Philly schools spend $36 million on flawed accounting software

The Philadelphia School District’s new computer accounting system was inefficiently purchased, is over budget, and “still doesn’t do many of the things it was intended to do,” according to an audit released Oct. 16 by the Philadelphia city controller’s office.

The school district purchased Advantage 2000, a $15.6 million system, from American Management Systems Inc. (AMS) in January 1998 for financial management, human resources, and payroll.

But after nearly three years, the price tag has escalated to almost $36 million—and school district officials still have not determined the cost of future improvements or additional services, according to the audit.

“This one is especially distressing to me because it took money from the school district, which is looking at an $80 million deficit and where every penny is so desperately needed,” City Controller Jonathan Saidel said in a statement.

According to the controller’s office, the school district’s request-for-proposal (RFP) process for purchasing the system was “significantly flawed,” because the process was conducted solely by the district’s Office of Information Technology and because vendors were given only two weeks to submit proposals.

“Computer systems should not be procured in this fashion. [District officials] should take more time with this process so they end up with more than two bids,” Deputy City Controller Tony Radwanski said in an interview.

“From the time they procured this system to the time our field work was done in May, there were 300 enhancements done—they call them ‘enhancements,’ I call them changes,” he said. “That’s ridiculous. You shouldn’t have to make that many changes to a brand-new system.”

The way the system was implemented also had a “deleterious effect” on the school district’s payroll and accounts-payable operations, according to the audit.

Radwanski said the situation was so bad that the district posted an armed guard in the payroll office for protection from angry employees. He said the computer system was withdrawing money from people’s bank accounts rather than depositing their paychecks.

The audit, conducted by Margolis & Company P.C., cites several faults of the Advantage 2000 system and makes nine immediate recommendations, including establishing a technology oversight committee and a review team to provide accountability for problems related to the system.

It also recommends creating a help desk with two full-time staff members, since the district doesn’t have one now. This help desk should be publicized and all calls and resolutions should be tracked, the audit said.

The audit also said the district should write policies and procedures for things such as assigning passwords, handling sensitive data, and having trained staff to cover key employees when they’re absent.

“We observed two instances—out of the six schools observed—where staff-level employees utilized the principal’s user ID and password to approve and submit payroll data entered by that employee,” the audit stated.

Because it found users are not trained to use the system adequately, the audit suggests implementing a formal training program and recording when employees complete their training.

The auditors reported the system often froze for 20 seconds or more and frequently defaulted back to the log-in screen, decreasing productivity. The audit recommends fixing this problem.

The auditors also found that users are not required to change their passwords regularly, so they recommend that users be required to do so every 180 days to protect the integrity of the system.

In a prepared response to the audit, school district officials said they “welcome this third-party review” but already have begun to address many of the audit’s criticisms. The school district also hired an outside consultant to help with improvements a month before it received the controller’s audit.

“We are pleased to report that there has been much improvement over the last year. We are now assessing what enhancements to the system—if any—we will undertake,” said Alexis Moore, the district’s executive director of communications, in a statement.

Already, two of the nine recommendations have been resolved, according to Moore. “The first three pay days of this new school year were virtually trouble-free,” she said. “In the area of paying vendors, the situation this year is vastly improved from last year.”

The school district refused to comment beyond the statement it issued.

Radwanski said district officials probably didn’t comment further because “there’s no way you can justify how you can spend so much money on a computer system.”

But Bob Butler, vice president of the state and local solutions group at AMS, said the system did not cost any more than comparable projects. He said he did not think the report “presents any surprises.”

“It can often take years for the initial implementation” of such a system, Butler said. He said the Philadelphia School District implemented the Advantage 2000 system in about 18 months, when it usually takes between 48 and 60 months.

“There’s certainly work left to be done, and we continue to support the district in those areas,” he added.

Philadelphia is the second high-profile school district to make headlines recently for problems with new record-keeping software. On Oct. 2, eSchool News reported that the San Francisco Unified School District has spent nearly $5 million so far on a system from PeopleSoft that still does not work correctly.

“These are very large, complex projects,” Butler said. “Things happen along the way that can’t always be predicted.”

Links:

Philadelphia City Controller’s office
http://www.philadelphiacontroller.org

School District of Philadelphia
http://www.philsch.k12.pa.us

American Management Systems Inc.
http://www.amsinc.com

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eSN Bonus Report: eLearning for schools steals the show at NSBA tech conference

With technology solutions that might be broadly described as “eLearning for schools,” technology companies large and small are marshaling to address core educational issues—from professional development to the formation of strategic partnerships to the electronic management of classroom resources.

What became clear at the National School Boards Association (NSBA) Technology + Learning Conference, Oct. 25-28, is how similar are most of the proposed solutions, especially those in development at the largest corporations.

The likely result: bitter corporate competition leading to conflicting claims and confusion followed by the emergence of a handful of surviving systems that will transform and vastly improve the delivery of instruction. Look for the first formal announcements right after the New Year.

That was what key technology companies were telling eSchool News at the NSBA conference. It’s not likely that was the message received by most of the school board members and others attending the meeting.

In an effort to make investments in school technology more successful, school board members from across the country gathered in Denver Colo. to learn and share ideas about how to use technology to increase student achievement. They heard from such dignitaries as Cisco Chairman and CEO John P. Morgridge.

To accomplish success in technology you need leadership, he said: “You need someone at the top who embraces this, and says it’s important, and we’re going to do this.”

Because so many schools have made tremendous progress getting computers into schools and connecting them to the internet, human development and training are the major challenges facing school boards, according to Anne Bryant, executive director of NSBA. In an online survey conducted by NSBA, she said, 76 percent of respondents felt their district’s teachers were not adequately prepared to use technology in the classroom and 93 percent of educators felt minimum technology-skill standards should be implemented for all teachers.

Reluctance, unavailable training, and lack of money were the major reasons cited to explain why teachers are not prepared. More than 300 teachers, school technology staff, and school board members responded to the NSBA survey, Bryant said.

Many cash-strapped school districts see corporate sponsorship and advertising as an economical way of providing top notch educational technology tools for their students. But is advertising or a strong corporate presence in schools permissible?

Half of the educators who responded to the online survey said it is acceptable for school districts to use technology products that contain advertisements in the classroom. However, 67 percent said school districts should not use their web sites to sell products to the community.

“In the best of all worlds, school districts and public schools shouldn’t have to go to outside sources,” Bryant said. “They should be adequately funded, but we don’t have that.”

Most importantly, she said, school districts should ask if the advertising interrupts the school’s teaching and learning climate. When the answer is Yes, the board shouldn’t agree to accept it.

In an effort to increase parent and community involvement in school board decisions, the National School Boards Foundation (NSBF) and the AOL Foundation are building local virtual communities for five school districts in a new pilot program called “Xchange: Strengthening Schools Through Board Discussions.”

Each of the five Xchange web sites—for districts in Kansas, Louisiana, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Iowa—will feature eMail, electronic newsletters, polls, and online discussion forums so local citizens can communicate conveniently with their school boards.

“Every shred of evidence tells us that the number one predictor of improved student learning is increased parental involvement,” said AOL Chairman and CEO Steve Case. “This new two-year partnership will help all of us learn how to use the internet to help parents, teachers, and school boards better communicate.”

“When a community gets involved in a school district, that school system gets better,” said Jude Theriot of Calcasien, La. “It is incumbent upon us to take advantage of that.”

Theriot said the Xchange web site will give her school board an opportunity to find out what the community really wants and to let stakeholders know what the board is doing about it.

“The board is really looking at this as a way to augment our community dialogue,” said Maggie Schmidt of Pittsburgh. “One of the things we hope to do is put the budget on the web page and give community members a way to make comments.”

Communication of another kind—compatibility among software systems—was the focus of a special exhibit on the Schools Interoperability Framework (SIF). SIF is an industry initiative to develop a way for different instructional and administrative software to work together, so schools can maintain the most up-to-date records and avoid duplicating data-entry.

Throughout the exhibit hall, the buzz was all about the electronic management of learning resources. Company after company described plans to launch systems that will help teachers create lesson plans, correlate lessons and multi-media resources to state learning standards, aggregate the instructional resources from across the internet, manage deployment of these resources through the school system networks to the individual desktops, assess student progress, and report test results to teachers, administrators, and appropriate agencies.

Here’s a rapid review of what was happening around the NSBA exhibit hall:

3Com emerged as one of several major players rushing to develop what Vice President of Strategic Alliances David J. Katz describes as a “rich-media content delivery system” for schools. A pilot program is just getting under way in California’s Campbell Union School District. The company intends to beta-test the system in January and begin delivering the product to schools a month later. The system will consist of a core set of servers running under Windows 2000 and Windows NT and a series of relay points that will optimize media transmission from the servers to the student desktop.
www.3com.com

After AbleSoft, Inc. acquired Vantage Point from Word Enterprises of Lancaster, Penn., the company formed a new subsidiary called AbleSoft Systems that will offer a complete classroom, school, and district administrative solution that integrates AbleSoft’s Teacher ToolBox with the Vantage Point software. Soon AbleSoft Systems hopes to provide a web-enabled ASP version of the software.
www.ablesoft-inc.com

America Online announced new features and functionality for its free online learning service, AOL@School. Each week AOL@School features a topic of the week that teachers can use to plan a week’s worth of activities and now those weekly themes will be archived by subject so teacher can access them at anytime. Also, teachers and administrators can now access their AOL@School eMail accounts from home giving them more flexibility in grading, creating lesson plans, and communicating.
www.aol.school.com

Apex Learning, a virtual school provider, now offers online schooling for teachers called Online Teacher Development Institutes. As an alternative to workshops that demand on-site attendance, these Institutes individualize professional development and make them available through the internet at any time. Teachers can also receive college credit from accredited universities and colleges by taking these courses that include Designing Classroom Procedures and Routines, Assessing Oral Reading Fluency, and Understanding Criterion-Reference Assessments.
www.teacherdev.com

bigchalk.com, provider of online educational resources, now offers an online professional development series, called Critical Issues, that focus on aligning standards with curriculum and assessment, creating online learning environments, and enhancing home-school communication. bigchalk also offers Classmate Language Arts, a tool that gives teachers the building blocks they need to create thematic, standards-based language arts lessons.
www.bigchalk.com

The Arkansas State Board of Education agreed to adopt Science Brainium, an online science program by Brainium, as supplemental instructional material in 801 public elementary and middle schools until 2007.
www.brainium.com

Computer Explorers’ new Staff Training for Technology Integration program provides trainers that go into a school and train the school’s staff one-on-one to use the school’s commercially purchased software in the classroom. The Computer Explorers’ trainers reinforce what the school has chosen for its curriculum and software.
www.computerexplorers.com

Now that CWK Network, Inc. has secured funding, the company will develop reality-based curriculum, student directed-learning activities, and professional development programs based on CWK Network’s flagship broadcast news program, Connecting with Kids. The programs will meet standards for teaching subjects such as substance abuse prevention, anger management, and school safety.
www.connectingwithkids.com

Teachers can now access eHomeRoom, an online community for schools, with their Palm Pilots since they just launched a version of its product for the Palm operating system.
www.ehomeroom.com

A new web site, called Fotobug, is tapping into the popularity of digital photography for the purpose of school fundraising. The site offers a free and secure space where high school students and their families can view and purchase photographs and related merchandise online. Then, Fotobug donates 20 percent of all purchases to the customer’s school of choice.
www.fotobug.com

Hewlett-Packard Company and NetSchools Corporation have teamed up to offer schools nationwide the e-School program, a complete internet-based learning solution. HP will provide every student and teacher at participating schools with a wireless, durable laptop along with support services and training for NetSchools Constellation, a complete computer-based teaching and learning solution.
www.hp.com

Intel Corp., has expanded its Intel Teach to the Future program to Colorado with a $95,000 grant from the Intel Foundation. The goal of the Colorado program is to train 4,500 of the state’s teachers over the next to years. The Community Colleges of Colorado’s Higher Education Advanced Technology Center received the grant to operate the state’s Intel Teach to the Future program.
www.intel.com

JonesKnowledge.com, provider of online learning, will be the exclusive online course delivery platform used by The Florida Online High School, one of the country’s first virtual high schools. This platform is complete with an eLibrary and automatic grade recording features.
www.jonesknowledge.com

The Learning Network announced Learning Pod for Math, an online tool that helps students in grades three to eight prepare for standardized math tests. This tool lets teachers monitor a student’s progress by reviewing the results of practice tests and educational games.
www.learningnetwork.com

Limitless, Inc., which developed the browser-based school management solution SchoolSpace, teamed up with Brightpod, Inc., to offer wireless access to SchoolSpace so educators can easily enter data, analyze trends, and check attendance from anywhere at anytime using wireless technology on their PDAs.
www.limitless.net

The National Semiconductor Corp. announced the winners of its third annual Internet Innovator Awards that recognize the effective ways 15 teachers use the internet in their classrooms. Winning teachers receive $10,000 for their personal use and their school wins $20,000 to spend on technology. This year, eligibility for the award has increased to permit applications from teachers from every region across the country. Before, only teachers from California, Texas, and Maine were eligible.
www.national.com/training

National Computer Systems, Inc., now offers REALskills, a program that teachers can use right in the classroom to teach CompTIA’s I-NET+ Internet professional certification. Complete with curriculum certification and internships, this program directly targets the growing demand for internet-skilled workers. Teachers who become trained through the REALskills information technology program will receive continuing education credits through Southwest State University.
www.realskills.ncs.com

The OptiStreams Broadband Browser, known as the OBBY by OptiStreams Inc. was designed for safe browsing in the education environment. OptiStreams developed the browser as a result of filtering legislation introduced to Congress. The OBBY browser blocks out the eMail capabilities of sites that offer free, anonymous eMail accounts and the filtering code is buried deep within the browser so students can’t override it.
www.optistreams.com

Pearson Education has created CCC NovaNET by combining two recently acquired companies Computer Curriculum Corporation and NCS NovaNET Learning, both providers of online learning solutions. CCC NovaNET will now provide online curriculum, management and assessment tools, and support services for kindergarten to grade 12 students.
www.investlearning.com

The Princeton Review test preparation services Homeroom.com will now reach more classrooms since Princeton Review has partnered with SchoolNet, Inc., an education management solution ASP.
www.homeroom.com

Scholastic Inc., is developing educational content for students and planning tools for teachers to be used on Palm handheld computers. The content will come from the Scholastic web site including popular sections such as News Zone, Best Lessons, and Events Calendar.
www.scholastic.com

Since SkillsTutor.com acquired Teacher Technology Systems, of Pinson Ala., teachers using SkillsTutor will be able to align their instruction with specific state standards. They will also be able to assess student’s ability in core subjects found on state tests, and provide supplemental classroom instruction with SkillsTutor online tutorials.
www.skillstutor.com

Sun Microsystems has teamed up with VIP Tone, Inc. through the Sun Education Service Provider program that delivers, installs, and supports a school bundle with pre-loaded and pre-configured Sun Ray appliances and an integrated customized server. VIP Tone will integrate an eLearning portal—complete with web-based content and browser-based tools—on Sun’s thin-client computing platform.
www.sun.com

TimeCruiser Computing Corporation has launched SchoolCruiser 2.0, an updated version of its communication tools for customized school web portals that let teachers, students, parents, and administrators get and exchange information about homework, classes, events, and have email privileges. Teachers can author and save lesson plans, record attendance and grades. Schools can use SchoolCruiser for free by participating in a revenue-sharing program or eliminate advertising at the cost of 40 cents per student per month.
www.schoolcrusier.com

VIP Tone Inc., providers of customized eLearning web portals, announced that five curriculum, administrative, and communications companies—including Edmin.com, iMind, and PowerSchool—joined the VIP Tone Alliance Program which will bring together the services of several education companies on one web site. www.viptone.com

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Student journalists turn to the web to circumvent censorship

It was an emotional act of teen-age mutiny: printing a blank page on the front of the Sidwell Friends school newspaper after administrators had pulled a scathing article about alleged wrongdoing in a math class.

Unsure of what to do with the unpublished story, the staff had an empowering idea: Why not post the story on the internet from a student’s home computer? In fact, thousands of high school students across the country have discovered the same way around school censorship—just post the stories on the web and spread the word.

More than a decade after a 1988 Supreme Court decision affirmed the right of school administrators to censor student articles, many high school newspapers are finding a new and long-coveted sphere of freedom on the internet, transforming the very nature of free speech for students.

The Student Press Law Center in Arlington, Va., estimates that at least 10,000 underground high school newspapers and web pages are floating in cyberspace—and more emerge every day. Some have spunky names, such as “Whatever” and “Words Not Bullets.”

These newspapers are nothing like the innocuous pages of cafeteria menus, winning sports scores, and award columns that school officials peruse and edit before printing, said Mark Goodman, executive director of the center.

“This does open up a whole new world,” said Russ Schwartz, editor of the school newspaper at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Va., where some students are thinking of launching an underground paper.

For school officials, though, the online underground paper raises new concerns about how to balance the First Amendment with rising anxiety about school safety.

In the aftermath of the Columbine High School shootings in Colorado, the irreverent and sometimes off-color underground newspapers are haunting reminders of the web pages created by the student gunmen, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, in which they spewed their anger.

“Student newspapers and web pages done outside of school [are] one of the stealth issues for schools, and [the issue is] going to become even bigger,” said Edwin C. Darden, a staff attorney for the National School Boards Association. “The dilemma is that the student is off campus, and they have First Amendment rights. On the other hand, school officials have a responsibility to protect the school and not have those rights cause harm or fear within the school walls.”

Several court rulings have declared the internet is outside the reach of school officials. Students who publish independent newspapers or web pages on home computers cannot be censored even if they focus on school issues, courts have said.

Students from coast to coast have started nonprofit sites, such as WireTap, as places to safely post articles banned in school-sponsored publications. The articles cover topics such as teen-agers’ fears that schools are going overboard with “zero tolerance” policies after Columbine.

“It’s incredibly exciting, healthy, and an increasingly necessary outlet for high school journalists who have long been searching for freedom to express themselves,” said Paul McMasters, First Amendment ombudsman at the Freedom Forum. “The fact of the matter is most school officials view their newspapers as fluffy public-relations devices. As long as those conditions don’t change, students are going to find the internet to get out from under that cage.”

The range of underground newspapers is large. Some are gossipy. Sometimes the sites are just a chance for young people to have unfiltered, melancholy rants about feeling misunderstood or ignored.

“Our paper covers topics such as stupid school policies, corrupt teachers, youth rights issues, and is a reflection of all-around general youth angst,” declares the web page for Pandora’s Box, an underground newspaper in Alhambra, Calif.

Some papers are serious works of journalism, where students question authority and expose problems.

At Dorman High School in Spartanburg, S.C., the underground newspaper scooped the local media with a story about how a businessman was trying to buy the land the high school is on. The student paper also reportedly was able to get school officials to put up bathroom stalls in the boys’ restrooms.

“Some teachers really ended up enjoying the paper, and it helped spark school debate,” said Adrian Smith, who created DHS UnderGround in 1997 to give himself and other students the chance to write about issues that were not allowed in the regular school newspaper. “It was a lot of fun, and it was a way to get our ideas heard. It’s something I will never, ever regret doing.”

But what does a school official do when a student posts something that appears to go beyond teen-age venting—a comment that could be a threat, even in joke form, against a school?

There have been several cases in which school officials objected to a profanity-laced web page or an underground newspaper that mocked educators.

In one case, Ian Lake, a Milford, Utah, teen-ager posted an underground newspaper that made fun of some girls at his school and called one school official a town drunk.

Lake’s web site seemed like an electronic version of bathroom wall graffiti. But school officials viewed the site as a direct and violent threat, and they suspended the student. Sheriff’s deputies arrested him and seized his computer, sending it to the state crime lab. He spent seven nights in a juvenile detention center.

The charges of criminal slander filed against Lake have since been dismissed, and his civil suit against the school is pending.

“I don’t morally approve of what he did. But the reason we are fighting this is because I am a strong believer in the Constitution of the United States,” said his father, David Lake. “It was written as a parody. We see parody on television all the time, and people on ‘Saturday Night Live’ don’t get arrested.”

In the most recent victory for student rights in cyberspace, a county judge in Olympia, Wash., ruled that public school officials cannot punish a student for speech outside of school.

Aside from fear of dangerous web sites, school officials said one of their concerns is that students without adult newspaper advisers are missing out on learning how to produce a serious newspaper.

“It’s an important point,” said Sara Cajder, a journalism teacher at James Hubert Blake High School in Silver Spring, Md., where a student has told her that he wants to create his own newspaper online. “I think going online avoids censorship, but there is also a real value to teaching students about libel and educating them about how to practice journalism and express their ideas.”

Some schools, such as Blake and Yorktown High School in Arlington, have found ways to step in and help students run newspapers on the web. Adults are realizing they should stay involved, even if the project is done outside school, Cajder said.

“There is a way to have a happy medium,” she said.

At Yorktown, for instance, Nick Summers, co-editor of the regular school newspaper, worked with school officials and the school’s web master to set up the newspaper’s web site. The site will have its own server that will be out of the reach of school officials.

At Sidwell Friends school, the censorship issue began when the newspaper investigated an incident in which students pretending to be a teacher called a textbook company to get workbook answers. School officials told the newspaper staff that a story about the episode would be needlessly embarrassing to the school, which prompted the students to post the article on the internet.

Since then, Sidwell officials have told the student editors they will try to be more flexible so that students don’t have to resort to using the web, said Jake Jeppson, an editor for the school paper.

“The idea of turning to the web sparked discussion with the administration, and in the next instance, our editors got more control,” Jeppson said. “The availability of the internet ended up helping the print paper.”

For now, cyberspace is a new and protected place to vent frustrations, with or without adult approval.

“Sir Lance A Lot’s Herald,” an underground paper from Wimberly, Texas, High School, has both satire with goofy pictures of the editors and serious articles that have sparked changes in school policy. Last year, the paper reported that a gun was brought to school, a story that the regular school newspaper did not touch.

“No one wants to offend anyone. But there are kids in the journalism department, and they are very talented, but they can’t say what they want to because it’s censored,” said Lance Lipinsky, a sophomore and founder of the online paper. “We have found a way around that.”

Links:

Student Press Law Center
http://www.splc.org

Freedom Forum
http://www.freedomforum.org

DHS UnderGround
http://dhsug.adriansmith.com

James Hubert Blake High School
http://www.mcps.k12.md.us/schools/blakehs

Yorktown High School
http://yhspatriot.yorktown.arlington.k12.va.us

Sir Lance A Lot’s Herald
http://theherald.homepage.com

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eSN Special Focus: Disposing of school computersSchool hardware components can threaten environment

With the influx of new computer equipment into the nation’s schools, district officials face a new and perplexing problem: what to do with piles of broken or obsolete electronic equipment.

Several states—most notably Massachusetts, in March of this year—have passed laws banning computer equipment from landfills. That means districts that used to put their old CPUs, monitors, and peripherals out on the curb for the trash collector have to come up with creative solutions to deal with an increasing amount of obsolete, broken, or unusable equipment.

According to Bill Sheehan, director of the Grassroots Recycling Network in Athens, Ga., “There is more toxic material in computers than most people realize—five or six pounds of lead in monitors. If that goes into a landfill and seeps into the groundwater, it can cause mental retardation and other serious health problems.”

If significant amounts of lead were to enter the water supply, it could cause damage to the central and peripheral nervous systems, blood system, and kidneys in humans, environmentalists say.

Cadmium, which can be found in chip resistors, infrared detectors, semiconductors, and older types of cathode ray tubes, easily can accumulate in amounts that could cause symptoms of poisoning. And the mercury found in batteries, switches, housing, and printed wiring boards also can cause chronic damage to the brain, according to environmental watchdog groups.

Accountability and environmental sustainability are now becoming watchwords for school technologists, who suddenly are forced to deal with an issue that used to fall under the jurisdiction of grounds and maintenance.

Said Pat Hartley, technology director for Evergreen School District in Washington, “There are good reasons why you can’t just throw computer equipment away. First, the landfills won’t take it anymore, and then there are political issues that arise if a school just discards old equipment. We’ve had to find other solutions.”

The problem

According to a report from the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (SVTC), “Most consumers are unaware of the toxic materials in the products they rely on for word processing, data management, and access to the internet.”

SVTC is a nonprofit organization consisting of environmental and neighborhood groups, labor unions, public health leaders, and people affected by toxic exposure.

The SVTC web site explains that computer equipment can contain more than 1,000 materials, many of which are highly toxic, such as chlorinated and brominated substances, toxic gases, toxic metals, biologically active materials, acids, plastics, and plastic additives.

According to the organization, the health impact of these products often is not known, but all signs point to dangerous levels of toxicity in computer waste. Furthermore, the rapid pace of computer development enhances the problem.

“The fundamental dynamism of computer manufacturing that has transformed life in the second half of the 20th century—especially the speed of innovation—also leads to rapid product obsolescence. The average computer platform has a lifespan of less than two years, and hardware and software companies—especially Intel and Microsoft—constantly generate new programs that fuel the demand for more speed, memory, and power,” says the SVTC site.

Simply put, because computers become out of date so fast, there are a lot of them waiting to be disposed of.

According to Joe Ferson, a spokesman for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), disposal of computer waste “is one area of specific concern, because the lifespan of a computer is less than the lifespan of most technology containing cathode-ray tubes. Most people will keep their television set longer than their computer.”

SVTC points out that it is often cheaper and more convenient to buy new computer technology than it is to spend time and money upgrading old equipment. According to the organization, “Three-quarters of all computers ever bought in the U.S. are sitting in people’s attics and basements because they don’t know what to do with them.”

There are also political concerns regarding old equipment.

“At Evergreen, we have very high computing standards, and we don’t deal with anything that’s not a Pentium or better,” said technology director Hartley. “But it is hard for a school district to turn away a donation from a community member, so we usually accept what they give us, knowing we will just have to turn around and get rid of it.”

Mary Miller is the district recycling coordinator for Pasco County Schools in Florida. “Some districts are just stockpiling computers in storage because they have to find a way to dispose of them as hazardous waste,” she said.

“The biggest challenge for schools is disposing of the old equipment in away that the community finds acceptable and responsible,” explained Hartley. “Believe me, we try and squeeze every drop out of our computers. High-tech companies change computers every 30 months. The average age of instructional computers at Evergreen is five years … The community has to accept the idea that technology does not last forever. It can really be a political nightmare.”

And dealing with old and broken equipment costs schools both time and money.

“It is really a lot of work to deal with. In order to ‘surplus out’ equipment at a school, that school has to send me a ‘disposition of property’ form, and we have to arrange to have it picked up,” Miller said. “You would not believe how much of it we deal with. Just about every day, a request comes across my desk to have some computer equipment picked up.”

Agreed Hartley, “We figure it costs between $75 and $150 to take a computer out of service. We have to take out the hard drive and demagnetize it so that no personal or sensitive information remains on it, which takes manpower, and then we have to store the old units somewhere.”

Solution one: auctioning

One possible solution for school technologists faced with dwindling budgets and looming piles of obsolete equipment is to auction off old computers to bidders in the community.

In 1998, eSchool News reported how the Arlington, Texas, School District raised $24,000 selling off old 386s and 486s to local families who could not afford newer models.

Texas auctioneer Tommy Lutes, who has been providing auctioning services to local school districts for decades, said a district like Arlington normally can bring in around $20,000 from a computer auction.

In 1998, Arlington did much better than the $15,000 it was anticipating, he said. Another area system, Hurst-Euless-Bedford Independent School District, raised nearly $40,000 in an auction that year.

The majority of old equipment in Florida’s Pasco County Schools has been auctioned off over the last several years, according to technology director Miller. But what has worked in the past may not be a viable option much longer, she fears.

“The computers are so worn out by the time we send them that they can only be used for scrap, and our auctioneer does not want them, because he can’t sell them,” Miller said. “It has been increasingly difficult for our auctioneer to get rid of [the equipment] because the stuff we give him is either really obsolete or it has been cannibalized for parts.”

Florida was one of the first states to ban certain organizations from disposing of old computer equipment in landfills.

“It is a state law that our old computer equipment is considered hazardous waste because, as a school district, we are considered a ‘small quantity generator,'” Miller said. “A homeowner does not fall into that category, so they can throw their old televisions and equipment away, but we can’t.”

Evergreen’s Hartley says his district has always found takers for the old equipment—until recently, that is. He believes Evergreen will have to turn to a new solution for disposing of its old equipment in the near future.

“I think we will have to recycle soon because we will have no other choice,” he said. “Until now, we’ve found organizations willing to take our old stuff.”

Pasco County Schools also is considering the recycling option.

“We are looking at recycling, and I’ve collected some price quotes. I’m going to recommend to the school board that we recycle our equipment from now on,” Miller said. “If this works out, we hope to go with a local company that will do the recycling free of charge. This company will break the computers all the way down and make new computers out of the old materials. There is minimal hassle, because they come to pick [the machines] up.”

Solution two: recycling

There are several organizations willing to help schools with the disposal of old computers and peripherals.

One such group is the Computer Recycling Center in Santa Rosa, Calif. The center’s web site boasts that it “accepts all computer hardware of any age, working or not (yes, everything) and packaged/sealed software from individuals and companies.”

The Computer Recycling Center says its primary goal is “to keep electronic items out of the landfill, reuse the best, and recycle the rest.”

Organizations that donate old computer hardware or telecommunications equipment get a tax-deductible, 501(c)(3) charitable receipt from the center. This might be a consideration for some private schools.

According to Hartley, Evergreen likely will turn to an organization similar to the Computer Recycling Center in the future.

“In Oregon, a few hours away, there are recycling centers that take computers. They strip them down and send the parts overseas, where they are completely broken down and reused. It is just not cost-effective to pay someone to do that in the United States,” he explained.

Said Bill Sheehan of the Grassroots Recycling Network, “There are a lot of options that are state-specific or city-specific where [schools] can take their old computers.”

In states such as Massachusetts, where some computer equipment is totally banned from landfills, local organizations usually pay to have their equipment recycled.

“There are contracts schools can use that are state-subsidized,” said EPA’s Ferson. “I can’t say what it would cost, because cost depends on the amount of equipment being disposed of and what it is.”

The Grassroots Recycling Network, in conjunction with groups such as SVTC, is working on fundamental solutions to the problem of computer waste disposal.

“We want extended producer responsibility for waste, but there is a really strong resistance to it in the American business world,” Sheehan said. “We are way behind Europe and other countries. In this country, the producers just make whatever they want, and the local government and taxpayers pay what it takes to deal with the product at the end of its life. The taxpayer is really left holding the bag.”

Too true, agree officials at SVTC.

“In 1998 only six percent of computers were recycled, compared to the number of new computers put on the market that year. By the year 2004, experts estimate that we will have over 315 million obsolete computers in the U.S., many of which will be destined for landfills, incinerators, or hazardous waste exports,” states the SVTC web site.

The European Union is developing legislation, including “take-back” requirements and toxic materials phase-outs, that encourages cleaner product design and less waste. “To date no such initiative has occurred in North America and, in fact, the U.S. Trade Representative—at the request of the American electronics trade associations—is currently lobbying against this European Union initiative,” SVTC officials said.

Solution three: refurbishment

There are a few solutions outside of recycling that could extend the life of older computers or make them reusable.

“We can repurpose old equipment by saying, ‘This can no longer be a network computer, but we can still use it as a stand-alone machine for one program,'” Hartley suggests. “But there will still be the cost of finding replacement parts for older computers.”

Hartley also notes that Evergreen sometimes sends older computers to its vocational education department, where students break them down into parts and put them back together until they can’t be used any more.

“But, then again, we are still faced with what to do with the old parts,” he said.

Another option he suggested was using old equipment as a “thin client,” where all the actual computing goes on in a server and the user only sees pictures of those processes displayed on the older unit. Thin-client computing would enable school technologists to run advanced programs on computers that otherwise are incapable of handling them.

“Also, districts sometimes can give old equipment away to the community. We hope to be able to hold one-day refurbishment sessions where the recipients come in for a day and help refurbish the computers, then get to buy them at the end of the day for $1,” Hartley said.

Organizations that accept donations of older, broken machines sometimes can rebuild the donated machines and place them back into needy schools.

One Cleveland-area group, Computers for Education, does just that, with the bulk of its more than 4,000 refurbished computers going to inner-city schools.

That organization charges a small fee for reworked computers, depending on the quality of the refurbished machine. But, according to the group’s Kenneth Kovatch, all machines they sell are internet-ready and backed by a one-year warranty.

Even with a number of options available to educators, some fear the problems that come with keeping school networks up to date and responsibly disposing of outdated or broken machines have only just begun to surface.

Said Miller, “We’ve been hearing for something like three years that dealing with old computer equipment will be a very big issue, and now that time has come.”

Links:

Arlington Independent School District
http://www.arlington.k12.tx.us

Computer Recycling Center
http://www.crc.org

Evergreen School District
http://www.egreen.wednet.edu

Grassroots Recycling Network
http://www.grrn.org

Hurst-Euless-Bedford Independent School District
http://www.hebisd.edu

Pasco County Schools
http://www.pasco.k12.fl.us/department.html

Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition
http://www.svtc.org

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Student hacker destroys eMail and ADA records at online school

The recent break-in and vandalism of an online charter school’s primary eMail program raise questions about the safety and security of learning delivered via the internet.

A 15-year-old student enrolled in California’s virtual Choice 2000 Charter High School broke into the school’s eMail and administrative software system Sept. 29 and erased two days’ worth of eMail correspondence and student attendance records.

The student "got into our system and basically told our auditing and eMail system to destroy itself," said Dan King, director of Choice 2000 online high school. "It’s important to note that he did not get into our online classes."

Choice 2000’s classes are held in a teleconference format similar to an internet chat room, where more than 40 students can attend at one time. In this format, teachers may present other information, hold discussions, or answer student questions. In addition to teleconferencing, teachers and students communicate regularly through eMail.

The online charter school uses World Group software for eMail communication and attendance auditing. "We use an entirely different software package for the administration of our classes, called Interwise. That system was not harmed," King said.

The records tampering occurred shortly after the student hacker, a minor, had been suspended from using World Group as punishment for another online infraction.

"He had gotten into a couple of his buddies’ [home] computers and tampered with them, so I suspended him from using World Group, which means no personal eMail for a couple of days. He was not barred from classes; he just had to send the eMails directly to me. But I guess that made him angry," King said.

The school’s director of technology was able to trace the intrusion to the student, and the administration immediately reported the incident to the authorities, King said.

Investigators believe the student used an illegal account to get online and delete the information.

"We believe he basically gave another student’s account the powers of a system operator and got into the school using that account. Right now, we estimate $18,000 in damages for time spent and equipment replaced," said Deputy David Cobb, lead investigator on the case with the Riverside Sheriff’s Department.

King places the estimate somewhat higher.

"We estimate this has cost about $20,000 so far. That includes the loss of the average daily attendance records for those two days. It has taken a major effort to get back on track," he said.

California uses average daily attendance (ADA) to determine the amount of funding a school receives. "I don’t think we will actually lose those two days, since this is a special case. The state will probably just look at the ADA for the days before and the days afterwards and estimate from there, so that loss will be recouped," King said.

According to Cobb at deadline time, "[The student has] not been charged yet, but he will most likely be charged with violating California Penal Code #502, which has to do with computer intrusions and causing damage therein."

As a result of the hacking, Choice 2000 has had to re-enroll all students and account for two days of records that were lost because they had not been backed up. "We are still having problems now with some kids not being able to log into class," King said.

Some students had to redo homework that was lost, and teachers had to regrade tests lost when the eMail server was disabled.

After his suspension, "the hacker was subsequently reinstated, but he opted out of Choice 2000 and enrolled himself in a mainstream high school," said Cobb.

The ease with which one student caused major damage may prompt educators to ask whether the delivery of online learning is just too vulnerable.

Cobb believes online high schools may be more vulnerable to attack than other high schools because "the common profile of a hacker is a juvenile or young adult," and online high schools tend to be attended by computer-savvy students in that age group.

Not necessarily, counters King.

"We are not more vulnerable than other schools in terms of security, because we have password protection, firewalls . . . the whole thing. But, because we depend entirely on eMail and the internet to deliver learning, it does hit us much harder when the system goes down. We are certainly more dependent on electronic communications than an average school," he said. "Instructionally, [the incident] did not harm anyone. Actually, it made us smarter. We know now that we have to be more careful."

What precautions could have been taken to prevent the intrusion from happening? "It’s tough to say. Unfortunately, in today’s world computer security can be a case of trial and error for us all, not just for schools. We all need to learn from our mistakes," Cobb said.

King said the school is considering changing its whole eMail system.

"If we gave everyone a Microsoft Outlook eMail address, they could access eMail directly through our web page. That would get rid of one software program and help us build security around our internal communications," he said.

According to King, World Group Manager software is so widely used that it is vulnerable to attack.

"It may make us too vulnerable to have a closed system," he said. "I also think we were overly depending on [the World Group software] by doing both our eMail and attendance audit on it. We need to divorce the eMail from the audit. It’s the old adage ‘diversify,’ meaning don’t depend on one thing."

Choice 2000 is in its fifth year as an accredited high school in Perris Union High School District. The school is tuition-free to students who are residents of California’s Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, Imperial, or Orange counties.

Links:

Choice 2000 Charter School
http://www.choice2000.org

Perris Union High School District
http://www.puhsd.org

tags

‘NearTouch’ technology taps into language learning skills

A revolutionary radio-frequency technology is changing the way some schools are teaching language acquisition skills. Executives from the Emeryville, Calif.-based company that now owns the technology, LeapFrog, said it soon could be used to teach an entire range of subjects—from English as a Second Language (ESL) and special education to science, math, and social studies.

LeapFrog has created a tool called the LeapPad, which uses interactive audio and phonemic awareness to teach younger children a variety of skills. Introduced into the consumer market in 1999, the LeapPad is a rugged, 2.5-pound device shaped something like a notebook binder, into which specially designed paper books are inserted.

The LeapPad comes equipped with an electronic “stylus pen” that students can wield to discover more information about the text of the LeapPad book they are reading. For instance, when a child touches the stylus pen to certain words on the book’s page, he or she can hear the words pronounced or hear an individual letter, a sound effect, a phonemic sound, a word definition, or other information.

This function is the result of cutting-edge radio frequency technology created by two researchers from the Massachusetts Institute for Technology. The researchers created “conductive ink” that works in synthesis with the stylus pen, which essentially functions as a radio frequency antenna.

Once the stylus pen/antenna is placed near a point on the book’s page, the exact location on the page is triangulated instantly.

The stylus pen/antenna then sends that location back to the audio component of the LeapPad. Each book comes with a book-specific audio cartridge that interprets the signals sent from the stylus pen.

Each point on the page is correlated to a specific sound, so when students touch the pen to the word “cow,” they can hear the entire word pronounced, and when they touch only the letter “c,” they hear just that particular phoneme pronounced.

“It’s called ‘NearTouch’ technology,” said Kathryn Allen, vice president of sales and marketing for LeapFrog’s education division, LeapFrog SchoolHouse. “What that mean is that what you touch is what you get. Older technology that relies on switches would not allow you to move quickly. Once you flip a switch, that action cannot be interrupted—but this can be interrupted.

“Basically, this technology replicates finger-pointing,” she added. “It’s so simple, intuitive, and cognitive that people wonder why we haven’t had this until now.”

Allen believes the NearTouch technology used by the LeapPad can one day be used for teaching non-English speaking children—or adults—to speak English. And that is just one example of the many conceivable uses for the technology, which LeapFrog purchased from the MIT researchers.

“A book on tape may have an audio-learning element, but it does not create the power of kinesthetic touch that this technology does,” she said.

‘Leap into Literacy’

Originally marketed exclusively to the consumer audience, LeapPad now is sold to schools as part of the company’s Leap into Literacy package.

“It’s been very well accepted by education. Right now, we have LeapPads in 1,500 classrooms, and it has only been shipping to schools for a little over six months,” said Bob Lally, president of LeapFrog SchoolHouse. Lally estimates there are 4,000 to 5,000 LeapPads now in schools.

LeapFrog SchoolHouse has added several educational changes to the consumer version, such as an A/C adapter (the consumer product runs on batteries), specific content directed at learning, and sturdy headphones.

“The headphones are … so that the audio portion of the LeapPad will not be intrusive in the classroom,” said Caryl Hughan, director of marketing for LeapFrog SchoolHouse.

The Leap into Literacy package is focused on teaching phonics to schoolchildren in kindergarten through second grade. It contains a teacher’s manual, a tape or CD of corresponding music, and the LeapPad device, complete with three LeapPad books.

The Leap into Literacy package also comes with a LeapMat, a 3-foot by 2-foot interactive play-mat printed with the letters of the alphabet. Students touch the LeapMat to make it say letter names, sounds, words, and 30 other activities.

Finally, the package includes a LeapDesk, a tool that looks something like a keyboard with large numbers and letters in place of keys. According to the company, LeapDesk offers several modes of operation: learning phoneme awareness, the alphabet, spelling, and reading; assessment of those skills; and adaptive teaching. The adaptive teaching mode creates a lesson for the student based on his or her individual skill level.

“The program is aligned for all K-12 state standards for phonemic awareness,” Lally said. The entire Leap into Literacy package, without a printer, currently sells to school districts for $695.

Reaction among educators has been favorable so far. “We’re just enchanted with it. The phonemic awareness is a great benefit for this group,” said Linda Hodges, a kindergarten teacher at Kostoryz Elementary School in Corpus Christi, Texas. Her school district received the Leap into Literacy program through a state grant.

“Each day, we allow kids free time in which they can go and sit at the Leap into Literacy Center until they have finished the story. It usually takes about 10 or 15 minutes, and each child uses it about twice a week,” she added.

The product currently offers a library of 12 decodable texts with titles such as “Casey Has a Hat” for teaching the short “a” sound and “The Fix-It Kid” for short “i.”

Thirteen more books for education will be released by the end of the year, Lally said. He estimates that each additional LeapPad book a school purchases will cost between $10 and $16, roughly comparable to the cost of a regular book.

Other applications

At this stage, LeapFrog SchoolHouse is focusing primarily on reading fluency, but Hughan said the company hopes to expand into ESL and special education applications soon, as well as across the curriculum to science, math, and social studies.

The NearTouch technology could be good for special education, she said, because special education students tend to learn differently, and the headphones could allow them to concentrate on the material without any outside stimulus. Hughan also said LeapFrog SchoolHouse eventually plans to use the technology to teach Spanish or other foreign languages, but not within any set time frame.

“We would consider partnering with other organizations to provide different content, and we have been approached about that,” she said. “When we find the right partner, we will move ahead.”

Links:

LeapFrog SchoolHouse
http://www.leapfrogschoolhouse.com

tags

ED conference urges new thinking for new schools

When modernizing old buildings or designing new ones, school districts should model them after the workplace, make technology centers the focal point, and get input from students, parents, and businesses, according to educators who shared their experiences in an online town meeting sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education.

The meeting, which aired on public broadcast and on the internet in September, addressed the topic “Modernizing Schools: Technology and Buildings for a New Century.” The live audience and home viewers were invited to ask questions of panelists, all of whom were experienced at renovating or building schools with technology in mind.

Opening the discussion, Education Secretary Richard Riley said, “We need to equip schools with the latest technology to help teachers and students take full advantage of new and exciting tools for learning.”

We also need to re-imagine schools, he said, increasing their uses by incorporating community technology centers into their design, having them remain open longer, and including all citizens in the school planning and building process.

At first glance, this is not an easy or affordable feat, since American schools are so old.

The United States has 89,000 public schools, 70 percent of which were built before 1970. The average U.S. school is 42 years old. The most recent studies estimate America’s schools need $322 billion in structural improvements, and thousands of additional schools need to be built to accommodate the rising student population.

“We have old buildings,” said Linda Quinn, principal of Emerald Ridge High School in South Hill, Wash. “The wiring is not suitable and even the conditions of the classroom are too cold, too hot, or too damp.”

She added, “We are still using four classrooms constructed in 1916.”

Anthony Amato, superintendent of Hartford Public Schools in Connecticut, said some buildings in his district are 50 years old.

“We had issues with air conditioning, with wiring,” Amato said. “As soon as you poke a hole in the wall, the ‘asbestos police’ show up at your door.”

Creative thinking is a must when faced with the high costs of installing computer networks in such old buildings, he said.

“Rather than put all of our resources and focus on trying to do what is an almost impossible task, we said, ‘Let’s get out of the box and turn our thinking around,'” Amato said. To avoid exposing asbestos, the district opted for wireless networking with laptop computers.

With its wireless network, students are free to roam anywhere in the school with their mobile computers. As a result, Amato said, both attendance and student work have improved.

Creating a workplace environment

Today’s society needs more graduates with real work-force skills, panelists said. As a result, some schools are modeling not only the building, but also the curriculum and hours to mirror the typical workplace.

“We know that what students will need to survive [in] university settings or in the workplace is the ability to work in teams,” Quinn said. Her school was designed with workspaces that encourage collaboration. There are “no more chairs and seats bolted to the floor,” she said.

Gary Jacobs, former senior education specialist at Qualcomm Corp., described how a new high school called High Tech High added workplace environments and hours into the school environment.

At this modern facility, located at the Naval Training Center in San Diego, Calif., each student has his or her own workstation in addition to classroom, lab, and group workspace. The hours are from nine to four, and the day is divided into two blocks instead of 50-minute periods.

“If students feel like they are in a work environment, they’ll feel motivated, they’ll pay attention,” Jacobs said.

High Tech High’s curriculum, which was developed in collaboration with industry partners, is project-based. In one of the projects, students assemble their own computers. These projects interweave three curriculum strands: math, science, and engineering; literacy and humanities; and art and design.

In grades 11 and 12, students attend off-site internships twice a week, reinforcing the school’s emphasis on the high-tech workplace.

“We had to design the school so it looked good, but at the same time you have to get to everything,” Jacobs said. The building’s telecommunications cabling has an open architecture on the outside of the walls so students can see how it works.

Emerald Ridge High School also uses its building as a teaching tool.

“When we designed our building, we tried to think of it as part of the curriculum,” Quinn said. “It becomes part of the textbook.” For example, she said, the drama students use the light and sound equipment in the auditorium as a hands-on classroom.

Some educators are designing their schools so the technology center is the focal point. “It’ll be the first thing you’ll see when you enter the school,” said Charlotte A. Wright, superintendent of the Weiner, Ark., Public Schools.

Another school used its computer lab to join two parallel hallways so students would pass through it as they moved around the building. Others created computer-oriented social spaces, such as “cyber cafes.”

“I would like our school to look different. I don’t want Abraham Lincoln, if he were to come back, to recognize it,” Wright said. “A school can no longer be four walls. It has to be there for everybody.”

The technology centers at Weiner Public Schools are equipped with doors and gates so the community can use the computers at night without gaining access to the entire school.

“The modern building: don’t just think of it as brick and mortar. It’s about clicks and bricks,” Amato said.

Involving the community

In deciding what the modern school should offer and how it should look, the panel agreed that the whole community—including parents, students, and local citizens—should be consulted.

“Don’t underestimate the need for time to plan—time for teachers and administrators and community members to talk together,” Quinn said. “If we don’t do this, we’ll just keep doing what we’ve been doing.”

“We hold hearings in our community. We hold board meetings,” said Reggie Felton of the Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland. He said his district balances what the community wants with theory and research.

“It is very, very difficult to meet the demands to make sure every student has access” to modern technologies, Felton said. Often, schools will renovate one building while another becomes obsolete. He said school districts have to use money efficiently to reduce costs and seek federal and state support.

Jacobs said it’s good to involve businesses in the planning process, too, like officials did at High Tech High—especially because high-tech buildings come with high price tags. In addition to eRate funding and other government grants, businesses can help schools pay for technology.

Amato agreed: “Don’t wait for this money to come from any source.” There are innovative ways of getting computers, he said, such as partnering with a company.

“There are a number of companies that are willing to give free connectivity [to schools]. Ours happens to be HighFusion,” he said.

Links:

Modernizing Schools: Technology and Buildings for a New Century
http://ali.apple.com/events/edgov0908

High Tech High
http://www.hightechhigh.org

HighFusion
http://www.highfusion.com

tags

Commission recommends self-policing, not mandatory filters, to shield kids from web porn

In its final report to Congress Oct. 20, the Child Online Protection Act (COPA) Commission recommended a combination of broader public education, heightened public awareness of existing technologies, better enforcement of existing laws, and industry self-regulation to help stop kids from accessing internet material that is “harmful” to minors.

The Commission stopped short of recommending mandatory web filtering for schools, even as Congress considered a bill that would require just that.

“The Commission has concluded that no single technology or method will completely protect children from harmful material online,” said Don Telage, the group’s chairman.

Congress asked the 18-member Commission to evaluate potential solutions to keep kids from accessing inappropriate material on the internet when it enacted COPA in 1998. That act also made it a crime for web sites to allow access to harmful material by minors, a provision the courts have struck down as unconstitutional.

After hearing from numerous witnesses and reading pages of testimony, the Commission identified 17 technologies and methods for protecting children. Commission members then rated each item according to effectiveness, accessibility, cost, First Amendment issues, privacy, and law enforcement.

“This report should serve as a blueprint for future action and is a first step in what we hope will be a continuing dialogue among Congress, the federal government, law enforcement, and the internet community,” Telage said.

Public education

The Commission recommends that government and the private sector launch a major family education campaign to promote public awareness of technologies and methods available to protect children online. Many people are knowledgeable about the internet, but parents generally are not, Telage said.

The campaign should stress parental involvement in their children’s online activities, access to child-friendly sites, and technology to protect children online—perhaps through a web site. Government, schools, PTA groups, public libraries, and community centers should be essential components of this campaign, the report said.

Computer retailers and manufacturers should readily sell filters and other parental controls, it said. In addition, both parents and public institutions—such as schools and libraries—that offer internet access should adopt acceptable-use policies, and government and industry should promote their use.

“Just as we provide children with firm rules for crossing the street, we need to provide them with rules and guidelines to facilitate their online learning experience as well as their safety,” the report said.

Consumer empowerment

Child protection technologies need to be evaluated—and the public needs to be informed of these evaluations—so consumers know how well they work and what they block, the report said.

“One of the things we learned about in the testimony was the variation in effectiveness of these tools,” including filters, browsers, rating systems, and biometrics, Telage said. He described it as a “fledging industry” that has no meaning for the public. “We got such conflicting testimony that we could not get a clear statement about this,” he said.

A non-governmental testing facility could give the public objective, well-researched information about the features, effectiveness, price, and search criteria of the various protection technologies on the market.

Also, the commission recommends that the industry make better filters and monitors that are easy to use and are more accessible. Browsers and web portals should prominently display links to parental control devices.

The report also said national industry standards need to be developed for labeling, rating, and identifying web sites.

“We found that if only sites rate and label by some uniform manner, then the filters work better,” Telage said. Both new media, like the internet, and old media, like television, print, movies, and games, need to create uniform ratings.

Law enforcement

The report recommends that all government levels increase law enforcement funding to pay for more aggressive investigations and prosecutions to deter online pornography and sexual exploitation of children.

“The testimony … basically showed the resources law enforcement had [were] so inadequate, they [could] only focus on child stalking cases,” Telage said. “It’s a question of manpower.”

State and federal law enforcement should provide internet service providers (ISPs) with a list of internet newsgroups and web sites that contain child pornography or lead to convictions involving obscene material.

The Commission called for stricter laws and better enforcement to discourage deceptive or unfair practices that entice children to look at obscene materials. This would prevent producers and distributors of obscene material from marketing to children, the report said.

Self-regulation

The Commission also challenged the “adult industry” to take responsibility and to police itself. Representatives from the industry told the Commission they are willing to take steps to restrict child access to adult content.

“The adult industry needs to self-regulate itself so its material doesn’t come into the hands of children,” Telage said. This means the front pages of adult sites wouldn’t contain explicit graphics or text and would be labeled “adult only.” In addition, ISPs should take voluntarily steps to protect minors by regulating themselves, the report said. They should remove child pornography hosted on their servers when they are notified of its presence, and they should voluntarily cooperate with authorities during investigations involving their services.

“Some of the smaller ISPs are not that good at it,” Telage said, although larger ISPs do self-regulate.

Items not recommended

The Commission’s report does not recommend the creation of special top-level domains such as “.xxx” or “.kids,” although the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is considering whether it will approve them in November. The COPA Commission has not advocated or been involved with ICANN’s decision-making process, Telage said.

New top-level domains come with “First Amendment and privacy issues,” Telage said. “They sound good on the surface, but once you get into them, you realize they have problems.”

Also, the Commission doesn’t recommend mandatory filtering. The report said, “No particular technology or method provides a perfect solution but, when used in conjunction with education, acceptable-use policies, and adult supervision, many technologies can provide improved safety.”

The education spending bill now before Congress contains language that would force schools and libraries to use filtering technologies as a condition of receiving federal eRate funding.

Telage said the commission thought it was best to give the commercial adult industry a chance to police itself first.

“The most significant recommendation in my mind is the charge to the adult industry to self-regulate,” Telage said. “It puts the burden where it belongs.”

Most services self-regulate, and the adult industry should do the same, he said. “It would single-handedly have the largest impact on the problem,” Telage said. “It would have minimal impact on First Amendment issues.”

Links:

COPA Commission
http://www.copacommission.org

ICANN
http://www.icann.org

tags

K-12 technology leaders meet at 2nd annual eSchool Technology Conference

School leaders attending the second annual eSchool Technology Conference and Exposition were treated to tools and strategies designed to make their schools more efficient, their management of technology more effective, and their teachers better equipped to face the challenges of teaching in the 21st century.

The conference, held Oct. 2 through 4 in Orlando, drew hundreds of technology coordinators and other key decision makers charged with purchasing and managing technology for their schools. Produced by eSchool News and co-sponsored by Follett Software Co., the event gave attendees a unique chance to learn from 24 sessions in three program tracks: Leadership and Vision, Integration and Development, and Methods and Management.

Among the topics covered were strategies for recruiting and retaining top-notch technology staff, calculating total cost of ownership, making the web an integral part of school communications, and integrating technology into the 21st-century curriculum.

The conference also featured a “Blue Ribbon” Technology Exposition, where 50 of the world’s leading school technology companies exhibited their products. (A complete description of each exhibitor follows this story.) The highlight of the exposition was a state-of-the-art Command Center, produced by JDL Technologies, in which attendees got a “sneak peek” at how the Schools Interoperability Framework (SIF), which soon will allow different software applications to “talk” to each other regardless of their manufacturers, will make their jobs easier.

The initiative’s goal is to reduce the amount of time that staff members-from teachers and administrators to office clerks-spend entering and managing data by allowing information to flow seamlessly between software programs used by different departments and even schools. Nearly 100 companies have signed on to incorporate the new SIF specification into their K-12 products.

Participating in the live demonstration at the conference were NCS Pearson, which develops student information systems; School-Link Network, which produces a universal student ID card program called myCard@School; Follett Software, which makes library automation software; and SNAP Systems, maker of food service software.

Attendees could enter their personal information into NCS’s SASIxp software and get a bar-coded photo ID badge courtesy of the myCard@School system. Waving the badge under a bar-code reader connected to a PC running Follett’s Circulation Plus software called up attendees’ library account information automatically.

Likewise, scanning the ID card using a computer running SNAP’s WinSNAP software automatically brought up attendees’ accounts on the screen, ready to be adjusted by adding to or subtracting from their (hypothetical) food service credit.

SIF Implementation Specification v1.0 was released in June by the SIF Working Group, a subset of the Software and Information Industry Association. Though conference attendees were able to view the standard in action, no SIF-compliant products yet exist on the market, as the SIF Working Group still must develop a process for reviewing new products to ensure they are SIF-compliant.

The ‘online purchasing revolution’

Keeping with the theme of saving schools money while making their internal processes more efficient, keynote speaker Lamar Alexander told attendees how his company aims to save schools $10 billion in the next five years by transferring the procurement process to the internet.

A former Tennessee governor, education secretary, and United States presidential candidate, Alexander is co-founder and chairman of Simplexis, one of many online purchasing companies that cater to schools. Like its competitors-which include eschoolmall.com, DemandStar.com, and Epylon.com-Simplexis aims to streamline school purchasing by providing side-by-side comparisons of products and services online, eliminating the bureaucratic red tape that currently exists in the purchasing process, and becoming a single source for everything a school district needs to operate.

Alexander told attendees how, as education secretary, he fought for legislation to reduce class sizes and set tougher standards in the classroom. Now, as an entrepreneur in the private sector, he has come to realize that “technology can do a better job of changing education than new laws can,” because it leaves educators in control.

“Companies like GE [General Electric] are saving up to 20 percent of their budgets by moving the purchasing process online,” Alexander said. “Our goal is to shift the billions of dollars that schools spend each year on paperwork into the classroom. … That, to me, is true education reform.”

In a breakout session titled “What You Should Demand from the Online Purchasing Revolution,” Simplexis Chief Executive Amar Singh was joined by eschoolmall.com Senior Vice President Mark Smith, Epylon.com founder and CEO Stephen George, and technology consultant and former superintendent in West Palm Beach, Fla., Joan Kowal in a discussion of what school leaders should look for in an online procurement solution. All agreed that the ability of such solutions to integrate seamlessly with a school district’s back-end accounting system is a key to their success.

Singh said his company has developed a software module called SimpleLink that addresses this need. Simplexis has partnered with Kirtley Technology Corp., a provider of information systems for schools and businesses, to customize its SimpleLink module to each school district client’s existing software.

The company’s first success story is the Rockford, Ill., Public School District, which now enjoys a seamless, transparent exchange of business operations data between its front-end online purchasing package and its back-office accounting and management software, Singh said.

Eschoolmall.com has had similar success with the Palisades School District in Pennsylvania, the company’s Smith said.

Integrating technology into instruction

Of course, the real business of schools is teaching and learning, and the question of how to use technology to improve the instructional opportunities for teachers and students was foremost on attendees’ minds.

General session speaker and noted technology consultant Ian Jukes kicked off the conference by summing up the difficulties school leaders face in integrating technology into instruction. He likened the process to “dancing on quicksand” because of the rapid change in new technologies.

“It’s not about hardware-it’s about headware, or mindset,” Jukes said. “We just can’t keep up if we focus on the technology itself.” Learning must drive the technology, he said, not the other way around; school leaders should focus on instructional tasks, not gadgets.

In a session titled “New Models for Your Districtwide Technology Planning and Software Management,” Robert Fox described how his nonprofit organization, the MINDS Institute, is supplying its member school districts with access to interactive lesson plans and a video archive of more than 1,600 clips for use in the classroom.

MINDS, which stands for Multimedia Instructional Network Delivery System, is an educator-driven nonprofit that started regionally by taking advantage of the high-speed Ohio Regional Network backbone to deliver video content to that state’s schools. The project is now open to all K-12 schools nationally. “The idea is that we don’t want Turner or Disney to own all the content-we want educators to own it,” said Fox, who is the group’s director of marketing.

Through the MINDS portal site, member districts have access to the group’s complete video-on-demand archive. Teachers can take their classes on a virtual field trip to the Atlanta Zoo or visit NASA to learn how space affects global weather patterns. They can create a multimedia instructional unit that brings the civil rights movement alive with actual sounds and sights from the period.

The MINDS portal gives teachers the ability to search for relevant video clips, download these clips into a “virtual backpack,” edit them to extract only the highlights they would like to show in class, and create a shortcut they can use to launch the video from their own computer instantly, giving rise to a “teachable moment.”

“With MINDS, schools don’t have to capture, organize, index, manage, or distribute video themselves-it’s all done for them,” Fox said. “This allows schools to focus on the tasks of teaching and learning.”

To join the MINDS consortium, districts must pay a yearly fee that varies according to the size of a district and how much content of its own it can contribute to the MINDS database. In this way, the MINDS collection grows with each new member. Districts must have at least a T1 line connecting their buildings to take advantage of the group’s content, Fox said.

Another key to successful technology integration is knowing what your teachers’ classroom needs are. In the final general session of the conference, two university-level researchers described a project they are working on to give school districts a simple way to survey their teachers’ needs over the internet.

Elliot Soloway, a professor of education at the University of Michigan, and Cathleen Norris, a University of North Texas professor and president of the National Educational Computing Association, have developed a “Snapshot Survey” service that is available to K-12 districts at no charge. The service can be tailored to a district’s individual needs and lets participating districts poll teachers at their own convenience on a web site hosted by the Snapshot Survey team, allowing for instant feedback.

Survey results can be used to help define school district policy and set priorities. For example, a survey of Nebraska teachers conducted over 10 days in February revealed that science teachers in the state have more computers in their classrooms than other teachers, but do not use them any more frequently; math teachers still need compelling reasons to use technology in their instruction; and technology-mature teachers need more time to change their curriculum, while technology novices need more training in how to use the technology itself.

The results of the Nebraska survey will be used to target professional development of the state’s teachers according to each group’s specific needs.

Soloway also highlighted a free collection of 4,300 safe, focused web sites for middle-grade students, called the Middle Years Digital Library (MYDL). Developed by the University of Michigan, MYDL “eliminates wasted time in searching for relevant web sites,” he said.

The eSchool Technology Conference and Exposition was co-sponsored by Follett Software Co., with additional support from eschoolmall.com, JDL Technologies, Simplexis, DemandStar.com, Riverdeep Interactive Learning (a provider of interactive curriculum materials via CD-ROM and the web), and HostLogic (a managed application provider of school enterprise solutions over the internet). For more information about the conference, see the web site below.

Links:

eSchool Technology Conference and Exposition
http://www.eschoolnews.org/estc>

Follett Software Co.
http://www.fsc.follett.com

Schools Interoperability Framework
http://www.sifinfo.org

JDL Technologies
http://www.jdltech.com

NCS Pearson
http://www.ncs.com

School-Link Network
http://www.ncs.com

SNAP Systems
http://www.snapsystems.com

Simplexis
http://www.simplexis.com

eschoolmall.com
http://www.eschoolmall.com

DemandStar.com
http://www.demandstar.com

Epylon.com
http://www.epylon.com

MINDS Institute
http://www.mindsnet.com

Snapshot Survey
http://snapshotsurvey.org

Middle Years Digital Library
http://www.webartemis.org

Riverdeep Interactive Group
http://www.riverdeep.net

HostLogic
http://www.hostlogic.com

Companies of the “Blue Ribbon” eSchool Technology Exposition

AdventureOnline.com demonstrated its web-based learning adventures, which are grounded in real-world travels such as dog-sledding expeditions and trips down the Nile river, as well as its standards and assessment tools for K-12 teachers. Used by more than 3,000 schools nationwide, AdventureOnline.com helps students in grades 1 through 6 learn reading, math, social studies, and science through interactive puzzles and projects. The company announced a limited-time special offer of $98 per year for a classroom subscription, and site licenses also are available. AdventureOnline.com also includes a free 30-day trial period for teachers to evaluate the site. http://www.adventureonline.com

American School Directory demonstrated its free internet tools for school districts, including its school web site hosting and fund-raising services. http://www.asd.com

Audio Enhancement displayed its classroom amplification systems, which improve student attention and give teachers more control over their classroom environment. The company’s latest system uses infrared technology instead of radio waves to amplify teachers’ voices. Audio Enhancement says its infrared system cuts down on outside interference because it does not need different frequencies for each microphone-yet it doesn’t sacrifice performance, either, as there are enough reflective surfaces inside a classroom for the infrared signal to work without a true line of sight to the receiver. http://www.audioenhancement.com

AWS Convergence Technologies Inc. demonstrated its WeatherNet service, which allows schools to incorporate technology into the curriculum through real-world applications. Schools use the company’s AirWatch system to track local weather conditions and report them in real time to the national School Weather Network. The newest component of the system is InstaCam, a digital camera that records live and time-lapsed images of weather conditions and broadcasts them over the network, helping all types of learners. AWS also introduced WeatherBug, a free application that, when downloaded to a desktop computer, provides users with real-time weather data for their zip code. The application, which contains no advertising, can be used as a school fund-raising project; by promoting it within the community, schools can earn up to $2,000 if 2,000 or more members of the community download the WeatherBug to their computers. http://www.aws.com
http://www.weatherbug.com/schools

AXEL displayed its line of thin-client solutions, including the new VNCviewer, which was just introduced in September. The VNCviewer allows for graphical remote display and is based on VNC (virtual network computing) architecture. Unlike Citrix, VNC is an open protocol, making the VNCviewer a low-cost solution because there is no licensing fee for its thin-client architecture. The VNCviewer, which works in virtually any server environment, comes with built-in Ethernet connectivity and sells for about $300. http://www.axel-tech.com

BASCOM demonstrated its server-based filtering solution and its Global Chalkboard internet productivity tool. The BASCOM product sits between the internet and a school’s server, acting as a proxy server that caches frequently-requested web sites. Users can choose from among four “Learning Zones,” or levels of access that students will be given to the web: Internet, for unlimited access; Research, which uses Cyber Patrol’s CyberNOT list to filter objectionable content; School, which limits students to the 10,000 hand-picked educational sites in BASCOM’s Global Chalkboard database; or Lesson, which limits students to sites chosen in advance by the teacher for a particular assignment. Global Chalkboard is intended to represent the very best of the web; its sites are organized in a pyramidal structure, so that within five “clicks,” students will be able to find what they are looking for. The sites contain no advertising, and BASCOM also offers built-in online training and sample internet lesson plans. The solution is available for a one-time set-up fee of $7,000 to $10,000, plus a yearly subscription of about $2 per student, which includes daily updates to the list of objectionable sites and daily archival back-up. http://www.bascom.com

ChildU demonstrated The Learning Odyssey, a comprehensive, individualized curriculum for students in grades 1 to 8 delivered entirely over the internet. Its hundreds of learning activities for each grade meet state and national standards and are enhanced with web links, animations, and audio and video clips. Because they are internet-based, the materials are available from home or from school. http://www.childu.com

Classroll.com introduced its web-based classroom management system, which allows teachers to post and maintain students’ grades, attendance, lesson plans, homework, discipline, and other bulletins online at a secure site hosted by the company. Parents have round-the-clock, password-protected access to this information in real time. Classroll.com markets its product as a district-wide solution, and the company is working with three states to implement its service as a statewide solution. A six-month free introductory offer ends in mid-November; after that, the service will be available for a one-time fee. http://www.classroll.com

Command Software Systems exhibited its integrated network and computer security solutions and antivirus software designed to defend schools’ mission-critical data against malicious code threats. http://www.commandcom.com

DDC Publishing displayed its step-by-step tutorial workbooks, Quick Reference Guides, and Visual Reference Basics for mastering or teaching the internet, Microsoft Office, Microsoft Windows, and other software and technologies. http://www.ddcpublishing.com

DemandStar.com exhibited its free online purchasing and procurement system for school districts and other government entities. The DemandStar system, which is in use in 24 states and more than 150 agencies, can handle all goods and services that an agency acquires through a mandatory bid process. An online quote system, which would enable school districts to send out queries by eMail and receive an automatic tabulation of results, was scheduled for release in October. http://www.demandstar.com

Edmin.com demonstrated its Virtual EDucation System, a suite of internet-based software modules that allow schools to manage and report student progress as aligned with district and state standards. One feature of the system lets students see how their work compares to the class average, for example; another feature creates a digital portfolio, in which students can store authentic examples of their class work online. Parents and teachers have secure, password-protected access to their children’s or classes’ information, and district administrators can see at a glance what is working and what isn’t, helping them make strategic decisions about their schools. http://www.edmin.com

Enterprises Computing Services Inc. (ECS) previewed S.H.O.T.S. (Student Health Online Tracking System), a secure, web-based system for tracking and reporting students’ immunization records. Using the system, school building-level administrators will be able to manage their school immunization certificates easily through simple input screens that have same look and feel as each state’s required certificates. District-level administrators will be able to view any school’s immunization standing, run immunization status reports for any school in the district, and maintain a list of valid users of the system. Parents will have secure, view-only access to their child’s immunization records and will be able to view all family records with a single log-on. The system is expected to be released in November. ECS also demonstrated e-D3, a data warehousing solution for school districts; eGrants Manager, a grants management system; and Asset Manager, a facility asset tracking and management system. http://www.ecs-eduk12.com

eschoolmall.com exhibited its online procurement systems for school districts. The company also announced that it has signed three more key vendors: Didax, which publishes books, manipulatives, and software for math, reading, science, and art; Maintenance Warehouse, a leading supplier of maintenance, repair, and replacement products to schools; and GesslerQ, a publisher of innovative language learning materials. These suppliers have joined eschoolmall.com’s 20,000-name vendor directory, which the company calls “the largest of its kind in the country.” http://www.eschoolmall.com

Follett Software Co. previewed Find-It-All, a new add-on feature to its Catalog Plus library automation software that will enable students and staff to perform a single, simultaneous search of every information database a school or district subscribes to while avoiding time-consuming, repetitive searches. Find-It-All will be available with the next release of Catalog Plus (version 4.2), which is scheduled for November. Follett also announced an agreement with netLibrary, one of the premier providers of electronic texts, or eBooks, over the internet. The agreement will allow K-12 libraries to purchase eBooks for their collections through Follett Library Resources and also to integrate eBooks into their daily operations through Follett’s library automation software. http://www.fsc.follett.com

Forest Technologies displayed its educational software, print products, and internet tools designed to enrich learning, enhance discovery, teach thinking skills, and increase teacher productivity. Combining its intimate knowledge of the educational industry and a vast array of important contacts, the company adds value to, markets, sells, and distributes products in partnership with multimedia developers such as the Discovery Channel, Educational Insights, National Geographic, Scholastic Software, Simon & Schuster Interactive, and others. http://www.foresttech.com

Get A Clue Software, a division of Lyceum Communications LLC, announced that its innovative vocabulary programs are now available over the internet in addition to CD-ROM. The Get a Clue Vocabulary Development Series is based on the company’s patented system for teaching vocabulary, called WATS (Words and their Stories), and includes a teacher’s module with complete assessment and tracking capabilities. The web-based edition is available to schools, school districts, and home users on a subscription basis. http://www.getaclue.com

GollyGee Software introduced its first product, GollyGee Blocks, a three-dimensional creativity tool for children ages 6 to 12 that lets children create their own 3-D worlds using traditional building block shapes and a library of pre-made objects. Intuitive editing tools let kids move, stretch, rotate, stack, copy, color, and texture the blocks, as well as view them from any angle. Scenes can be saved, printed, and sent over the internet. The company said it would post a 15-lesson outline of suggestions for using the software to teach math and spatial concepts on its web site by the end of October and is looking for pilot schools to test the product in their classrooms. Educators who are interested in taking part in the pilot are encouraged to contact the company directly. http://www.gollygee.com

GVOX demonstrated its NotationStation.net online music portal, a free and easy-to-use web site that enables teachers and students to create and compose music online without having to purchase notation software. By signing up for a personalized class site, music teachers can post their lessons on the web; students can access these lessons 24 hours a day using a private class code. Another benefit is the Lesson Library, which allows users to search-and add to-the vast archive of lessons posted by other educators at NotationStation.net. The site also lets students post their compositions and homework instantly to their class site for review. The Class Roster automatically keeps track of all students logging into a class and all of their submissions. http://www.notationstation.net

HostLogic demonstrated its SchoolSmart enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution for school districts, a web-based package hosted by the company that includes everything needed for a K-12 school system to access enterprise software without a large up-front investment. SchoolSmart is a pre-packaged, fully scalable, SAP-based solution that ties a district’s business systems together-from accounting to payroll to human resources-and delivers them over the internet, eliminating the need for the district to deploy the software itself. School districts pay per user, per month, for the service-but they don’t have to pay until the system goes live, so there are no out-of-pocket expenses. http://www.hostlogic.com

ICONIX International previewed Version 5 of its UserNet network management software for the education market. UserNet provides tools for customizing internet access and managing all users, groups, and software installations from a single software package. Its Safexplorer browsing technology allows teachers to bring focus to students’ internet experiences by locking students into relevant content; this content can be teacher-configured, or teachers can use the company’s list of “safe” sites. UserNet’s PictureTaker application is an easy tool for installing or distributing Windows-based software across a local or wide area network. Version 5 also adds directory management capabilities, which allow school network administrators to manage individual accounts across an entire district instead of on a server-by-server basis. Version 5 of UserNet is expected to be released at the end of October. http://www.iconix.com

Iomega Corp. displayed its Zip and Jaz lines of storage devices, which greatly enhance the removable storage capacity of laptop and desktop computers. The company’s most recent products are a 250 megabyte (MB) Zip drive that plugs into a computer’s USB port, making it both Mac- and PC-compatible; the PocketZip PC Card drive, which fits directly into a PC card slot on most laptop computers and runs PocketZip disks that can store up to 40 MB of data; and the HipZip Digital Audio Player, which downloads and plays MP3 music files on PocketZip disks, which sell for a fraction of the cost of flash memory cards. http://www.iomega.com

iSolute.com introduced iSoluteClassroom, a web-based communication tool for teachers that officially launches Nov. 6. The company has created a shell of a classroom web site, which teachers can customize using simple templates that do not require knowledge of hypertext markup language (HTML) to complete. Safety and security are the company’s priorities, according to Heidi Dill, manager of web applications; before parents can get access, they have to return a Child Online Privacy and Protection Act (COPPA) compliance form, which indicates they understand that student information cannot be collected over the internet without their permission. Every page of iSoluteClassroom is password-protected, and each parent has a unique username and password for private viewing of their children’s grades, photos, etc. The service even includes a feature by which parents will be able to give permission for field trips and other events over the internet through an online permission slip. Dill said iSolute.com will send employees out to a school to make sure data can be imported automatically from the school’s existing gradebook and attendance system to the iSoluteClassroom pages, so teachers will not have to enter data twice. The iSoluteClassroom sites will be ad-free; the company will charge a monthly subscription fee of $10 per classroom, but schools will get a three-week trial period first. http://www.isolute.com

JDL Technologies highlighted its Infrastructure Acres program, a complete, eight-step school network solution that includes analysis, planning, design, procurement, installation, training, implementation, and support. JDL also assembled the Schools Interoperability Framework demonstration in the exposition’s Command Center and managed the entire show’s computer network from its network operating center (NOC), running Hewlett-Packard’s OpenView and CastleRock’s SNMPc network management software to monitor each vendor’s internet connection. http://www.jdltech.com

MeshworX spotlighted its seamless, single-point-of-contact solution for internet service, filtering, caching, web and standards-based curriculum authoring and assessment tools, content, and application services. In collaboration with its sister company, Safesites, MeshworX is building what it calls the country’s first dedicated, high-speed, “education only” K-12 network. Safe from inappropriate material and free of commercial advertising, Safesites offers teachers, students, parents, and administrators a customized, efficient way to use the internet as a tool for learning, the company said. http://www.meshworx.com

N2H2 Inc. demonstrated the Learning Zone, a new area on its Searchopolis education resource center that delivers educational content and learning activities from leading content providers, such as Riverdeep Interactive Learning, AdventureOnline.com, and MathRealm.com. This content is provided at no extra charge to schools that use Searchopolis and N2H2’s Bess filtering solution. http://www.n2h2.com

NCS Pearson, formerly National Computer Systems Inc., demonstrated its hardware, software, and application services for the K-12 market, which include tools for student and financial records management, instructional and curriculum management, electronic document management, and parent-school communications. The company also demonstrated its NovaNet comprehensive online courseware system, which offers more than 10,000 hours of fully interactive, standards-based curricula, as well as integrated assessment and testing tools and student management and recordkeeping features. http://www.ncs.com

Network Data Services Inc. (NDS) highlighted its complete line of network installation, design, and maintenance services for K-12 school districts nationwide. http://www.ndservices.com

Nextel Communications, a worldwide leader in wireless personal communications, displayed its 4-in-1 business solution, which integrates all-digital cellular service, text and numeric paging capabilities, Direct Connect digital two-way messaging (which enables users of Nextel Plus phones to send, receive, and reply to short text messages wirelessly over the internet), and Nextel Online wireless internet services. http://www.nextel.com

Numonics Corp.’s Interactive Products Division showcased its Interactive Presentation Manager (IPM), an all-in-one digital presentation tool that is perfect for the integration of content-rich, attention-keeping

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Dell recalls computer batteries, citing fire hazard

In cooperation with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Dell Computer Corp. announced Oct. 13 it is recalling batteries used in notebook computers sold to schools and others.

The voluntary recall reportedly involves 27,000 batteries that were sold for use with some models of Latitude and Inspiron notebook computers. These batteries can short circuit, even when the battery is not in use, potentially causing them to become hot, release smoke, and possibly catch fire.

The recalled batteries were sold with the following models of Dell notebook computers:

  • Latitude CPiA
  • Latitude CPi R
  • Latitude CPtC
  • Latitude CPtS
  • Latitude CPtV
  • Latitude CPxH
  • Latitude CPxJ
  • Inspiron 3700
  • Inspiron 3800 (see label on bottom of computer).

It was the second notebook-related problem this year at Dell. The company in August warned as many as 400,000 customers that their machines may have contained defective memory chips. Dell initiated both actions.

The Round Rock, Texas-based computer maker announced the battery recall after it received one report of a Dell computer short-circuiting and catching fire. No one was injured in the fire, which caused minor property damage, the company said.

The recall involves only certain batteries-not the computers themselves. Dell initially will replace one battery then provide a second after supplier Sanyo Electric exchanges the potentially defective part.

The potential problem stems from a Sanyo flaw, Dell said. A part of the battery’s cell could malfunction, causing a short circuit, overheating, and possibly igniting.

“We’ve taken the broader rather than the narrower approach,” said Dell spokesman T.R. Reid. “If there’s even one more (fire) that would be too many.”

The batteries were sold primarily with notebook computers shipped to customers from June 22 through Sept. 15 in North, Central, and South America. Units shipped to Europe, the Middle East, and Africa between June 22 and Oct. 4 also are included in the recall.

The batteries insert into the front-left and/or front-right of the computer. Affected schools should call Dell or visit a Web site the company has set up (see Links below).

Because Dell sells directly to customers the company expects the recall to flow smoothly. Because the flaw occurred at Sanyo, the recall will not hurt Dell financially, Reid said. Sanyo was not immediately available for comment.

Component troubles in desktop machines have been an ongoing problem for PC makers. In September, Intel reportedly delayed the launch of its Pentium 4 processor because of a chipset problem. In August, the company pulled 1.13-GHz Pentium III processors and earlier replaced as many as a million motherboards because of defective chips, according the CNET.com.

But notebook problems have been less frequent, the news service said. IBM in May recalled as many as 220,000 faulty AC adapters for ThinkPad portables, CNET.com reported; in March, Toshiba replaced notebooks containing flawed processor components.

Links:

Dell Computer Corp.
http://www.dell.com

Dell Battery Recall Information
http://www.support.dell.com/battery

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