Commission delivers plan for improving educational technology

The Congressional Web-based Education Commission, a bipartisan federal panel charged with making recommendations on the future of educational technology, unveiled the results of more than a year of testimony and research at a Washington, D.C., press conference on Dec. 19, 2000.

In its report, the commission called upon President-elect George W. Bush and the 107th Congress to embrace seven goals—including broadband access, technology training and support, further research, high-quality online content, and sustained funding—as the centerpiece for U.S. education policy.

Entitled “The Power of the Internet for Learning,” the report outlines the promise of the internet in education, namely “to center learning around the student instead of the classroom, to focus on the strengths and needs of individual learners, [and] to make lifelong learning a practical reality.”

“We must immediately put to rest the notion that the full development of web-based technology for education is a choice,” said Sen. Bob Kerrey, D.-Neb., chairman of the commission. Kerrey left the Senate at the conclusion of the 106th Congress.

“The internet is revolutionizing all parts of society, but its impact on education is just beginning to be understood. We believe that a national mobilization is necessary to ensure that the tremendous potential of this new technology is harnessed to benefit all learners,” Kerrey added.

According to the commission, testimony revealed that while progress is being made in educational technology, it has not kept up with the exponential growth of technology in industry.

Commissioners discovered that while companies in the United States invest as much as $5,500 in technology and support per worker, the typical American school spends no more than $200 per student on technology.

“Our economy demands a technology-savvy workforce,” Kerrey said.

During the past year, the commission received testimony from hundreds of people who testified personally or as online “eWitnesses.”

“Overwhelmingly, what we heard from these witnesses is that technology offers tremendous opportunity for education and we should not squander this opportunity,” stated Kerrey.

The report outlined the commission’s seven-point call to action and made recommendations for government, education, and industry. Here are the seven recommendations:

  • Make powerful new internet resources, especially broadband access, widely and equitably available and affordable for all learners. The report identifies greater bandwidth, expansion of broadband and wireless computing, digital convergence, and low connectivity costs as important and potentially pivotal trends for web-based education.

  • Provide continuous and relevant training and support for educators and administrators at all levels. “In my home state of Georgia, and I’d assume in many states, we have more hardware and software than we do teachers trained to use it,” said vice chair Rep. Johnny Isakson, a Republican. The report also urges teacher education programs to begin teaching effective web-based education skills.

  • Build and research a framework of how people learn in the internet age. The report calls for a “vastly expanded, revitalized, and reconfigured educational research, development, and innovation program” that “should be built on a deeper understanding of how people learn, how new tools support and assess learning gains, what kinds of organizational structures support these gains, and what is needed to keep the field of learning moving forward.”

  • Develop high-quality online educational content that meets the highest standards of educational excellence. Pat Schroeder, former U.S. congresswoman and current president and CEO of the Association of American Publishers, said, “It’s shocking to see that less than 1 percent of the national education budget goes to content.” Schroeder went on to express a hope for the future of electronic texts in America’s classrooms. “With electronic texts, we can keep content up to date forever.”

  • Revise outdated regulations that impede innovation and replace them with approaches that embrace anytime, anywhere, and any pace learning. According to Isakson, “Many of the rules and regulations we have today are designed for an educational world with geographical boundaries. They are simply not relevant any more.” Copyright issues are one item in particular the commission thinks may be incompatible with internet learning; another is using seat-time to determine education funding. “Those laws were written for a site-based world,” said Schroeder.

  • Protect online learners and ensure their privacy. According to the report, the internet carries with it danger as well as promise: “Advertising can interfere with the learning process—and privacy can be endangered when data [are] collected from users of online materials.”

  • Sustain funding—via traditional and new sources—that is adequate to the challenge at hand. “Technology is expensive, and web-based learning is no exception,” the report said. Anne Bryant, executive director of the National School Boards Association, cited the eRate as one successful federal program that has helped students across the country connect to the internet. “It’s made a huge impact so far,” she said. “This year, we had an almost $5 billion dollar demand” for the program, which provides discounts to schools for telecommunications service and internet access. Approximately half of that amount actually was awarded. The commission estimated that all other federal funding for technology totals $1.5 billion; this figure includes targeted programs (such as Preparing Tomorrow’s Teachers to Use Technology) as well as “traditional” federal programs (such as Title 1 grants).

“The Power of the Internet for Learning” also shows there are troubling gaps in access to the internet, leaving millions of Americans lagging behind with outdated and inadequate technology—or none at all.

Commissioners cited the testimony of James Vines, a senior at Cardozo High School in Washington, D.C., taking classes using computers and the internet.

“If it wasn’t for my classes at school, I probably wouldn’t know the difference between a mouse and a monitor. My [computer] classes have given me many skills I need for the future,” he said.

During the question-and-answer segment of the press event, Colleen Cordes, a founding member of the group Alliance for Childhood, asked whether it was appropriate or financially responsible to put computers in the hands of younger children. The Alliance for Childhood recently called for a moratorium on investing in technology for elementary-aged students, citing a lack of conclusive research on the impact of technology-based education on younger children.

“We effectively have a moratorium … now, so [the Alliance for Childhood] should declare victory and go home,” said Kerrey. “You can take the most technology-rich school in America, and it pales in comparison to [the technological capacity of] any private-sector company.”

“I’m not sure if a pre-school child should be left alone with a crayon, much less a computer,” said Rep. Chaka Fattah, D.-Pa., another commission member. But “any notion that we should retreat from efforts to ensure that all children have equal access to computers” is counterproductive, he said.

Panelists agreed that more research is essential to the further development of web-based education, and they urged accountability in schools.

“We believe strongly in accountability in Texas,” said commissioner Jack Christie. Christie was the senior education advisor to President-elect George W. Bush during his term as governor of Texas.

“We are involved in multiple projects now to test and see if what we’re doing with technology has helped to improve education,” he said.

Linda Roberts, director of the Department of Education’s Office of Education Technology, agreed: “There is compelling research that children of all ages can benefit from the appropriate use of technology. But it is not a silver bullet. It all depends on the way we use technology to enhance education.”

Roberts also said the Web-based Education Commission’s report coincides nicely with the recently revised national ed-tech plan, announced earlier in December by Education Secretary Richard Riley, which contained similar goals.

“This is a rallying call” for the new ed-tech plan, she said. “The commission’s report is an invaluable framework for moving forward.”

Agreed Fattah, “We want to take these policy guidelines and make them real in the halls of Congress.”


Web-based Education Commission

National School Boards Association

U. S. Department of Education


Feds pass school filtering mandate; ACLU vows to sue

Schools and libraries must begin using internet filtering software next year to protect children from pornography or risk losing federal money, thanks to a mandate approved by Congress Dec. 15 and signed into law by President Clinton a week later.

“We are signing it with some reticence,” White House spokeswoman Jennifer Smith said of the filtering mandate, which appeared as an amendment attached to the education spending bill. Smith explained that Clinton okayed the filtering mandate because the spending bill was long overdue.

The new law has many school and library associations and free-speech advocates up in arms.

“This is a mandated censorship system by the federal government,” said Chris Hansen, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which plans to sue in an effort to block the law.

In a 292 to 60 vote, Congress passed the Children’s Internet Protection Act—sponsored by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., Rep. Ernest Istook, R-Okla., and Rep. Chip Pickering, R-Miss.—as part of the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education appropriations bill (H.R.4577), also referred to as Labor HHS.

The law, which amends the Telecommunications Act of 1996, makes schools or libraries ineligible for federal eRate funding unless they certify to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that they (1) have chosen to use a technology that filters or blocks access to material that is obscene or pornographic and (2) are enforcing its use when minors use the computers.

“Parents can protect their children from internet smut at home but have no control over the computers at school,” McCain said. “This legislation allows local communities to decide what technology they want to use and what to filter out, so that our children’s minds aren’t polluted.”

Supporters of the law argue that it ensures children will be protected from internet content that is harmful to minors, especially as the number of computers in schools and libraries increases.

“As parents, elected officials, teachers, and members of the community, it is our responsibility to provide a safe and responsible learning environment in our schools and libraries,” Santorum said. “It is especially important to give communities the flexibility to develop and tailor internet-use policies to suit the needs and resources of the local community.”

But opponents say the law creates an “unfunded mandate” and treads on the ability of local school boards to make their own decisions.

“We think it’s a travesty. It ignores what really needs to be done in schools, which is education,” said Claudette Tennant, assistant director of the American Library Association’s Office of Government Relations.

Tennant said the responsibility of managing internet content shouldn’t be turned over to a piece of machinery, because this will provide a false sense of security in schools.

“Filtering is not the only—or best—way to provide children a safe and positive experience on the internet,” Tennant said. “This tramples on the local decision-making of authorities.”

Barbara Stein, senior policy analyst on education technology issues for the National Education Association, called the law a “mandate that doesn’t seem to come from any need.”

The group’s experience shows that educators are comfortable with the responsibility of managing internet content, she said, and they don’t need the federal government to come in and tell them how to do their job.

“From what we hear—and we represent almost two and half million people—school districts are addressing this and involving the community in making these decisions,” Stein said. “We take child safety and security very seriously. We have the sense that school districts and communities and parents and teachers and school administrators are handling this successfully.”

Under the law, school and library administrators are free to choose any filtering or blocking system that would best fit their community standards and local needs. They also can determine what matter is inappropriate for minors and will be blocked.

The FCC is charged with determining when schools and libraries must be certified under the new law. If schools do not comply with the law, they are required to reimburse each telecommunications carrier in an amount equal to the universal service discounts they have received.

The law is “going to be a huge strain on already scarce resources,” Tennant said. Lawmakers do allow funds from a few existing programs to be used for filtering technologies, but this funding is not adequate, she said: “They’re stealing from other programs, in essence, to do this.”

Schools may use funds under Title I or Title III of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and libraries may use funds available under the Museum and Library Services Act, to cover the cost of the new mandate.

The law also directs the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to evaluate whether currently available commercial filtering software adequately addresses the needs of schools and libraries.

The ACLU vowed to challenge the law in court. Because filtering programs can be so restrictive and overreaching, the group said, these programs significantly reduce the amount and diversity of speech and information available to individuals.

“This is the first time since the development of the local, free public library in the 19th century that the federal government has sought to require censorship in every single town and hamlet in America,” ACLU’s Hansen said. “More than 100 years of local control of libraries and the strong tradition of allowing adults to decide for themselves what they want to read is being casually set aside.”

Supporters believe the law will withstand a court challenge. “We drafted it to make sure it was constitutional,” said John Albaugh, chief of staff for Rep. Istook.

The ACLU is “going to have show it’s unconstitutional,” said Craig Wood, a partner at the McGuire Woods law firm in Charlottesville, Va. He thinks it’s a long shot. “The federal government for a long time has used federal financial aid to control local policy.”

In protest to the law, the civil liberties group Peacefire, which has found that several dozen web sites of candidates for Congress have been blocked by what it calls “censorware,” has posted software on its web site that it claims will disable most popular filtering software systems.

N2H2 Inc., the leading provider of filtering solutions to K-12 districts and creator of the Bess filtering system, has created a new web resource called to help schools and libraries understand the new filtering legislation, according to Jim O’Halloran, N2H2’s director of product marketing.

The Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), a nonprofit organization that promotes the use of technology to improve K-12 learning, has developed a web site, called “Safeguarding the Wired Schoolhouse,” that helps school leaders understand their technological options for managing the content that students obtain over the internet.


White House

American Civil Liberties Union

Sen. John McCain

Sen. Rick Santorum

American Library Association

National Education Association

McGuire Woods Law Firm


Filtering Info

Safe Guarding the Wired Schoolhouse


Tech funding nearly $3 billion in record ED budget

Funding earmarked exclusively for technology in the U.S. Department of Education budget increased by $106 million for fiscal 2001, to a total of $872 million. Factor in federal programs whose funds can be used for technology-related initiatives, such as facilities renovation and after-school programs, and the total amount of federal funding available for school technology in 2001 soars to more than $2.8 billion.

The 2001 budget includes a $25 million increase in the Technology Literacy Challenge Fund, to $450 million. This program gives block grants to the states for funding local school districts purchases of computers, internet access, training, and software.

It also includes $125 million for the Preparing Tomorrow’s Teachers to Use Technology program—a $50 million increase over 2000 funding—and $65 million for the Community-based Technology Centers program, double last year’s funding.

The new budget also funds the Star Schools program at $59 million and the Technology Innovation Challenge Grants program at $136 million. President Clinton’s proposed budget would have eliminated these two programs in favor of a new $170 million initiative called Next-Generation Technology Innovation.

“We are very pleased with the budget we’ve gotten,” said Linda Roberts, White House advisor on educational technology. “This is going to really help us follow up on the recommendations of the Web-based Education Commission.”

The congressional commission that Roberts referred to outlined a seven-step plan in December for using the internet to enhance learning opportunities.

Total funding for the U.S. Department of Education increased by $6.5 billion in FY 2001, breaking all records. “With this budget, we have now increased funding for the Department of Education by 76 percent since 1993—and targeted that funding to programs that work,” Clinton said in a Dec. 15 statement. Federal spending on educational technology is up more than 3,500 percent from 1993, when it was only $23 million.

“This budget tops eight years of commitment to education with dramatic new investment in our nation’s schools,” Clinton said. “This includes an historic $1.2 billion initiative to help renovate classrooms in thousands of school districts across the country. It includes the largest increases ever in funding for the Head Start program. It nearly doubles funding for after-school programs—the largest increase ever. It increases by 25 percent funding to meet our goal of hiring 100,000 new, highly qualified teachers to reduce class size in the early grades.”

Some education programs are funded for the first time this year, including that $1.2 billion to repair and renovate America’s schools.

“Although I continue to believe that the primary responsibility for school renovation belongs to states and school districts, Congress was able to reach agreement with the Clinton administration on this issue,” said Bill Goodling, R-Pa., chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. “The legislation provides assistance to help states and schools comply with federal laws that mandate school building renovations, and the bill also allows for emergency repairs that are needed to protect students’ safety.”

Under the proposal, $1.2 billion would be distributed to states under the Title I formula, with 75 percent of the funds allocated to schools for one-time competitive grants for renovation. A portion of those funds will be targeted to high-poverty and rural schools. The remaining 25 percent of funds will be distributed through competitive grants for use under IDEA or for school technology improvements, at the discretion of the district.

“I believe this legislation as a whole is an outstanding accomplishment that will help improve education in America,” Goodling said.

Funding for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, which supports after-school programs (including technology-related activities), is now $846 million, nearly double last year’s $454 million. The class-size reduction initiative that will hire 100,000 additional teachers increased by 25 percent, to $1.6 billion.

Head Start, a program that serves 935,000 children, increased by $933 million to $6.2 billion—more than double what it received in 1993.

The budget also includes a $30 million increase for the Technology Opportunities Program (TOP), which is distributed by the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration. TOP funds innovative projects that strengthen local communities by fostering communication and collaboration through electronic networks. This year, funding for TOP will triple to $45.5 million.

The National Science Foundation will receive the largest one-year increase ever, $526 million, to pursue scientific breakthroughs in core scientific areas, as well as new ones like nano-technology.

The budget also provides $142 million for research, development, and support for programs to make information and communications technologies more accessible for people with disabilities and to make assistive technologies more affordable.


U.S. Department of Education’s FY 2001 Budget

White House


Web-based modules simplify reporting tasks for Georgia schools

A comprehensive, web-based software package, created specifically for the Georgia Department of Education (DOE), reportedly is saving Georgia school officials hundreds of hours in staff time as they submit their required reports to the state.

School administrators and state DOE officials are using the new system to track teacher and school employee certification; document and approve state and federal grant awards to Georgia schools; file annual financial reports; and plan for the expansion of school facilities, among other uses.

Bill Gambill, deputy state superintendent for finance and technology, believes Georgia’s web-based administrative system is the most comprehensive in the country.

The Georgia DOE recently conducted a telephone survey of other state departments of education to see what kinds of data they were collecting via the web, Gambill explained. “Based on the results of that survey, we saw that we were doing more online than any other state,” he said.

In 1997, the department contracted with IBM to bring the administrative functions of all the state’s school systems online. IBM subcontracted the work to Atlanta-based Enterprises Computing Services Inc. (ECS), which has created 11 modules to form a complete solution to the state’s data-collection needs.

“It is a gargantuan effort. I don’t think any vendor deals with the huge file uploads we deal with on a daily basis,” said Hari Iyer, chief executive officer of ECS.

“For example, if one district has 20,000 students, and there are at least 30 elements of data we have to collect on each student in order to comply with federal regulations, you can imagine the amount of data for all 180 districts. And that’s just one small element of what this program does,” Iyer added.

The system’s 11 modules include:

  • School facilities information, such as school names, addresses, grade ranges, and principals’ names.

  • Individual student records.

  • Full-Time Equivalency (FTE) records, which are used to determine state funding.

  • Certified Professionals Information (CPI), which tracks and validates teacher (and other professional) certifications, double-checking them against information in the state’s accreditation database.

  • Grants Accounting Online Reporting System, which requests, documents, approves, and tracks disbursement of federal and state grant awards for the state’s school districts.

  • Financial Review Module, which collects information on districts’ balance sheet revenues (like an automated checkbook) and helps district officials compile annual financial reports for the state DOE.

  • Quality Basic Education (QBE), which helps districts build “allotment sheets” showing their operating budgets. “We now have to do site allotment sheets for every school in the state—over 1,900 sites,” said Gambill. “These show the earnings for each school, for every aspect of school operations. The state can then test expenditures” against what the schools report they have received.

  • School Nutrition, which tracks meal counts and food service financial data for the national school lunch program, school breakfast program, after-school snack program, and special milk program.

  • Capital Outlay Planning, a scalable application designed for school facilities planners. It analyzes a district’s historical FTE data and other trends to determine its expansion needs up to five years in advance.

  • Payments. The FTE, school nutrition, and grants modules all generate information that determines how much funding each district should get from the state, and this module actually sends the money to the districts. “It converts information into dollars that are then transmitted to school system banks” automatically, Iyer said.

  • Teach Georgia, which posts job vacancies for all 180 school systems in the state. “Anyone can apply [for these job vacancies] online or post their resumes using this application,” Iyer said.

The first module to go online was the facilities information module, in 1997. This element was critical to the other applications, Iyer said, because all other applications—such as student records, grants accounting, and school nutrition—relate directly to the facilities module.

In 1998, ECS completed the CPI, FTE, student records, grants, and school nutrition modules. The following year, the company added the QBE and financial review modules, and Teach Georgia came online this past year. ECS added parts of the payments module as each of the applications driving it was completed.

The grant management portion of the program has been so well received in Georgia that ECS has decided to modify the product to the needs of other states, said Shekhar Iyer, ECS president and brother of Hari Iyer.

“Due to the overwhelming success of the electronic grants application … we decided to provide similar solutions to other states and school districts nationwide,” he said.

Georgia’s automated record-keeping system simplifies the reporting process, reduces paper, and allows data to be reported in a more timely manner, state DOE officials say.

“So far, the response has been great. End-of-year reports can be done much quicker, and the turn-around on district data is much faster,” said Gambill.

Faye Barnes, administrative assistant for technology and information services at Colquitt County Public Schools (K-12, enr. 8,400), said the system is “one of the best things the [state] Department of Education has done to make it easier for school systems to upload data.

“We also like it because we can get instant feedback, instead of waiting a week or two to find out if the data we submitted [were] free of errors,” she added.

Alana Bolin, the district’s comptroller, said the grants requisition module “is the best piece of software the state has ever come out with. It lists all the grants you’ve been awarded and you just go in and make monthly draw-downs. It has really streamlined the process and enabled us to consolidate. Now, we only have one person doing the [grants requisitioning], where before we had several.”

The statewide reporting system is not cheap, but according to Gambill, “There has been a great savings in manpower at local school districts. The web-based system we’ve developed with ECS also helps us to get more accurate data, which allows state funds flowing to the district to be more accurate.”

Gambill estimates the department has spent nearly $35 million since 1998 to develop the system, but part of that figure includes the cost of trying to implement a system from SAP, which the department subsequently abandoned. The project has required less money each year, as the development of new modules has been completed.

As far as the infrastructure necessary for districts to participate in the web-based state reporting system, Gambill said every district has installed T1 lines, paid for with state funds and eRate discounts.

“Our next initiative is to upgrade to broadband and get every school connected,” said Gambill.

At schools that still lack internet connections, officials “just [save the reports] on a disk and hand it over to their district. We call that ‘tennis-shoe transferal,'” said Gambill.

State officials hope the system will be a good source of information for the community. According to Gambill, people can view reported information about the schools in their area simply by looking on the department’s web site. “Anyone can access our summary data, once we post [them] on the web,” he said.

But Gambill explained that all personal information on the site is shielded from tampering through password-protected transmissions of data, encryption, and firewalls.

“Only authorized district personnel can make changes to district information. We maintain the database. If someone leaves the district, he or she must notify us—and only then do we issue the appropriate person a new password,” he said.

ECS and state DOE officials agree that educators are the ones who stand to gain the most from the program.

“What used to take months now takes days, and what used to take days now takes minutes,” Hari Iyer said.


Georgia Department of Education

Enterprises Computing Services Inc.

Colquitt County School District


Riley releases new national ed-tech goals

U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley released a new educational technology plan for the nation Dec. 15, just one month before the new Bush administration was to assume control of the executive branch and days before Congress was expected to finish the 2001 education budget.

“I invite Congress and the new administration to continue to support state and local education leaders in harnessing the best of the information age for education,” Riley said in a statement. “This is an opportunity for our children that the country cannot afford to miss.”

Riley set the nation’s first educational technology goals in 1996, called “Getting America’s Students Ready for the 21st Century: Meeting the Technology Literacy Challenge,” in response to significant technological innovations in the early 1990s.

Since the first educational technology goals were set, the nation has made tremendous progress toward achieving those goals through federal, state, local, and private investments—and the latest research finds these investments are producing positive results for teachers and students, Riley said.

“We’ve made remarkable progress,” he said. “Due, in large part, to federal programs such as the Technology Literacy Challenge Fund and the eRate, many of the nation’s teachers and students are beginning to reap the benefits of increased access to computers and the internet.”

Since 1999, hundreds of stakeholders in education technology—including educators, administrators, policy makers, and members of the private sector—worked to rethink and revise the current national strategy for the effective use of technology in K-12 education.

The group developed five new ed-tech goals, outlined in the report “eLearning: Putting a World-Class Education at the Fingertips of All Children,” a roadmap for educators and policy makers across the country.

To achieve these five goals will require all three levels of government, educators, nonprofit organizations and associations, the private sector, citizens, and family members to undertake a number of strategies, the eLearning report said.

Goal One

All students and teachers will have access to information technology in their classrooms, schools, communities, and homes.

“Universal access to the internet will help end the isolation of teachers; exponentially expand the resources for teaching and learning in schools and classrooms; provide more challenging, authentic, and higher-order learning experiences for students; and make schools and teachers more accountable to parents and communities,” the report said.

Broadband access will be the new standard, because slow and unreliable connections that cannot support rich multimedia content will no longer be sufficient, the report said. Schools and communities will have to build and support networks—whether they are wireless or not—that allow for multiple internet connection at the same time.

To accomplish this goal, the report said technology funding will have to be sustained and predictable; technology plans must be revised regularly; educational technology will have to become more affordable, reliable, and easy to use; school buildings will have to be modern; and the “digital divide” will have to be closed.

Goal Two

All teachers will use technology effectively to help students achieve high academic standards.

“Most teachers have been prepared for a model of teaching dramatically out of step with what is needed to prepare the nation’s students for the challenges they will face in the future,” the plan said. Teachers need more than just access to technology; they need more training and support in how to use technology for effective teaching and learning.

Many recent reports identify ways in which technology enhances teacher quality and preparation, the plan states—including reports from the CEO Forum on Education and Technology, the Milken Exchange on Education Technology, and the National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century.

Goal Three

All students will have technology and information literacy skills.

“The call for this new ’21st-century literacy’ in no way supplants current efforts by states and districts to set and even raise academic standards for students,” the report said. “It simply reflects the fact that the bar for an educated citizenry and workforce continues to rise to reflect changes in society.”

Students will need problem-solving skills that will allow them to define tasks, identify information-seeking strategies, locate and access information, determine information’s relevance, organize and communicate the results, and evaluate the effectiveness and efficiency of the solution, the report said.

Educators should ensure that students have the opportunity to use technology to attain these skills, because these skills will be valuable even for those who do not pursue technology careers.

State and local standards should include standards for what students should know and be able to do with technology. Also, the nation’s schools should ensure that students use technology appropriately and responsibly, develop new student assessment tools, and strengthen partnerships with industry to help meet the workforce needs of the future.

Goal Four

Research and evaluation will improve the next generation of technology applications for teaching and learning.

“While we have learned a tremendous amount about the implementation and use of technologies for teaching and learning in the past few years, the need for an expanded, ongoing national research and evaluation program to improve the next generation of technology applications for teaching and learning is profound,” the report said.

Many organizations have recognized the need for more educational research, including the President’s Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology, the U.S. Department of Education, the National Science Foundation, the National Research Council, private charitable foundations, independent research institutes, and academics.

To implement such a program will require a sustained, multi-disciplinary collaboration of learning scientists, technologists, and subject-matter experts, the report said.

Goal Five

Digital content and networked applications will transform teaching and learning.

For this transformation to occur, digital content and networked applications first must prove to be of high quality, well-documented, available for all grades and subject areas, and have the power to inspire or motivate students, the report said. In addition, these resources must be easy to find and access, easy for students and teachers to use, and accessible to people with disabilities.

“Digital content and networked applications offer direct opportunities to enhance learning by helping students to comprehend difficult-to-understand concepts; helping students to engage in learning; providing students with access to information and resources; and better meeting students’ individual needs,” the report said. These resources also can increase parental involvement and improve the accountability and efficiency of school administration, it added.

To attain this last goal, the report says we should:

  • Ensure that administrators and policy makers are technologically literate;
  • Support efforts to increase our understanding of how to improve teaching and learning through partnerships within and across sectors;
  • Identify ways technology can better accomplish educational goals;
  • Continue and expand efforts to digitize rich educational materials consistent with copyright laws;
  • Encourage the aggregation of demand for resources and services to attract better and more effective technology-based services for teaching and learning;
  • Support educators and technologists in defining what digital content and networked applications should be available to support teaching and learning;
  • Remove barriers to purchasing digital content and networked applications;
  • Recognize developers of high-quality digital content and networked applications and exemplary adoption of educational technologies; and
  • Support the integration of digital content and networked applications into state and local standards and curricular frameworks.

“Working together to achieve these goals constitutes a major leadership imperative facing those seeking widespread improvements in teaching and learning. As a nation, we should pledge to meet these new goals,” the eLearning report said.

“This plan looks pretty solid at what it’s recommending,” said John Vaille, CEO of the International Society for Technology in Education. “The most solid components are not about technology, but teaching and learning.”

The continuing role of the federal Department of Education is to establish goals every so often, he said.

“I would advise the new administration to take a look at the hard work of a lot of folks instead of recreating this plan,” Vaille said. “Even if they did their own study, they would come up with the same thing.”


U.S. Department of Education’s e-Learning Report

International Society for Technology in Education


New ‘high-tech’ high schools aim to transform learning

From San Diego to Philadelphia, a new model for the high school of the future—one that is smaller, looks like the modern workplace, and integrates technology into a project-based curriculum—is emerging, and its developers claim it’s better at preparing students for the global economy.

This new model is “organized from the start around ensuring that students are ready for the new-world economy,” said Mark S. Morrison, principal and director of the New Technology High School, in Napa, Calif. New Tech High, which opened its doors in September 1996, is fundamentally different than the traditional American high school.

“When you walk into our building, you see what you would see when you walk into a high-tech business,” Morrison said. “You would see people working in clusters and not in rows.”

The school has lots windows and open space. There’s a one-to-one ratio of students to computers.

“Cable tracks, which hold all the data lines and network lines, run beneath the ceiling,” Morrison said. “They’re exposed [so] you can see the network running through the building.”

Scot Steward, president and CEO of the New Technology Foundation, which was formed a year ago to raise extra money for the New Technology High School, said, “We have no bells, no class changes; all our walls are glass. It’s basically built as if it [were] a high-tech company.”

He added, “Our students are treated like employees.” On the first day, students receive their own eMail addresses and web sites.

The school teaches only the last two years of high school and enrolls only 240 students. To qualify to attend New Tech High, students must have a 2.0 grade point average at the end of grade 10 and have passed algebra I.

The curriculum is project-based. Subjects such as mathematics, English, history, and economics are integrated to help students make connections between them.

“We’ve got great data in a number of buckets that show tremendous success in achievement,” Morrison said. “Our kids are achieving at high levels on national tests.”

Students have to master eight skill sets before they can graduate: collaboration, problem-solving, oral communication, written communication, career-building, technological literacy, citizenship and ethics, and content literacy, Morrison said. Like most kids, when these students graduate, they’ll either go onto post-secondary education or directly into work.

Serious discipline problems don’t exist, Morrison said. “We’ve never had a fight in five years; we’ve never had graffiti in five years.” Nothing in the school is locked down, and nothing has been stolen, he added.

“I’ve had to deal with some hacking issues and some inappropriate uses of our network,” Morrison said. “Compared to health and safety issues, those are nice problems to have.”

The school also boasts a 99-percent attendance rate. “Our kids see value in our school, so they show up every day,” he said.

The school population is fairly diverse: 38 percent of students are female, 13 percent take part in the free or reduced-price lunch program, and 10 percent are classified as special-needs students. “There was a great fear that these schools would be boy-geek schools,” Morrison said.

After deciding that schools should be organized differently, the Napa Valley community came together and initiated the development of the New Tech High in 1992 through public and private partnerships, Morrison said.

The school did not receive any state funding this year, but it does receive per-pupil funding from the Napa Valley Unified School District like the other public schools in the district, he said. The school’s foundation raises extra money to help maintain and update computers, because this requires more funding than the average school receives from the district.

The New Technology Foundation just received $4.9 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to replicate the New Tech High model 10 times in northern California, Steward said. Once that has been accomplished, the foundation will replicate the model school in every state across the country, he said.

San Diego’s High Tech High

A San Diego charter school called High Tech High, which opened in September, also mirrors a workplace environment and integrates technology into a project-based curriculum. Not coincidentally, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation also donated $6.4 million to the High Tech High Foundation to create 10 more versions of this school.

At this modern facility, located at San Diego’s Naval Training Center, each student has his or her own workstation in addition to classroom, lab, and group workspace. The hours are from 9 to 4, and the day is divided into two blocks instead of 50-minute periods.

“It looks a lot more like a workplace than a school,” said John Shea, chief operations officer and dean of students. Two students share one workstation equipped with an L-shaped desk, a computer, file cabinet, drawers, and bulletin board space. The way the school day is structured, one student has access to the workstation for half the day while the other student is in other parts of the school, and then they rotate.

The school has a project studio, seminar rooms, computer animation lab, video lab, a biology lab, and an engineering lab where students actually build the stuff they design, Shea said. The rooms are equipped with SMART boards—interactive whiteboards—instead of chalkboards, and tables and chairs instead of desks.

High Tech High is primarily focused on science, math, and engineering education; humanities subjects, such as reading and writing, are focused around science-, math-, and engineering-related projects. Students who apply to the school have to demonstrate an interest in those subjects.

“Students focus on real questions and real-world problems,” Shea said. In one of the projects, students assemble their own computers. Traditional school subjects emerge as needed when students work through the assignments.

In grades 11 and 12, students attend off-site internships twice a week, reinforcing the school’s emphasis on the high-tech workplace. “Kids learn best when they are immersed in adult environments and when they are immersed in problem-based learning,” Shea said.

“Our first trimester has been punctuated by making changes and really getting to know our students,” Shea said.

“Integrated curriculum requires that the teachers have the time to plan well and to get to know each other,” Shea said. “Working well together is critical.”

Philadelphia’s Tech High

Scott Gordon of Philadelphia is leading an initiative to create a charter school, called Tech High, that also will look like a typical workplace and integrate technology into a project-based curriculum.

“We will replicate many elements of High Tech High’s design,” said Gordon, who is waiting to see if the Philadelphia School District will approve the charter school application.

At Tech High, students will use typical office software and graphic design software to complete schoolwork, and they’ll have workstations instead of lockers and project rooms for design work. There will be space for students to work in teams or independently.

“It’s more like flexible business workspace than traditional classroom space, where you’re locked in,” Gordon said.

The school will be divided into four levels with seven teachers who stay with each level until graduation. One of the seven teachers is a master teacher. “The purpose is to create a small, personalized relationship with adult staff members,” Gordon said.

Students do better in small, personalized learning environments, he said. This model also holds each teaching team directly responsible for student outcomes. “Our staff will receive bonuses based on student outcomes,” he said.

The goal is for students to learn nine specific skill sets before being eligible to graduate, Gordon said. The skills include math, reading, writing, science, speaking, problem-solving, personal skills, and interpersonal skills. “We haven’t done our job unless students have mastered those skills,” he said.

Students will take from three to six years to graduate.

“We expect our students are going to have a range of skill levels when they enter our school,” Gordon said, so flexibility is paramount. “Taking more time to finish recognizes that it takes some students longer to attain those skills.”

Tech High will operate on a modified year-round calendar. There will be a five-week summer vacation and several inter-sessions throughout the year that, depending on the students’ needs, will be used for vacation, internship, or remedial tutoring.

A new model for learning

So, what’s behind this new trend of high-tech high schools?

“I don’t think it’s a trend. I think it’s how high schools are going to have to happen,” Morrison said. “We have to embrace the idea that all kids can achieve at all levels, given the opportunity and resources.”

Gordon said there are problems with high school education across the country.

“We are not reaching students and they’re not learning,” he said. “Students are not coming out prepared for a technological world.

“We are hoping the school district will approve our charter, because we are doing many of the things reformers in the district are doing,” Gordon said. “We have the opportunity to build a school from scratch and implement those principles from the beginning.”

Gordon said there is a growing movement in education to make learning more hands-on and project-based.

“I don’t think there are many thinking adults in our country who are happy with the status quo of high schools,” said William L. Rukeyser, coordinator of Learning in the Real World, which is skeptical of the value of technology in education. “So, change is good.”

But Rukeyser is not sold on the idea that technology is the sole reason these schools are successful.

“Project-based education can be done with or without computers,” Rukeyser said. “Just because you like reform doesn’t mean you’ll like a high-tech school. Just because you like project-based learning doesn’t mean you’ll like a high-tech school.”

He also questions the motives of the companies investing in these high-tech schools.

“It’s simply in light of self-interest,” Rukeyser said. “There’s a long tradition of companies taking an interest in schools” to build the next generation of consumers and employees.

These community-based initiatives often are driven or supported by high-tech companies, he pointed out. San Diego’s High Tech High, for example, started with a $3 million gift from Gary Jacobs, son of the founder of Qualcomm Corp.

“It’s going to turn out good for some and not good for others,” Rukeyser said. “Anyone who has spent any time in education knows there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution.”


New Tech High

High Tech High

Tech High

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

Learning in the Real World


Rx for weak tech support: ‘Self-healing’ computers

Computer maker Gateway Inc. has announced a new electronic support service for its education, business, and government users.

Called eSupport, the new service and web site are intended to make diagnosis and correction of problems as fluid as possible by automating the process via the internet. The eSupport site includes self-healing tools, interactive web-based support from live technicians, and an intuitive interface for getting technical assistance, training, and customer service information online.

With its remote diagnostic tools, Gateway joins other computer manufacturers—most notably Compaq and Dell—in building automated support systems to streamline problem resolution.

Why the proliferation of these online self-healing support systems? According to Tony Adams, senior analyst in product support and services for the market research firm Gartner Group, computer makers have a self-interest in providing such tools for their users.

“Consumers are used to buying a toaster and having all the parts of it covered by one warranty. They expect that. The very best companies treat hardware and software as one unit, with everything covered under one warranty,” Adams said.

But the cost of servicing someone else’s operating system or software has meant increased expenses for computer manufacturers. “Vendors want to keep prices competitive, contain expenses, and provide high-quality services, which is why so many are going to automated support,” said Adams.

For schools with limited funds to spend on technical support staffs, the trend may be welcome.

Electronic self-help “is a great thing. This is a great way for schools to rule out basic problems by tapping into a knowledge base,” said Rick Bauer, chief information officer of Pennsylvania’s The Hill School.

Bauer has used Dell’s self-healing support system and has been pleased with the results. “Right now, companies are scrambling to find ways to maintain customer loyalty,” he said. “These value-adds are a way for them to support and enlarge their customer base.”

From the Gateway Assisted Service section of the eSupport home page, Gateway users can click on the make and model of the computer in question to view documents that are applicable to that system. Users can then browse manuals, technical documents, and frequently asked questions, or they can try automatic downloads that might solve simple problems.

To run the automated self-service system and perform diagnostic tests, users can choose “System Information and Diagnostics” from the web site menu.

“Once a diagnostic is run, information is harvested out of bios on the PC. We don’t harvest information on anything but Gateway [systems]. There is an agreement that must be clicked through. We can only get in as far as we need to get in to provide support,” said Mark Notarainni, senior manager with services development at Gateway.

Users can then select from the solutions and answers most relevant to their situation, hopefully solving the problem without ever picking up the telephone.

If the automated trouble-shooting process doesn’t identify a solution, the client’s information will be sent to a technician who can assist over the telephone or via an online chat session. The Gateway support representative scans the PC remotely for problems in the selected problem area, and information is sent to Gateway to help solve the problem.

Dan Ludwig, director of services and development marketing, said the assisted service works by examining a host of “maps” that are automated and get users where they want to go by solving known problems.

“The map appears on the technician’s screen, and if there is a problem, it shows up as a red flag,” Notarainni said.

Company officials say this method expedites technical support resolution by eliminating the need for customers to provide serial numbers, system configurations, and answer basic questions about their system, since the information is captured automatically through the Gateway Assisted Service module.

Because the Assisted Service and other Gateway eSupport features are fully web-based, customers can take advantage of these features free of charge, 24 hours a day.

“This tool is great for education. With so little money, most schools can’t afford on-site help desks. And even with a help desk, content-specific resolutions for Gateway might not be available,” said Ludwig.

“The real benefit of the new technology is the fact that we’ll help K-12 customers be empowered to do whatever they want in their own terms. They can help themselves. It’s about reliability and consistency,” said Nemo Azamian, vice president of client care services for Gateway’s business unit.

Dell’s Solution Center

“Doing technical and customer support on the internet is nothing new for Dell. [Dell’s online self-help site] has 400,000 unique users per week,” said Lynn Neille, senior manager of communications for Dell Services.

The Dell Solution Center is a one-stop, internet-based application that incorporates support components, services, and education into one location. All Dell Dimension desktops and Inspiron notebooks now come standard with the Dell Solution Center application.

In August 1999 Dell introduced its Resolution Assistant service as a component of the Solution Center. Resolution Assistant, like Gateway’s Assisted Service, is a service that helps computer users solve technical issues easily and quickly at the click of a mouse.

According to the company, this OpenManage remote resolution tool links customers with Dell support technicians through the internet to provide interactive software and hardware diagnostics and Dell’s knowledge base of technical support data. With customers’ approval, Dell technicians can view system information and can diagnose and fix problems through the internet.

Customized to the user’s skill level, Resolution Assistant detects system problems digitally and allows customers to choose the degree of Dell’s technical support involvement they desire, keeping it to the level of security required. They can also choose not to activate the software. OpenManage Resolution Assistant can be downloaded from Dell’s web site at no charge.

“It is a chat-like, internet-based tech support option. We’ve even included it as a button on the chassis of some newer machines, or as a separate icon on the screen,” explained Neille. “Every incident on your computer gets logged, and when you provide us with your user ID, it brings up the complete record of that particular system.”

If users prefer a more self-guided support method, the Dell Solution Center offers, the company’s online self-help site. Among other features, the site includes Dell Talk, an interactive discussion forum in which customers can discuss their Dell systems and gain feedback from shared personal experiences, and Ask Dudley, a natural-language search engine that helps users find answers to technical questions about their systems.

According to company figures, 50 percent of Dell customers use some type of web-enabled customer support, and by the end of 2001, Dell’s goal is that 80 percent of its customers needing technical help will use online support.

Compaq’s Knowledge Center

Compaq offers a similar service to its customers. According to David Weeks, integration manager for North American eServices delivery at Compaq, “What we use—and what our competitors may also use—is a tool called Motive. Typically, companies buy the tool and re-brand it.”

Weeks said Compaq’s version of this offering is called the Compaq Knowledge Center, and self-healing is one of its capabilities.

“Basically, Motive provides a content repository and internet ‘pipes’ that allow users to search their system parameters for problems. What we provide is an active content,” he said. “The Knowledge Center searches the user’s system for bugs and … allows the user to perform self-help steps, and if that doesn’t help, [users] have an easy way to escalate the problem to the support center.”

That next level of support is what Compaq calls its eSupport Forum. “It’s a community-based chat room, moderated by Compaq. People post inquiries and answers to various questions, and we have a team from Compaq that moderates postings,” Weeks said.

Compaq also provides a feature called Ask Compaq, similar to Dell’s Ask Dudley.

“It might be a good service for educators, because it guides you to a place on the Compaq site that answers your question,” said Weeks. “That’s really good for those educators [who] aren’t technically grounded. They can just ask a simple question, and Ask Compaq finds the place on the site that answers their question.”

The future of automated support

According to Adams, in terms of what users want and need for support, the telephone is still the medium of choice. “But vendors are playing the customer service game. They are trying to lure consumers to use the web, because the web is less expensive,” he said.

Do remote diagnostics and self-help tools really work? Yes, Adams said, at least after the program has become established.

“Basically, a log file is submitted for comparison to some kind of known pattern. The key is to develop a database of known problems. I call this ‘priming the pump,’ and it takes at least a month or two to gather all that information and become really accurate,” he said. “Before that, the program has nothing to compare the problem to. But after the database is in place, it will be extremely efficient.

“The accuracy rate is very, very good with automated systems,” said Adams, who added that newer computer systems are deceptively complex.

“We have added layers of variables [to computer systems], so that now there is a tremendous amount of expertise needed to wade through the chaff to get to the real problem. But we have programs now that can look at 10,000 different variables. No person can do that.”


Gateway eSupport

Dell’s OpenManage Resolution Assistant

Compaq Knowledge Center

Gartner Group


Ohio questions online school’s enrollment figures

An online charter school serving Ohio residents ages 5 to 22 is under scrutiny by the state for allegedly overreporting its enrollment figures to receive more funds, the Associated Press (AP) reported Dec. 3.

John Ledingham, a spokesman for the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, or ECOT, said the school is working to ensure the figures it submits to the state are accurate. But officials from the Ohio Department of Education have received allegations that ECOT was submitting the names of students who weren’t attending, said Kim Norris, a spokeswoman for state auditor Jim Petro.

The department has requested an audit of ECOT to clear up the situation.

Whether the incongruities are deliberate or merely the result of human error, the school’s example raises an important question for education policy-makers: how to ensure the validity of students enrolled in “virtual” schools.

As a public charter school, ECOT receives $4,633 from the state for every child enrolled. On October 30, ECOT officials reported that, although more than 2,900 students were enrolled in kindergarten through 12th grade, the school was receiving funding based on the state’s count of 2,270 students.

But “there were concerns raised about the number of students attending versus the number of names submitted” to the state Department of Education for funding, Norris told AP, although she declined to elaborate.

Some school officials—such as Carolyn Funk, treasurer of Youngstown schools—question the validity of ECOT’s enrollment figures.

“I don’t think we’ll ever know. There appears to be very little oversight [governing] community schools,” she said.

David Varda, associate state superintendent for school finance, said he wants to see a system the state can use to count and contact ECOT students to ensure accurate reporting of figures.

“The agreed-upon thing is that, three or four times a year, the auditor will go in and wade through [the school’s] data,” he said.

Like most charter schools, ECOT is a publicly funded, privately operated institution that is free from some state regulations. Students who are enrolled in ECOT work on computers in their homes and communicate with teachers by eMail. ECOT is available to all students, ages 5 to 22, who are residents of Ohio.

ECOT does not charge for tuition or for the use of any of its equipment. Students registered in the school receive a free Compaq iPaq computer, monitor, and multi-function device (a unit that functions as a scanner, copier, and printer), as well as the additional phone line to be used exclusively for ECOT.

Columbus-based Altair Learning Management runs the school’s business operations and reportedly receives 10 percent of the school’s $13 million in revenues.

“We operate under a different system than other charter schools,” Ledingham said. “Initially, we were supposed to make an estimate in September and report our enrollment data each semester, but after the first reporting session, the [state] Department of Education enacted a procedure that requires ECOT to report on a monthly basis.”

As in other schools, Ledingham admitted, inaccuracies do occur.

“Sometimes there are students who say they want to attend and then decide to stay with a bricks-and-mortar school. So, each month we have to coordinate with the 600 school districts in the state of Ohio, and we have to send faxes asking if we have the correct enrollment information,” he explained.

As of Dec. 7, Ledingham estimated that ECOT had 2,270 students online, meaning they are using school computers and have phone lines installed specifically for ECOT. “We last reported an enrollment of 2602,” he said. That is down from October’s 2,900 figure.

What happened to the remaining students? Ledingham attributed the discrepancies to problems getting equipment to each interested student.

ECOT initially estimated a need for 2,000 computers, Ledingham explained. He said he believes the initial 2,000 machines currently serve about 2,300 students, due to two-child households where siblings share one ECOT computer.

“You can’t just walk into a computer store and get those computers. They are specially configured machines, and we order them in lots of 1,000,” Ledingham said.

Ledingham admitted that ECOT officials underestimated the response they would get to their program. “It’s a pioneering program, and there was very little data around to go on when we were estimating how many computers we would need,” he said.

“I think everybody’s been kind of bowled over by the demand from parents,” said Clint Satow, director of the Ohio Community School Center, a nonprofit group that aids charter schools.

The enrollment dispute isn’t the only setback the fledgling program has faced. On Dec. 1, ECOT Superintendent Coletta Musick announced she was leaving her post over disagreements with board members on administrative matters.

School officials would not comment on the exact circumstances behind Musick’s departure. But according to William Lager, chief executive of Altair Learning Management, Musick was suspended with pay in mid-November because she failed to develop curricula for the school quickly enough. At the time she left, Musick was earning $96,000 a year.

“This is a start-up business. No start-up business is without glitches,” Ledingham said.

Ledingham does not believe that online schools are any more susceptible to reporting inaccuracies than traditional schools.

“In earlier grades, ECOT requires a commitment on the part of the parents, so there should be that level of surveillance. Also, we created student electronic portfolios that track when students log on, how long they use the systems, what study programs they’ve picked up, and so on,” he said.

“In theory, it is really not that much different [than a brick-and-mortar school]. If you really want to fool the system, it does not matter if your school is electronic or not.”

Kathi Baldwin, education technologist at Alaska’s Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District, which operates a virtual school called Pathways to Learning, said the question of enrollment would be resolved if online schools took more care to screen their students.

“I can say for sure that online education is not right for every student,” she said. “That is why mass statewide enrollments are not right. Each and every kid needs to be screened. If that takes place, then there is no way to make up students.

“If addressing the needs of kids comes first, then the funding issue will fall into place.”


Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow

Ohio Department of Education

Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District


District tries 3-D simulator to train school bus drivers

Pilots have used flight simulators for years to increase skill, ensure safety, and test different situations. Now, thanks to a new computer program, school bus drivers in Raleigh, N.C., will be able to do the same.

Software originally designed for the state Highway Patrol has been modified to allow school bus drivers in the Wake County Public School System (K-12, enr. 90,000) to train with a 3-D driving simulator.

The simulator, which incorporates SAS Institute’s Profiler software and Elumens Corp.’s VisionStation viewing dome, was presented Dec. 4 to Bill McNeal, superintendent of the Wake County public schools.

The simulator creates an environment that closely resembles situations encountered by bus drivers. SAS chief executive Jim Goodnight explained at a news conference that the Profiler technology uses video footage to provide a realistic feeling of movement.

“This was filmed at the North Carolina Highway Patrol training facility in Garner,” said Phil Abbot, of SAS. “One of the advantages of video reality is that we provide a very realistic environment. It’s based on film. To create this product, we actually put cameras in a car on this test track and filmed the environment. Then, other objects are added by the computer.”

Elumens chief executive Mike Odell said the VisionStation projection system adds to the reality of the training.

“The VisionStation’s lens is capable of a 180-degree field of view, which will really get you immersed and get you into the information,” said Odell. “Our customers tell us this is about as realistic as you can get.”

The project’s ultimate goal is to save lives, SAS project manager Danny Wright said at the news conference. “It [can save] the lives of the driver, the passengers, and the other people on the road. We do that by assessing the affects of stress, distraction, and divided attention on the field of view.”

Wyatt Currin, director of transportation for Wake County schools, explained that the device is actually a 3-D dome screen, and the driver sits in it. “There’s a steering wheel, a gas pedal, a brake pedal,” he said.

There are four different tests that drivers take, Currin said. “Stage one is the simplest. There’s a car in front of you, and you have to drive down a winding road. If the car in front of you puts on its brake lights, you have to touch a button that indicates that you saw it stopping,” he said.

Stage two is more complicated. The speed has increased, and drivers might encounter some obstacles, like a deer in the road.

Stage three incorporates the noise of a school bus. “When SAS was adapting the system for school, we actually had a performing arts group go in and we taped them making noise,” said Currin. “At that level, there may be cars coming into your lane. You have to take evasive actions to avoid a collision.”

The fourth level of the simulation is the most difficult for drivers to navigate.

“In the fourth level, the speed has picked up, there are more cars around you, there are pedestrians, and you have to react very quickly to the situations around you,” said Currin.

“Drivers will actually be graded on how they deal with a fight on the bus, while navigating the driving obstacles. A student has been recorded yelling the word, ‘Fight!’ and the driver has to mash a button saying they have recognized the problem.”

Those who have tested the simulator say it is startlingly realistic.

“You can actually get motion sickness while you’re in the dome. That’s how real it is. You can hear the brakes squealing when you go around curves,” said Currin. “The simulator really checks your reactions to things.”

Bill Poston, spokesman for Wake County schools, agreed. “It’s not just a driving test. It measures the driver’s ability to deal with stress.”

At the end of the test, each driver is evaluated and given a computer printout that says what the driver’s weaknesses are. For instance, the program can tell evaluators whether more accidents occur on the driver’s right or left side, Currin explained.

In Wake County’s announcement to the press, school officials brought in a driver to demonstrate the program.

“What we found was that he paid the most attention to the right and the left, but he tended to have problems with things directly in front of him. He was always looking in his mirrors, at the kids and the surroundings,” said Currin.

Wake County transportation officials were scheduled to receive the system the first week in December, and they were set to begin using it to evaluate drivers soon thereafter.

“We plan to bring in drivers with three, four, or five years of experience first. At that stage they have sometimes become complacent and they tend to have more problems,” explained Currin.

“Also, if a bus accident does occur, that driver will have to come to a special meeting, and we’ll ask [the driver] to do the simulator to assess what [his or her] weaknesses are,” he said.

The district plans to track the results of the simulations.

“Once we have everyone come in and do the simulator once, the results will show their weaknesses. Then we’ll bring them back three or four weeks later and see how they’ve improved,” said Currin.

Wake County transportation officials also plan to use the simulator when screening new drivers. After drivers apply for a job, district officials will have them do all their written work, and then let them use the bus simulator before starting them on actual road work, Currin explained.

Bus simulators are a new technology for schools, and not inexpensive. According to the district, Wake County is piloting the program for free.

But, according to Currin, the combined donation to the district is worth $20,000, not including the computer or the software.

“I’m so excited. It will be great for our drivers,” he added.


Wake County Public School System

SAS Institute Inc.

Elumens Corp.


New company offers free filtering for schools

While educators prepare for the possibility of an internet filtering mandate as Congress finishes its work on the education appropriations bill, a new company called Dotsafe is offering its filtering service to schools free of charge.

Phoenix-based Dotsafe provides an advertising-free filtering service for the education and consumer market. The service consists of a proxy server, administrative software, list updates, and reporting features.

According to Neil Kohler, the company’s new chief executive officer, Dotsafe is giving its solution to schools free of charge to spur interest in its consumer and business products.

“Schools are the best place to convince the public that these products are highly effective,” Kohler said. Giving schools free filtering “is a good way for us to demonstrate how effective our solution is.”

Kohler admits that giving free filtering to schools is also great publicity.

“I had a corporate client with 575 employees ask me if Dotsafe could handle that many users, and I could point to the Columbus Public Schools in Ohio, which has 63,000 users. Also, the schools are a terrific reference for us,” he said.

According to Kohler, Dotsafe automatically updates its list of blocked sites every day. And, like most filtering companies, Dotsafe uses a combination of search technologies and human reviewers to ferret out sites that might be inappropriate.

Dotsafe officials claim their company’s search engine reviews 2.5 million web sites per hour and singles out sites containing certain words that raise a red flag of caution. These sites are then passed along to human reviewers, who decide whether or not they should be allowed.

Unlike some other filtering systems, Dotsafe does not feature any commercial advertising on its browser, Kohler said. Dotsafe has placed a public service announcement on the splash page that appears when a computer is booted up, but this disappears immediately, leaving nothing to identify that the Dotsafe program is running.

“No filtering system is 100-percent effective, but we’re very pleased—and so are the schools using Dotsafe,” said Kohler. “Anyone who says they have a perfect solution is ignoring the fact that the internet changes every day.”

According to Kohler, three key factors differentiate Dotsafe’s service from those of other filtering providers.

“First, we provide each and every student with a filtered eMail account. Second, we provide a free web storage account to each user, so [students] can start a web project at school, go home, log on, and work on it from there,” he said.

But Dotsafe’s defining characteristic, Kohler said, is its customized internet activity reporting. This allows parents, teachers, and administrators to see exactly what their kids are looking at, for how long, and at what time of day.

“They can even tell whether that student tried to access a blocked site, and how many times,” said Kohler.

Some educators may be skeptical of the company’s offer, particularly after N2H2 Inc. of Seattle recently announced that schools using its ad-sponsored service would have to pay a subscription fee beginning with the next school year.

But Kohler assures skeptics that, if any changes in Dotsafe’s business model occur, schools that signed up for the free service would not be charged for filtering.

“We may one day decide to charge schools a nominal fee, once we reach a critical mass of enrolled users—but to those who installed Dotsafe during our free enrollment period, it will be free forever,” he said.

Sally Chastain, coordinator of community education services at Talladega County Schools (K-12, enr. 8,000), said Dotsafe’s offer seemed too good to be true.

“It seemed impossible that the service was free,” she said.

The catch, some users may find, is that Dotsafe’s solution is not as flexible in terms of customizability as its competition. Unlike most other filtering systems, Dotsafe does not allow the system administrator to unblock a site that has been blocked out in error or deemed useful by a teacher. Administrators must contact the company to have a site removed from its so-called “hot list.”

Another possible downside of the Dotsafe system is that it does not allow for partial blocking. Most distributors of filtering software give users a way to block only particular categories of offensive web sites, but Kohler said that Dotsafe users are given a single, “mass-media friendly” standard.

This means, for example, that a teacher whose class is doing reports on the Holocaust could not unblock sites related only to hate groups, in order to examine the prevalence of neo-Nazism.

Kohler said Dotsafe plans to release a solution that allows users to filter by category sometime within the next six months, but Talladega’s Chastain does not mind the current system.

“We like the idea of being informed when a clearance [of a web site] is going to occur. To know that a clearance had to be obtained to unblock a site protects the district,” she said.

Sherry Bird Long, director of instructional information services for Columbus Public Schools, says any changes made to the current “mass-media friendly” sites will have to go through a rigorous evaluation process in her district.

“We plan to have a committee to address those types of issues when they arise, and it will be similar to our current criteria for book selection. We don’t want one person to have [the ability to] throw switches on and off,” she said.

Though some educators may see Dotsafe’s service as sacrificing local control in favor of ease of use, Kohler feels it will not be a deterrent to schools.

“We make it as easy as possible for schools to filter, based on standards they use in their own libraries,” he said. “The hardest part is making sure you don’t block out the good stuff.”



Columbus Public Schools