GetBenefits.com is benefiting these Texas school districts

By letting employees enroll for and get information about their benefits on the internet, school districts in Texas have increased the access, privacy, and convenience of their benefits programs while cutting out a tremendous amount of paperwork.

“It’s become impractical to go to every one of our facilities to enroll people in our benefits,” said Sam Russell, director of business operations at Lewisville Independent School District in Texas.

His district has 51 schools, not to mention seven or eight administrative facilities. The process of informing, registering, and updating the employee benefits of every staff member became such an enormous task that his district sought the services of GetBenefits.com.

The company, which provides an internet service that allows school employees to register for, access, and update their employee benefits online, started in July and now works with 15 school districts.

“When an enrollment process is going on, there’s a tremendous amount of paperwork,” said John Pesce, chief marketing officer for GetBenefits.com. “This keeps everything paperless for the school district and it makes things a whole lot easier.”

Usually, school employees have to fill out form after form with the same information. With GetBenefits.com, employees only have to enter their address, phone number, and social security number once, since the information is stored in a secure database and applied to each form as needed.

The site lets employees file their claim forms online and see the real-time status of the forms. If an employee has a complaint with a vendor, the employee can eMail the vendor through the site. GetBenefits.com will monitor the eMail to make sure the employee gets a response.

“No matter who the insurance company is, GetBenefits will do the enrollment,” Pesce said. “We work it out with each and every insurance company.”

Steve Austin, human resource manager for the Clear Creek Independent School District, said GetBenefits.com arranged for all the district’s insurance companies to go along with the service. All he had to do was mail each company a letter explaining that the district wanted to use it.

“The good thing about GetBenefits was that it assigned an individual to take care of this,” he said. “We’re talking about 11 or 12 different vendors that need to come together to make this thing work.”

Austin said each insurance company agreed to the service. Russell said only five of his district’s six vendors have agreed, but he hopes that will change.

With GetBenefits.com, if an employee decides to change insurance companies or personal information, it’s updated instantly in the employee database.

This feature greatly decreases the time it takes some companies to process paperwork. For example, Austin said, one employee in his district paid insurance fees for seven months but wasn’t really covered because the forms hadn’t been processed.

Since the site uses “smart forms,” it won’t process the application if an employee has skipped any section or entered information incorrectly.

“They can’t go from one screen to the next without completing all the parts of the forms,” Austin said of his district’s employees.

This service saves districts money, too, since they don’t have to print material for every employee because it’s available on the GetBenefits.com web site. Also, information—such as a list of doctors—is always current and easy to update.

Before GetBenefits.com, Russell said, meetings with employees about their benefits were inflexible. He used to visit schools at specific times on specific days.

“We are still going to go our campuses on a limited basis, but [our employees] don’t have to do it that way since all the information is available on the internet,” Russell said. “GetBenefits also has a toll-free number that our employees can call. It’s in both English and Spanish. Our employees can enroll by phone using this customer number if they wish.”

GetBenefits.com charges districts an annual licensing fee based on their number of employees. “It’s fairly inexpensive, too,” Austin said.

All in all, this internet service streamlines the process of enrolling and managing employee benefits. “It frees me up to do my normal job,” Russell said. “It allows me to focus on specific problems employees are having.”

GetBenefits.com

http://www.getbenefits.com

Lewisville Independent School District

http://www.lewisville.isd.tenet.edu

Clear Creek Independent School District

http://198.216.152.2

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Education foundation honors ‘digital dozen’

A new Hawaii-based nonprofit organization dedicated to helping close the “digital gap” in our nation’s schools has selected 12 school districts as recipients of its first Technology in Education Leadership Awards for their exemplary use of technology in K-12 education.

To identify the nation’s most technologically advanced school districts, the Ohana Foundation drew upon research conducted at Center for Information and Communication Sciences at Indiana’s Ball State University over a five-year period. Representatives from state departments of education and K-12 districts were asked to name the school districts they regard as leaders in the application of technology in their state.

According to Alan Pollock, director of marketing for the Ohana Foundation, a panel of judges narrowed the field to 12 finalists. Each received an all-expenses-paid trip to the National School Boards Association’s annual Technology + Learning conference held Oct. 25-28 in Denver.

Criteria for selection were as follows:

• The district made efforts to do more than just install computers. A broader sense of educational technology was necessary, including the integrated use of various video, audio, digital, satellite, and distance learning technologies in a networked environment.

• The district demonstrated special leadership efforts in trying new technologies or unusual experiences for teachers or students.

• The district made efforts to assure that classroom and curriculum integration took place, not just technology for its own sake.

• The district made efforts to provide training for teachers as well as exposure for students.

“Our goal was to recognize a group that is often not recognized. School technology can often be a thankless job,” Pollock said. He added that the Ohana Foundation plans to continue its awards program in future years.

This year’s 12 Technology in Education Leadership Awards finalists are:

Opelika City Schools (Alabama)

Opelika City Schools have implemented an intense technological plan that began in 1990 and has placed 3,000 computers in nine schools with a total district enrollment of 4,500 students. Each school has its own local area network (LAN) connected to a wide area network (WAN), and each school also features a video network system.

There are five computers in each elementary classroom and a computer in every middle and high school class, with 13 labs for student use. The district also circulates 35 laptops among students and teachers. Because computers are so pervasive, many in the district prefer to use eMail communication.

“The effects [of technology in the classroom] are immeasurable,” explained one district official. “It gives unnoticed kids a chance to shine and is a tremendous outreach tool.”

Anchorage School District (Alaska)

Among other improvements, teachers in the district are receiving technology education thanks to a donation by British Petroleum of 250 computers and $20,000 to pay teachers for training. To assist with the training, the district shows a series of teacher-produced programs discussing technology over its cable television network.

Anchorage schools also have created school technology assistance teams (STATs) to work with teachers and help them meet their technology goals. The district has a 5-to-1 ratio of students to computers, and all classrooms have internet access and are connected directly to the library’s card catalog. All 2,500 computers are part of a LAN.

http://www.asd.k12.ak.us

Malvern Special School District (Arkansas)

Malvern has a distance learning program established with local universities and technical schools, as well as three other high schools. The PRISM (People, Resources, and Imagination Studio at Malvern) is a multimedia lab studio with eight full-time teachers. Students in this program are required to support all projects through an electronic medium, and the studio is equipped with video editing capabilities.

The district’s PRISM-EAST (Earth and Space Technology) project allows students to examine the universe and put research projects into electronic format.

http://malvern.dsc.k12.ar.us

Little Falls Community Schools (Minnesota)

Through a bond from the state of Minnesota, the Little Falls School District has hired “integration people” to help with technology development and implementation. The integration people are individuals dedicated to implementing technology, training both teachers and students, and maintaining the district network.

Little Falls boasts 1,500 computers in five buildings, with a LAN in each building and a district-wide network. A network file server in the central building contains software applications, encyclopedias, and magazine databases.

The district also features a brand-new digital phone system, a two-way interactive video system, and every classroom is wired for internet access.

http://www.lfalls.k12.mn.us

Nixa R-II Schools (Missouri)

All of Nixa’s schools are networked on a fiber optic cable run through a core switch, and each building has a file server so staff can communicate with one another at all times via eMail. Nixa schools have several A+ learning labs funded through their A+ Schools program, as well as computers in most classrooms and mini-labs in the three elementary schools.

Nixa also participates in the eMints teacher training program through which teachers receive additional professional development and training by participating in a technology-immersion classroom, where the same teachers follow one class from third to fourth grade.

http://www.nixa.k12.mo.us

Anaconda School District (Montana)

With only one high school, one middle school, and one elementary, this small district has made great strides with technology.

The high school and middle school are fiber-connected with videoconferencing ability. Each and every teacher has a networked computer for grading and administration. The elementary school has a wireless connection with the high school, allowing them to mentor and work together.

The elementary and middle schools both have six to seven computers per class, and the high school features AutoCAD, Hyperstudio, electronic government research tools, and history, atlas, and encyclopedia programs.

http://hosts2.intch.com/www.anacondamt.org/educate .htm

Red Hook Central School District (New York)

The Red Hook Technology Project, commonly referred to as Tech 2000, is a public and private partnership providing voice, video, data, and distance learning opportunities to all district classrooms.

Two PBX telephone switches provide voice mail and call accounting. Every classroom in the district is equipped with a large video monitor connected to a control room, making use of videotapes, cable TV, satellite, CD-ROM, and DVD.

The district is networked over a WAN that uses a T1 connection, and educators have access to “virtual computer classrooms” comprised of laptops that are moved around on carts for student use.

http://www.emsc.nysed.gov/repcrd399/D_131701.html

Wilson County Schools (North Carolina)

In Wilson County, technology is viewed as a way to engage all the district’s children. All classes have at least two computers and a printer, and each campus boasts a school-wide LAN and a high-tech lab.

But the real innovations in Wilson County are the seven teacher-created volumes of integrated lesson plans, complete with assistance and stipends from the technology department. These technology-based lesson plans are based around the standard course of study and allow teachers to become acquainted with technology as they teach. Training is a major focus point for the district.

http://schools.eastnet.ecu.edu/wilson

Central Columbia School District (Pennsylvania)

In addition to a thoroughly modern and integrated classroom experience, Central Columbia schools encourage participation with technology. As part of the school experience for students, daily announcements featuring school information are produced in both the elementary and middle schools. Classroom teachers are trained in television production, and they provide instructional support to help students wire, direct, and provide talent for these broadcasts.

The district introduces students to computers in first grade and teaches keyboarding in fifth. Ninth-graders are required to complete coursework in computer technology, and eleventh-graders must use technology to complete a project of their choice in one area of study.

http://www.centralcolumbia.k12.pa.us

Beaufort County School District (South Carolina)

Beaufort County became a pioneer in the “Anytime, Anywhere Learning” project in 1996 by making laptops available to all interested middle school students, regardless of economic status. The district’s Schoolbook Foundation helps subsidize families who want their kids to have laptops, and as a result, more than half of the county’s disadvantaged students have been provided with laptops for instructional use.

With the installation of a $10 million technology initiative, the district has wired every school and allowed every classroom in each school to share resources. An independent study indicated measurable improvements in students’ perception and grades since the program’s inception.

http://www.beaufort.k12.sc.us

Henry County Public Schools (Virginia)

Henry County won the Laureate Smithsonian Award in 1999 for its “universal laptop access” program. Apple Computer nominated the district for this award.

The schools in Henry County are totally networked via a frame relay backbone to a central office, and proxy servers are in place at all four high schools. The district also offers two learning packages at the high schools, and a laptop initiative is in place to provide portable computers for grades four, five, eight, and nine.

http://henry1.henry.k12.va.us/public

Shoreline Public Schools (Washington)

Shoreline Public Schools, located outside Seattle, has exemplary multimedia and computer programs committed to providing equal access to technology to all students. These programs have developed students’ problem-solving skills with the help of cutting-edge technology. Over the last 10 years, the district has spent more than $20 million on technology for learning.

Shoreline operates a voice, data, and video network to its classrooms and makes teaching technology a priority. Shoreline takes a proactive attitude toward showing students the positive aspect of computers and multimedia technology.

http://www.shoreline.wednet.edu

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Michigan to buy 91,000 computers for educators

In what might be the largest initiative of its kind, Michigan is buying 91,000 computers for its public school educators, and officials say deliveries will begin by year’s end.

State officials are seeking bids to purchase 83,000 laptop and 8,000 desktop computers with internet access. It’s part of the $110-million, one-time initiative approved by the Legislature last summer for Gov. John Engler’s Teacher Technology Initiative.

“We know technology is going to drive educational quality and improvement,” said Engler spokesman John Truscott. “This should translate directly to quality in the classroom, and it’ll give teachers a chance to share with their colleagues ideas that work through eMail and chat rooms.”

Contracts were expected to be given in October to between three and five vendors to provide the equipment, software, and support services. Districts are expected to begin ordering computers in November.

Jamey Fitzpatrick, vice president of Michigan Virtual University, which is helping to coordinate the program, called it a leading-edge initiative. “No other state has ever approached anything like this,” he told the Detroit News for a story published Sept. 25.

Teachers will be able to use the laptops to communicate with parents, develop curriculum, foster professional development online, and work at home, Engler said when he proposed the idea in January.

“The teachers will be able to take the computer home, use it in the summer months and on weekends,” Fitzpatrick said. “The idea is if teachers begin to feel comfortable using technology for something of personal interest to them, it won’t be long before they use the same tool in the classroom.”

While the computers will end up in the hands of individual teachers, they ultimately will belong to local school districts. If a teacher stops teaching at a specific district, the computer stays with that district.

Training also is part of the package, officials say. Teachers who don’t have basic training will receive it, and those already proficient will receive advanced training. Teachers must demonstrate a minimum level of computer competency to be eligible for a state-funded computer. That means they must know how to get onto the internet and how to send eMail.

The state will offer free online courses to bolster training and will assess progress after one year. Teachers in a school building may vote to split program funding between technological equipment and more advanced computer training.

School districts must report their numbers of eligible full-time teachers who can take part in the program. Once they report this information, they will get an increase in state aid equal to the cost of the program—$1,200 per eligible teacher—to buy or lease the machines. A panel of educators drew up the computer specifications; school districts likely will have a few options.

Teachers will have the computers for business and personal use. However, guidelines will be imposed, Fitzpatrick said. He said the state is drafting a policy that would allow teachers to do their taxes on the computers, for example, but not use them to sell pornography.

Detroit Public Schools second-grade teacher Judy Eggly said she’s excited about getting a free laptop computer from the state.

“A lot of us don’t have access to computers at home, whether our classrooms are equipped or not,” she told the Detroit News. “I know a lot of things $110 million could be used for, but this will be a real plus to teachers who want to do lesson plans and research at home. It’s absolutely fantastic.”

Michigan Gov. John Engler

http://www.migov.state.mi.us/MichiganGovernor.htm

Michigan Virtual University

http://www.mivu.org

Detroit Public Schools

http://www.detroit.k12.mi.us

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Project models educational benefits of enhanced digital TV

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

Using the grant money, MPT will develop educational video and online content for digital TV broadcasting, as well as professional development tools for Maryland educators. “With the advent of digital broadcasting, technology finally enables the television set to become a self-contained, fully interactive communications device. MPT is proud to bring this promise to life for Maryland and the nation,” said Robert Shuman, MPT president and chief executive. The U.S. Department of Education’s “Star Schools” program provided the grant. Founded in 1988, Star Schools funds innovative projects using technology for distance education.

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

Multicasting allows broadcasters to transmit not only the audio and video signals commonly associated with television, but also large streams of data. The combination of the two into a single program is known as “enhanced television.” Using enhanced television signals, viewers can explore content addressed in the program in detail, providing a more meaningful viewing experience. Data accompanying enhanced television programs is likely to include web links, bibliographies, transcripts, and detailed background material on the show’s subject.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

According to officials from project partner Johns Hopkins University, the grant will support the creation of a web portal with supplemental content for both parents and educators, designed to complement the digital television programming by MPT. The web portal is expected to be up and running by the start of the next school year. As digital signals become more accessible to viewers in the next 24 to 36 months, this content will migrate to the programs themselves, where it will be embedded in the transmission.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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New study: Technology boosts student performance

For advocates of classroom technology, a new study linking technology with student achievement provides welcome news: The use of educational technology in Illinois public schools has had “a small but significant impact” on student performance, according to a statistical analysis. The Illinois State Board of Education commissioned Westat, a research firm based in Rockville, Md., to find out how the state’s classrooms use technology and what effect computers and the internet have had on student performance. The state has spent nearly $240 million on technology grants to schools since 1995, but it does not keep records on the number of computers or internet connections in a school or district, according to a state Department of Education spokesman.

After completing a two-and-a-half-year study, Westat concluded that Illinois’ investment in learning technologies appears to be paying off. “We are beginning to see a relationship between technology in the classroom and student achievement,” said Gary Silverstein, principal investigator for the study. “In schools where [technology] usage was the highest, students’ scores on certain subjects tended to be higher.” Westat researchers surveyed 440 elementary, middle, and high school principals twice to measure the scope and implementation of educational technology. They also surveyed 718 teachers from the same schools to find out about their use of technology in the classroom. In addition, the researchers visited 15 schools that were making effective use of technology and five schools that weren’t. They also conducted telephone interviews with 28 teachers and 28 technology coordinators, and they analyzed the state’s standardized test scores. The researchers’ questions focused on technology access, use, competency, student learning, productivity, best practices, and factors that influence these items.

To determine the impact of technology on student achievement, Westat statistically analyzed these variables: poverty, access to educational technology, professional development, extent of technology use, and scores from the state’s 1998-99 standardized tests.

The statistical analysis shows that in cases where teachers’ use of technology to facilitate or enhance classroom instruction was high, standardized test scores also were high. Technology’s impact was strongest in the higher grades, but not in every subject area. It had the greatest influence on 11th-grade science and 10th-grade reading test scores. Westat also found technology use was positively influenced by the amount of access and teacher training a school had.

The study “certainly suggests the state’s investment was a good one,” Silverstein said. “There certainly was a pay-off.” Poverty a greater factor However, poorer districts continue to lag behind wealthier ones. In fact, the percentage of poor students in a school affects its test scores by at least twice as much as technology, the study found.

Although “there were no instances where the use of technology had a negative impact” on students’ scores, poverty still has the strongest impact on student achievement, Silverstein said. “The findings indicate there is a significant difference in terms of access, usage, and professional development in various areas of the state,” Silverstein said. “High-poverty areas were making less use of computers and had less access to computers.”

Westat recommended that the state place special emphasis on providing technology access and teacher training in high-poverty areas, because a combination of barriers is preventing poor schools from taking full advantage of educational technology.

Teachers also need more technology professional development, the study suggested. “Just putting a computer in a classroom doesn’t seem to be enough,” Silverstein noted. Schools should take a more proactive approach and require or encourage teachers to take technology training, the study recommended. In districts that mandated or gave incentives for professional development, technology use was higher. “If you have a school policy promoting professional development, you have increased usage—which, in turn, increases student achievement,” Silverstein said.

Illinois State Board of Education http://www.isbe.state.il.us

Westat http://www.westat.com

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stakeholder and community relations — Lessons in web design from an award-winning Ohio school

Combine a handful of teens, no budget, and a math teacher who is a complete web novice, and what do you get? If you’re Ohio’s Kenston High School, you get an award-winning web site, great “hands-on, minds-on” student learning, a $10,000 corporate gift—and a public relations bonanza.

“I took over the dormant KHS site during late fall of 1998,” says Ronnie Continenza, a KHS math and computer teacher. “I had no experience with web design, and a group of six seniors taught me.”

Using students’ home computers and Netscape Composer because “it was free,” Continenza and her hardy band of student volunteers built a content-rich web site that was named “Best in the USA” for 1999 by internet portal Education World.

Intrigued by KHS’s “Cool School Web Site” designation and its unique student photo galleries that let parents and far-flung relatives order eMailed copies, I asked Continenza to share some of her tips and strategies with eSchool News readers. Here’s what she had to say:

How did you get students involved in building a school web site?

You only need a few kids who can crank out pages. Find a couple of kids who have their own web sites and get them involved as student web masters. Ninety-nine percent of our pages were created on home computers and eMailed to me for posting. We didn’t have any classes or an organized club—just a dedicated group of students who did it on their own time.

The hardest part of building a site is getting timely information. The solution is to get kids involved from all aspects of school life. For example, find an athlete or two from every sport who is willing to eMail results as soon as they get home from competitions. Do the same thing with academic areas, clubs, extracurricular activities, etc. This way, you can beat the morning papers with results, and in most cases you can beat the 11 p.m. news on television. The goal is to give viewers timely content.

You seem to have many faculty members involved and engaged as well. How did you do that so successfully? Did you meet with some initial resistance?

Once the site got going, it was well received by the faculty. Posting homework assignments is a great way to let parents know what is going on in class. It’s a communication tool that helps keep parents and teachers on the same page. If a student is having trouble getting homework done, parents can be contacted and asked to monitor their child’s homework, which can be found on the site. When we started this, parents loved it!

How do you balance security concerns with having lots of students and staff involved?

First and foremost, the law is on our side. Our site is copyright-protected. If someone redistributes any photos from our site, they are breaking the law and the courts will rule in our favor. Furthermore, if they are posting our photos somewhere else on the internet, they are breaking federal laws involving minors. The law is on our side, and we won’t hesitate to use it if the need arises.

Secondly, we will not post anything a student does not want posted, and we will remove any photo of a student upon request. In the last year and a half, we have posted well over 10,000 photos of our students and have had only a handful of requests to remove something—all for “vanity” reasons (closed eyes, for example). Our students love to see themselves on the site. It’s a form of recognition. If you walk down our hallways in between classes, you will see photos from the site printed and hanging in lockers throughout the school.

We also receive daily eMails from out-of-town relatives thanking us for our timely updates. Imagine being able to call up our web site on a Saturday morning and find the Winter Formal pictures from the previous night already posted. To be able to follow a student’s progress in academics, athletics, etc., from hundreds of miles away is a dream come true for many family members.

What do you think are the keys to a great school web site?

Content, fast load times, and easy navigation. We want our viewers to think, “Call up the web site” when they want to know about anything that is happening at Kenston High School. Instead of watching the 11 o’clock news for sports results, or calling the coach for directions to an event, or calling a teacher for homework assignments, we want our viewers to know they will find the information on our site.

We also strive for fast load times for all our pages. We don’t have fancy graphics and animated GIFs on our site. We want to feed our views useful information and do it quickly. Why wait two and half minutes for a fancy graphic to load if you can get the answer you want in 12 seconds?

In terms of navigation, we want our viewers to find anything on our site within three “clicks,” or pages. We make our pages uniform so people quickly will understand how to navigate the site, and our navigation bar appears on every page. We make our categories easy to understand, and we have a search engine so parents can type in their child’s name and find every page they are on quickly.

What software and other tools do you use to create your site?

Ninety-five percent of the HTML pages were created with Netscape Composer simply because it is free. If we need to write HTML code that Netscape does not support, we hand-code using a simple editor like Word Pad. We are discussing using Microsoft Front Page this year. All interactive scripts are written in PERL [Practical Extraction and Report Language], and we use ThumbsPlus by Cerious Software to generate our thumbnail photos. We use Adobe Photoshop to re-size, crop, and edit our original photos. We use the Nikon Coolpix 900 series digital camera for taking our photos, and we use WebTrends Log Analyzer to determine our traffic and help us find errors on the site—a very useful tool! We use WS_FTP Pro [from Ipswitch Inc. of Lexington, Mass.] to upload the site.

Any other tips you’d like to share with your colleagues?

Lay out the structure of the site before you start building pages. Use sub-directories for everything. For example, if you’re posting Spirit Week photos, put them in a Spirit Week folder. This makes it much easier to find something as the site grows.

I also recommend creating a navigation system as virtual menu. That way, you only have to make changes to one page (menu.html) in order to change the navigation bar on every single page on the site.

I also think we need to be considerate of our viewers. Set any color in your navigation bar as a background image. Since background colors won’t print, you will not deplete your viewers’ ink cartridge when they print a page from your site.

How has your web site benefited your students and your school community?

Our web site has had a great impact on our school spirit and pride in the community. Being named “Best in the USA” was like winning a Super Bowl or World Series in our community. It generated an unbelievable amount of enthusiasm and support. We were overwhelmed with literally hundreds of eMails, letters, and proclamations, not to mention the television, radio, and newspaper coverage.

Where do you go for inspiration?

Coming up with new ideas for the site is an ongoing process. Education World has made this easy. I check their site every Friday night to see who the new weekly winner is. I also revisit past winners. These sites change constantly, and we’ve gotten a number of great ideas from them.

What’s next for the KHS “Web Builders”?

We’re using the $10,000 we received from Cisco to upgrade our network. Information was traveling across our school at a rate of 10 megabits per second (Mbps). Thanks to Cisco, it is now traveling at a rate of 100 Mbps. We will be offering a hands-on web design class this year. We have 20 computers in our lab, and more than 80 students have signed up for the course.

Kenston High School

http://www.kenston.k12.oh.us/khs/khs.html

Education World’s “Cool School of the Week” Awards

http://www.educationworld.com/cool_school

Netscape Composer

http://www.netscape.com

Cerious Software’s ThumbsPlus

http://www.cerious.com

Adobe Photoshop

http://www.adobe.com

WS_FTP Pro

http://www.ipswitch.com

WebTrends Analyzer

http://www.webtrends.com

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ethics and law — Acceptable-use policies are useless unless strictly enforced

In the headlong rush to get connected to the internet, few school districts take enough time to examine all of the many ramifications of opening Pandora’s Web.

Enough attention has been given to filtering pornography and documents called “acceptable-use” agreements that most public school managers have cobbled together something resembling internet policies and procedures. But even where state law requires schools to adopt policies on proper usage of computers, networks, and internet access, there is often a significant gap between the mandate and the practice.

One rather nasty confrontation arose recently in New Hampshire, where the Exeter Regional Cooperative School District forgot that enforcement of an acceptable use policy is just as important as having one in the first place (see story, page 16).

Like all school systems, Exeter was concerned about how it was going to control adolescent meanderings throughout the darker nooks and crannies of the web. The district had a pretty good policy—much better than many policies I have reviewed from around the country. It put students and faculty on notice that direct adult supervision would be required for all internet journeys by elementary pupils and that older students would be supervised.

In addition, the watchful eyes of Net Monitors were aided by modern technology. According to Exeter’s policy, “All access to the internet is monitored using a ‘firewall.’ This firewall will immediately contact us if any students or staff access undesired sites.”

If the image of a bright red light flashing in the principal’s office—perhaps accompanied by a robot-like voice intoning “Danger! Danger!”—has you doubled over with mirth, the folks up in Exeter have even more delights in store. In reality, the ominous warning about instant exposure of students or staff who wander, intentionally or accidentally, onto the dark side of the web was highly exaggerated.

In fact, like most firewall monitors, the software just kept a log of each data transfer to and from the net—no content, but size and origin of data packets were logged. Nevertheless, even though no sirens, bells, or whistles would announce transgressions of the acceptable-use policy, the school district could look at the logs and tell whether violations had occurred.

A crucial question (and the source of the lesson du jour for us all) is, If you have all of this good policy and software monitoring capability, what will really get you into major hot water? Answer: Not bothering to look at the logs to check compliance with the policy.

Apparently, that is what happened, because when a local citizen (and parent of a student) decided to ask for a peek at the logs, the school district turned him down flat and called its lawyers. The reason for the district’s reticence may have been revealed several months later at a board meeting, when the administration reported that a review of the internet history log files revealed that some unidentified users had been accessing “objectionable” web sites.

The school district has thrown up a barrage of legalistic defenses, ranging from the thin-but-arguable (internet logs are not “public documents” under the New Hampshire public access law) to the truly sublime (revealing the logs would violate the federal wiretap statute). The school district’s “invasion of privacy” defense is especially laughable—but therein lies the irony of this case.

One of the cornerstones of any acceptable-use policy is that users have no expectation of privacy when they use the internet. Like student lockers and teachers’ desk drawers, the schools’ computer system is public property, and users are told that data transmissions—from eMail messages to MP3 downloads—will be monitored.

Because of these and similar policies, the courts already have turned down legal arguments claiming invasion of privacy when employers monitor internet use. In United States v. Simons, for example, the Supreme Court tied its denial of “invasion of privacy” under the Fourth Amendment directly to the announced government “open inspection and monitoring” policy.

In short, if your school system announces that the web is “public” space for users, your claims that it is private for other purposes—including freedom of information laws—are likely to fall on deaf ears in a courtroom.

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Three studies: Technology can make a difference

“Fool’s Gold” argues that money spent on technology in K-6 education could better be spent on other, more pressing concerns, such as eliminating the threat of lead poisoning in some urban school districts or paying for educational field trips.

According to Stanford University’s Larry Cuban, a supporter of the Alliance for Childhood report, “There is no clear, commanding body of evidence that students’ sustained use of multimedia machines, the internet, word processing, spreadsheets, and other popular applications has any impact on academic achievement.”

But many technology advocates think there is little long-term evidence showing the effectiveness of technology on learning simply because educational technology is still coming of age in schools. They point to anecdotal, hard-to-quantify evidence that suggests technology can make a difference for students who are more motivated to learn or students collaborating with others across vast distances.

Although quantifiable evidence is hard to come by, a small but growing body of research is beginning to emerge. Besides the study of technology use in Illinois schools (see story, page 10), here are other recent studies that suggest that, used correctly, technology can improve educational outcomes:

1. “West Virginia Story: Achievement Gains from a Statewide Comprehensive Instructional Tech- nology Program” by Dr. Dale Mann, Columbia University; Dr. Charol Shakeshaft, Hofstra University; Jonathan Becker, J.D., Columbia University; and Dr. Robert Kottkamp, Hofstra University (1999).

In this landmark study, researchers examined the educational outcomes of the West Virginia Basic Skills/Computer Education (BS/CE) program, which began in 1990-’91.

At a cost of about $7 million per year, West Virginia provided every elementary school with enough equipment so that each classroom serving the grade targeted that year would have three to four computers, a printer, and a school-wide networked file server.

The program started with the kindergarten class of 1990-’91 and, as that class moved up in grade level, so did the successive waves of new computer installations.

The study revealed that as students were exposed to more elements of the BS/CE program, they scored higher on the Stanford-9 state exam. Researchers attributed an 11-percent rise in test scores to the state’s technology program.

The study also revealed that while participation in BS/CE helped all students perform better, it helped the neediest students the most. According to the report, “Those children without computers at home made the biggest gains in (1) total basic skills, (2) total language, (3) language expression, (4) total reading, (5) reading comprehension, and (6) vocabulary.” http://www.mff.org/publications/publications.taf?page=155

2. “Idaho Technology Initiative: An Accountability Report to the Idaho Legislature,” prepared by the state Division of Vocational Education and the State Department of Education, Bureau of Technology Services (1999). Produced by the Idaho Council for Technology in Learning, this January 1999 report was charged with justifying the expenditure of one-time and ongoing funds to purchase and integrate technology into the state’s K-12 public schools. It drew from a sampling of 35,885 students.

The principal question of the report asked, “Have students improved their academic performance as a result of the integration of technology in Idaho’s K-12 schools?”

To answer this question, researchers targeted two groups of students, those who were in eighth grade at the time of the study and were preparing to take the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, and those who were in 11th grade and were preparing for the Test of Academic Proficiency.

Based on findings from the sample group, the researchers concluded, “The benefits of technology in teaching and learning are clear: an increase in academic achievement in reading, mathematics, language, and core studies; improved technology literacy; increased communication; well-trained, innovative teaching; positive relationships with the community; more efficient operation of schools; and technically qualified students ready to enter today’s workforce.”

3. “Does it Compute? The Relationship Between Educational Technology and Student Achievement in Mathematics” by Harold Wenglinsky (1998). With support from Education Week and the now-defunct Milken Exchange on Education Technology, Educational Testing Service researcher Harold Wenglinsky provided the first nationwide study of computers in the classroom.

Using data on the performance of fourth- and eighth-graders on the math section of the 1996 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), and correlating them to other NAEP data on student use of computers at home and in school, Wenglinsky concluded that computers can have a positive impact on student achievement when used selectively by trained teachers.

Learning is enhanced, he found, when computers are used to encourage the development of higher-thinking skills. Simulations and applications, such as spreadsheets, are effective in eighth grade, and math learning games enhance achievement in fourth. Other uses, such as for rote drill-and-practice exercises, may actually have a negative impact.

“When computers are used to perform certain tasks, namely applying higher-order concepts, and when teachers are proficient enough in computer use to direct students toward productive uses … computers do seem to be associated with significant gains in math achievement,” Wenglinsky said.

http://www.ets.org/research/pic/pir.html

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Riley calls for more research, funding for school technology

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

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

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

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

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

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

Despite the fact that the program targets the poorest schools, however, the most impoverished schools submitted the fewest applications. Larger districts and schools were more likely to apply than smaller ones, the study found.

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

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

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

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

Promising practices

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

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

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

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

“I became the [technology] expert in the family,” said 13-year-old Anthony Reyes in an interview. “My mom uses it. My whole family uses it. It’s cool.”

Besides helping him to be more organized and creative, Reyes said, his laptop brings information and resources right to his fingertips.

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

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

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

The study also suggests that teachers who use laptops show greater confidence in using technology tools. But critics of the study point out that it was commissioned and funded by Microsoft and that it lacks hard figures to quantify its results.

Better evaluation needed

Though conference speakers and attendees shared anecdotal evidence of technology’s impact on learning, officials called for more extensive research on the topic. The need for more studies was underscored by a Sept. 12 press conference in nearby Washington, D.C., in which participants called for a moratorium on technology spending in younger grades until there is further proof of technology’s impact (see story, page 1).

Several speakers discussed tools they are developing to help measure the success of their technology programs.

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

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

Jim Nazworthy, of the High Plains Regional Technology in Education Consortium, discussed Profiler, a tool that surveys teachers to assess their professional development needs. It’s essentially a knowledge audit, he said. By taking the survey, teachers can assess their technology abilities, and Profiler helps them find someone at their school who can help them learn the skills they don’t know.

The Secretary’s Conference on Education Technology

http://www.ed.gov/Technology/techconf/2000

The eRate and the Digital Divide

http://www.ed.gov/offices/OUS/eval/erate_fr.pdf

Teachers’ Tools for the 21st Century: A Report on Teachers’ Use of Technology

http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2000102

The Online Snapshot Survey

http://snapshotsurvey.org

Profiler

http://profiler.scrtec.org

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Glenn Commission: Math, science ed crisis threatens U.S.

The key to fixing America’s math and science education–described as a crisis that is “dangerous to national prosperity and security”–is improved teacher quality, according to a nonpartisan commission convened to investigate the quality of math and science teaching in United States schools.

U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley directed the National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century to consider ways of improving recruitment, preparation, retention, and professional growth for math and science teachers in K-12 classrooms nationwide.

The commission’s report, titled “Before It’s Too Late,” summarizes its findings and recommendations.

“If you detect a note of urgency in that title, then our basic message to you and to the American people is already clear,” said former Sen. John Glenn, the commission’s chair.

Test scores across the country are increasing, but when American students are compared to those in 41 other nations, their performance lags, Glenn said, citing the Third International Mathematics and Science study.

“Our American fourth-grade children were among … the top two or three countries in the world,” he said. But “by the time American students had graduated from high school, they were almost last. They are about two or three from the bottom in that list of nations.”

Yet, we’re competing economically and technologically with the people from those nations. “Globalization has occurred,” Glenn said. “It’s no longer a futuristic theory; it’s here.”

He also said the military security of the United States depends on math and science education. So do medical advances, new pharmaceuticals, automobiles, airplanes, new engines, safety, environmental concerns, and more. In fact, the federal government recently passed special immigration legislation to let foreigners fill technology jobs because the U.S. doesn’t have enough qualified people.

The report states that 60 percent of all new jobs in the 21st century will require skills possessed by only 20 percent of the current work force.

“These figures compel me to upgrade our previous word of ‘unacceptable’ perhaps to a stronger word of ‘dangerous’–and I think we must address the problem forcefully and persistently,” Glenn said.

After spending more than a year studying and listening to experts, the report recommends that America launch an all-out effort to recruit and retain talented math and science teachers to correct these problems.

Although many teachers are doing a good job of teaching and motivating students, the report said, many are not. Too many teachers are underqualified or have insufficient content knowledge. Too many are leaving the profession altogether.

One-fourth of our math and science teachers never received a degree in the subjects they are teaching, and 30 percent of new teachers leave within three years, according to the report.

To combat these problems, the commission’s report offers a three-goal strategy.

First, improve the quality of math and science education now by radically and systematically improving the professional development of new and veteran teachers.

To do this, the report suggests creating math and science teaching academies within existing schools and colleges. These teaching academies would produce a new crop of well-versed teachers not currently in the math and science fields, Glenn said.

In addition to teaching academies, offering summer institutes will help new and veteran teachers hone their skills and improve their knowledge in a concentrated session.

Second, increase the number of teachers put into math and science classrooms by hiring qualified mid-career professionals with an interest in teaching those subjects.

Third, improve the working environment for teachers, and make the teaching profession much more attractive for all K-12 math and science teachers. The report, which describes teachers’ wages as “scandalous,” recommends giving incentives and higher pay.

Eleven percent of teachers leave the profession each year, the report said. By developing a reward-and-recognition program, fewer teachers might drop out.

The report also suggests creating a loan-forgiveness program to entice people to become teachers. The number of new loans offered each year could be adjusted to fit the demand for math and science teachers, the report said.

“Unless we begin our pursuit of these goals today, this nation may arrive on tomorrow’s doorstep a day late and a dollar short,” Glenn said.

Nation Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century

http://www.ed.gov/inits/Math/glenn

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