Alliance: Stop spending school dollars on technology

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

The group held a press conference in Washington, D.C., to call for a moratorium on federal attempts to computerize education, especially at the elementary level. The call for a “computer time-out” coincided with the release of a report titled “Fool’s Gold: A Critical Look at Computers in Childhood” by the Alliance for Childhood, an international partnership of educators, doctors, and psychologists based in College Park, Md. The 75 signers of the call for a moratorium included such notable figures as psychiatrist Alvin Poussaint of Harvard Medical School; Andy Baumgartner, 1999 National Teacher of the Year; Larry Cuban, a professor of education at Stanford University and former president of the American Educational Research Association; and former Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch. “When we put children before a screen to learn—be it a television screen or a computer screen—we are giving them a very narrow slice of life,” said Joan Almon, a former Baltimore kindergarten teacher and the U.S. coordinator of the Alliance for Childhood.

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

The Alliance for Childhood report said that despite limited research on the impact of computers on education, U.S. public schools have spent more than $27 billion on computers and related technology in the past five years. In the 1999-2000 school year alone, the report said, public elementary schools spent $4 billion on computers, peripherals, and internet connections that deliver few, if any, long-term benefits. At the same time this money is being spent on technology, less money is being allocated in the nation’s schools for field trips, hands-on science experiments, music, the arts, library books, and time for play or recess, “Fool’s Gold” said. Furthermore, the money being pumped into hardware, software, and connectivity could better be spent on other educational priorities, such as reducing class sizes, repairing schools, and eliminating lead poisoning, the report concluded.

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

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

Repetitive stress injury “is a time bomb waiting to go off,” said Margit Bleecker, M.D., a neurologist and repetitive stress specialist. Too much computer use can even lead to obesity among children, some fear. “Computers tend to be a passive activity in the life of a child. The surgeon general has said this is the most sedentary generation we’ve ever seen,” Almon said. Focusing too much on technology also distracts children from the social interaction they need to develop language skills and bond with adults, according to the report.

“Computers—like fool’s gold—glitter, but they are not really valuable,” said Colleen Cordes, co-author of the report and co-coordinator of the Task Force on Computers and Children. “We’ve gone down this highway of bringing computers into elementary schools with so little debate,” Almon agreed. “If we were spending so much money on other aspects of education with so little evidence of gain, we’d be ashamed of ourselves.”

An old debate

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

“They’re right, there needs to be a lot more research,” said Keith Krueger, executive director of the Consortium for School Networking, in response to the report. “Computers and use of the internet is a tool, and sometimes we have overpromised the use and effectiveness of that tool.”

However, Krueger and others say the call for a moratorium on school technology spending is an overreaction, one that reopens an old debate. “The question isn’t whether we should throw out the computer from the classroom, but how we can use the technology in a stimulating and engaging way,” Krueger said.

One of the complaints made of schools is that they do not engage students’ interest, he said. It’s only logical, therefore, for schools to incorporate computer activities, so lessons can be as compelling and captivating as the computer games kids play before and after school. Furthermore, there have been a few studies—and many anecdotal examples—that suggest the use of computers has improved learning (see sidebar, left).

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

As for the argument that computers can cause health problems among students, “their assumption is that kids just sit in front of a computer all day,” Krueger said. “If you look at the real data, that’s not true. Likewise, reading books at night with dim light can be very harmful to the eyes, but should we burn all the books? Not likely.” For its part, the Alliance for Childhood vows to continue researching the benefits of a “time-out” from policies that emphasize computers as an ideal instructional tool for toddlers, preschoolers, and elementary school students. Alliance members reject the view of a computer as a tool like any other; instead, they liken the computer to a car. In order to drive a car, a child must reach a certain age and level of maturity. The group argues that computer technology should have similar restrictions—but it denies accusations that it is anti-technology. “What the alliance is trying to do is get past the utopian rhetoric and past the defensive Luddite rhetoric and take a realistic look at technology in education,” said David Shenk, a technology writer and alliance member.

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

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

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

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Grant Awards

$56 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

The latest education gift from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation supports programs that are developing innovative curricula for small K-12 schools, particularly schools that will use technology to a significant degree. The grants, which total $56 million, include the first Gates Foundation grants outside the state of Washington as part of the foundation’s plan to support model programs across the country.

The Gates Foundation seeks programs that emphasize small classes and the use of technology, because the foundation’s leaders believe that a small, personalized learning environment is the key to helping every student succeed. To qualify for consideration, the proposed and existing programs had to enroll fewer than 400 students, include the use of technology, create learning opportunities such as internships for every student, and connect each student with an adult mentor.

Several of the grants were directed at programs in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, one of which is being created by the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Another Massachusetts organization, the Center for Collaborative Education, was awarded $4.9 million to create the New England Center for Small Schools, which will open as many as 20 new small schools in the next five years. It also will provide evaluation and assessment support to help small schools strengthen student achievement and accountability.

The Gates Foundation continued to direct funds to the state of Washington, too. The University of Washington will receive $6.5 million, most of which ($5.8 million) will be used to fund the initial work of the Institute for K-12 Leadership, which was created earlier this year. The Institute will spend the next four years working to create model school programs in San Francisco; Compton, Calif., near Los Angeles; Kansas City, Mo.; East St. Louis, Ill.; Detroit; Cincinnati; Cleveland; and Boston. The remainder of the University of Washington funds will establish the Small Schools Program at the university’s Center on Reinventing Public Education.

(206) 709-3100

http://www.gatesfoundation.org

$3.6 million from the Lucent Technologies Foundation

The Lucent Technologies Foundation awarded $3.6 million to 11 partnerships between universities and public schools focused on improving K-12 education. The Lucent Technologies Foundation—the charitable arm of Lucent Technologies—will contribute about $50 million around the world this year toward youth development projects, including education.

The academic partnerships will receive either one- or three-year grants ranging from $90,000 to $450,000. Several have strong technology focuses, including:

• Connecticut College and New London Public Schools, for “Teach and Learn Partnership for Math and Science Excellence.” This project received $91,000 to support a program that is designed to “blur the boundaries between K-12 and higher education in math and science,” according to its developers. It builds on a current collaboration to expand a series of seminars for middle school teachers conducted by Connecticut College faculty in math, technology, and science. The program also enables middle school students to come to the college monthly to work with faculty on experiments in state-of-the-art laboratory space.

• Princeton University, Columbia University, Seton Hall University, Stevens Institute of Technology, Rutgers University at Camden, and New York University, for “The New York-New Jersey Partners in Science Program.” This program has been funded with $106,000 this year and $395,000 cumulatively during the next three years to enable high school chemistry teachers to bring inquiry-based methodologies into their classrooms using cutting-edge technology. The program will help teachers develop new teaching strategies, foster long-term scholarly collaborations, and guide students toward careers in science. This funding expands a program established in 1988 in Arizona and later expanded in 1997 by the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation.

In choosing grant recipients (66 proposals were submitted this year), the Lucent Foundation considers how programs address the following objectives: reform of urban schools; reform of professional development programs for teachers and teacher recognition programs; enhancement of curriculum in the areas of science and math to improve K-12 teaching and to increase excitement among students; and preparation of young people for an increasingly diverse world.

For information about future Lucent Technologies Foundation grants, contact the Philanthropic Initiative Inc. at (617) 338-2590.

http://www.lucent.com

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Grant Deadlines

November

**NEW THIS MONTH**

Bright Ideas Grants

EnergyUnited’s Bright Ideas grant program, now in its seventh year, supports innovative educational projects not covered by traditional school funding with grants of up to $2,000. Purchases of computers or other digital equipment are eligible for grants, if they are tied directly to specific projects. In recent years, EnergyUnited has funded the purchase of a computer projector and the purchase of a digital camera for a student newspaper. Educators in any K-12 public school within EnergyUnited’s North Carolina service area are eligible.

Deadline: Nov. 6

Contact: Dusty Rhodes, public relations manager for EnergyUnited, (800) 522-3793.

http://www.energyunited.com

**NEW THIS MONTH**

Barrick Goldstrike Mines Elementary Earth Science Teaching Awards

Only elementary school science teachers are eligible for this National Science Teachers Association award. The winner must demonstrate exemplary environmental or geological earth science teaching practices in one or more of the following areas: innovative design and use of hands-on earth science materials; creative design and implementation of earth science lesson plans/curriculum; or fostering student, school, and school-community instructional programs in elementary earth science. Applicants should emphasize how their teaching helps meet national science education standards. The winner will receive a desktop or laptop computer system (worth up to $3,500), $2,500 for the purchase of earth science materials and/or equipment for his or her school, an all-expenses-paid trip to NSTA’s annual conference, and an all-expenses-paid trip to the Nevada Mining Association’s Minerals Education Workshop for teachers. Note: Numerous other NSTA awards and scholarships are available; to see the entire range, visit the organization’s web site.

Deadline: Nov. 15

http://www.nsta.org/programs/barrick.shtml

**NEW THIS MONTH**

RadioShack National Teacher Awards

RadioShack is honoring outstanding mathematics, science, and technology high school teachers with cash awards and Compaq computers. Criteria for judging winners include infusing innovative teaching methods (such as technology) and inspiring students to higher achievement. Applicants should explain how they will use the funds and computer to add to their pedagogical skills. The company will make 100 awards in the “experienced” category—three years or more of teaching—consisting of $3,000 cash and a Compaq computer. This year, for the first time, 10 additional winners will be recognized in the “beginning” category—at least one year of experience but less than four years—with cash awards of $1,000 and a Compaq computer.

Deadline: Nov. 17

http://www.tandy.com/scholars/index.asp

Verizon Foundation Grants

The newly formed Verizon Foundation (the charitable arm of Verizon Corp., which was created by the merger of GTE and Bell Atlantic) has started reviewing proposals for projects in numerous areas, including several with direct K-12 applications: literacy, digital divide, math/science education, and helping people with disabilities obtain job-relevant skills. Applications can be submitted immediately and will be considered as they arrive. Note that the foundation accepts only electronic proposals submitted through its web site.

Deadline: Nov. 30

http://foundation.verizon.com

December

**NEW THIS MONTH**

FamilyPC Teachers’

Technology Grants

This grant program by FamilyPC magazine supports teachers in K-12 public or private schools in the United States who have a unique idea for integrating technology into their curriculum. Each applicant—there were five winners last year—can apply for up to $2,500. Projects that can be replicated in other schools are preferred. Project proposals may still be in the “idea” stage, as long as your application explains how the grant will enable you to initiate your project. Grants may be used for computer-related equipment, ancillary products that help accomplish the goals of the project, or salaries for personnel involved in the project. One winner last year was a project in which middle school students filmed each other performing physical activities and used computers to analyze movement, caloric use, and related issues.

Deadline: Dec. 1

http://familypc.zdnet.com/learning/mathscience/fea ture/2000grants/index.html

**NEW THIS MONTH**

Projecting Education Grants

These grants from Proxima Corp. are intended to measure and document the effectiveness of multimedia projection use in the classroom. The program will reward outstanding educators from four categories—K-8, 9-12, community college, and university—with $1,000 in cash, plus a Proxima multimedia projector. For consideration, entrants must submit a proposal to Proxima that details a measurable plan to use a multimedia projector in the classroom to increase learning or behavioral results. The four category winners will be announced Dec. 15.

Deadline: Dec. 1

Contact: grant@proxima.com

http://www.proxima.com/grant

Coca-Cola Foundation Grants

The Coca-Cola Foundation has three focuses for its philanthropic giving, one of which is support of innovative classroom teaching and learning in K-12 schools. In total, the foundation gave nearly $11.5 million in 1999 and $12.5 million in 1998. The foundation looks especially favorably upon programs that are small and well-targeted—e.g., helping elementary and secondary students with a particular issue, such as civil rights or the environment. Funds also can be applied toward tuition for training that will result in new instructional techniques in the classroom. Public and private school educators serving children of all ages may apply for these grants. Although the monetary size of grants varies considerably, a quick review of successful applicants from the past two years indicates that $5,000 to $25,000 is typical.

Deadline: Quarterly, with next deadline Dec. 1

http://www.cocacolacompany.com/ foundation/index.html

NCTM Scholarships

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics will award two grants of up to $2,000 each to math teachers who are seeking to improve their professional competence. Proposals can include requests for funds to take professional development courses or to work on projects to improve a mathematics curriculum. Equipment purchases are acceptable only if they directly support the proposed plan. There are two grant programs—one for teachers in grades K-6 (in honor of Ernest Duncan) and one for teachers in grades 7-12 (in honor of Mary Doliciani). Be sure you apply for the proper one. In each case, the grant is open to all public and private school math teachers with three or more years of experience in teaching a particular grade level. A similar program, titled the Leonard Pappas Incentive Grant, will make two $2,000 awards to support the development of math enrichment materials or lessons detailing an innovative teaching unit; computer programs and videotapes are specifically cited in the grant announcement as eligible. For any of these grants, applicants must submit two-page typed proposals describing the project, its cost, and how it will lead to personal and professional growth that will enhance student learning.

Deadline: Dec. 5

http://www.nctm.org/about/met/doliciani.htm

http://www.nctm.org/about/met/duncan.htm

http://www.nctm.org/about/met/pappas.htm

Magnet School Assistance Program

This Department of Education program has a very specific purpose that substantially limits eligibility of applicants. It is open only to local educational agencies and consortia of such agencies to support magnet schools that are part of approved desegregation plans. These grants will support programs that enhance the ability of magnet schools to attract and retain minority students, and magnet schools using technology as a draw have been successful applicants in the past. Grant recipients will receive substantial awards—$200,000 to $3 million per year for up to three years—from this program that is budgeted for FY 2001 at $92 million. As many as 60 awards will be made.

Deadline: Dec. 22

http://gcs.ed.gov/fedreg/grantann/ q300/073100b.txt

January

Growth Initiatives for Teachers

This program was administered by the GTE Foundation until GTE and Bell Atlantic merged to become Verizon earlier this year. It’s now administered by the Verizon Foundation, though little else has changed. The program encourages innovative math and science teaching by providing 140 outstanding secondary school educators with funds for professional development activities and hands-on classroom projects. Teams of full-time science and math teachers in grades seven through 12 (grade six, if from a middle or junior high school) in public and private U.S. schools may apply. Each team must consist of one science teacher and one math teacher from the same school. Applicants must propose a school enrichment project that integrates math and science into classroom activities and uses technology in an innovative way. Each winning team shares a $15,000 grant—$8,000 to implement the project and $3,500 for professional development activities for each team member.

Deadline: Jan. 14

Contact: (800) 315-5010 or gift@verizon.com

http://foundation.verizon.com/04010_a.html

Toyota TAPESTRY Grants

The 2001 Toyota TAPESTRY program, sponsored by Toyota Motor Sales and administered by the National Science Teachers Association, will award 50 grants of up to $10,000 each to K-12 science teachers. Interested teachers should propose innovative science projects that can be implemented in their school or district during a one-year period. Winning projects must demonstrate creativity, involve risk-taking, possess a visionary quality, and model a novel way of presenting science. Successful grant-winning projects, such as a mobile observatory to study light pollution and an interactive paleontology lab, often include the use of technology.

Deadline: Jan. 18

(800) 807-9852

http://www.nsta.org/programs/tapestry

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Start planning now for this highly competitive technology grant

If you’ve been following the news about President Clinton’s proposed budget for 2001 (or you attended the eSchool News Grants & Funding for School Technology conference Sept. 14-15 in Philadelphia), then you already know that one of the most well-known (and most competitive) federal grant programs will be making a comeback if the budget passes as proposed—the Technology Innovation Challenge Grants program.

The grants would fall under the Next Generation Technology Innovation program with proposed funding of $170 million and actually would combine the Star Schools program and the Technology Innovation Challenge Grants. Why bring this up now? To support my constant recommendation to grant seekers that you practice “proactive grant-seeking” at every opportunity by planning in advance for this potential competition.

If you already submitted a Technology Innovation Challenge Grant proposal that didn’t get funded, get the proposal and your reviewers’ comments out and get ready to start working as soon as you find out if—and when—the competition will be held next year. I can guarantee you that if you wait until the request for proposals (RFP) is released sometime next year before you begin working on a proposal, you will be hard-pressed to submit a competitive one. Why? For several reasons, based on prior Technology Innovation Challenge Grant competitions and the administration’s current trends in federal technology funding.

The Technology Innovation Challenge Grants were multi-year grants worth millions of dollars. Although no minimum requirement for matching funds was stipulated in past RFPs, conversations with prior grantees give you some idea of the level of matching funds. For example, a grantee that I know from New England told me they secured a matching gift (in the form of cash or in-kind contributions) from every business that was located in their community. It literally took a team of staff members six months to make the visits required to secure these matching funds—but all of their diligence and hard work obviously paid off, as they received a $10 million grant!

Some Technology Innovation Challenge Grant winners have shown as high as a six-to-one ratio of matching funds. Keep in mind that matching funds do not have to be all cash, but it will take some time to secure this level of contribution if you plan to have a competitive proposal.

The Technology Innovation Challenge Grants also required applicants to form a collaborative partnership and stipulated in the RFP what the suggested membership of such a partnership should be—a mix of public and private schools, higher education institutions, libraries, museums, businesses, and software developers. Although we still don’t know whether this will be a requirement once again, you can probably count on it, given the current emphasis on collaboration in the grant-seeking world. It will take both time and effort to form this kind of broad-based partnership, so the earlier you can start, the better.

With the current emphasis on evaluation at the federal level, I would also surmise that this will be an integral part of the next competition. Presently, the administration is looking for proof that the integration of technology into the classroom is having a significant impact on student achievement and learning. In many RFPs, you now see references to “research-based solutions” to problems; the implication is that you will be using this type of model to try to solve the problems you are experiencing.

In July 1999, the United States Department of Education (ED) held a two-day conference entitled “Evaluating the Effectiveness of Educational Technology.” According to an article that appeared last year in eSchool News, Linda Roberts, the special advisor to President Clinton on educational technology, said that much of the evidence of success up to this point has been anecdotal as opposed to empirical.

At the conference, two recent studies were highlighted that emphasize the kind of evaluations ED is looking for—one in Idaho and one in West Virginia (see sidebar, page 17). If you are planning to apply for one of these grants, I would pay very close attention to these two studies and to the outcomes of the conference!

So, if you think you want to apply for this grant, my advice is to stay on top of the passage of the 2001 budget, find out if the program will be funded, and start taking a serious look at its past competitions now.

“Evaluating the Effectiveness of Educational Technology” conference

http://www.ed.gov/Technology/TechConf/1999

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Computers allow an Idaho district to give ‘adaptive’ tests

An Idaho district has become one of the first in the nation to adopt a computerized testing system that allows for “adaptive testing” and actually measures academic growth from year to year.

Using a test created by the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA), Meridian School District is attempting to collect useful and timely information about students’ growth in specific subjects.

NWEA recently extended the power of paper-and-pencil achievement tests to the modern computing environment with its electronically administered Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) tests. Results from the computerized tests can measure academic growth for individual students, classrooms, schools, and districts.

According to NWEA spokeswoman Ellen Berg, the organization “started as a grass roots effort to change education through the better use of assessment data.” Today, it works with 25 states and more than 400 school districts nationwide.

NWEA does not do any type of advertising. “Our intent as an organization is to make a difference in public education. We just want to bring educators accurate data and encourage public accountability,” said Allan Olson, its president and executive director.

Meridian was very receptive to the values that NWEA brought to the table, he said.

“Meridian schools have always been very committed to change in how they deliver learning to children. Once they heard of our work, they decided that they wanted to bring about that change based on real data,” Olson said.

Three years ago, Meridian began using the paper-and-pencil Achievement Level Test in third through ninth grade. This year, the district adopted the computerized MAP test to test students in reading, math, language, and science.

“Adaptive tests build a customized test for each child as that child is being tested,” Olson said. “It is programmed to select each question based on the child’s answers to all prior questions.”

Meridian’s director of instruction, Linda Clark, is enthusiastic about the benefits of the twice-yearly MAP testing.

“There are three main benefits to [our] moving to the MAP test,” she said. “First, on the paper-and-pencil test we often had to administer a ‘locator’ test to determine where a student stood in a subject if [he or she was] new to the district. That function is already embedded in the MAP test. Also, if a test was too easy or too hard for a student, we had to do a re-test, but this automatically adjusts to [the student’s] level.

“The second benefit is that students respond really well to the questions. I saw no test anxiety at all,” Clark said. “Finally, this test gives us great data. It measures student growth and there is a quick turnaround. We usually administer a test during the first couple weeks of school, and this way teachers get results early in the year so they can use that data to guide instruction.”

Another benefit, according to Olson, is that teachers have input on these tests. “They can select questions from our bank of questions, and unlike tests [such as] the Stanford-9 or the Iowa Test of Basic Skills [ITBS], it is almost impossible to ‘teach to the test,'” he said.

“We’ve been doing level testing for three years now and we’re just sold on it. We are excited to move on to the next level with the MAP program,” said Clark. “Level testing helps us to operate from a basis of information, rather that just thinking ‘This is a good program.’ We now have actual measures of a program’s health, and we can make sure every kid is moving through the curriculum. It’s really about informed decision-making.”

According to Olson, Meridian helped beta-test the MAP system in May and June, then installed it for actual use over the summer.

In the 2000-01 school year, Meridian plans to use the MAP test in various subjects for students in grades three to 11. The district still will administer the ITBS and the Test of Achievement and Proficiency (TAP) in third, seventh, and 11th grades.

NWEA can build a test directly for an individual district, or it can deliver a test that has been specifically designed to fulfill the district’s state standards of learning, Olson said. The fee structure varies, depending on the type of test a district wants.

“The start-up fee involved if we design a custom test and train employees is usually around $12,000,” he said. “We estimate that the fee averages about $4.25 per student, per test, and we use that figure as a basis for establishing a fee. There are a lot of variables related to cost.”

“Financially, it is feasible. There is no up-front cost for test development, and the per-pupil cost is reasonable,” said Clark.

Training for administering the computerized test usually lasts just one day. “It is fairly simple, but we want to make sure people get it right,” Olson said.

According to Clark, Meridian uses a “train the trainer” model, in which NWEA trains a group of educators who go back to their campuses and train others. “It is really just a matter of showing teachers how to use the computer system and understand the administration of it, like uploading tests and giving reports,” she added.

Responses have been positive at Meridian, by all accounts.

“Reactions on the part of teachers, administrators, board members, and so forth have been overwhelmingly supportive. It’s the first time they have had useful data on children’s academic growth,” Olson said.

“Teachers and administrators can use this information to find out which programs are producing growth and which are not. They’ve never had that data before, and it creates a healthy discussion about program reform.”

Meridian Schools

http://www.meridianschools.org

Northwest Evaluation Association

http://www.nwea.org

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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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netwatch

Curriculum

“NotationStation” sounds like music to our ears

http://www.notationstation.net

NotationStation.net, by the Philadelphia-based music portal company GVOX, was developed with a simple goal in mind—to provide music teachers with a free and easy way to publish their music lessons online, and to offer kids an exciting new way to learn and experience music. Divided into teacher, student, and parent sections, NotationStation.net is an easy-to-use interactive learning center that revolutionizes the way music is taught. Teachers can use this site to create customized music lessons for kids, and students can use it to create online compositions, free of charge through the MusicTime Online service. To get the full benefit of the NotationStation.net service, however, educators must sign up for their own class space on the site. Benefits of signing up include a personalized class site that provides the teacher with unlimited space for posting lessons and notation files. Students can access those 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 allows students to 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. In addition, free MusicTime Deluxe software—normally a $69 value—allows teachers to view and create files offline.

“Firstgov.gov”: A web site of the people, by the people, for the people

http://www.firstgov.gov

In an internet webcast in September, President Clinton announced the launch of a new one-stop government web site for all citizens.

“Computers and the internet are revolutionizing the way we work, live, relate to each other and the rest of the world. They also have the potential to fundamentally transform and improve the way government serves the American people,” he said. The purpose of this web site, according to Clinton, is to allow users—overwhelmed with the 27 million web pages of government information now—to link to the Federal Information Service or any government service quickly and easily. Users can log on without having to know the name of the agency or the program that offers the specific service they are looking for. “So, go to www.firstgov.gov, and you’re just a few mouse clicks away from web sites where you can apply for student loans or reserve a camp ground in a national park,” Clinton said. The site, created by Dr. Eric Brewer of Inktomi, uses one of the private sector’s most successful search engine technologies. “Out of gratitude and patriotism, [Brewer] developed and donated the search engine for firstgov.gov,” Clinton said. It’s a great site for civics and government teachers, as well as teachers of all subjects.

“Never Again”: Fifth-graders explore the subject of slavery

http://www.africana.com/slavery

When Eric Ensey discovered that his history textbook contained only three pages on slavery, the Seattle elementary school teacher got his fifth-grade class to create an online project that explored the subject in greater depth. This well-put-together site features all original content written by Ensey’s students. Their work has been picked up by one of the nation’s leading web sites on African American culture, Africana.com, and has received attention from other schools and researchers from Tennessee to South Africa. The work of the 27 students and their teacher includes essays and drawings about African Americans and the heroic deeds of people such as Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and Abraham Lincoln. The site also addresses topics such as the trans-Atlantic slave trade and the daily life of slaves. The students’ work caught the attention of a teacher in South Africa, and Ensey’s class is starting a pen pal project with the school overseas.

“A Biography of America” personifies

the country’s experience

http://www.learner.org/biographyofamerica

Created by Annenberg/CPB—a partnership between the Annenberg Foundation and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) dedicated to using telecommunications media to advance excellent teaching in American schools—this web site is based on the PBS series A Biography of America and its 26 chronological video programs but can be used independently as a rich resource for students and teachers at all levels. The site shares its primary goal with the Biography of America series: to help promote critical thinking skills among teachers and students. Each of the chronological sections on the web site lists key events of the time period covered, a map relevant to the era, a transcript of the video program from the original series, an extensive bibliography, and an annotated set of links. In addition, four interactive features tell the American story in a clear and authoritative way. “Image as History” activities help viewers interpret historical paintings, drawings, photographs, or maps. “You Decide” scenarios allow visitors to participate in debates in which authentic arguments from historical sources help guide the final outcome. “Interactive Maps” illustrate the geographic, infrastructure, and demographic changes that have occurred in America. “Interactive Timelines” allow visitors to compare and contrast thematically-based timelines.

“Life on the Rocky Shore” pools together valuable resources

http://library.thinkquest.org/J001418

“Life on the Rocky Shore” contains so much information—and is so easy to use—that it almost seems impossible that kids created it. But, according to Alex, one of the site’s designers and creators, “My name is Alex and I am in the fifth grade. I am ten years old and I like to play PokËmon on my Gameboy. I live about 20 miles away from the beach and that is why I wanted to do [this] ThinkQuest [entry] on tide pools.” This web site, created for the international ThinkQuest Junior web site design contest, helps students explore tide pools and learn more about oceans and the creatures within. Activities range from interactive quizzes to ideas for a paper mache tide pool. Several tide tables and links to major aquariums are included. Categories such as Animals, Tides, Tide Pool Safety, and Activities allow young users to explore all areas on this fascinating ecosystem in their own terms. It’s a great site for teaching elementary and middle school earth science.

Leadership

Research and management resources for the K-12 decision maker

“Teacher Radio” airs news and advice for educators

http://teacher.scholastic.com/teacherradio/index.a sp

Global children’s publishing and media company Scholastic Inc. recently announced the launch of Teacher Radio, a half-hour, magazine style program that airs Monday through Thursday via the internet. Each show focuses on topics of interest to teachers, including interviews with authors and education experts (such as math expert Marilyn Burns), advice and inspiring stories from fellow teachers, humor from the classroom, news about education, and reviews of books and educational software. The program’s hosts are Nina Jaffe, faculty member of the Bank Street College of Education and an internationally-known storyteller, and Lou Giansante, a Peabody award-winning radio producer and former educator. The show can be heard each day at the listener’s convenience using streaming audio technology, or you can listen to past shows from the site’s archive.

Encourage technology use among girls with “Girlstart.org”

http://www.girlstart.org

Girlstart, formerly SmartGrrls, is an Austin, Texas-based nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting math, science, and technology-related skills for girls from age one on. The group’s redesigned site features homework help, a birthday club, fun and games, smart stuff experiments, and a “For Parents” section. According to the site’s creators, Girlstart provides a supportive and empowering atmosphere in which girls perform hands-on experiments with robots, microscopes, environmental science, math, engineering, and technology. After-school and Saturday technology camps are held on-site at the group’s Girls Technology Center in Austin for girls ages 10 to 14 (unless otherwise noted in specific program descriptions). Girlstart affiliate programs usually are held on middle school campuses and target girls in grades six through eight. Details about the group’s various programs can be found by clicking on the links provided at the site.

“State Test Prep Center” gets high marks for its usefulness

http://www.smarterkids.com/state/default.asp

A survey of parents with children ages 7-15 enrolled in public school revealed that while most parents understand the importance of standardized testing, many are confused about the details. For example, more than 30 percent of parents did not know when, or if, their kids were scheduled to take standardized tests this year. Online educational store SmarterKids.com, which commissioned the study, has responded by providing what it calls “the first free online test prep center on the web,” giving parents and educators essential standardized testing information for all 50 states. The State Test Prep Center features easy-to-use tools, timely information, and a forum where parents can pose questions about standardized testing to SmarterKids.com’s assessment experts. Parents also can enter their child’s test scores to get personalized product recommendations for helping their child improve specific skills in preparation for upcoming testing. The site heavily markets software and other teaching aids, but the TestFacts section is a great resource for educators to send to parents who are curious about state tests.

Learn to use the internet in class

with Dell’s “The Web School”

http://www.dell.com/thewebschool

The Web School is Dell’s newest addition to its K-12 site, an online resource for educators who want to go back to school (virtually) to expand their knowledge of the internet and its uses within the classroom. The Web School is designed to help teachers jump-start their creative thinking about ways to bring classroom instruction to life. Educators who enroll are given a resource to help them learn the internet in order to conduct research, develop lesson plans, and facilitate classroom discussions. Dell developed the Web School after a recent Dell-commissioned study determined that students believe the internet will have a significant impact on their professional lives. The company hopes to bring teachers along in the internet learning curve so they, in turn, can help students prepare for careers that undoubtedly will require some use of technology and the internet.

“Quia.com” is a clearinghouse of educational material

http://www.quia.com

Quia is pronounced key-uh and is short for “Quintessential Instructional Archive.” This research site provides a variety of educational services, including a directory of thousands of online games and quizzes in more than 40 subject areas and templates for creating online games such as flashcards, matching, concentration, word search, and hangman. The site also includes information on tools for creating online quizzes, quiz administration and reporting tools, and free teacher home pages. Quia claims to help teachers teach better by giving them the tools to create, customize, and share learning activities, and it helps students learn more by bringing the resources of hundreds of thousands of educators together in one place. According to Quia Corp. President Paul Mishkin, “Our goal was to create a resource on the internet where teachers can create their own instructional material and share it with other educators.” Activities already available on the site range from lessons in Chinese, to medicine, to music, to geography.

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Falling school sales shove Apple stocks into nose dive

Some educators worried about the future of Apple Computer in the K-12 market after the company’s stock price plummeted by more than half its value Sept. 29. The drop followed the company’s warning that its fourth-quarter earnings would be substantially below expectations. Sluggish education sales during the back-to-school month of September–when Apple’s computer sales traditionally peak–were a key factor, according to a company statement.

Apple indicated it expected to report revenues between $1.85 and $1.90 billion and earnings per share between $.30 and $.33 when actual results were announced Oct. 18. Before the warning, Wall Street analysts surveyed by First Call/Thomson Financial had projected the computer maker’s earnings would be 45 cents per share. Those estimates were based on expected revenues of about $2.05 billion.

Shares of Apple stock fell from $53.50 to $25.75 on the Nasdaq market following the announcement.

In a company statement, Chief Financial Officer Fred Anderson cited three factors for Apple’s disappointing earnings: “First, we experienced lower-than-expected September sales due to a business slowdown in all geographies. Second, our education sales, which normally peak during September, were lower than expected. And third, our Power Mac G4 Cube is off to a slower-than-expected start. ”

The news from Apple has left some educators wondering about the company’s future in the K-12 marketplace.

According to Kathy Schrock, technology coordinator for the Dennis-Yarmouth Regional School District in Massachusetts, the first move she made when she accepted her position three-and-a-half years ago was to have the superintendent mandate that the district no longer purchase any Macintosh products.

“There were a couple of reasons behind my decision. The first was fiscal–I did not think we could effectively support computers that had proprietary parts and pieces and were expensive to maintain, ” she said. “The other, more important reason, is that I felt … we should be using real-world hardware in the schools–what the students have at home and what they are likely to encounter in the next few years in the workplace. ”

Dell spokesman Dean Kline agreed: “We think there is a recognition among educators and IT professionals buying for education that students getting out of school will be using Windows-based platforms, and they are spending their dollars in a way that indicates that. ”

In October 1999, Dell released a statement saying it had surpassed Apple and secured the No. 1 position in sales of personal computers to U.S. schools, according to figures from market research firm Dataquest. These figures were based on unit shipments, but they were hotly contested by Apple officials.

In a company press release, Apple said Dell’s claims of being the education sales leader rely on vendor and channel surveys and do not fully account for Apple’s large direct sales to education. Apple cited figures from Quality Education Data’s “Technology Purchasing Forecast 1999-2000” and a separate market study by International Data Corp. to counter Dell’s claims.

Kline refused to say whether Dell’s September 2000 education sales outpaced the company’s sales during the same month last year. But George Warren, director of K-12 marketing for Compaq Computer, said his company expects to see significant growth in the education market this year.

“We estimate a 40 to 60 percent increase in our K-12 sales this year, ” he said. “I think the most recent numbers say the market is growing at 10 or 11 percent, and of course we want to stay above the market growth, but it just seems we have had a fabulous year. ”

According to Warren, final figures for Compaq’s K-12 sales this year will be released in January. At Apple, the going was rougher.

“We’ve clearly hit a speed bump, which will result in our earning … approximately $110 million rather than the expected $165 million for the September quarter, ” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s chief executive. “Though this slowdown is disappointing, we have so many wonderful new products and programs in the pipeline–including Mac OS X early next year–and remain positive about our future.”

Apple Computer Corp.

http://www.apple.com

Dell Computer Corp.

http://www.dell.com

Compaq Computer Corp.

http://www.compaq.com

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