brad Quin, College Board executive director of admission.

“We have about 800,000 students—out of 2 million test-takers—registering online every year, but each and every student has the option not to have their information released,” said Graff. He explained that students must check a box that reads “yes” when asked if they want their information released to colleges.

Though the College Board expects colleges and universities to begin using eMail to make first contact with prospective students, the organization does not know of any colleges that have done so yet.

“We know of several institutions that use eMail contact once kids have made the initial contact” themselves, Graff said.

Many colleges already use eMail to communicate with their students, but most have yet to take full advantage of virtual marketing, Quin said. Meanwhile, consulting companies have sprung up to help colleges market themselves online.

“Students don’t want mail, they want eMail,” said Brian Niles, whose Philadelphia-area company, TargetX.com, helps colleges communicate with students through eMail. Schools seeking assistance in setting up and administering eMail systems already have contacted the company.

Contacting prospective students through eMail serves a dual purpose: It’s cheaper and it shows students that the college uses the same technology that they do, Niles said.

He has created a student search service that will use the College Board’s eMail list and will cost colleges 6 cents for each message, plus a $150 setup fee.

At Temple University, admissions officers already use eMail to stay in contact with students, said Donna Mlaker, the university’s associate director of admissions. The school does not use eMail addresses, though, to contact prospective students initially.

“We haven’t gotten that far in our planning. It would be a huge number of students that we would be sending to,” she said. “I think it would depend on what our system could handle.”

Notre Dame University has been using eMail to alert prospective students about upcoming chat-room topics on its web site and as follow-ups to mailed correspondence.

“Generally, we use eMail for reminders or encouragement,” said Paul Carney, associate director of undergraduate admissions at Notre Dame.

Notre Dame recently purchased eMail addresses from the College Board and plans to ramp up the level of its eMailed correspondence.

“We will probably use this as a second form of contact, after we send an initial mailing of information to prospectives. We’ll send the eMail out shortly thereafter to remind the students to respond to our mailing. We would not normally send follow-up letters, because they are too expensive, so this is a good way to touch base,” Carney said.

“It would not surprise me if many people use eMail as a first contact, though,” he added.

Paul Cramer, director of admissions at Ursinus College, said his institution probably would not be interested in sending high volumes of eMail messages to prospective students. Ursinus, with 1,250 students, is located about 23 miles northwest of Philadelphia.

This year, the school is providing laptop computers to all its students as part of the $29,600 cost of tuition, room, and board.

“We want to let them know that we are wired and that we have these capabilities. At the same time, we don’t want to abuse it by spamming,” Cramer said.

Quin, of the College Board, said he also has concerns about spam, or computer junk mail.

He sees his own teen-age son sifting through large numbers of eMail messages each day, skipping many of them.

“The college has to be very careful about how it crafts its message,” he said.

The College Board is careful to ensure that the information it releases to colleges is used for purely educational purposes.

“Colleges can’t sell the addresses we give them to anyone else, and we specify that the addresses can only be used to bring educational opportunities to students. They can’t, for example, be used to advertise for a summer basketball camp,” said Graff.

Graff also explained that electronic communication is covered by the same agreement that the College Board has about mailing addresses, namely that every institution must specifically inform each prospective student contacted that his or her information was received from the College Board.

“We just ask that they include a line in every communication to high schoolers saying they got the address from us,” he said.

Graff added that the College Board only sells student information to colleges, universities, and scholarship agencies. Marketers cannot receive the addresses or eMail lists, he said.

The College Board hopes that more correspondence will increase dialogue between students and their counselors, Graff said.

“Students are the real benefactors. They can receive more timely information on important things like college visits and recruitment. There is a great call for internet communication,” Graff said.

Links:

The College Board
http://www.collegeboard.com

Notre Dame University
http://www.nd.edu

TargetX
http://www.targetx.com

Temple University
http://www.temple.edu

Ursinus College
http://www.ursinus.edu

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Detroit school system taps Compuware to manage its IT department

In what might be the first such initiative of its kind, the Detroit Public Schools (DPS) have chosen local computer firm Compuware Corp., of Farmington Hills, Mich., to manage its entire information technology (IT) department.

DPS announced the five-year contract with Compuware at a news conference Aug. 16. According to the Detroit News, the deal is expected to exceed $90 million.

“This is a first in the education arena. But we are excited. We think our knowledge of technology, combined with the school’s knowledge, will improve the service to customers across the district,” said Pat Bennett, professional services sales director for Compuware.

Said Thomas Diggs, the district’s chief information officer: “We looked at a number of companies, and Compuware came out on top with the most competitive bid. They had the best transition plan; we liked their methodology; and [we] loved the management team they sent to DPS.

“Compuware is on the leading edge of technology in [its] other endeavors, and when we looked at our core competence, which is education, we saw the advantage to going to a company whose core competence is IT.”

The district is the 10th largest in the country, with 167,000 pupils, 22,000 employees, and 263 schools. It has been seeking ways to privatize parts of its operations to improve them and control costs.

The district’s IT department is responsible for 28,000 computers and has had chronic problems in the past, especially in payroll.

“Clearly, the existing system hasn’t provided what’s needed in the classroom,” said school board Chair Freman Hendrix. “The Compuware deal will get us up to speed pretty quickly, as opposed to taking several years rebuilding the department with what we have in place.”

“Essentially we hope to improve the quality of the service we provide,” Diggs said. “We had things we could not do well, because we did not have the personnel. Compuware will improve response time for field services, create a more stabilized network, improve the payroll processing, and improve the help desk in the district.

“Right now, we employ 80 DPS employees and more than 30 outside contractors. Going to a single vendor will really save us money. We also like the fact that DPS employees will transition and become Compuware employees,” he added.

That means educators worried about job security can breathe a sigh of relief, according to district officials.

“There may be some concern among employees, but Compuware offered a very nice transition plan, in which [the company] essentially transitions all district employees to Compuware employees, and they retain their same salaries,” explained Diggs.

The school district currently spends about $20 million internally per year to operate its own IT services. The professional services agreement with Compuware will provide Detroit schools with mission-critical IT services that support finance and budget operations, human resources and payroll, food services, transportation, special education, and student information services.

Compuware specializes in writing software for computer systems and electronic commerce operations. It also has a professional services division with experts who are contracted out to help companies run or upgrade their computer systems.

Interim school Chief Executive David Adamany said last spring that the district would seek to privatize four of 15 central office departments to cut costs and send more money to the classroom.

Its new contract with Compuware marks the second effort made by DPS to turn the management of a district department over to an outside service provider. In May, the district announced that Office Depot had submitted the winning bid to take over and run the its purchasing department.

New Chief Executive Kenneth Burnley said he also is considering hiring outside companies to operate food service and groundskeeping.

“We’re looking at any and all things that would allow us to be more efficient. As educators, we need to look at what is our core mission. And that is students’ instruction, learning and teaching,” he said.

“Outsourcing is not the panacea for solving a district’s woes, but we feel pretty confident we can save money by doing it,” said Diggs. “Hopefully, in the final analysis, other schools will also see the success we are having and decide to get out of the IT business and leave it to the IT guys.”

Links:

Detroit Public Schools
http://www.detroit.k12.mi.us

Compuware
http://www.compuware.com

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