Groups issue new technology standards for school administrators

A collaborative team of national school leaders assembled by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) has released a first-of-its-kind set of standards defining what K-12 school administrators should know about, and be able to do with, technology.

The first draft of the Technology Standards for School Administrators (TSSA), issued March 2, is intended to reflect a national consensus on the role school administrators should play in ensuring the effective use of technology in their schools.

The draft provides a base set of standards, appropriate for all K-12 administrators, in six categories: leadership and vision; learning and teaching; productivity and professional practice; support, management, and operations; assessment and evaluation; and social, legal, and ethical issues.

Each category includes a list of specific performance indicators; for example, under “leadership and vision,” school administrators should be able to use data to drive their decision-making.

TSSA’s creators hope to follow the success of ISTE’s year-old National Educational Technology Standards (NETS) for students and teachers. These standards were developed by a group of educators to help integrate technology at the classroom level.

The TSSA standards take the focus off the classroom and place it on the school as a whole. That’s important, the standards’ creators say, because school- and district-wide leadership is needed to ensure the success of technology programs.

The standards mark a significant step toward “breaking down the barriers that prevent school administrators from taking the most active and educated role possible in evaluating school technology policies and supporting efforts of their teachers,” said Don Knezek, project director of TSSA and co-director of ISTE’s NETS project.

Members of the TSSA Collaborative, which developed the draft, include the National School Boards Association, National Association of Elementary School Principals, National Association of Secondary School Principals, Consortium for School Networking, North Central Regional Technology Consortium, Southern Regional Education Board, Kentucky Department of Education, Mississippi Department of Education, Principals’ Executive Program at the University of North Carolina, and Western Michigan University College of Education.

“We tried to hit the right organizations and people who’d been very active in the technology standards movement, and we’re really concentrated on getting feedback from K-12 administrators,” said Knezek.

The group used wireless computing to share changes on the document instantly and work collaboratively, he added.

The draft is available for public comment until June 30. Using feedback from educators and policy makers, the TSSA Collaborative will refine its standards and release them again formally after October 1.

Ultimately, the group intends to create additional sets of role-specific standards for superintendents and cabinet-level leaders, building-level leaders, and district-level leaders for curriculum and special programs.

“TSSA is really intended to inform a variety of standards. By creating these, we wanted to seed a lot of other standards efforts,” said Knezek.

For more information about TSSA, NETS, and other ISTE projects, call (541) 302-0952.

TECH STANDARDS FOR SCHOOL LEADERS

The Technology Standards for School Administrators “define neither the minimum nor maximum level of knowledge and skills required of a leader, and are neither a comprehensive laundry list nor a guaranteed recipe for effective technology leadership,” according to ISTE.

Instead, these standards “represent a national consensus among educational stakeholders of what best indicates effective school leadership for comprehensive and effective use of technology in schools.”

Leadership and vision

  • Facilitate the development of a shared vision for technology use and communicate this vision widely among stakeholders.
  • Develop, implement, and monitor a dynamic, long-range, and systemic technology plan that supports the vision.
  • Maintain cohesion and momentum within the school community to reach the vision.
  • Foster and nurture a culture of responsible risk-taking that promotes continuous innovation in technology.
  • Use data to drive leadership decisions.
  • Advocate for research-based best practices in all uses of technology.

Learning and teaching

  • Identify, use, and evaluate appropriate technologies to enhance and support curriculum and instruction.
  • Facilitate and support collaborative, technology-enriched learning environments that encourage innovation.
  • Provide for the use of technology to meet the individual needs of learners in a student-centered environment.
  • Facilitate the use of technologies to guide and support instructional methods that promote higher-level thinking, decision-making, and problem-solving skills.
  • Assure that quality professional development opportunities exist for learning and teaching with technology.

Productivity and professional practice

  • Use technology to facilitate change for organizational improvement.
  • Model the routine, intentional, and effective use of technology.
  • Use technology resources to engage in sustained, job-related professional development.
  • Employ technology for communication and collaboration among peers, staff, parents, and the larger community.

Support, management, and operations

  • Develop, implement, and monitor policies and guidelines to ensure compatibility of technologies.
  • Allocate financial and human resources to ensure full implementation of the technology plan.
  • Integrate strategic plans, technology plans, other improvement plans, and policies to align efforts and leverage resources.
  • Design policies and procedures to drive continuous system improvements and to support technology replacement cycles.

Assessment and evaluation

  • Use technology to collect and analyze data, interpret results, and communicate findings to improve instructional practice and student learning.
  • Assess staff knowledge, skills, and performance in using technology, and use results to facilitate quality professional development and inform personnel decisions.
  • Use technology to assess and evaluate managerial and operational systems.
  • Using multiple methods, assess and evaluate appropriate uses of technology resources for learning, communication, and productivity.

Social, legal, and ethical issues

  • Ensure equity of access to technology resources that empower all learners.
  • Identify, communicate, model, and enforce social, legal, and ethical practices related to technology use.
  • Promote and enforce security and online safety related to the use of technology.
  • Promote and enforce environmentally safe and healthy practices in the use of technology.

This material was originally developed as a project of the Technology Standards for School Administrators Collaborative.

Links:

Technology Standards for School Administrators
http://cnets.iste.org/tssa

International Society for Technology in Education
http://www.iste.org

National School Boards Association
http://www.nsba.org

National Association of Elementary School Principals
http://www.naesp.org

National Association of Secondary School Principals
http://www.principals.org

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

North Central Regional Technology Consortium
http://www.ncrel.org

Southern Regional Educational Board
http://www.sreb.org

Kentucky Department of Education
http://www.kde.state.ky.us

Mississippi Department of Education
http://www.mdek12.state.ms.us

University of North Carolina Principal’s Executive Program
http://www.ga.unc.edu/pep

Western Michigan University College of Education
http://www.wmich.edu/coe

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Superintendents’ use of school computers questioned

An investigation of computer records from 49 Indiana school districts by the Indianapolis Star has raised questions about what constitutes appropriate use of computers by administrators.

In a Feb. 18 story, the Star reported that superintendents who are in charge of enforcing their districts’ web-surfing policies often violate their own rules. While many school internet policies say web surfing should be for educational use only, some Indiana superintendents are shopping for cars, planning trips, and looking for other jobs on their district-issued computers, the Star reported.

In fact, one superintendent’s internet records reportedly included two sites with pornographic material—an apparent violation of common school district internet policies, and one that cost former Hamilton Southeastern Superintendent Robert Herrold his job in September. It was Herrold’s example that prompted the Star’s investigation.

The Star’s review of 6,691 web sites on superintendents’ computers showed that half of the sites clearly were education pages. But 3,000 other sites—some of which also could have been viewed for educational purposes—ranged from the popular Amazon.com shopping site to more obscure sites.

Those included www.tomthedancingbug.com, the home page for a comic strip that was found on the computer records of Shelbyville Superintendent James Peck, and www.near-death.com, a web site about near-death experiences, found in the personal computer bookmarks of Marion Chapman, who resigned in January as superintendent of South Madison Schools.

Zionsville Superintendent Howard Hull’s internet records reportedly included two sites with pornographic material. Hull said he was stunned to learn that the sites showed up on the files from his district-issued laptop computer. He said he tracked down the likeliest culprit in a quick eMail check with his college-age daughter. She told him she probably went to the sites, not knowing they contained inappropriate material.

“I think I’ll keep a padlock on it from now on,” Hull said of his laptop.

Hull also said the Star failed to mention that the internet policy forbidding any personal use of school computers in his district was a student policy. “It does not apply to the adults in our district,” he said.

While school districts across the country have enacted rules to police students’ internet access and have punished them for violations, many districts do not have well-defined guidelines for staff members that address personal use. Even in districts that allow personal use of computers, ethical questions remain, such as whether superintendents should look for new jobs on their school computers.

That is what Ron Mayes, the former superintendent of Edinburgh, Ind., schools did before moving to a new job as chief of the larger Taylor Community Schools near Kokomo in December.

He said he probably spent some time at work in Edinburgh on his job search—and he believes that was acceptable. He would allow his own employees to do the same, simply because he wants his teachers to use the internet as much as possible.

School board members did not mind, either.

“If he used a lot of work time to search for a job, then that would bother me,” said Cathy Hamm, an Edinburgh school board member. Because Edinburgh’s policy allows personal use of the internet, she believes in the honor system.

Judy Seltz, director of planning and communication for the American Association of School Administrators, said the same prohibitions that are placed on student surfing should not always apply to professional staff.

“We’re talking about people who work far more than a regular nine-to-five work day, and it seems reasonable that if a superintendent is at the district office on a Saturday morning, [he or she] should be able to take a break and look at the New York Times online,” Seltz said. “On the other hand, I think it’s important that superintendents understand that if they’re using school property, they should behave reasonably and responsibly.”

A good acceptable use policy is key, Seltz said: “The best acceptable use policies are not necessarily so very detailed, but they allow for flexibility. And there should be a differentiation between adults and children.”

She noted that in some cases, administrators may visit inappropriate sites to determine if that material should be blocked. “That kind of going to sites is within the job responsibilities,” she said. “In the acceptable use policy, there should be a clause that says whatever you need to be able to do your job well must be allowed.”

John Vaille, chief executive officer of the International Society for Technology in Education, warned that a district’s policy must be clear on what types of uses are allowed for both staff and students. “If an acceptable use policy is expected to apply to the staff and students in a school district, than all staff are equally responsible, including the superintendent,” he said.

Superintendents who break the rules will have trouble disciplining staff for violating the same policy, said Richard McGowan, who teaches business ethics at Butler University.

“Real leaders have to follow the rules, even if it’s inconvenient,” McGowan said. “How can they expect others to if they don’t?”

Links:

Indianapolis Star
http://www.starnews.com

Zionsville Community Schools
http://www.zcs.k12.in.us

Edinburgh Community Schools
http://edinburgh.k12.in.us/ecsc.htm

American Association of School Administrators
http://www.aasa.org

International Society for Technology in Education
http://www.iste.org

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Teacher recruitment turns high-tech with CD-ROM promotions

Some Arizona school districts have gone high-tech in their efforts to recruit top-notch teachers: They’re using promotional CD-ROMs to lure prospects. Given the shortage of qualified teaching candidates faced by school districts nationwide, experts predict the strategy is sure to catch on in other areas of the country as well.

Deer Valley Unified School District in Deer Valley, Ariz., started placing promotional content on business card-sized compact discs about a year and a half ago, according to spokesman Timothy Tait.

“We wanted to use a method that was … faster, easier, and presented [us] in a way that people would remember,” he said.

Deer Valley officials think using new promotional methods will be critical to the district’s recruiting efforts during the next few years.

“We hired 300 teachers last year, and we estimate we’ll hire 200 more next year,” said Tait. The district is building nine schools in the next four years, two of which already are under construction.

“Frankly, it comes down to numbers,” said Tait. “We really have a huge need for teachers, and we are not the only district that’s recruiting at this kind of pace. We have to convince potential teachers that Deer Valley is the best choice, and we have to stay ahead of the competition.”

According to Timothy Crawford, manager in the Teaching and Learning division of the National Education Association (NEA), “We are starting to see people nationwide becoming aware that the teacher shortage is coming to their town, too. … As an attention-getter, the CD-ROMs can be very effective.”

Other districts have experimented with video promotions on their web sites, Crawford said, but users may have to download applications that will run the video.

“With a CD-ROM, all the applications you need are already included, and you don’t have to worry about having high bandwidth to support the video,” he said.

The idea for a promotional CD-ROM was developed in-house, Tait said. “We really try to stay on the forefront of technology. We saw a company in town that had done this, and we thought it was a great idea,” he explained.

Deer Valley started with a promotional CD the size of a business card but since has progressed to a full-size, full-length CD-ROM. That CD-ROM is now in its second version.

“Each of our 27 schools has a three-minute video on the CD, and each is written, directed, filmed, and produced by students from that school, using digital cameras and iMac DVDs [digital video discs],” said Tait. The video clips were created to allow potential teaching candidates to match up with the right campus for them.

“The videos are really creative,” said Tait. “On one, we follow the school mascot, a snake, as he winds his way around the entire campus; on another, a high school jazz band wrote and performed the background music.”

Tait said the CD-ROM includes an audio introduction from the superintendent and photos of the district looped together to form a slide show. The disc also includes live links to sites such as the city of Phoenix web page, apartment guides, and downloadable PDF files of job applications.

“The student-produced content really helps us show the diversity of the schools in our district,” said Tait. Because students play a major role in the development of the tool—from videos to music to the cover design—it also provides them with a valuable learning experience, he added.

The promotional CD is produced within the district and sent off to a company to burn copies.

“The real purpose is to address the teacher shortage and aggressively market the Deer Valley School District,” said Tait. “To help in these efforts, Discover Card gave the district $10,000 to help defray some of the costs.”

During the next four years, Tait said, the CDs are expected to help Deer Valley fill its nine new school buildings “with the best educators in the country.”

“We made about 2,000 [copies] of the CD and the cost was about $1 each, making the CDs less expensive than our paper information packets,” he said. In fact, each CD was about 25 cents cheaper than the traditional paper promotional packets.

“We’ve gotten a lot of responses, both from teaching candidates and from other schools that are interested in doing the same sort of thing to help recruiting,” said Tait.

District employees have been handing the CDs out liberally at teacher colleges, recruitment events, and education conferences. “A CD-ROM really has legs,” Tait said. “Any computer can read it, it’s compact, and people tend to pass [it] around.”

Other Arizona districts, such as Scottsdale, also have produced promotional CDs. But, Tait said, “as far as we know, we were among the first in the state—and probably the country—to go after this type of thing progressively. … [We view this as] a cost-effective way to get our message out there.”

According to a 1999 report by the U.S. Department of Education, researchers and policy makers estimate that school districts will have to hire about 200,000 teachers each year during the next decade to keep pace with rising student enrollments and teacher retirements, for a total of 2.2 million new teachers.

Links:

Deer Valley Unified School District
http://www.dvusd.k12.az.us

National Education Association
http://www.nea.org

U.S. Department of Education
http://www.ed.gov

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Fingerprint technology speeds school lunch lines

Some Pennsylvania schools are testing a fingerprinting program that lets pupils pay for chicken nuggets, sloppy joes, pizza, and other cafeteria delicacies without ever carrying cash.

If the program proves successful, the little ridges on index fingers eventually could make school lunch money and lunch-line bullies things of the past.

“It’s certainly a lot faster,” said Linda Kelly, cafeteria manager at Welsh Valley Middle School, about 10 miles from Philadelphia.

The program doesn’t use a complete fingerprint; instead, it relies on a computer program to match 27 mapped points on a finger. Even so, the technology remains controversial.

The Penn Cambria School District, about 75 miles east of Pittsburgh, began the program in August 1999 and plans to use it in all five of its schools by next year. To avoid controversy, administrators never used the word “fingerprint.”

“We say ‘finger-image’ or ‘finger-picture,'” said Milton Miller, Penn Cambria’s director of food services.

The program has sped up the high school lunch line, which has been growing with the student population.

The other benefits? “One, no lost [ID] cards; two, no one can access another person’s account with a lost PIN number; three, it’s good for the parents. The money is in the account, and they know that the money is only being spent on school lunches,” Miller said.

Another advantage of the program, which also is used in the Tussey Mountain School District in central Pennsylvania, is that students who receive free and reduced-price lunches aren’t embarrassed by having their names checked off a list or by turning in lunch tickets while their classmates pay cash in cafeteria lines.

“At 16 years old, the last thing you want to be known as is poor,” said Mitch Johnson, president of Food Service Solutions, the Altoona-based firm that installed the program. To the best of his knowledge, he said, the system is unique to Pennsylvania.

Johnson said the program, which will cost between $4,000 and $5,000 per lunch lane, was developed to help schools comply with a federal law that says schools can’t overtly identify those receiving free and reduced-price lunches.

“That’s one of the biggest benefits,” said David Magill, the Lower Merion School District superintendent. “They won’t be stigmatized.”

His growing district just wants to find the most efficient system that will get a couple of hundred children through lunch lines in 40 minutes with time to eat, Magill said.

“What we’re really looking for is the system that works the best,” he said. Because the program is in the testing phase, the district is not paying for it.

Some cafeteria customers still have doubts about whether fingerprinting is the right program.

Ian Murry, 13, bypassed the fingerprint system and went straight for his wallet during lunch at Welsh Valley Middle School. “I don’t like it,” Murry said. “It doesn’t always work. Then the line gets slower.”

Tawanda Worthy, on the other hand, said she approved of the program, new at her school this year. “You don’t have to bring lunch money, so somebody can’t take it,” she said.

So far, a minority of the middle school’s 700 children have declined to be fingerprinted. “They think the FBI’s going to get them or something,” said Kelly, the cafeteria manager.

Magill said he hasn’t heard any negative input from parents regarding the program. He knows fingerprinting children could raise a few eyebrows, however, and he rejects Orwellian theories.

“We’re not using fingerprints for anything other than a quick way of identifying the student in the cafeteria line,” he said.

In Michigan, privacy concerns have made it against the law for schools to use electronic fingerprinting.

Citing a 1985 law called the Child Identification and Protection Act, Michigan Attorney General Jennifer Granholm ruled Dec. 12 that school districts in Michigan can’t use electronic fingerprinting technology to identify a child for school-related purposes.

Granholm’s ruling came in response to a query from state Sen. Ken Sikkema, who said a constituent of his was interested in the finger-imaging technology and asked if it were allowed in schools.

Links

Penn Cambria School District
http://www.pcam.org

Food Service Solutions
http://www.foodserve.com

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VISION brings eLearning to Oklahoma schools

Oklahoma education officials on Jan. 22 announced a pilot program to create a sophisticated “virtual network” of courses and services available via the internet to schools, libraries, and homes throughout the state.

The Virtual Internet School in Oklahoma Network (VISION) program, expected to launch before the end of March, will include an online curriculum that will offer algebra and other math courses for students in the fourth and seventh grades at nine pilot schools. If the program is successful, other subjects would be made available statewide.

“One of our greatest difficulties in Oklahoma is having equal access to education,” State Superintendent Sandy Garrett said during a presentation to administrators, legislators, and corporate partners. “From the smallest, most remote schools to the urban, inner-city schools, this [project] will ensure equal opportunity.”

But Garrett said VISION encompasses far more than just distance learning. “What we’re really talking about is a total managed learning system,” she said.

The project will contain a relational database that tracks all aspects of learning, from student records to human resources information. It also will include an eBusiness component that tracks costs and expenditures and allows for online purchasing and accounting.

The pilot program is expected to be implemented within 18 months, said Garrett.

Legislators approved the program last year. Since then, state education officials have been working with administrators, teachers, and corporate partners to figure out how to implement the program.

Corporate partners include Intel Corp., JES & Co., Microsoft, Dell Computer, SAP, and Ignite!, an Austin, Texas-based company run by Neil Bush, a younger brother of President George W. Bush.

Dell is providing servers for the project, while Intel is providing support for the servers and some hardware. Garrett said SAP will be the primary software provider.

Oklahoma City’s Western Heights is one of the nine school districts involved in the pilot. Western Heights Superintendent Joe Kitchens said the program’s online curriculum will include high-quality video streaming, along with two-way videoconferencing and traditional text and graphics. The online courses could be offered as stand-alone lessons or as a supplement to classroom instruction.

“It reaches the students when, where, and how they need to be reached. Some students are visual learners. Some are auditory learners. This can play to their strengths,” Kitchens said.

To take advantage of the technology, schools will need a T-1 or DS-3 (45-megabit) connection. Many Oklahoma schools already have the necessary degree of connectivity thanks to the state’s Onenet project, initiated in 1993 to upgrade the state’s technology capabilities.

The nine pilot districts and eight other districts also have formed a cooperative in hopes of qualifying for $20 million in eRate discounts to make additional infrastructure improvements next year.

The project’s eBusiness component would enable districts to integrate academics with management in a way not previously possible, Garrett said. It would help schools better manage their money, through the use of student and management data to identify which academic programs work best and most efficiently.

Such a system also would allow districts to submit their financial data to the state Education Department electronically.

Chief state school officers from Kansas, Texas, Pennsylvania, Maine, Virginia, New Mexico, Arizona, and California were invited to a technical briefing at the Oklahoma State Capitol to hear the details of the project. The school leaders were chosen for participation because their states have similar or related projects.

Links

Oklahoma State Department of Education
http://sde.state.ok.us

Western Heights School District
http://www.westernheights.k12.ok.us

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Fox aims to shut down acclaimed science web site

Call it a close encounter–of the legal kind.

A dispute over a popular science web site created by the University of Wisconsin-Madison is pitting academics against people from the worlds of television and the law.

Attorneys for the Fox Network are demanding that the university close its web site “The Why Files,” a 5-year-old site that explores the science behind the news.

The network claims the site confuses consumers and infringes on its trademarked television show “The X-Files,” the popular 7-year-old program about FBI agents who encounter aliens.

“If you haven’t been abducted by aliens recently or had some type of mind-altering experience, there is absolutely no way you could confuse, ‘The Why Files,’ and ‘The X-Files,'” said Terry Devitt, The Why Files editor and program coordinator.

But since January 2000, lawyers for Fox have been sending letters to UW officials, demanding they stop using the name.

“The web site clearly uses a play on words to trade off on the goodwill of our client’s trademark,” a Fox attorney wrote in an Aug. 4 letter. “While our client appreciates the educational value of your web site, Fox cannot afford to permit others to lessen the distinctiveness of ‘The X-Files.'”

Fox Network officials and their attorney did not immediately return phone calls by the Associated Press (AP).

“I’m not sure if Fox is trying to get a legal hammerlock on the alphabet or what their motives are, but that’s what it seems,” Devitt told AP Jan. 17.

“The Why Files” has developed a following, receiving 19 awards from organizations that review internet sites. In April 1999, eSchool News recognized the site in its Netwatch section, which highlights its top picks for instructional resources on the web. Devitt said at least 120,000 people visit the site each month, including several K-12 teachers and students.

At press time, the site featured information about earthquakes, oil and natural gas, and snow.

Both “The X-Files” and The Why Files are registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Lawyers for Fox have offered to settle the case if the university surrenders its trademark to Fox. The company said it would be willing to license the name to the university under “appropriate restrictions.”

University officials so far have refused to do that, but they have offered not to expand “The Why Files” into the areas of science fiction and the supernatural.

Fox lawyers rejected that offer and have said they will start legal action seeking to cancel “The Why Files.”

Links:

“The Why Files”
http://whyfiles.org

University of Wisconsin-Madison
http://www.wisc.edu

Fox Network
http://www.fox.com

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AFT releases standard for online learning

A new report from the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) recommends a broad set of guidelines for ensuring successful instructional outcomes in the evolving realm of online education.

The report, released Jan. 17, outlines a set of “quality standards” for distance education programs at the college level. It calls for, among other things, clear standards for content, technical support and counseling for students, protection of intellectual property rights, and proper training for faculty.

But AFT officials believe the standards can–and should–apply to online programs at the K-12 level as well.

“Distance Learning Guidelines for Good Practice” is based on a survey of AFT members who teach distance-learning classes, as well as previous studies by the union and a resolution at AFT’s last convention. The report includes the following recommendations, among others:

Distance-education students should be given advance information about course requirements, equipment needs, and techniques for succeeding in a distance-learning environment, as well as technical training and support throughout the course.

Close personal interaction should be maintained among students and teachers.

Equivalent library materials and research opportunities should be made available to distance-education students.

Assessment of student knowledge, skills, and performance should be as rigorous as in classroom-based courses.

Academic counseling and advising should be available in distance education to the same extent that it is for students in more-traditional environments.

Faculty should shape, approve, and evaluate distance-education classes. Faculty members need to be adequately compensated and provided with the necessary time, training, and technical support to develop and conduct online classes.

Full undergraduate degree programs (and, presumably, full elementary or secondary school programs) also should include classroom-based coursework, with exceptions made for students who are truly unable to come to classes, for whatever reason.

According to AFT spokesman Jamie Horwitz, “Distance Education Guidelines for Good Practice” is the result of member cooperation and outside research at the AFT.

Four years ago, the group commissioned a research project on distance education from the Institute for Higher Education Policy at the request of AFT members who wanted to learn more about the subject.

“Essentially, we wanted to look at distance learning in a very open-minded way, and what we found was that there was a dearth of research available,” Horwitz said.

The study found that some classes lend themselves to distance education more easily than others, he said. The AFT resolved to provide some guidelines to help educators successfully implement online learning programs.

“While online and distance learning are, in general, good options for taking a particular course or set of courses, this does not automatically mean that it is acceptable for an entire undergraduate degree program to have no in-class component,” said AFT President Sandra Feldman.

And this goes for the K-12 level, too, Horwitz said.

“Higher education foreshadows what may come along in K-12. Our members still advocate some in-person education at the undergraduate level, and I think they would feel even more strongly about the necessity of that for K-12 [education],” he said. “We believe the lower [in grade level] you go, the more you need real human interaction.”

The AFT tempers its praise for distance education with some real-life concerns about the benefits of educational programs offered entirely online. Large-scale, all-online K-12 institutions–such as the newly announced K12 Online School, led by conservative William Bennett–may not be right for every student, officials said.

“Is it really good to take a chemistry class, like the one that Bennett plans to offer, with animated beakers and Bunsen burners?” asked Horwitz. “A class where the students never smell the sulfur, conduct hands-on experiments, or learn about the importance of safety conditions in a lab? It just seems unrealistic.”

Only certain types of learners will prove successful with internet-based learning, Horwitz said: “It’s good for self-motivated learners, but most students have a real need for a personal connection.”

Educators who run online programs at the K-12 level generally agreed with the AFT’s recommendations.

“Overall, these are things that we value at my institution,” said Kathi Baldwin, educational technologist for the SeeUonline virtual school in Palmer, Alaska. “We definitely value student-teacher relationships, but we know that online education is not for every student. It can be good for some students and horrible for others.”

But Baldwin took exception to the implication that online simulations can’t provide a comparable experience for some students.

“I’d put a large caution on saying any class has to do this or has to do that,” she said. “To me, the real test of a good distance learning program is this: Is it as good, or better, than what I can take face to face?”

Links:

Distance Education Guidelines for Good Practice
http://www.aft.org/higher_ed/technology

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Free-speech groups sue to block filtering law

School officials worried about compliance with the new internet filtering law may not have to choose between installing filters or relinquishing federal funds–that is, if such groups as the American Library Association (ALA) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have anything to say about the issue.

The Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA), signed into law Dec. 21 as part of the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education appropriations bill, has come under fire from school groups and First Amendment activists who say it is unconstitutional to mandate filtering in schools.

On Jan. 18, the ALA’s executive board voted to file a lawsuit challenging CIPA, which is scheduled to take effect April 20. The decision came after more than a week of intense discussion among the association’s members.

The ALA contends the act is unconstitutional and creates an infringement of First Amendment protections.

The federal filtering mandate, which was spearheaded by Sen. John McCain, R.-Ariz., would require libraries and schools to install content filters on all computers that offer internet access to minors as a prerequisite to receiving federal technology funds.

According to the McCain camp, “There is ample precedent for conditioning receipt of federal assistance.”

Perhaps, but ALA officials argue that “no filtering software successfully differentiates constitutionally protected speech from illegal speech on the internet.”

An ALA announcement also cited a recent report by the Congressional Web-based Education Commission, a bipartisan commission charged with gathering evidence about online learning. That group found internet filtering to be far from perfect, based on witness testimony.

“Even the federal commission appointed to study child safety on the internet concluded [that] filters are not effective in blocking all content that some may find objectionable, but they do block much useful and constitutionally protected information,” said the ALA.

And the ALA is not the only organization taking legal action against CIPA.

“This is nothing less than Big Brother in the classroom,” said Ann Beeson, ACLU national staff attorney and cyberlaw expert. Her statement came in 1998, when the legislation was first proposed in the Senate. “We believe that educators, not Congress, should be the ones making decisions about what students can learn on the internet,” she said.

At press time, the ACLU was gearing up to challenge the law in federal court, possibly in Philadelphia. However, the group has not yet decided whether its lawsuit would address the school-based filtering requirements.

Why the lawsuits?

Opponents of the law say its intentions may be laudable, but it nevertheless tramples on important constitutional rights.

“The technology just isn’t sufficient,” said Nancy Willard, a research associate at the University of Oregon’s Center for Advanced Technology in Education. Willard said that internet filters inevitably “overblock,” or exclude, sites that are constitutionally protected.

And that’s just one of the reasons the ALA has decided to step into the fracas, according to Judith Krug, director of the ALA’s office for intellectual freedom.

“We are firmly convinced that the types of decisions about protecting young people–and older people, for that matter–should be local decisions and have nothing to do with the federal government,” said Krug.

Krug said she knows of some real “horror stories” from districts that have had problems with filters.

“For instance, I know of one school system that can’t access any American Indian sites because some sites use peyote–a mind-altering drug–in some of their tribal rituals, so this filter blocked all Native American sites,” she said.

“And during the Mars shot–a major scientific event–many schools could not access online resources, because the URL was www.marsexpl.org and the word ‘sex’ was right in the middle of it.”

Besides First Amendment issues, accountability is another sticking point for critics of the law. According to Willard, companies such as Cyberpatrol, Net Nanny, and N2H2 will not reveal the lists of sites they block.

“All of the major filtering companies protect their lists of blocked sites fiercely. They say they can’t reveal them because they are trade secrets, so no one will give accurate information about what is actually being blocked,” she explained. “There has been no effective analysis to determine the effectiveness of their blocking.”

And those worried about the merits of internet filtering see even more insidious repercussions for schools and libraries: namely, a new way to widen the so-called digital divide, the economic and societal gap that separates those who are connected to the internet and those who are not.

“The problem is that there are so many people who don’t have any access to the internet except through schools and libraries, and what we’re doing is giving them an imperfect device,” said Krug.

Chris Hansen, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU, said the law “may be a violation of the equal protection clause” of the Constitution, because many minorities only have access to the internet through schools and libraries.

Defenders speak out

McCain is confident the law will not be overturned in court.

“When a school or library accepts federal dollars through the universal service fund, [it becomes] a partner with the federal government in pursuing the compelling interest of protecting children,” he said.

“The Supreme Court has made it clear that schools have the authority to remove inappropriate books from school libraries. The internet is simply another method for making information available in a school or library.”

Pia Pialorsi, a spokeswoman for the Senate Commerce Committee that McCain chairs, said the senator “has every confidence that the bill will pass constitutional muster, because it does not dictate what technology the library or school has to use, and [it] does not dictate what they have to filter out.”

In 1998, a federal judge ruled that the community of Loudoun County, Virginia, violated free expression rights by screening access to internet sites on all computers in its public libraries. But observers say the current law is different, because it mandates filters only on machines used by minors.

McCain also dismisses the charge that filters are ineffective and unavoidably block useful material.

Quoting the testimony of Peter Nickerson, chief executive officer of Net Nanny Software, to the Senate, McCain said, “A general perception exists that internet filtering is seriously flawed and in many situations unusable. … These notions are naive and based largely on problems associated with earlier versions of client-based software that are admittedly crude and ineffective.”

While some inferior filtering products still exist, McCain said, filtering is now highly effective, well-received by educators, and in high demand. Most problems with filtering software today are the result of users not taking the time to learn how to customize the software to screen only objectionable content, supporters of the law claim.

According to the ALA web site, schools need not rush out and buy filters to comply with CIPA just yet. The organization advises schools to bide their time and await the result of legal action before making any major investments.

“My advice to schools is the same as the ALA’s,” said Willard. “Don’t do anything yet. There are no regulations yet, and there’s at least a year and a half before [the courts will resolve this issue].”

Links:

American Library Association
http://www.ala.org

American Civil Liberties Union
http://www.aclu.org

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
http://www.senate.gov/~mccain

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Kansas House approves bill linking schools, libraries, hospitals

The Kansas House of Representatives approved an act Jan. 25 creating a technology network linking schools, libraries, colleges, and hospitals.

Known as the KAN-ED Act, the bill would link the state’s institutions with a broadband network that provides high-speed internet access, distance learning, and medical evaluation.

The act was approved 114-8, sending it to the Senate. Funding for the network would be contained in a separate bill.

Schools and libraries would begin connecting to the network by July 1, 2002. Hospitals have until July 1, 2003. A nine-member board would oversee the network, which would be maintained by the private sector.

Rep. Carl Krehbiel, R-Moundridge, said the state stood to get federal funding for the network. Other funds could come from the $68 million in new spending Gov. Bill Graves has recommended for education.

“The state is going to need to put something up,” said Krehbiel, a member of the Utilities Committee, which sponsored the bill. “It will probably have to be a few million dollars to demonstrate the state’s commitment.”

Krehbiel said the bill stood a better chance of passage this session than last.

“The bill failed in the Senate last year primarily because a state agency was going to run [the network] and the telecommunications industry had been left out,” he said.

The KAN-ED act is HB 2035.

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Contract lets Arizona schools join web fast lane

High-speed internet access and streaming video is headed to each Arizona public school, thanks to a $100 million contract awarded Feb. 1 to Qwest Communications.

The contract, approved by the state School Facilities Board, will link a district’s computers to allow for instant communication and the sharing of documents. As part of the contract, Qwest will provide toll-free, 24-hour technical support for at least 18 months after installation.

Putting computers in the schools and creating a computer network system are mandated under Students FIRST (Fair and Immediate Resources for Students Today) legislation.

Although all districts can benefit from the program, it stands to have the most effect in Arizona’s rural districts, said Phil Geiger, executive director of the School Facilities Board.

“This will get them to be part of the ballgame. This will make it all happen,” he told the Arizona Republic.

School districts will find out in a conference later this month how and when the computer networks will be installed.

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