Create cyber-smart web users with this

“The Parents’ and Teachers’ Guide to Online Privacy” is a document developed by Classroom Connect and TRUSTe, a nonprofit, independent initiative dedicated to building consumer trust and confidence in the internet. This guide is intended to equip parents, children, and educators with the knowledge needed to create “cyber-smart” users of the web. In a letter to parents and educators, TRUSTe and Classroom Connect write, “According to the latest surveys, two-thirds of all internet purchases come from households with kids. As the explosion in internet use among children continues, defending their safety and privacy online will become an increasingly important job for parents and teachers.” The guide provides educators with model privacy statements, information on the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, and an explanation of how to get the TRUSTe Children’s privacy seal on your web site. There is also a list of privacy rules for kids, a glossary of terms, and links to more privacy sites. The purpose of the guide’s information is “to empower children and adults with information designed to help everyone use and enjoy the internet safely. Together with your children at home or in the classroom, use this guide as a starting point to teach kids how to be ‘cybersmart,’ so that they can understand for themselves how to control the uses of their personal information and protect their privacy.” The guide is available online in PDF format and requires Adobe Acrobat Reader.


Ohio to cut funding for computers in classrooms

An Ohio program that helps bridge the gap between rich and poor school districts by putting computers in classrooms would be slashed 70 percent under Gov. Bob Taft’s budget proposal. Since its inception in 1995, the SchoolNet program has twice been cited by the Ohio Supreme Court as one of the few positive education initiatives taken by state officials since they were sued by a coalition of schools for failing to provide an adequate education to all students.

Taft’s proposed state budget calls for cutting the SchoolNet Commission’s budget in the fiscal year beginning July 1 to $43.3 million from this year’s $146.1 million. The governor’s office said the program has accomplished its initial goals and cannot be extended because of a slowing economy and a tight budget.

SchoolNet was a $95 million initiative headed in 1994 by former Gov. George V. Voinovich. Of that total, $50 million went toward wiring some classrooms in 661 public and joint vocational school districts, and the rest was used to purchase computers for poor schools.

In 1996, SchoolNet Plus was initiated to put computers in every public classroom from kindergarten through fifth grade.

“The only reason some of the less-affluent districts have computers in their kindergarten through fifth-grade classrooms is because of SchoolNet … and many of the computers have been around long enough that they need updating or replacing,” said William Phillis, executive director of the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy in Education.

“Instead of cutting back on the various technologies, the state ought to be enhancing them as an efficient means of helping districts to expand their course offerings,” Phillis said.

The Ohio Supreme Court, which twice has found the state’s school-funding system unconstitutional, has called the SchoolNet program “critical” and seemed to urge its expansion in a ruling last May.

“The SchoolNet and SchoolNet Plus programs … continue to evolve and are clearly positive steps,” Justice Alice Robie Resnick wrote in a 4-3 decision finding the state’s school-funding system unacceptable. “Yet there is so much yet to be done in this area. We are still a long way from the goal of providing sufficient computers to allow a high-quality education in the computer age.”


It’s a safe bet you’ll find this web site a valuable resource, a comprehensive new resource from the National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center (NYVPRC), outlines a variety of topics related to youth violence for both educators and counselors. NYVPRC was established as a source of information on prevention and intervention programs, publications, research, and statistics on violence committed by and against children and teens. Sponsored by the White House Council on Youth Violence, the center is a collaboration between the council, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other federal agencies. The center’s web site includes links to topics such as youth violence, violence prevention programs, intimate partners and domestic violence abuse, firearms, suicide, and homicide. Users can also access a variety of FAQs and a complete A-Z directory of topics related to youth safety and violence prevention. The NYVPRC web site and call center, at (866) SAFEYOUTH, serve as a user-friendly, single point of access to federal information on youth violence and suicide prevention.


Celebrate Women’s History Month with this award-winning web gem

March is National Women’s History Month, and in keeping with that theme educators should direct their students to the National Women’s History Project web site. Teachers will want to bypass the main page of the site and head right for the educational content, provided in the “Learning Place” portion of the site. The National Women’s History Project Learning Place is designed to provide educators with information and educational materials about multicultural women’s history. Among the resources gathered here are “Performers,” a list of women’s history costumed performers by state. Audiences across the country can learn about historic women through first-person historical portrayal. The performers listed here will travel to your state and either introduce individual American women and men or focus on fictitious characters from specific time periods. The site also includes a list of women’s museums and organizations by state, and a list of women’s history links in categories ranging from aviators to political leaders to sports figures. Kids can even test their knowledge of women’s history online or with a printout version downloaded from the quiz page. The “Teachers Lounge” provides suggestions to help teachers make women’s history more accessible and lists exercises and games to do with students.


Explore the earth’s remote regions at this

Through this site from National Geographic, students can learn the latest about the rarest and most endangered species on earth, as well as fragile ecosystems in their own region. “Sights and Sounds” brings students interviews and information about specific regions of the world. At press time, the focus was the Bering Sea. The extraordinarily detailed map allows classes to zoom in and out on certain regions of interest and learn more about the ecosystems in different parts of the world. By defining hundreds of different ecosystems and explaining what differentiates them, the site gives students a real working knowledge of the ecological variation that makes our planet so fascinating. The Wild World maps are designed to help teachers bring into their classrooms the wonders of biodiversity and the urgency of conserving it. The “Educator’s Guide” that accompanies the maps offers lesson plans and activities on subjects like map fundamentals, biodiversity, and ecoregions.


Unlock the myths behind St. Patrick’s Day with this History Channel resource

Who was St. Patrick? Did he really drive all the snakes out of Ireland? What Irish national symbol was part of St. Patrick’s Christian teachings? What’s the meaning of “Erin Go Bragh?” What are some fun things to do to celebrate the Irish national holiday? The History Channel’s St. Patrick’s Day web site is an informative look at the March 17 holiday. In keeping with the History Channel’s excellent reputation for compelling, accurate, and informative programming, this web site gives all the fascinating details related to St. Patrick’s Day. Detailed information on Ireland’s conversion from paganism to Christianity and the Anglo-Irish conflict that consumed the Emerald Isle for 800 years is included. Irish scholars can take an online quiz on the history of Ireland, and the “Interactive Ireland” section of the site provides users with a map of the country so they can click on certain areas to get more information about the region’s history, attractions, and culture.


Build students’ understanding of the Civil War era with this Lincoln log-on

PBS’s award-winning American Experience series recently aired “Abraham and Mary Lincoln: A House Divided,” its first biography of a 19th-century president and its first dual biography. This well thought-out web site accompanies the acclaimed documentary, but the information contained in it can stand on its own. The site’s detailed portrait does much more than explore the personal story of one of the most intriguing couples to have lived at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. It also reflects on how the Lincolns’ lives paralleled that of a nation at war. The program and web site paint a vivid picture of life in America in the mid-19th century, focusing on the most volatile issues of the period: slavery, states’ rights, women’s rights, and the growing prominence of the industrial economy. The events of the time are brought to life through primary source documents, interactive maps, QuickTime clips of historically significant sites, photo galleries, and video clips. Students and teachers can choose from topics that include “Partisan Politics,” “Slavery and Freedom,” “A Rising Nation,” “Americans at War,” and “A Woman’s World.” There is also a teacher’s guide that allows for lesson planning in conjunction with the site’s educational content.


“Parlo” parlays online lessons into foreign language fluency

Parlo’s unique Virtual Immersion method of language learning enables students to enjoy a “study abroad” experience without having to leave the comfort of their computers. Students can visit the web site to enroll in premium online courses with enhanced audio and interactivity, as well as a wide range of free eMail lessons in French, Spanish, English, and Italian, with German coming soon. Parlo’s site also features pen pals, magazine articles, teachers’ materials, and shopping opportunities. This site is a great way for educators to supplement language learning in the classroom. Parlo offers a variety of materials that teachers can use to enhance the language immersion experience for students. Teachers can choose which lesson topic suits the needs of their students most. Dialogs, grammar explanations and exercises, reading selections, pronunciation activities, and quizzes can help emphasize important concepts learned in class and provide extra practice for students who need help with particular language skills. Students are encouraged to take a diagnostic test in their chosen language of study in order to help Parlo place them at the right level for lessons and chat rooms. Language Curriculum teams consist of top language teachers, linguists, publishers, and ESL specialists, with focused knowledge in technology and distance learning. Full online courses cost approximately $39 to $49 each.


The landscape is changing for technology grant seekers

It’s the first few weeks of the new administration and everyone is wondering what changes the Bush administration will bring. As a grant writer, I am wondering how the federal and state funding landscape will change. Will there be new initiatives, an emphasis on new areas, or the demise of programs we became accustomed to the last eight years?

Here are some of my thoughts about what we may see, based solely on what I have read so far about President George W. Bush’s plans for education and conversations I have had with colleagues in the past few weeks. (Don’t be under the impression that I have “inside” information from the Beltway!)

In the education plan that Bush released in January, he proposed establishing a $3 billion technology fund. However, this fund would be a consolidation of eRate funds along with eight Department of Education technology programs that are part of Title III of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. States and schools would have flexibility in using the technology funds for teacher training, software purchase and development, and systems integration.

What could this consolidation mean? From a grant-seeking perspective, it could mean fewer proposals to submit–a welcome change for many districts that do not have a grant writer on staff. The consolidation of programs may result in block grants, where schools would submit one application requesting funds and indicate which particular programs they want to be considered for (similar to the Community Development Block Grant program).

Although this could simplify the application process immensely, it might also mean a reduction in funding. States would have the authority, through block granting, to realign funding–and this does not necessarily mean that levels would remain the same as they were before the block grants were instituted. Some of my colleagues fear a significant reduction in eRate funds or, in the worst-case scenario, the elimination of funds. The same also could be said for any one of the technology programs in the Department of Education that are selected for consolidation.

Ultimately, what could occur is an increase in applications for the block grants (because of the simplification of the process), combined with less money being available. The result could be an even higher degree of competition for dollars than already exists. As grant seekers, we can do our part by lobbying our state and federal representatives to preserve funding levels for technology-related programs.

Will there be a shift in priority areas for education funding? According to Education Secretary Rod Paige (Education Week, January 17), “Core agenda items of the Bush administration include imposing new accountability demands on states and schools, providing more local control of federal funds, increasing parental choice, raising child literacy rates, improving school safety, and closing the achievement gaps between students of different family backgrounds.”

Some of these areas are not new. But the Bush plan is marked by an increased emphasis on reading, especially at an early age. One of President Bush’s campaign proposals was to establish a new $5 billion initiative to ensure that all students learn to read by the third grade, with an emphasis on disadvantaged children. Participating states in the initiative would be required to include phonics-based instruction in their programs, train K-2 teachers in reading preparation, and test students in reading in grades three through eight.

Note, also, that Bush would like to move the Head Start preschool program to the Department of Education from the Department of Health and Human Services. In the Education Week article, Secretary Paige stated, “I do not feel that the broad range of services by Head Start should be discontinued, but early education, especially reading, should become the centerpiece.”

An increase in accountability could result in increased student testing, which Bush strongly advocates, and an increased emphasis on the program-evaluation components of grant-funded projects. Reviewers may be looking for significant levels of testing of students to support an applicant’s assertion that his or her project will increase student achievement.

In addition, applicants may be asked more frequently to select research-based solutions to problems and to include the data that show the impact of these solutions on student learning. Vendors of software solutions should be collecting data showing their products’ impact beyond the testimonials of classroom teachers, because future grant seekers will be requesting this type of information from them.

Of course, these are only observations based on the few details we have of the Bush plan so far. I’d welcome any comments from readers who might disagree.

Whatever changes will occur under the new administration, they are unlikely to affect the current funding cycle for federal grant programs. But savvy grant seekers should keep an eye on future developments that could result in a whole new grant-seeking landscape next year.


What’s wrong with CIPA

What bothers me most about the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) is that it insults my intelligence and questions my responsibility. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., must believe that we are either stupid–and have no idea how to control internet access on our networks–or completely irresponsible proponents of porn and the access of porn by our students. He must see himself as the white knight of morality riding in to save the taxpayers’ children from the depraved and bumbling teachers and librarians who insist on providing unrestricted access to porn piped directly into classrooms day in and day out.

Beyond the generally insulting tone of the law are some serious issues related to its enforcement–and McCain’s obvious inexperience with filtering technology and alternatives to filtering that can be used to combat this problem.

For those of you who haven’t followed this legislation, CIPA is the latest evolution of bills that attempt to tie eRate funding to the installation of filtering technology. According to this law, schools and libraries that receive eRate funding would have to install filtering technology to block child pornography, other legally obscene material, or material deemed to be “inappropriate for minors.”

Unlike its predecessor (the Child Online Protection Act), which was struck down as unconstitutional for being too vague, CIPA clarifies what is to be blocked with terms such as “legally obscene” and “child pornography,” which have specific legal definitions. The definition of obscene, however, is based on somewhat subjective criteria, such as “contemporary community standards” or “patently offensive” (see link), and often is challenged on a case-by-case basis.

Subjective criteria such as these are sometimes necessary when evaluating the appropriateness of a single book, periodical, or web site, but they work because a thorough discussion of that single work’s merits can take place. What McCain is proposing, however, is not an open evaluation of individual web sites against the criteria for obscenity. Rather, he would leave the gory details of evaluation to private companies that are under no obligation to disclose their policies or to produce a list of sites deemed “obscene.” These companies would have the authority to label a site as obscene without notifying its author. Measurements of “contemporary community standards” and what is “patently offensive” are left to a handful of people who are beholden to no one in the community for their decisions.

More troubling than his willingness to hand over our First Amendment rights to a handful of internet filtering companies is McCain’s apparent lack of understanding of the nature of the problem. In his comments introducing the bill, he said, “As we have seen through an increasing flurry of shocking media reports, the internet has become the tool of choice for pedophiles who utilize the internet to lure and seduce children into illegal and abusive sexual activity. … In many cases, such activity is the product of individuals taking advantage of the anonymity provided by the internet to stalk children through chatrooms and by eMail” (Congressional Record, June 22, 2000, page S5647).

McCain neglected to mention that his filtering legislation would do little or nothing to restrict eMail, instant messaging, or chat, which are the ways that virtually all of these offenses occur.

He also said, “Today [filters] are adaptable, capable of being fine-tuned to accommodate changes in web sites as well as the evolving needs of individual schools and even individual lesson plans” (Congressional Record, Jan. 19, 1999, page S531). The reality is that filtering technology hasn’t changed all that much in the past few years.

The ability to unblock sites and provide different levels of access is nothing new. But doing it well requires technical expertise. The person managing the filter must examine the log files regularly and unblock sites that show up there erroneously. Interpreting these logs requires a basic understanding of how web access works and of hypertext markup language. By forcing schools with limited tech support staff to install filters, CIPA has the potential to subvert a working low-tech solution of observation and education and replace it with an unmanageable technical solution that blocks access to legitimate material.

I do not criticize CIPA for promoting filtering. We filter at our school, and I feel that our system works relatively well. My concern lies in the fact that the government is trying to take the responsibility for determining how best to address the safety of school children out of the hands of local communities and place it in those of a few filtering companies. Furthermore, McCain seems unwilling to accept the fact that most schools that have chosen not to install filters have done so after careful consideration of their options and have made a decision based on principles and pedagogy. He has rejected the notion that a low-tech solution can be just as (or more) effective than a filtering solution.

I know of several schools that have made the decision not to filter based on philosophical reasons. These schools employ numerous low-tech solutions to help teach students how to use the internet responsibly. Some of these include: Placing student workstations only in locations monitored by adults with screens positioned so they can be seen easily, Disabling the ability to auto-hide the Windows task bar to prevent students from hiding pages that have been minimized, Writing a clear acceptable-use policy with specific consequences for violations, Having frank discussions with students about inappropriate material and responsible use of the internet, Restricting computer access to students with specific tasks to complete, and Monitoring, but not blocking, internet access through a proxy server.

CIPA gives no credence to solutions such as these. What is troubling is that these are basics that schools should be doing whether they filter or not. CIPA requires none of them, nor does it mention any of them as acceptable alternatives or supplements to filtering. According to CIPA, a school need only install a filter and do nothing else related to teaching students about using the internet responsibly, and it will be in compliance. In many places, untold numbers of legitimate educational sites will be erroneously blocked, and if the database is not regularly updated, access to “obscene” material will become increasingly available. Meanwhile, nothing will have been done to prepare students to use the internet responsibly when they get home or go to college.

CIPA is so wrong-headed on so many levels that its very existence baffles me. Rather than growing out of a real problem and offering a solution to that problem, it comes from fear and a lack of trust of the adults in charge of schools and libraries. Sure, a problem exists, but the problem is not the kid who looks at dirty pictures while he’s supposed to be doing a history paper. The problem is the teen-ager who comes home to an empty house and sits in front of his computer unsupervised for hours. The problem is the online service that permits adults to send unsolicited instant messages and eMail to children. The problem is the parent who has never talked to his child about what he does online or doesn’t even know how to turn on the computer.

These are the problems we face, and they are much more complex than McCain would have us believe. Filtering solutions exist that may help combat these problems, but they are imperfect, and they are not the only solution. The most valuable solution is a human one. Students need to feel responsible to a human being who will be pleased with good behavior and disappointed with bad. This is a fundamental component of a teacher-student or parent-child relationship, and it is something that a piece of software can never replace.