Maryland House votes to allow cell phones and pagers in schools

The Maryland House of Delegates voted Feb. 9 to repeal a state law that makes it illegal for students to bring pagers and cell phones onto school grounds.

The 110-26 House vote followed a spirited debate, during which supporters argued that cell phones help parents and students stay in touch, while opponents warned that allowing phones and pagers in school will encourage drug crime and distract students.

The law was passed in 1989 at a time school officials were worried that students were using pagers to set up drug deals.

“This is an obsolete law,” Delegate Ann Marie Doory, D-Baltimore, said. She told delegates that it bans not only pagers, the original target, but also cell phones and laptop computers.

Supporters said many students, especially those in after-school activities, need cell phones to let parents know when those activities end, arrange rides, and just stay in touch.

“It’s no longer considered a drug issue. It’s a safety issue,” Delegate Joseph Vallario, D-Prince George’s, said. He said if the law is repealed, local school systems will have the power to ban cell phones from school grounds or regulate their use.

That did not satisfy Delegate Joanne Benson, D-Prince George’s, a public school teacher and administrator.

“I am in adamant opposition to HB67 as a 38-year educator,” Benson said. “I can’t imagine how we could have our youngsters with a phone.” She predicted cell phones will be a distraction in classes and will put yet another burden on overworked teachers and administrators.

The bill will now go to the Senate, which has not yet acted on its bill dealing with pagers and cell phones.

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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.

Links:

Rep. Gene Green, D-Texas
http://www.house.gov/green


Schools and Libraries Division
http://www.sl.universalservice.org


U.S. General Accounting Office
http://www.gao.gov

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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.”

Links:

Sen. Christopher Dodd
http://www.senate.gov/~dodd


Sen. Richard Shelby
http://www.senate.gov/~shelby


The Eagle Forum
http://www.eagleforum.org


Channel One
http://www.channelone.com


rStar Networks
http://zapme.com

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iMind shuts its doors

As of the first week in March, California-based iMind—an educational software company with more than 70 employees—had thrown in the towel.

No formal company statement that iMind was closing its doors was issued, and no board members or company executives were available for comment. The iMind web site, still up and running, makes no mention of the company’s last days.

According to CNN.com, however, the company had just one employee left on March 3, Richard McWilliams, a senior developer. McWilliams explained that company paychecks stopped coming at the end of January.

“They came in and told us when the paychecks were due that they couldn’t make payroll, and they were trying to pull all sorts of deals together to do that,” he told CNN.com.

The company did not hand out any pink slips and it has not offered any severance, CNN reported.

iMind board member Dominique Hanssens told CNN that the company is still trying to straighten out its financial situation. But Hanssens told eSchool News March 7 that he was no longer a board member as of that week and declined further comment, citing iMind’s pending bankruptcy.

In the meantime, some employees have decided to sue the company for back wages, according to CNN.

As late as the Florida Education Technology Conference (FETC) in January, iMind was promoting the launch of its web-enabled technology, iMind Integrator and iMind TutorPro.

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The key to getting useful technology donations:

Good planning Technology donations—laptops, software, internet access, networking, PCs, and personal digital assistants—can help schools keep their classrooms relevant. Donations can become a PR nightmare, however, when a lack of clear guidelines makes it difficult to “just say no” to a community partner who wants to unload outmoded or incompatible equipment.

To get the donations your students deserve, get a team of colleagues together and draft a policy that maps out your goals, criteria, and technology specifications. Processes for handling donations—from identifying a single point person or department to take phone calls and requests, to pick-up, clean-up, and delivery to schools—also need to spelled out. At Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS), for example, we’ve added more than 1,000 computers, 500 laptops, and 66 printers to our schools, thanks to a computer recycling center we established with the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce. More than 20 schools have been “adopted” by corporate technology partners.

Before we began seeking donations, however, we developed an extensive, system-wide technology plan and detailed guidelines to ensure that the investment we make in donated equipment is based on sound educational decisions.

Too many schools simply take anything that’s available, and that’s a mistake, cautions Rick Rozzelle, a technology consultant who guided CMS’s process.

“Donations should only be accepted if they can improve teaching and learning,” says Rozzelle. “Every donation carries an associated cost. Schools need to make sure that these costs represent a wise investment of technology dollars, which are often limited.”

Key issues to address include compatibility with the existing hardware and network, and whether the computer will run your school’s or district’s core instructional programs or access the internet at an acceptable speed.

If the technology is dated, are replacement parts available and affordable? What are the costs of refurbishing the computer and deleting unwanted software and tracking devices? Can your technology department or help desk handle the additional load? What training issues need to be addressed before teachers and students will benefit?

At CMS, donations must conform to standards outlined in the district’s technology plan. Only business-model computers are accepted; home versions—such as the IBM Aptiva or Macintosh Performa—just don’t have the horsepower needed for daily classroom use. “Accepting a wider range of models is not cost-effective and [is] more difficult to maintain,” says Rozzelle, noting that CMS only accepts Apple Macintosh, Dell, Compaq, and IBM computers that meet the district’s minimum standards for hardware and software. “You’re better off applying limited dollars and resources to newer technology.”

Minimum PC standards include an Intel Pentium 166 MHz processor with 32 MB of memory and a 1 GB hard drive. Donated computers should also have a 6X CD-ROM capability, a 10/100 BASE-T Ethernet card, 16-bit sound card, 15-inch monitor, mouse, keyboard, and the Windows 95 operating system.

CMS also limits the software donations it will accept, focusing on such basics as Windows 95, Microsoft Works, Norton Antivirus, Fortres desktop security software, or Mac Manager, plus internet applications such as Netscape, Eudora, Telnet, and Adobe Acrobat Reader. Instructional software and partnerships are evaluated separately and can vary school by school, depending on student needs.

At CMS, all donations—from crayons to computers—are handled by our Volunteers and Partnerships Office, which brings in more than $15 million per year in in-kind services, volunteer hours, donated equipment, and school-business partnerships.

Schools can access district services for installation, training, repair, and maintenance at no cost if they follow CMS guidelines and refer all donors to this office.

“Our mission is to leverage community resources to meet school needs,” says CMS’s Deb Antshel, who credits her department’s success to clear goals and objectives, teamwork between departments, a hard-working staff, and a generous community.

“You have to have a detailed action plan. No one has time to waste, especially business leaders,” Antshel says. “They respect you more—and give more generously—if you know what you want and why.”

Links:

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools
http://www.cms.k12.nc.us


Charlotte Chamber of Commerce
http://www.charlottechamber.com

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The real reason school technology doesn’t compare to corporate IT

One of our corporate benefactors recently built a facility down the street from our school, and I had the opportunity to tour their data center a couple of weeks ago. I left drooling.

As we walked up the ramp to the raised floor of the data center and signed in, I was immediately struck by the fact that humidity and temperature were maintained at an ideal level for electronic equipment by four gigantic environmental control units. Data and voice frames arranged neatly in rows supported thousands of wires, which appeared from the chases below the floor and were punched down neatly and labeled both on the panel and on the cable. Each wire was meticulously cut and punched down well within the limits of Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ specifications.

Redundancy and reliability seemed to be the watchwords here, as my tour guide explained to me the wiring plan and the redundant T-1 lines that connected the site to the rest of the corporate backbone. Virtually every piece of equipment had redundant power supplies. He showed me how the electricity is supplied from two different city power grids to safeguard against power failure. In a closet, tens of thousands of dollars worth of replacement equipment sat in a “crash cart” just waiting for something on the network to fail.

When he pointed out a router that required a token ring card, I commented on my surprise that they were still using token ring. “They make an Ethernet version of this particular machine,” he replied. “But we’re still testing it. Nothing goes into our production network until it has been tested in the lab and then piloted in a remote field office. The customer is the lifeblood of our company. There can be absolutely zero impact on customer service from network outages.”

On my way back up the street, I started to think of my own “customers” and my own “data center,” which is actually a closet in a classroom adjacent to the main computer lab. Crowded and susceptible to heat, it serves our needs fairly well, but it has nowhere near the fault tolerance of any corporate data center.

Sure, we do the basics. Data are backed up every night. Sensitive data are placed on a redundant array of independent disks (RAID) 5-disk arrays. Adequate uninterruptible power supplies protect the servers and switches. If the T-1 line goes down, however, it does not roll the traffic onto a backup. It just goes down, and we do without internet access until Verizon can get it back up. Similarly, when the power goes out, the servers stay up for 15 minutes and then shut down, but workstations cut off immediately.

We do basic testing to see if things like new applications or operating systems will work, but something as basic as putting a different network interface card into a computer? We just put it in, and if it doesn’t work, we take it out again. Last week, we had to update some software on all the machines in one lab, so we closed the lab for 45 minutes. Zero impact on customer service? Hmmm.

Compared with those of corporate America, our practices may seem cavalier—perhaps even irresponsible—but our situation is not unique among schools. Most school information technology departments just don’t have the head count or the budget to do much better. The reality is that in many schools, network reliability is a priority for only one person—the network administrator.

Sure, the kids grumble when they can’t get their papers typed, but they write them longhand or they tell the teacher that the system was down and hand them in late. The principal gets frustrated when he can’t get his eMail right away, but he understands that the network administrator is overworked. He resigns himself to the fact that the system will be back up eventually.

In a corporation that depends on its data systems, network outages are a big deal. They cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. People lose their jobs because of them. In a school, a network outage is no big deal. Users wait, and the network comes back up eventually.

Information technology simply plays a different role in a corporation than it does in a school. When corporations adopt IT, it often becomes an essential part of their operations. Computers will manage customer contact information, work-flow processes, shipment tracking, and everything related to each and every business transaction. If the network goes down, work stops. Period.

Many schools, on the other hand, have taken a cautious, experimental attitude toward adopting technology into the core of their daily operations. Schools have set up computer labs, and maybe even some computers in classrooms, but most still use a manual procedure for producing report cards or accounting. The network could be down for days in a school like this with little or no impact on the school’s operation. Teachers just change lesson plans, and students find other ways to type work as a sort of human fault tolerance.

On the surface, finances seem to be the most obvious reason for this difference.

Corporations make money, and schools spend money. In schools, resources are tight, and we cut corners where we have to. However, resources are tight in a corporation as well. Everything needs to be accounted for, and corporate IT managers often have to answer tough questions to their bosses about high expenses.

While finances must play some role in the different ways schools and corporations implement technology, I’d like to suggest that the issue is more complex than dollars and cents. I believe it results from a fundamental difference in priorities.

The difference in missions between schools and corporations is a primary factor in this difference in priorities. Corporate IT departments have an extraordinarily narrow purpose because the corporation usually has a very specific job to do. Schools, on the other hand, are experimental and academic by design. Our counterparts in industry are given charges like “design an eCommerce application so that our customers can order our product over the web.” We, on the other hand, get requests like, “implement technology in the classroom to make our students more information-literate,” or “make instruction more student-centric and project-based.” Our counterparts have a clear-cut goal and painfully obvious ways to measure success or failure. We have a hazy vision of what we want to accomplish and measurement tools that often leave us wondering exactly what we have measured.

Another reason for this difference in priorities is the difference in relationships that schools and corporations have with their customers. Companies implement comprehensive IT strategies to match up to competitors that have used technology to provide better products and more efficient customer service. The threat of losing customers to technologically advanced competitors has driven companies to implement new technology and incorporate it into their business processes at breakneck speed. Consequently, the threat of losing customers due to system outages has made system reliability into priority No. 1.

Schools, on the other hand, are not nearly as motivated by customer loyalty because, for the most part, they have a captive audience. Despite all the recent political noise about charter schools and vouchers increasing competition among schools, the reality is that these proposals, at best, will amount to a drop in the bucket for the majority of school “customers.”

Until fundamental change occurs in the public school system that serves the overwhelming majority of students, most students will continue going to school right where they always have with little, if any, impact on schools’ attitudes toward customer loyalty. The technological result will be that computers likely will remain on the fringe as an attractive side dish, but they rarely will become the main course of a school’s operations.

This has resulted in an unfortunate Catch-22 for technology in many schools. Because of vague goals and a lack of concern for customer loyalty, technology is not an essential part of the daily operations of many schools. Because it is not an essential part of the daily operations, it has become impossible to justify spending money on redundancy and light-switch reliability. Because we can’t guarantee light-switch reliability, we can’t generate the administrative and faculty confidence in our systems needed to make technology a core component of the daily operations.

Of course, differing attitudes toward technology is only one small symptom of this difference in mindset between corporate and academic America. On a much larger scale, this mindset is responsible for failing schools and teachers who have lost the motivation to innovate in a period of unprecedented economic growth and corporate success. Our businesses have succeeded because of clear-cut goals, strategic plans for achieving those goals, and clear, objective measurements of success. Our schools struggle because we latch onto vague and changing notions of what academic success means, we follow trends and fads to achieve it, and we can’t agree on a reliable way to measure it.

I guess we’ll be OK as long as there’s no competitive threat to our customer base.

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PeopleSoft 8 Budget Planning software

PeopleSoft developed its PeopleSoft 8 Budget Planning for Education and Government software so school districts and government agencies could streamline their preparation of budgets, control spending, and manage their reporting processes. The software is equipped with wide-ranging financial forecasting and budget modeling tools to help school systems with their planning and strategic decision-making.

Since it is browser-based, PeopleSoft Budget Planning lets you prepare comprehensive budgets anytime, anywhere using Microsoft Internet Explorer. The software lets you analyze and manipulate the budget any way you want, providing budgeting capability by line item, positions, budget centers, and budget categories. It also integrates with human resources and financial systems.

PeopleSoft Budget Planning is a one-time purchase, and the price is based on the size of the school system. School districts also can negotiate for maintenance and training.

Contact:
(888) 773-8277
http://www.peoplesoft.com

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New Defense Dept. policy could keep used military computers out of schools

A new policy that may keep used military computers out of schools could hamper technology in some of the nation’s poorest classrooms and force schools to find additional funding for computers.

Deputy Defense Secretary Rudy de Leon issued a memo Jan. 8 directing all military agencies to destroy all hard drives and processors on computers they are no longer using, including computers that had not been used for classified work.

Since 1992, the department had required only computers that dealt with classified information to be destroyed. Hard drives on computers that dealt with unclassified information were supposed to be wiped clean and donated to schools through the federal government’s Computers for Learning program.

Each year since 1994, Utah’s Hill Air Force Base has donated $5 million worth of computers to schools in Utah, Idaho, Arizona, and Nevada, said Brenda Snyder, alternative equipment officer for the base.

Snyder said the new memo makes computers that were to be donated this year virtually worthless to schools because she must remove and destroy all hard drives, cables, and processors.

The base will continue donating monitors and printers to schools, Snyder said.

The new policy is overkill, said a spokesman for Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah.

“We see this as a typical federal government overreaction to deal with a real problem of security lapses,” said Bill Johnson, Hansen’s spokesman.

Johnson said this policy will hurt the federal Computers for Learning program. “It [Computers for Learning] has benefitted the public by donating millions of dollars of computers to schools nationwide,” he said.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said he supports the new policy and does not believe the Computers for Learning program will suffer.

“I am encouraging the Department of Defense to continue looking for a reliable way to erase sensitive information from computers. But until the Pentagon can find one, I must support the decision to destroy hard drives before computers are given away to school districts as a responsible one,” Hatch said.

Susan Hansen, a spokeswoman for the Defense Department, said the department’s audit revealed that in some instances “sensitive information, such as lists of people’s names and their addresses,” had been left on hard drives of donated computers.

“Even unclassified defense information can be a serious risk if it is accidentally left on computers and somehow gets into the wrong hands,” Hatch said.

Susan Hansen, wife of Rep. Jim Hansen, said the Defense Department last year donated more than 74,000 pieces of computer equipment—totalling nearly $60 million—to schools nationwide.

Johnson said Rep. Hansen plans to “dig in and ask questions why they want to destroy perfectly good functioning computers” instead of donating the computers that did not handle anything more classified “than love eMails to wives.”

Clearfield High School, which is part of Utah’s Davis County School District, has 40 computers from Hill Air Force Base, and all the hard drives were wiped clean when the school received them, said Casey Brown, the school’s technology specialist.

Robin Marble, K-3 resource teacher for the district’s Hill Field Elementary School, said out of the 35 computers the school received in November and December, three of them still had some information on them “that was totally useless to us. I just reformatted them. We needed the computers.”

Marble said the donated computers run slower than the current models on the market, but much faster than the ones the school had before, and they are compatible with programs the students need now. The school’s old computers could not run the new educational programs.

Besides donating the computers, the base also donated the monitors and the Windows 95 license so the school could use the programs, Marble said.

Links:

Computers for Learning
http://www.computers.fed.gov


Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah
http://www.house.gov/hansen


Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah
http://www.senate.gov/~hatch


Department of Defense
http://www.defenselink.mil

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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 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.

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?”

Links:

Indianapolis Star
http://www.starnews.com


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

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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.”

Links:

FCC’s Notice of Proposed Rule Making
http://www.fcc.gov/Bureaus/Engineering_Technology/Notices/2000/fcc00455.pdf


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


Houston Region 4 Education Service Center
http://www.esc4.net


National ITFS Association
http://www.itfs.org


WEB NOW
http://www.itfs.org/webnow


Verizon Wireless
http://www.verizonwireless.com

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