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.”

Links:

Dotsafe
http://www.dotsafe.com

Columbus Public Schools
http://www.columbus.k12.oh.us/index.html

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Report: Students’ internet access jumps 42 percent

The nation’s schools improved their students’ access to internet-connected computers by more than 40 percent during the past year alone, according to a new study by research firm Market Data Retrieval (MDR), a division of Dun & Bradstreet Corp. of Shelton, Conn.

The achievement is one of several key findings in “Technology in Education 2000,” the latest installment of MDR’s annual reports on the state of technology in America’s schools.

According to the 2000 report, the average number of students per computer with internet access fell from 13.6 in 1999 to 7.9 in 2000, a drop of 42 percent. The same average number of students, 7.9, now share each multimedia computer, down from 9.8 in 1999.

Overall instructional-use computers average one for every 4.9 students, an improvement over last year’s one per 5.7 students.

South Dakota has the fewest number of students per internet-connected machine, 4.6, followed by Alaska, 4.8, Ohio, 4.9, Wyoming, 4.9, Nebraska, 5.1, and Delaware, 5.1. The District of Columbia has the worst ratio of students per internet-connected computer, 12.6, followed by California, 12.4, Alabama, 11.6, Louisiana, 11.4, and Nevada, 11.3.

Multimedia computers, defined as machines with a sound card and CD-ROM drive, make up 58 percent of the installed base of instructional computers in K-12 schools, according to the report. Seventy-one percent of the installed base of computers are connected to local area networks (LANs), and 58 percent are connected to the internet.

More than 80 percent of schools provide internet access in classrooms, and nearly half of all computers with internet access are located in classrooms.

As technology becomes more ubiquitous, teachers are in a better position to use it in their lessons, the report indicates. Sixty-three percent of schools reported the majority of their teachers now use the internet for instruction, up from 54 percent last year.

Despite these gains, the report suggests schools with higher numbers of minority students continue to lag behind. Schools with minority enrollments of 50 percent or more average 10.5 students per internet-connected computer, compared to 6.4 for schools with minority enrollments of less than 5 percent.

Furthermore, only 18 percent of high-minority schools report the majority of their teachers use the internet for instruction, compared to 32 percent of low-minority schools.

Use of other technologies

More than 85 percent of schools say they use LANs and CD-ROMs, according to the report. Sixty-four percent or more use wide area networks (WANs) and videodisc technology, while nearly one-third use satellite technology and 20 percent use media retrieval systems.

Small schools are at a decided disadvantage in terms of their use of LANs, WANs, and videodisc technologies, the report shows. Cable penetration is also low among small schools, many of which are located in rural, low-density population areas not served by cable.

However, rural schools and those in districts with higher percentages of poverty-level students are much more likely than their affluent counterparts to use satellite-dish technology. “It appears that satellite dishes are perceived as cost-effective ways to gain access to resources outside the schools’ walls,” the report surmises.

Technology spending

The report suggests federal and state grants continue to provide the lion’s share of school technology funding. Though the federal government’s share of overall education spending is small at 6.6 percent, the federal share of technology spending is closer to 35 percent, the report says.

Technology spending in 1999-00 accounted for nearly 2 percent of total K-12 expenditures, according to the report. While K-12 schools spent 17 percent of their technology budgets on staff development—barely half of the 30-percent figure recommended by the U.S. Department of Education—this marked an increase of three percentage points over last year’s spending on training.

Software accounted for 20 percent of technology expenditures in 1999-00, and hardware accounted for 63 percent.

MDR used a combination of mail, telephone, and internet surveys to poll more than 30,000 schools for its “Technology in Education 2000” report. The surveys were completed in March 2000.

Links:

Market Data Retrieval
http://www.schooldata.com

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Feds, teachers mull ways to teach students ‘cyber ethics’

Thou shalt not vandalize web pages. Thou shalt not shut down web sites. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s MP3s.

FBI agents are spreading a new gospel to parents and teachers, hoping they’ll better educate youths that vandalism in cyberspace can be economically costly and just as criminal as mailbox bashing and graffiti spraying.

The Justice Department and the Information Technology Association of America, a trade group, have launched the Cybercitizen Partnership to encourage educators and parents to talk to children in ways that equate computer crimes with old-fashioned wrongdoing.

The nascent effort includes a series of seminars around the country for teachers, classroom materials and guides, and a web site to help parents talk to children.

“One of the most important ways of reducing crime is trying to teach ethics and morality to our kids. That same principle needs to apply to the cyber world,” said Michael Vatis, director of the FBI’s National Infrastructure Protection Center, which guards against computer attacks by terrorists, foreign agents, and teen hackers.

Vatis and other FBI agents attended a kickoff seminar, titled the National Conference on Cyber Ethics, Oct. 6 through 8 at Marymount University in Arlington, Va. The conference brought together education, industry, and government representatives to talk about teaching responsible use of technology.

Part of the challenge: Many teens still consider computer mischief harmless. A recent survey found that 48 percent of students in elementary and middle school don’t consider hacking illegal.

Gail Chmura, a computer science teacher at Oakton High School in Vienna, Va., makes ethics a constant in her lessons, teaching kids about topics such as computer law, software piracy, and online cheating.

She has argued with students who don’t see that stealing from a computer with bad security is as wrong as stealing from an unlocked house. “It’s always interesting that they don’t see a connection between the two,” Chmura said. “They just don’t get it.”

The FBI’s Vatis tells students, “Do you think it would be OK to go spray-paint your neighbor’s house or the grocery store down the street? On a web site, it’s the same sort of thing. It’s somebody’s storefront or an extension of themselves.”

Chmura tries similar messages. For instance, she asks a budding composer how he would feel if his music were stolen and given away online.

“They do sometimes realize that when they’re copying someone’s product, it’s not just that 5-cent disk but someone’s work they’re copying,” she said. “I think they do come to appreciate the fact that it’s somebody’s salary they’re stealing.”

Vatis cites a long list of cyber crimes perpetrated by minors, including the February jamming of major web sites such as Amazon.com and eBay. He tries to drive home the consequences of hacking—including the resources it drains from his center, as officials scramble to find who is responsible at the outset of an attack.

Authorities “don’t know if it’s a terrorist or a foreign military,” Vatis said. “It diverts very scarce resources of people who are trying to focus on crime, warfare, and terrorism.”

Members of the Cybercitizen Partnership are developing a comprehensive curriculum and program for educators to use as a guideline for teaching responsible use of technology. The group hopes to roll out the content by October 2001.

Cybercitizen Partnership

http://www.cybercitizenpartners.org

National Conference on Cyber Ethics: Teaching Responsible Use of the Internet

http://www.marymount.edu/ethics/cyberethics.html

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NRC launches $855K study on shielding kids from web porn

At the request of Congress, the National Research Council (NRC)—the operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences—is launching a study of the tools available to protect kids from pornography on the internet.

The study, to be released in 2002, will examine the capabilities and limitations of filtering software and other computer-based technologies, as well as management policies necessary to ensure safe use of the internet in schools and at home.

“Until now, the issue [of how best to protect students from internet pornography] has been clouded with rhetoric. We want to put the debate on a level playing field,” said Herb Lin, director of the NRC study.

Congress has charged the NRC with providing a foundation for objective local and national debate on the subject of internet pornography, while avoiding specific policy recommendations based on the values of one group or another.

“We plan to outline the pros and cons of each option, but we don’t plan to draw conclusions on what is the ‘best’ solution. We don’t want to impose a set of values on the study, because people and schools all have different values,” Lin said.

Congress actually passed the law that mandated the study, the Protection of Children from Sexual Predators Act, in 1998, but the study is just now underway. Lin explained that the legislation set a two-year time span for the study to commence but did not offer any funding for the project. “We’ve used the extra time to assemble the funding,” he said.

The program is expected to cost $855,000. Support is being provided by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention ($300,000), the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology ($200,000), the National Academy of Sciences ($125,000), Microsoft Corp. ($100,000), the Kellogg Foundation ($100,000), and IBM ($30,000).

Components of the study

Because of discussions with the project’s funders, the scope of the study has been altered in two ways from the original congressional mandate.

First, the study now includes nontechnological strategies as well as technology options, because technology is only one element of a comprehensive approach to internet safety.

Filtering technology “is not perfect. We want schools to find a comprehensive solution,” Lin explained.

Filtering software made by companies such as Cyber Patrol and N2H2 is an option that researchers plan to address, but Lin said there would be no formal system for testing such software.

“We will not be buying copies of all the filtering software available to schools and studying each one, no. This study is not that detailed. We will probably rely on the manufacturers themselves to answer any questions about filtering programs,” he said.

Nontechnological strategies to be considered include acceptable-use policies in schools. But, “it is very important that education is included with this, so that students and teachers understand what constitutes ‘acceptable use,'” Lin added.

The second alteration to the original mandate will be an inquiry that centers on pornography as the primary focus of “inappropriate content.” According to the NRC, other areas of inappropriate content will be explored incidentally, rather than systematically, and only as they arise in the context of discussions about specific tools and strategies used to shield kids from web pornography.

Method of study

Lin said there would be no statistical analysis or number-crunching involved in the study. Instead, researchers will rely on case studies and testimonies reviewed by a committee of experts.

The review panel will include Richard Thornburgh, former attorney general in the Reagan and Bush administrations and former Pennsylvania governor; Nicholas J. Belkin, professor at Rutgers University School of Library and Information Science; Sandra L. Calvert, director of the Children and Media Project at Georgetown University; Linda Hodge, vice president of programs for the National PTA; Margaret Honey, director of the Center for Children and Technology; and Robin Raskin, editor-in-chief of FamilyPC magazine.

“All educators are encouraged to get in touch with us about their solutions for protecting kids from internet porn,” Lin said. “The NRC wants to see what people who have grappled with this dilemma have to say.”

Anyone wishing to write and submit a white paper on any aspect of the study, provide comments through an online form (yet to be developed), or testify to the committee in person is encouraged to call Lin at (202) 334-3191 or send eMail to hlin@nas.edu.

Report: “Tools and Strategies for

Protecting Kids from Pornography and Their Applicability to Other Inappropriate Internet Content”

http://www.itasnrc.org

National Research Council

http://www.nas.edu/nrc

U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention

http://ojjdp.ncjrs.org

U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology

http://www.ed.gov/Technology

Microsoft Corp.

http://www.microsoft.com

Kellogg Foundation

http://www.wkkf.org

IBM

http://www.ibm.com

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Schools, businesses team up to promote tech careers

Educators and corporate leaders came together Oct. 3 to seek solutions to America’s growing need for a highly-skilled technology work force. The occasion was TechiesDay 2000, the second annual celebration designed to promote awareness of the opportunities that exist for students in the technology industry.

In classrooms across the country, technology workers focused on increasing technology awareness and readiness among K-12 students through workshops, demonstrations, and speeches.

And in Washington, D.C., policy-makers who have a major influence on education, government, and technology discussed long-term solutions for preparing and enticing kids into technology careers at the TechiesDay Workforce Development Summit.

“Everyone knows, and everyone in this room understands, we have to deal with the pipeline problem,” said Linda Roberts, special advisor for technology to the U.S. Department of Education and keynote speaker. “We have to engage fourth-graders now so they are there when you need them,” Roberts said, addressing company executives.

The nation’s schools must invest in high-quality math and science teachers and focus on high-standard, high-quality curriculum, Roberts added. Since technology in schools can amplify learning, schools should create an action-oriented, long-term strategy for preparing students to use these 21st-century tools.

Roberts acknowledged that some schools have greater needs—such as fixing leaky roofs and buying books—but she said the problem is not simply one of economics.

“I don’t think those schools are lacking money, but rather they are lacking leadership,” Roberts said. When she toured some of the poorer rural schools in Mississippi Delta states, she said, she was surprised at their ability to use technology in learning.

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Norman Y. Mineta said the optimum time for reaching kids and getting them to consider high-tech careers is between the ages of 11 and 15. A new web site called GetTech.org will inform kids and their parents about jobs in the technology sector, he said.

“High-tech jobs are the fast growing part of our growing economy,” Mineta said. “Kids need to hear about technology and careers that are waiting for them way before they get to college. We are hoping that this web page will not only engage and entertain, but let kids know what opportunities are out there.” The site is directed toward both parents and students, since parents have an impact on students’ career decisions.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., said the recent action by Congress to increase the number of H1-B visas—which allow foreigners to fill U.S. technology-related jobs—indicates shortcomings in the nation’s education system.

“It points to a real failing of our society that we have such pressure of seeking foreigners to fill those jobs,” Bingaman said.

Bingaman cited the recent Glenn Commission report on math and science education, called “Before It’s Too Late,” which indicates there has been a 21-percent drop in the number of math degrees and a 45-percent drop in the number of engineering degrees granted by U.S. colleges, although there are great opportunities for students who enter those professions.

“The report makes it clear that in order to increase the number of math and science workers—which everyone agrees is important—we need to [improve] math and science education,” Bingaman said. “This should be a wake-up call that this problem goes to the core of our economic future.”

A CEO panel at the summit floated ideas and concepts that both industry and education should adopt in an effort to increase the number of technology workers.

“If we say technology is sexy and chic, the demand [for it] will drive the change,” said Peter Crosby, chairman of Girl Geeks.

“I don’t see a willingness to take a risk, to make a change,” said Sherlye Bolton, CEO of Scientific Learning Corp. “Technology represents the largest, biggest change that has happened” to date.

Crosby said companies need high-tech employees who are well-rounded and socially adept—not like the stereotype of the “computer geek” that has been associated with computer users in the past. “Being able to cross-train is a big boost for companies,” he said.

Others argued that industry, government, and education need to create partnerships to solve this problem.

“Schools can’t do it alone. Government can’t do it alone and business can’t do it alone. We need to create these alliances,” said Phyllis Eisen, executive director of the Center for Workforce Success and the National Association of Manufacturers.

Gene Longo, director of U.S. Operations for the Cisco Networking Academy program, accepted the TechiesDay Best Practices Award for the academy’s work in training and mentoring high school students.

Five technology professionals who won the TechieTeam 2000 competition, which recognized individuals for introducing students to technology, also received a new Compaq computer and more than $3,000 worth of Microsoft software.

TechiesDay

http://www.techiesday.org

U.S. Department of Education

http://www.ed.gov

U.S. Department of Commerce

http://www.doc.gov

Get Tech

http://www.gettech.org

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‘NearTouch’ technology taps into language-learning skills

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

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

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

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

When the stylus pen/antenna is placed near a point on the book’s page, the exact location on the page is triangulated instantly. The stylus then sends that location back to the audio component of the LeapPad. Each book comes with a book-specific audio cartridge that interprets the signals sent from the stylus pen.

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

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

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

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

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

‘Leap into Literacy’

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

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

The company has added several educational changes to the consumer version, such as an alternating current adapter (the consumer product runs on batteries), specific content directed at learning, and sturdy headphones.

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

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

The Leap into Literacy package also comes with a LeapMat, a 3-foot by 2-foot interactive play-mat printed with the letters of the alphabet, and a LeapDesk, a tool that looks something like a keyboard with large numbers and letters in place of keys. According to the company, LeapDesk offers an adaptive teaching mode that creates a reading lesson for the student based on his or her individual skill level.

“The program is aligned for all K-2 state standards for phonemic awareness,” Lally said. The entire Leap into Literacy package, without a printer, currently sells to school districts for $695.

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

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

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

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

Other applications

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

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

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

LeapFrog SchoolHouse

http://www.leapfrogschoolhouse.com

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Online conference urges new thinking for new schools

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Creating a workplace environment

Today’s society needs more graduates with real workforce skills, panelists said. Therefore, some schools are modeling not only the building, but also the curriculum and hours to mirror the typical workplace.

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

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

At this modern facility, located at the Naval Training Center in San Diego, 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Involving the community

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The online town meeting has been archived and can be seen in its entirety at the web address listed below.

Modernizing Schools: Technology and Buildings for a New Century

http://ali.apple.com/events/edgov0908

High Tech High

http://www.hightechhigh.org

HighFusion

http://www.highfusion.com

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Student journalists turn to web to bypass censorship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are also nonprofit sites, such as WireTap, which act as collective portals where students from across the country can safely post articles banned in school-sponsored publications. The articles cover topics such as teen-agers’ fears that schools are going overboard with “zero tolerance” policies after Columbine.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Student Press Law Center

http://www.splc.org

Freedom Forum

http://www.freedomforum.org

DHS UnderGround

http://dhsug.adriansmith.com

James Hubert Blake High School

http://www.mcps.k12.md.us/schools/blakehs

Yorktown High School

http://yhspatriot.yorktown.arlington.k12.va.us

Sir Lance A Lot’s Herald

http://theherald.homepage.com

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Corporations could get naming rights to tech school

A proposal by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District to fund a new technology school, in part, through corporate sponsorships has some observers questioning the infiltration of commercialism into public education.

Corporations already have placed their names all over the sporting world by paying to name stadiums and arenas. Now, Charlotte, N.C., school officials are considering selling naming rights to classrooms and cafeterias. Could the future feature the Gateway computer lab or the Nike gymnasium?

The school board is considering a policy to allow some campus areas—including a technical high school now under construction in west Charlotte—to be named after a corporate entity that makes “significant contributions” to the school or district.

Until now, Charlotte-Mecklenberg has had a restrictive naming policy for school property, allowing elements to be named only after people who have gained recognition in some way, district officials say.

That policy soon may change, depending on the outcome of a Nov. 28 school board vote.

“In examining that policy and thinking ahead to the future, we now have the opportunity to take advantage of a corporate gift—be it a cash gift, a technology gift, or a services gift—and, in return, allow that company to display [its] brand name in a prominent way,” said John Lassiter, vice-chair of the school board.

Although the proposed policy could apply to any school, Superintendent Eric Smith said it was crafted with the technical high school in mind.

The school’s focus will be preparing students for careers in computer science, manufacturing, transportation, construction, environmental science, and health science.

That means students will need training on expensive equipment that tight school budgets can’t always handle, Smith said. So, the district plans to ask businesses for help. Offering to name a lab, school wing, or other campus area after these businesses may encourage corporate donations, he said.

“In a time when schools have increasing need for revenue and difficulties generating that revenue, this is an avenue that, if properly done, could provide benefits to all involved,” Lassiter agreed.

Lassiter said construction of the new technology high school is not dependent on whether the school board decides to accept corporate sponsorships. “The sponsorships are to provide enhancements and additional things like labs, hardware, and software,” he said.

Such partnerships have triggered a debate in school districts around the country over how involved companies should be with schools.

Officials with the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction didn’t know of any examples of schools naming campus areas after businesses, although there are plenty of instances in the Carolinas and elsewhere of schools teaming up with businesses for everything from school supplies to computers to pizza lunches.

“It’s not new at the K-12 level, in the sense that many schools have scoreboards donated by Coca-Cola or computers with the brand name displayed on the box. Branding is not new,” said Lassiter.

Denise Carter, head of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg PTA Council, said the public schools could not function without outside business support. And school board members said they have yet to receive complaints about the proposal.

But some people worry that corporate influences in schools can go too far. The California-based Center for Commercial-Free Public Education argues that children become easy targets for advertising when their schools use scoreboards sponsored by soda companies or cafeterias contract to sell a specific product.

According to the center’s web site, “Commercialism in America’s classrooms is reaching epidemic proportions, with new forms of in-school advertising being discovered every week.”

But branding is not necessarily the same thing as advertising, district officials say.

“We are just talking about a name on a wall. It is not an active situation that asks you to make a decision when a screen comes up on a computer,” said Lassiter. “It would be naive to say that our kids aren’t exposed to broad-based commercialism at all times.”

If the policy receives a majority vote at the Nov. 28 school board meeting, it will go into effect immediately.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District

http://www.cms.k12.nc.us

Center for Commercial-Free Public Education

http://www.commercialfree.org

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Student hacker destroys records at online high school

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because of the hacking, Choice 2000 has had to re-enroll all students and account for two days of records that were lost because they had not been backed up. Some students had to redo homework that was lost, and teachers had to regrade tests lost when the eMail server was disabled.

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

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

Not necessarily, counters King. “We are not more vulnerable than other schools in terms of security, because we have password protection, firewalls … But, because we depend entirely on eMail and the internet to deliver learning, it does hit us much harder when the system goes down,” he said.

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

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

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

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

Choice 2000 Charter School

http://www.choice2000.org

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