Newspaper probes what supes do on computers

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 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 shopping site to more obscure sites.

Those included, the home page for a comic strip that was found on the computer records of Shelbyville Superintendent James Peck, and, 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.

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, that would bother me,” said Cathy Hamm, an Edinburgh school board member. Because Edinburgh’s policy allows for personal use of the internet, however, 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 9-to-5 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.

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.”

But if an acceptable-use policy is expected to apply to the staff and students in a school district, then all staff are equally responsible, including the superintendent, experts say. 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?”


Indianapolis Star

American Association of School Administrators


Spectrum switch could cost schools a bundle

Because of the burgeoning frequency requirements for cell phones, pagers, and other wireless devices, some school districts could lose substantial funding or incur significant new costs. The risk comes as a result of new spectrum-reallocation proposals now before the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

The FCC is looking for ways to accommodate new wireless technologies for consumers. Consequently, school districts might be forced to give up a portion of the wireless spectrum that currently supports distance learning and videoconferencing for thousands of students.

In one of many possible FCC scenarios, educators would not lose access to this spectrum entirely. Instead, some school districts that hold licenses in the portion of the spectrum now reserved for educational applications would be moved to another band of frequencies, as the FCC tries to make room for advanced wireless solutions (also called third-generation, or 3G, technologies).

But if that were to happen, some communities could lose their educational services altogether, while others could face new equipment costs, disruption or curtailment of service, lower quality of service, or signal interference, according to Wireless Education Broadband (WEB) NOW, a campaign to preserve the portion of the wireless spectrum devoted to education.

What’s more, school districts stand to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in licensing fees if the move were to occur. Many districts now lease their excess spectrum capacity to companies such as WorldCom or Sprint in exchange for computer labs, equipment, broadband access, or cash. If these companies don’t follow the districts to their new frequency channels, such partnerships no longer would apply.

The spectrum battle

According to the FCC, the number of subscribers to wireless services such as mobile cell phones, pagers, and personal digital assistants more than doubled from 1996 to 1999, to more than 86 million users.

As the demand for mobile data services—such as wireless internet access, eMail, and short messaging services—continues to grow, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), which is developing standards for 3G technologies, estimates that 160 megahertz (MHz) of additional spectrum will be needed to meet the projected requirements of 3G technologies by 2010.

To accommodate this demand, the FCC issued a Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) Jan. 5, seeking comment on several possible solutions. This NPRM (FCC Document No. 00-455) proposed using any, or all, of five frequency bands currently used for other applications to support emerging 3G technologies.

One of the frequency bands in question, 2500 MHz to 2690 MHz, is shared by the Instructional Television Fixed Service (ITFS), a distance-learning technology that has provided educational services to students and teachers since the 1960s, and the Multichannel Multipoint Distribution Service (MMDS), a fixed wireless broadband service provided by a commercial entity.

ITFS licenses are only available to K-12 and higher-education institutions engaged in the formal education of students, or nonprofit organizations providing educational programming for schools and communities.

“There are between 2,000 and 3,000 [ITFS] license holders, and of those, about 750 are K-12 schools,” said Mary Conk, a legislative analyst for the American Association of School Administrators (AASA). “But what many [people] don’t realize is that ITFS affects not only those license holders, but also any schools in the areas covered by those licenses.”

ITFS is used for a broad range of services, from in-service teacher training to classroom instruction for students.

“Initially, the ITFS spectrum was given out in the 1960s as one-way analog,” said Conk. “Schools have traditionally used the spectrum for internal television stations to deliver professional development.”

About three years ago, ITFS license holders were given the opportunity to use digital technologies—and the results have been “amazing,” Conk said: “Only recently have we been able to do bigger and better things with this, like [offering] high-speed broadband access and wireless [service].”

Almost all of California’s professional development occurs over ITFS, Conk said. California education officials “have used it very effectively for alternative certification classes to get teachers at inner-city schools certified.”

Schools also use the ITFS spectrum to offer Advanced Placement (AP) courses.

“There are lots of schools without the staff to offer an entire [AP] section, and this is a great way to deliver it,” said Conk. But many schools use the ITFS spectrum to offer general courses, too, she added.

For instance, Conk said, Kansas requires its students to take a certain number of foreign language classes to graduate, but many rural schools don’t have the capacity to hire more than one teacher to teach foreign languages. Many of these underserved schools use the ITFS spectrum to offer these courses via distance learning, she said.

Potential impact

According to the FCC, if ITFS has to make room for commercial 3G applications, schools would not have their spectrum taken away entirely; instead, they would be relocated to another part of the spectrum. One plan suggested by the FCC would set aside 90 MHz of the 2500 MHz to 2690 MHz spectrum band for emerging wireless services, leaving 100 MHz for ITFS and MMDS.

Though it’s only one of several possible scenarios, the education community has expressed “major concerns” about moving ITFS from its current portion of the spectrum, said Conk. Besides the disruption in service that could occur, schools also fear they’ll lose out on hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue from partnerships with MMDS providers using the same spectrum band.

Currently, many school districts operate in a symbiotic relationship with wireless MMDS companies such as WorldCom and Sprint, with the districts allowing these companies to use an extra channel or two in exchange for a fee and the opportunity to develop new wireless technologies at the schools.

“That has been really important, because most schools don’t have the capital to develop wireless technologies by themselves,” said Conk. “If we were [to be] moved, it has been said that our commercial partners would not go with us. They are established in this portion of the spectrum, and the cost for them to change over would be astronomical.”

Bob Baker is the director of technology services at Houston Region 4 Education Service Center, an organization that includes 54 school districts and approximately 900,000 students—about 25 percent of the state’s enrollment.

“We’ve been on an ITFS network for 15 years,” Baker said. “We use it for all our traditional distance education programs, including for-credit programs in rural areas, professional development for teachers and administrators, conducting administrative meetings, and going on electronic field trips.”

The Houston service center has had a partnership with its local cable wireless operator, Sprint Broadband Group, for several years.

“They’ve provided us with the access to some wireless cable learning channels, they pay for upgrades and maintenance on the transmitter, they pay for FCC [legal filings], and they pay us a monthly royalty fee,” Baker said.

The service center holds licenses for eight channels in the Houston area, only three of which are used for its own programming. The other five are leased to Sprint.

“My understanding is that the proposed area [of spectrum] we’d be moved to would not be of interest [to Sprint],” said Baker. “We’d be moved for free, but the cost of operating the network would not be recovered from our districts. We’d either have to underwrite it somehow or shut it down.”

The move would mean the loss of $10,000 per month in fees and services to the 54 school districts represented by the service center, he said.

“Without our wireless partners, we’d be dead in the water,” Baker said.

The telcos’ side

In petitions filed with the FCC, some wireless telecommunications carriers that don’t own MMDS licenses have asked the agency to open a portion of the ITFS/MMDS band for 3G use. Many of these companies have cited the fact that current ITFS license holders already lease portions of unused spectrum to commercial companies as evidence that 3G technologies can be accommodated easily on this spectrum band.

For example, Verizon Wireless pointed out that “while it was originally allocated for the transmission of instructional programming, this [2500 MHz to 2690 MHz] band is now predominantly used for commercial purposes. In the past, when the [FCC] determined that spectrum was not being used predominantly for its intended purpose, it has reallocated a portion of the band to accommodate other services needing spectrum. The [FCC] should take the same action here.”

A spokesman for Verizon Wireless declined to comment on the company’s position or how it may affect current ITFS license holders.

Groups such as AASA and the National ITFS Association, which launched WEB NOW, are urging educators to contact their legislators and the FCC to express their concern with the potential relocation of ITFS. In fact, the WEB NOW site provides educators with a sample letter to the FCC and to Congress, urging against any reallocation of the current ITFS spectrum band.

FCC spokesman Brad Lerner said the agency could not comment about ITFS and 3G at this time, because its “notice of proposed rule making” is still pending.

“It’s a restrictive proceeding, so we can’t answer specific questions at this time,” said Lerner. “But I can say we have made no decisions yet, and [moving ITFS] is only one option we’re discussing.”


FCC’s Notice of Proposed Rule Making

American Association of School Administrators

Houston Region 4 Education Service Center

National ITFS Association


Verizon Wireless



The George Lucas Educational Foundation (GLEF) has redesigned its web site to provide visitors with easy access to innovative stories about teaching and learning for the digital age. GLEF is a nonprofit foundation that gathers and disseminates the most innovative models of K-12 teaching and learning. It serves this mission through the creation of media, from films, books, and newsletters, to CD-ROMs and web-based materials. The GLEF web site uses digital technology to act as a web-based multimedia resource center, providing hundreds of powerful examples of learning and teaching already successful in our nation’s schools. This information is provided on demand to a worldwide audience in an effort to stimulate active involvement and guide choices in school reform. The GLEF audience includes teachers, administrators, school board members, other elected officials, parents, researchers, and business and community leaders. The site’s web-based articles, video clips, and other resources are organized into three major categories: Innovative Classrooms, Skillful Educators, and Involved Communities. New content includes articles on topics critical to teaching and learning, such as “Emotional Intelligence,” “Coaching the Coaches,” and “Parents as Partners.”


Buddy up to this web site for lesson plans and collaborative projects

“The Buddy Project: Teacher Resources” offers a host of web sites, guides, and information to help educators integrate technology successfully into the classroom. Launched in 1988 by the Indianapolis-based nonprofit Corporation for Educational Technology, the Buddy Project is funded through a variety of sources, including a state initiative through the Indiana General Assembly, as well as contributions and grants from public and private funds. According to its web site, the project “develops and facilitates demonstration projects of leading-edge student learning environments for K-12 schools using technology in anytime, anywhere settings.” Teachers from around the country can get lesson plans created by their peers that connect technology with classroom curriculum, and they can get links to other web sites showing how schools have published curriculum that integrates the internet. Using Adobe Acrobat Reader, teachers can view and print the handouts that Buddy Project facilitators have created. These handouts offer tips for integrating technology into classroom curriculum, as well as tips for establishing school-home connections. Teachers can find out how their school can step beyond the classroom walls by joining collaborative projects, and they can learn how to enter contests that could earn money, equipment, software, or other awards.


Dept. of Ed’s ‘eRate and the Digital Divide’ details the eRate’s impacts

With all the talk of political threats to the eRate program, you might be asking yourself exactly what the eRate has done for U.S. schools thus far. The answer is contained in the U.S Department of Education’s 231-page report, entitled “eRate and the Digital Divide: A Preliminary Analysis From the Integrated Studies of Educational Technology.” This report offers the first comprehensive consideration of the effects of the federal Universal Service Administrative Company’s eRate program, administered by the Schools and Libraries Division of USAC and created as part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 “to provide discounts on the cost of telecommunications services and equipment to all public and private schools and libraries.” The aim of the eRate is to make internet connections more affordable for schools, particularly for schools in lower-income areas. The report—available in PDF format—analyzes the effects of the eRate on targeted schools. Prepared by Michael J. Puma, Duncan D. Chaplin, and Andreas D. Pape, this September 2000 publication provides an overview of ED’s findings. To get a general overview of the report, start with the Executive Summary.


Help students develop safe surfing habits with

The NetSmartz Workshop, an educational resource for parents, teachers, and children of all ages, was created by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) to address the need for children’s internet safety education. Compaq Computer Corp. donated $1.5 million to establish an on-site internet studio at NCMEC with 3D animators, artists, and web developers. This donation allows the NetSmartz Workshop to be shared with children, parents, and educators worldwide via the internet at no cost. The project’s web site features age-appropriate, interactive games and activities that use the latest web technologies to entertain while they teach kids how to stay safe on the web. The site targets every level of the educational process by containing a segment designed especially for kids, a segment for teens, and one for parents and educators. Users can participate in activities, read suggested discussion questions, and get classroom-ready lesson plans related to the site’s online activities.


Point your browser to this web site for practical PowerPoint guidance

“PowerPoint in the Classroom” is an eight-part tutorial to help K-12 teachers incorporate the use of Microsoft’s PowerPoint effectively in the classroom. PowerPoint is a high-powered software tool used for presenting information in a dynamic slide show format. Text, charts, graphs, sound effects, and video are just some of the elements PowerPoint can incorporate into school presentations. Whether it’s a classroom lesson, a parents’ group meeting, a teachers’ seminar, or an unattended kiosk at the science fair, learning PowerPoint can help educators and administrators make a powerful impression on their audience. This site helps educators learn the basics of using PowerPoint’s toolbars, laying out information, saving, and moving information to the presentation site. Just to tweak your memory, the tutorial includes a quiz question at the end of each new section. The “Cool For School” page is a great source for extra tips and tricks for using PowerPoint in the classroom.


Don’t be afraid to call or even visit program officers

At February’s eSchool News Grants and Funding conference in New Orleans, federal program officers were unable to attend because of the change in administrations. This dilemma led me to start one of my sessions with the following piece of advice: You can visit program officers at their offices, and you should!

Program officers are responsible for providing information about the grant program they are affiliated with and giving technical assistance to potential applicants. The contact information for a grant’s program officer can be found in the grant’s request for proposals (RFP).

I just attended an RFP workshop in which the federal program officer actually gave his home eMail address and said we should not hesitate to contact him on weekends if we needed to. Take advantage of this contact information, but don’t abuse it.

Don’t be afraid to get in touch with program officers and draw upon their knowledge and expertise. I have found many program officers to be extremely helpful and receptive to answering my questions. In some cases, this has saved me from submitting a proposal that would not score high enough to be competitive.

I suggest that you contact program officers to do the following:

o Discuss your intended project before starting the proposal, especially if you are not clear whether there is a “tight fit” between your idea and the purpose of the grant program.

o Ask specific questions you might have related to your project, your proposal, or the grant program itself. Do not, however, pick up the phone and call a program officer if you haven’t even read the RFP yet. Program officers are far too busy for these types of “fishing expedition” phone calls!

o Ask them to refer you to a prior grantee who may share some similarities with you in terms of project ideas or demographics.

Depending on your level of interest in federal grants and the travel funds available in your district’s budget, it might be worth your while to schedule a trip to Washington to visit with several program officers face to face. This is easy to do, because the various grant offices are located in close proximity to one another. I would encourage you to schedule these visits during “down” time (usually the summer), rather than at the height of the grants season. It is conceivable that spending a day or two in Washington could result in your seeing as many as 10 or more program officers!

Prepare in advance for your visit with the program officers. Review the RFPs for the grant programs you are interested in and make a list of the questions that you have regarding the RFPs. Write brief abstracts of your proposed projects, so the program officers have something they can read and react to. Take careful notes of your discussion, so you have something you can refer to when you return. Ask the program officers if they will review a draft of your proposal before final submission (yes, it’s hard to believe, but some federal program officers in certain programs will do this!).

Remember, program officers want high-quality proposals—and they want to help you produce them. View them as important members of your grant-seeking team.


Bill would give unspent eRate funds to poorest schools

The nation’s poorest schools would be eligible for up to $100 million in unspent eRate discounts to modernize their internet labs and computer hardware, under a bill now before Congress. The trouble is, no one can agree on whether these unspent funds actually exist

Rep. Gene Green, D-Texas, introduced the legislation, called the Children’s Access to Technology Act, because a recent report from the federal General Accounting Office (GAO) found schools were not completing all the necessary eRate paperwork. As a result, nearly $1.3 billion in committed funds for 1998 and 1999 have gone unspent, according to the GAO.

The bill would direct the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to establish a lottery to distribute these allegedly unspent funds. Title I schools could win up to $25,000 in extra funds to update their internet and computer hardware.

“We cannot afford to lose any eRate funding at the end of the year simply because some schools are not following up with their funding,” Green said in a statement. “In these instances, the unspent funds can be allocated to truly needy schools that are struggling to improve the delivery of internet services to their students.”

In the GAO report, called “Schools and Libraries Program: Application and Invoice Review Procedures Need Strengthening,” lawmakers asked the GAO to investigate (a) the amount of eRate funding requested by applicants, (b) the amount of funds committed to them, and (c) the amount of committed funds schools have actually used.

Under the eRate, schools are required to submit a form outlining what telecommunications services they have implemented, so they can be reimbursed. SLD spokesman Mel Blackwell said although this final step is widely publicized, not all schools follow through with it.

Blackwell said the data cited in the GAO report is from a certain period of time and only represents “a snapshot” of the actual situation. For example, in Year One, $4.37 million was unspent, but SLD “rolled it into Year Two, so we didn’t have to collect it from the telecommunications companies in Year Two.”

Each year, the SLD gives the FCC a projection of the demand for eRate funds, so the agency can collect the money from telecommunications companies. By rolling the unspent funds over from year to year, SLD can reduce the amount of funds the FCC needs to collect from companies, Blackwell said.

“There weren’t any unused funds in Year One, [they all were] rolled into Year Two,” Blackwell said.

Carolyn Breedlove, a technology lobbyist for the National Education Association, agreed, saying the data used in the GAO report was collected at “inappropriate times” because it was collected one month before the program’s deadline.

As for Green’s bill, Breedlove speculates that his purpose is to start a discussion about some the problems surrounding the eRate.

“He has some legitimate questions, but I think they can be answered without this legislation,” Breedlove said. “He’s probably trying to get some discussion going and trying to get some answers.”

Blackwell said there probably won’t be any unspent funds in Year Four, either, considering this year’s demand for eRate funding is estimated at $5.787 billion—the highest ever—from 37,188 applications.

In fact, the SLD predicts it won’t be able to fund internal connections for the neediest schools—those eligible for 90-percent discounts—for the first time ever this year.

“It speaks to the need,” Breedlove said, adding that many schools ask for more eRate funding than what they expect to get, and some schools probably applied for the first time.

The GAO report also looked into whether eRate funds have been committed to products and services that are ineligible for support under the program’s rules, whether the program’s administrative costs are increasing, and how these costs compare with those of other federal programs.

“We found that SLD reviewers failed to identify other ineligible items, resulting in at least $6 million in funding errors,” the report said.

Since the eRate began, the SLD has continued to streamline the program and fix problems. Breedlove said it’s hard to standardize the criteria of what is and isn’t eligible, because human beings evaluate the applications.


Rep. Gene Green, D-Texas

Schools and Libraries Division

U.S. General Accounting Office


Senate bill aims to restrict commercialism in schools

Schools would have to ask for parents’ permission before any student information could be collected and used for commercial purposes, and they’d have to develop and adopt a policy with parents concerning in-school commercial activities, under a bipartisan bill introduced into the Senate Feb. 8.

The bill, called the Student Privacy Protection Act and sponsored by Sens. Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala., and Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., aims to involve and inform parents about commercialism in schools.

According to a September 2000 report by the General Accounting Office (GAO), tight budgets have forced many schools to seek alternative revenue sources to pay for new technology or sponsor student activities. As a result, schools are permitting their classrooms to be used for marketing, the GAO report found.

“More and more, schools are being perceived not just as centers for learning, but centers for consumer research,” said Dodd, who added that the bill stemmed from the GAO’s investigation. “Our children should be instilled with knowledge, not tapped for information on their spending habits.”

From ads on the sides of buses or internet browsers, to soft-drink sponsorships, to student surveys, commercialism is becoming increasingly prevalent in schools.

“Many schools enter into commercial contracts with advertisers because, as the GAO found, they are strapped for cash,” Dodd said. “Schools often are faced with two poor choices—provide computers, books, and other educational … equipment with commercial advertising, or not at all.”

Channel One, the most often cited example, offers schools free equipment and a daily news program in exchange for showing television ads to students. Thirty-eight percent of U.S. middle and high schools are connected to Channel One, the GAO report found.

ZapMe!, which is now rStar Networks, gave schools up to 15 computers with 17-inch monitors, internet access, and a printer in exchange for continuously displaying ads on their computer screens. Though rStar Networks continues to support ZapMe!-installed machines, the company does not offer new contracts to schools, and schools that originally signed up for the service now have to pay for the equipment.

The new bill wouldn’t outlaw these types of practices; instead, it would make sure parents are aware of them and are part of the decision-making process. According to the GAO report, not all districts disclose the details of these agreements to parents, and many parents aren’t aware these kinds of activities are going on.

“This bill would return to parents the right to protect their children’s privacy,” Dodd said.

“It does not ban advertising, nor does it ban market research. It simply requires that, before a researcher can start asking a young student to provide personal information, that researcher must obtain parental consent or its equivalent.”

Schools would have to explain to parents who will collect such information, how it will be used, and how much class time the process will consume.

A similar law, called the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), has been in effect since April 2000. COPPA requires web sites that collect personal information from children ages 12 and under to get parents’ permission first. The Student Privacy Protection Act would go a step further and apply to any collection of information for marketing purposes at any K-12 school.

Also, the bill would force schools to develop commercialism policies in consultation with parents. All parents must be informed of the school’s commercialism policy, as well as any changes or exceptions that alter that policy.

“I do not personally see the harm in letting parents know what’s in the schools,” said Lori Cole, executive director of the Eagle Forum, a pro-family, grassroots organization. “I think the more we get parental involvement in schools, the better.”


Sen. Christopher Dodd

Sen. Richard Shelby

The Eagle Forum

Channel One

rStar Networks