Presently, there are at least 50 web portal sites aimed directly at K-12 schools. Each of these sites offers information and services designed to help bring online learning experiences to the classroom, help educators communicate with students, etc. Many of the sites offer additional inducements, such as free internet connections or payments based on student visits to the site.

How can you choose which site to use as a portal—i.e., the first site that teachers, students, and staff will see when they log onto the computer system? The author says asking these questions will help you derive an answer:

1. Are the portal’s products and services valuable? Online lesson plans, especially those based on state standards, would seem to be one of the most attractive features of many portals. However, experts say many of these lesson plans are poorly designed. Even though executives at the portals claim to have panels that review lesson plans submitted by teachers, it’s clear that much of what is available online is of limited value.

2. Is the portal financially stable? It’s clear that not all the education portals available today (see limited list below) will survive. Already, portals such as KickStart.com and ZapMe! have reneged on commitments to provide free equipment and internet hookups, as they have not been able to generate the revenue they anticipated through online advertising and product sales.

3. Do you want a free or fee-based portal? Some portals are free, and others charge fees. Obviously, free is better, if all else is equal. And it’s just as obvious that all else is rarely equal. Weigh the issue of paying for use of the portal with the quality of its information and the portal’s emphasis on advertising to children. Which mix can your district afford?

The author lists some of the best-known education portals alphabetically:

• Bigchalk.com (http://www.bigchalk.com);

• Education Planet (http://www.educationplanet.com);

• Education World (http://www.education-world.com);

• FamilyEducation Network (http://www.family education.com);

• HiFusion (http://www.hifusion.com);

• Learning Network (http://www.pearsonlearning.com);

• Lightspan (http://www.lightspan.com);

• NetSchools (http://www.netschools.com);

• PowerSchool (http://www.powerschool.com);

• Riverdeep Interactive Learning (http://www.riverdeep.net);

• Searchopolis (http://www.searchopolis.com);

• SchoolNet (http://www.schoolnet.com);

• ThinkWave (http://www.thinkwave.com);

• wwwrrr (http://www.wwwrrr.net).