“Memorial Day” is a memorable tribute to war veterans

This simple and tasteful web site from the U.S Army’s Center of Military History would make a good addition to any Memorial Day discussion about American veterans and United States involvement in all wars since the Civil War. Powerful photographs bring to mind the sacrifices the nation’s servicemen have made in the name of protecting freedom, both in the world theater and at home. A timeline dating from 1866 to the present traces the origins of Memorial Day, a holiday once known as “Decoration Day,” in honor of the tradition of decorating the graves of U.S. soldiers killed in action. The site’s timeline is filled with interesting facts. For instance, in 1866 a group of women in Columbus, Miss., who laid flowers for both Confederate and Union dead at a local cemetery were hailed in Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune for their “healing touch for a nation.” And in 1966, Congress recognized the Waterloo, N.Y., celebration on May 5 as the “first observance of Memorial Day as a national holiday to pay tribute to those who gave their lives in all our Nation’s wars.” The site also includes a transcript of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s Memorial Day message and information about veterans’ organizations and memorials, including the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Vietnam Memorial.

http://www.army.mil/cmh-pg/faq/memday/memday.htm

tags

“Facing History and Ourselves” invites students to confront prejudice

For almost 25 years, Facing History and Ourselves, a nonprofit professional development program for teachers and civic education programs, has engaged teachers and students of diverse backgrounds. Through an examination of racism, prejudice, and anti-Semitism, Facing History “promotes the development of a more humane and informed citizenry.” By studying the Holocaust and other examples of collective violence, students make the essential connection between history and the moral choices they confront in their own lives. The Facing History web site offers teachers and others in the community occasions to study the past, explore new ideas and approaches, and develop practical models for civic engagement that link history to the challenges of an increasingly interconnected world. Facing History helps students find answers to their questions, such as: How can we prevent violence and end racism and anti-Semitism? How do we find the courage to protect human rights so that “never again” truly means that we have learned something by studying the events that led to one of the most violent times in the 20th century? The web site provides information on resource materials, ongoing teacher support, and professional development training through a partnership with VIS Corp., providers of web-based learning.

http://www.facinghistory.org

tags

Bush selects former FCC staffers, Hill aide for agency posts

President Bush on April 6 announced the nominations of three new commissioners to the agency that will shape how schools and other consumers get new high-speed web connections, wireless technologies, digital television, and other services.

If confirmed by the Senate, the three will give the Federal Communications Commission a Republican majority so that it can push ahead on several important items awaiting action.

Those include a review of rules that limit what broadcast stations can own and how much airwave space a wireless company can have in a particular market. FCC Chairman Michael Powell has said that such restrictions must be justified in today’s competitive markets, suggesting that the rules may be relaxed or eliminated.

Bush’s nominees to fill two GOP slots are Kevin Martin and Kathleen Abernathy, who would serve until 2006 and 2005, respectively. Both are former staffers at the commission. Martin more recently worked on Bush’s campaign as deputy general counsel.

The president said he would nominate Michael Copps to a Democratic seat on the panel. Copps is a former aide to Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee. His term would expire in 2004.

If confirmed, the three nominees “will bring important experience and expertise to the Commission and I welcome the opportunity to carry out the responsibilities of the FCC with them,” Powell said.

The Bush administration will likely have one more seat to fill at the FCC. Current Commissioner Gloria Tristani, a Democrat, is expected to leave by year’s end. House Democrats would like to see Andrew Levin, minority counsel to the Commerce Committee, in that spot.

Public interest groups said the GOP nominees are experienced Washington hands.

“What we will want to know is whether they will be willing to enforce the law as written,” said Andrew Jay Schwartzman of the public interest firm Media Access Project. “Many deregulators have been all too willing to bend congressional directives.”

The agency should have five commissioners total, with the majority going to the party of the current White House administration.

tags

Using the web to help parents shop for schools

Choosing a school for their children is one of the most important decisions parents will ever make, yet few guidebooks exist. Steve Rees is trying to change that, however—one school at a time.

His San Francisco company, School Wise Press, is using the web to inform and educate parents about California schools.

Marked by fresh writing, easy navigation, and coherent design, www.schoolwisepress.com is an information-rich web site. Launched in 1997, the site translates the complex business of education into layman’s terms, making it easier for parents to locate and compare schools.

Parents can look up an education term, join the debate about vouchers, access test score data and statewide rankings, link to national clearinghouses, tap into online experts, or order parent-friendly publications.

Most of the information is free. Detailed school profiles cost $6 and give parents information about enrollment, teacher credentials, class sizes, computer resources, the make-up of the student body, and other key factors.

“We’re combining the old-world ways of getting words on paper in a polished form with the new-world ways of automating the data reporting for California’s 8,000 schools,” says Rees. “We’re selling school information one school at a time.”

Using public records and data, School Wise Press’s goal is to make parents “school smart” by helping them understand the complex business of teaching and learning.

“We try to present the data in a readable format and help explain what the figures mean and don’t mean,” says Gordon Smith, the site’s lead designer. “Context is so important, especially in the area of testing. In order to make good decisions, parents need to understand the pros and cons.”

While other web sites and education portals offer many of the same services, School Wise’s clear, concise writing, subdued advertising, and tightly organized format set a new standard for effectiveness.

By helping parents understand the nuances of testing, accountability measures, desegregation, school finance, or social promotion, School Wise hopes to inspire them to get actively involved in decisions affecting their children.

Here’s a sample of School Wise’s brute honesty and snappy writing from a recent posting on its Legislative Watch: “The ‘shape up or ship out’ solution: school accountability rules that rank schools, reward high scoring ones, and ‘assist’ low scorers. If low ranking schools don’t improve, there’s hell to pay. How fair are the rankings? How are they computed? And will school districts have more power (or less) to fix floundering schools?”

Or how about this, from the site’s Virtual Library: “Split Personality: What difference would it make if high school counselors were actually given the tools and the time to do their job? And how can overworked counselors handle two disparate student needs: college preparation and personal counseling? Millicent Lawton, of Education Week, gives us a comprehensive account of this complicated issue.”

The company’s proprietary software application can interpret relationships between data sets, recognize patterns, identify statistical anomalies, and explain them in sentences that can be “understood by anybody with a high school education.”

“We do what many special-interest publishers do: We interpret an area of technical expertise for the interested layman,” says Rees.

The site’s content is enhanced by its clean design and intuitive approach to navigation. Graphics are kept to a manageable size, and the information is displayed in a coherent fashion.

“Looks are not that important,” says Smith. “Design should add to clarity and make the information more accessible, not less. We tend to go toward the utilitarian rather than the glitzy.”

Smith says school webmasters would be wise to assume that parents and other site visitors will not have the latest and greatest technology.

“A lot of parents are going to be looking at our site using [America Online] or older browsers that aren’t frame-capable,” he explains. “We need to keep it simple, so people with older equipment will be able to tour our site quickly and easily, or upload our graphics without using a lot of bandwidth.”

While some educators shy away from controversial subjects or operate on a “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach to communications, Rees and Smith believe that open communication actually builds greater trust.

By using the web and other communication channels to share vital—and often controversial—information with parents and the community, school leaders can engage parents more effectively, they say.

“If we could make communications active and public-oriented rather than passive and ‘damage response’ oriented, we might be able to change the nature of this dialogue,” says Rees. “It’s right at the heart of our schools’ relationship to their customers.”

Links:

School Wise Press
http://www.schoolwisepress.com

Gordon Smith Design
http://www.sirius.com/~zibbis/index2.html

tags

How to handle offensive student web sites created outside of school

Even if you aren’t old enough to remember Wally Cox as “Mr. Peepers” on the small black-and-white tube, or you somehow missed the antics of John Travolta as Vinny Barbarino on “Welcome Back, Kotter,” you are likely to have gotten a few laughs or tears from TV sitcoms or dramas set in the classroom.

While many of the scenarios are based on real situations, in many cases TV writers either have no clue as to what really happens in school, or they intentionally distort or exaggerate reality for effect. A recent example of the sublime approach to prime-time classroom soap opera is the Fox Network show “Boston Public.” Putting aside the sheer goofiness of the over-the-top caricatures of faculty, staff, and students, there is one aspect of the show that reflects one of the more serious and frustrating issues facing eSchoolers—student web pages.

Among the ongoing flow of interesting and though-provoking eMails from readers who are out on the eSchool front lines, I received this question from Paul F. Rosenbaum, head of Upper School and associate headmaster of the Viewpoint School in Calabasas, Calif. He wrote that one of the dilemmas he faces concerns student web pages. “Of course, our student newspaper is reviewed by the faculty editor, and the school web page is reviewed by the faculty webmaster. But what about student web pages that mention the school?”

Although it is unlikely that many students will post content on their web pages that is as offensive and shocking as the animated horrors published by the unbridled young webmistress on “Boston Public,” it is always tempting for students to use their personal web space to poke fun at administrators, criticize teachers, or sensationalize school-related problems.

For those schools that allow students to create a personal web space on the school’s web site, there is little problem. The pages can be monitored and edited (OK, censored) by school officials or teachers. Certainly, the parameters of proper web page content are part of your school’s acceptable-use policy (AUP). But when kids use their home computers and internet service providers (most of which offer some web space as part of the web connection fee) to rattle your school’s cage, taking disciplinary action can get a bit tricky.

Suspensions and expulsions are drastic measures that can buy you a one-way ticket to court and a sizeable legal bill for defending against the almost certain First Amendment challenge. Far more effective (and a whole lot cheaper) is immediate and non-confrontational contact with the parents, most of whom do not monitor their cherubs’ web shenanigans. If that does not work, communicate with the ISP (internet service provider) that hosts the student’s web page. All ISPs have their own AUPs, and most do not condone obscenities or libelous material.

You might want to add some wording to the part of your school’s AUP that applies the same standards of web-behavior to a student’s personal web pages. The student and the student’s parents who sign the AUP agreement for using the school’s web facilities then would be asked to agree that they will adhere to the same standards of appropriate content for personal web pages or postings that can be accessed from the school’s computers. While the First Amendment may restrict your ability to control private web site content, if the student and parent agree to the restrictions in the AUP “contract,” it may be easier to defend withdrawing school web privileges for student misuse of personal web pages.

Make sure you don’t try to over-control private student web pages. If you get too sensitive about satire or criticism on student web sites, you are less likely to prevail with either parents or ISPs. Sometimes, you are better off just to grin and bear it—and be thankful it wasn’t anonymously spray-painted in foot-high letters on the school driveway.

tags

Student laptops: Indispensable tools or tempting distractions?

The New York Times recently published an article by a professor who was shocked at the outcry of his students when he requested that laptop computers only be used for purposes directly related to the class. This guy apparently had the nerve to ask his students to pay attention to him during the lecture instead of playing Minesweeper or surfing the net. The students apparently felt that, as long as their behavior was not causing a disturbance, these activities were a perfectly legitimate way to amuse themselves during parts of the lecture they found boring or irrelevant. Besides, they argued, before computers, people would doodle or daydream when they got bored.

This started me thinking about the growing number of K-12 schools that either allow or require students to use laptop computers or personal digital assistants (PDAs) in class. As these numbers grow, teachers almost certainly will find themselves addressing similar issues of classroom management and student attention. Adolescents often lack the mental discipline to pay attention to something they find difficult or that doesn’t come prepackaged as entertainment. Many teachers now have to compete with the distractions of the web, which are only a click away from the assigned lesson.

Some people would agree with the students in the Times article that bored students will always find ways to amuse themselves. Now, however, instead of passing notes in class, a student has the ability to exchange instant messages with his girlfriend in another class, or go online to chat with teens from across town. As far as the teacher can tell, he looks like he is furiously taking down notes from the lesson.

A critical question is whether frivolous classroom computer use is just a substitute for the daydreaming of a student who already has tuned out of a lesson, or whether it is something that is actually drawing an otherwise attentive student’s interest away from the task at hand. It seems clear to me that internet sites based in pop culture—whose sole revenue stream is dependent on capturing and holding the easily distracted adolescent’s interests—offer a very real threat to the decidedly less glitzy, more challenging, but intellectually grounded material being presented by the instructor. If this is, indeed, the case, then how can we help our easily distracted students stay on task?

One school of thought would be that personal computing devices have no place at all in a classroom unless the lesson explicitly calls for them. People in this camp would suggest that we not allow students to bring in their own laptops or PDAs, and that all note taking and class work be done the old-fashioned way—with pen and paper.

While most technology champions balk at this idea, I think it’s one that schools must consider unless all teachers are prepared to make fundamental changes to the way they run their classrooms. The traditional 45-minute lecture and discussion, which is invariably teacher-led, is no match for the allure of ESPN.com or a teen chat room. While most schools would argue that this is a methodology they would like to move away from, the reality is that old habits die hard, and there will always be some need for lecture and discussion. Schools should at least craft open-ended policies that give the classroom teacher the final say on whether or not students can use computing devices in their classrooms.

Just shy of this all-or-nothing approach is a technical solution that restricts access to student machines in various classrooms. At St. Benedict’s Prep, we have set up reservations on our Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) server for the machines in labs that don’t always have an adult present. These reservations force all the machines in those labs to lease an address from a specified range of internet protocol (IP) addresses. We can then restrict access to that IP range at non-approved times of the day with our proxy server. Of course, for schools that can afford it, a layer 3 switch would accomplish the same thing and would be much easier to reconfigure on the fly.

Another technical way to address the problem would be to install some sort of lab management software on each student’s machine. Students who bring their own machine would be allowed to use it in class only if they agree to install the management software on their computers. There are a number of good products available. We evaluated several and decided to use LANSchool, from Utah-based Lan Fan Technologies. LANSchool allows the teacher or lab moderator to view and control any student machine in the lab or classroom remotely. The teacher can broadcast his own, or any student’s, screen to all the students in the class.

I’ve been using LANSchool in my Visual Basic class for a couple of weeks, and it works great. It’s easier for the students to see what I’m doing if it’s right in front of them on their own computer, rather than up on the screen at the front of the room. Students also take a great deal of pride in being chosen to demonstrate their solution to a problem to the rest of the students in the class. The fact that I can call on them without warning and bring up their screen for the entire class to see is terrifying enough to keep even the most distracted student from straying off into the wilds of the internet.

Of course, all the technology in the world is no substitute for a dynamic teacher. Teachers who vary their activities, engage reluctant learners with good questions, hold their classes immediately accountable for presented material, and design hands-on, engaging activities invariably will have fewer distracted students, regardless of how many laptops are in the classroom. A skilled classroom manager will position students and computers so she can see what they are doing. She will involve herself in the activity and create an atmosphere of personal accountability, in which class time is precious and not to be wasted.

Finally, we need to acknowledge that the information glut society throws at our students is a difficult temptation to resist. We need conversations about media literacy, in which we talk openly with our students about why these distractions are so tempting and why it’s important to practice paying attention, especially when things seem difficult or boring. Reviewing strategies for active listening also can help students become more disciplined listeners and better equipped to resist the temptation to wander.

The reality is that in the next three to five years, a good number of students will have access to the internet in classrooms—regardless of what policies the school implements. Just look at the number of students who have pagers and cell phones today, despite many schools’ rules against them. As the mobile internet grows, all of these devices have the potential to become useful sources of information or tempting distractions for the students sitting in our classrooms. It won’t be long before wireless broadband makes streaming video to handheld devices possible. Are the teachers in your school ready to compete with the “Ricki Lake Show”?

Links:

LANSchool
http://www.lanschool.com

tags

Web-based system makes finding substitutes easy

Arranging for substitute teachers to cover teacher absences is easier and cheaper than ever for a Michigan school district, now that the district has replaced its telephone notification system with an internet model.

The old telephone system, known as Interactive Voice Response (IVR), automatically would call a substitute—often early in the morning—once a teacher indicated his or her absence. After answering the telephone, the substitute would hear an automated description of the job and use the phone’s number pad to accept or decline the assignment.

Now, the Ferndale School District Human Resources Department uses Substitute Online from Computer Software Innovations Inc., a more-efficient internet version that costs less, provides substitutes with more information, and gives teachers more control over who will take over their class.

“The phone system we were using before would only allow two teachers to access it at a time,” said Janet Bell, the district’s employment coordinator. “Not only is the new system available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but many teachers can access it at the same time.”

Whenever Bell entered data into the old system—which required two dedicated computers to operate—no one could access the system. Considering the limited amount of preparation time teachers have during the day, it didn’t leave them a lot of opportunity to request a substitute, she said.

With Substitute Online, both teachers and substitutes can log on any time, anywhere, with a secure four-digit pass code. They just click on the link to “Substitute Office” on the district’s home page and it takes them to the program.

Ferndale gave each substitute teacher with internet access listed in its directory a Substitute Online account. With this account, substitutes can log on to view job postings they’re qualified for, and each posting offers relevant details, such as who the teacher is, what grade he or she teaches, what the lesson plan is for the day, the school’s address, and the teacher’s eMail address and telephone number.

If the substitute finds a job she’d like to take, she clicks on it and waits for a confirmation number.

“Every sub that logs on can see every assignment that’s available,” Bell said. “The only assignments they don’t see are the ones where a specific sub has been requested.”

Teachers using the program can request or reject a particular substitute. If a teacher makes a request, that substitute is eMailed immediately—and if a teacher rejects a particular substitute, that substitute never sees the assignment.

If the requested substitute doesn’t respond in time, the job offer is made available to the entire list of substitutes. Teachers also have access to the substitutes’ eMail addresses and phone numbers, so they can easily contact them if they need to.

Teachers “love the option of being able to request the subs they want,” Bell said. “It also means the subs get to plan their calendars a little better, because they’re aware of what’s going on in the future.”

For $1 per absence, Substitute Online offers school districts the chance to save money, Bell said. The service, which offers more features than a traditional IVR system, “will come out close to, if not less than, the old system.”

Bell added that her administrative burden has decreased considerably using Substitute Online, because it lets teachers submit any lesson plans or special instructions directly through the internet. Before, if teachers wanted to give the substitute special instructions or information, they would have to call Bell and hope they could get through.

“When all of the teachers get into it, the teachers aren’t going to have to rely on me to relay comments or lesson plans to a sub,” Bell said.

Even with automated systems for hiring substitutes, Bell has to make calls herself on days when absences are unusually high.

“I can access this [system] from home, and I frequently do to see what assignments are still outstanding,” Bell said. “If it’s going to be a really bad day for subs, I can get on the phone and start calling from home.”

Computer access among substitutes isn’t an issue, Bell said. Once a substitute has worked at least once for Ferndale, he or she is welcome to use the computers at the district’s media center. Also, many substitutes can access the service at the library or on a friend’s computer.

“I am fully aware of people that do not have access. I tend to call them first if there are last-minute assignments, and they call me if they are interested that day,” Bell said.

Chuck Bernasconi, a spokesman for Computer Software Innovations Inc., said the real genius of the software is the edge it gives to school districts competing for a only a few substitutes.

“The [substitute] pool is limited, and because our system is so much more efficient at notifying subs—because we don’t have any busy phone lines—our [users] will be able to fill their absences while other districts are scrambling,” Bernasconi said. “You can also post lesson plans on a web site, so substitutes can preview what they will do, [and] they are prepared when they go to work.”

Bernasconi added, “With our system, [officials from] individual schools can see on their computer screen in real time who the absent teachers are and why.” Before, school officials would have to call the telephone system and listen, or wait for a notification fax.

Links:

Substitute Online
http://www.subdemo.com

Ferndale School District
http://www.ferndaleschools.org

tags

Schools use technology to map their curricula

As states clamp down on what students should know and be able to do after each grade level, school districts across the country are tapping a new tool afforded by technology to avoid reruns and gaps in lessons during students’ 13-year public school education. The tool: curriculum maps.

Curriculum maps help school districts know if students are learning the same skills and concepts year after year. They also get teachers talking about what curriculum they actually teach—or, in some cases, don’t teach.

“In an elementary school, you could find [that] in second, third, and fourth grades, [teachers] are doing a unit on dinosaurs,” said Linda Antonowich, assistant superintendent for curriculum and staff development at Pennsylvania’s West Chester Area School District. “That’s not exactly bad [if the concepts taught are different], but you have to go back and find out what, exactly, is being taught.”

West Chester has created and deployed its own curriculum-mapping program. At any time, the district’s teachers—roughly 850 of them—will be able to look in a district computer folder to review the lessons taught by fellow educators.

The West Chester technology department created a standard curriculum map form, saved on the district’s server, for each teacher to fill out. Each form contains areas for teachers to record the skills and content they teach and the assessment tools they use. At the top of the form, teachers fill in their name, school, and subject area. After teachers fill out the forms electronically, they resave them on the server.

Teachers, administrators, and an outside consultant say the maps are integral to creating a curriculum with smooth, sensible transitions for students.

Sixth-grade math teacher John Hogan said the maps also help streamline the district’s education between school buildings.

“It’s going to be a big help in coordinating our curriculum with the elementary and the high school,” said Hogan, who teaches at Fugett Middle School. “In our situation, we get children from four different elementary schools. Some schools have gone further with their math curriculum than others.”

America’s classrooms function like a smattering of one-room schoolhouses, said Heidi Hayes-Jacobs, an international education consultant speaking to teachers from two of the district’s 10 elementary schools. Any one student will have as many as 75 teachers in his or her 13-year primary and secondary school career—and these teachers often aren’t on the same page, even within the same district.

“One of the dilemmas is the isolation of the classroom teachers,” said Hayes-Jacobs, who has taught high school, junior high, and elementary school children in three states. “If you think there’s gaps between grade levels, there are grand canyons between buildings.”

Curriculum mapping isn’t actually new, said Hayes-Jacobs, an adjunct professor at the Department of Curriculum and Teaching at Columbia University Teachers College. However, the maps weren’t effective when they depended on paper-and-pencil blueprints of classroom lessons. “Technology is central to this work,” she said, as it enables teachers to create an organic document that all staff members can access.

Hayes-Jacobs, also president of Curriculum Designers Inc., is known for developing the concept of curriculum mapping, according to the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

West Chester teachers use a computerized form in which they write, by month, their curriculum content, the skills children are to acquire, and an assessment of the lessons. For now, the assessment columns are blank.

Now that every teacher has access to computers, the curriculum-mapping process will be easier, Antonowich said. “Five years ago, most of the maps would have to be done by hand.”

The present goal is to get the middle and elementary schools’ curricula aligned; after that, the high school teachers will get busy filling in their maps, Antonowich said.

The West Chester district is searching for software capable of sorting through the data in the maps, looking for lesson overlaps. That could be particularly useful, since more and more teachers are collaborating on cross-disciplinary projects.

The Curriculum Designers web site (see link below) contains a list of software programs and other resources that facilitate computer- and network-based curriculum mapping, Hayes-Jacobs said.

Links:

West Chester Area School District
http://www.wcasd.k12.pa.us

Curriculum Designers Inc.
http://www.curriculumdesigners.com

tags

FCC affirms support for distance-education spectrum

Educators worried about proposals before the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that could force their schools to give up a portion of the Instructional Television Fixed Service (ITFS) spectrum—the wireless spectrum that currently supports distance learning in thousands of communities nationwide—got some good news March 30, when the FCC released a report indicating its strong support for ITFS.

The report, titled “Spectrum Study of the 2500 to 2690 MHz Band: The Potential for Accommodating Third-Generation Mobile Systems,” reviews the feasibility of repurposing the 2.5 GHz spectrum, which currently supports ITFS, to accommodate commercial wireless messaging services and other so-called “third-generation,” or 3G, technologies.

As the demand for mobile data services continues to grow, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) estimates that 160 megahertz (MHz) of additional spectrum will be needed to meet the projected requirements of these 3G technologies by 2010.

To accommodate this demand, the FCC issued a Notice of Proposed Rule Making on Jan. 5, seeking comment on several possible solutions. The notice 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 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.

“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 even ITFS license-holders that aren’t K-12 schools provide distance-learning applications that reach thousands of communities, Conk noted.

The FCC has assured educators they would not lose access to this spectrum entirely. Instead, some school districts that hold licenses in the portion of the spectrum now reserved for ITFS could be moved to another band to make room for commercial 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.

The FCC’s March 30 report agrees with that assertion. The report states that both urban and rural communities and school districts of all sizes use the ITFS system. Any educational entity participating in this system would be adversely affected by changes made by repurposing its spectrum, the report says.

According to the report, adding 3G systems to the education spectrum could cause extensive interference along airwaves in the most populated areas of the country. Also, the addition of the wireless systems would raise significant technical and economic difficulties for current licensees.

The price tag to relocate current ITFS license holders to make room for 3G technologies would be prohibitive, reaching upwards of $19 billion over a 10-year period, the study concludes.

Educators currently using ITFS were encouraged by the FCC’s report.

“It is absolutely critical to our mission that we retain this spectrum as we move into the digital age,” said Carol Woolbright, network director for Greenbush Interactive Distance Learning Network, which delivers distance education to 1,300 students in Eastern Kansas.

AASA officials said the report is a step in the right direction, but the fight isn’t over yet. “The FCC report was a studied, analytical view of this issue that put us in a good position, but it did not make any determinations about the future of ITFS,” said Bruce Hunter, director of public policy.

AASA’s opponents—primarily telecommunications companies seeking additional spectrum—struck back right away, but Hunter said that’s to be expected.

“They … reiterated that they don’t think we are using our [airwave] space well. But it’s not fair to blast schools for not using broadband across the board yet. We are just getting to the digital age, and we want to plan for the future,” said Hunter.

“We have long-term plans for distance learning, and we can’t move ahead into the future if we continue to have our access threatened,” said Ray Cruz, instructional television specialist for Miami-Dade Public Schools.

Miami-Dade uses its spectrum to broadcast two cable channels serving about 340 schools, more than 360,000 K-12 students, and more than 140,000 adult learners daily, with 10,000 hours of programming per year.

The FCC plans to make a decision by July and would auction off licenses for the bands in 2002. Other frequencies under consideration for reallocation include airwaves currently used by the Department of Defense.

Links:

Federal Communications Commission
http://www.fcc.gov

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

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

Greenbush Interactive Distance Learning Network
http://www.greenbush.org

Miami-Dade Public Schools
http://dcps.dade.k12.fl.us

tags

FCC issues rules for compliance with filtering law

Just days before implementation of the law that requires schools and libraries receiving eRate discounts to use web filters and adopt internet safety policies, the Federal Communications Commission released its rules for compliance.

Congress passed the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA), effective April 20, in December, despite opposition from education and civil rights groups that say it is unconstitutional. The American Library Association (ALA) and American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) both have filed lawsuits against CIPA.

Nevertheless, the FCC on April 5 released its regulations that explain how CIPA will be upheld and enforced.

Under the rules set out by the FCC, schools and libraries must certify that they have an internet safety policy and are

using internet filtering technology to be eligible for eRate discounts, starting with Year Four of the program, which begins July 1.

Schools or libraries that knowingly fail to comply with CIPA are required to reimburse any eRate discounts they received while the law was in effect, the FCC said. A school or library found to be noncompliant could become eligible for the eRate again if it becomes certified.

Internet safety policies and filters

The FCC said schools and libraries will have to certify that they have adopted, and are enforcing, an internet safety policy that includes measures to block or filter access to content that is obscene, pornographic, or harmful to minors on internet-connected computers used by minors.

Schools must certify that their internet safety policy requires the online activities of minors to be monitored. The policy also must address:

  • Access by minors to inappropriate content on the internet and world wide web;

  • The safety and security of minors when using electronic mail, chat rooms, and other forms of direct electronic communications;

  • Unauthorized access, including so-called “hacking,” and other unlawful activities by minors online;

  • Unauthorized disclosure, use, and dissemination of personal information regarding minors; and

  • Measures designed to restrict access to materials deemed “harmful to minors.”

Schools must provide reasonable public notice of the policy and must hold at least one public hearing or meeting to address the policy.

Schools and libraries that already have such a policy, have notified stakeholders, and have held at least one hearing or meeting about their internet safety policies are in compliance with CIPA’s public-notice requirements and are not required to repeat them, the FCC said.

An authorized person may disable the blocking or filtering measure during any use by an adult to enable access for bona fide research or other lawful purpose, the agency added.

Certification

Because applying for the eRate is already complicated, the FCC said, it designed its rules to use existing processes where possible, in order to avoid creating greater burdens for schools and libraries.

The agency considered using Form 471 for the certification but decided that, because not everyone who fills out Form 471 is assured of funding, it was best to complete certification on a modified Form 486.

For the current funding year (Year Four), schools and libraries must certify by Oct. 28 that they have the required policies and technology in place or are in the process of putting them in place for the following year. If schools and libraries are not certified by the October deadline using FCC Form 486, they will not be eligible for funding and will have to reimburse any funds they have received in Year Four of the eRate.

The Schools and Libraries Division (SLD) of the Universal Service Administrative Co., the group that administers the eRate, will accept certifications from a single “billed entity” on behalf of its members—whether this entity is a school, school board, library, or consortium. (The “billed entity” terminology derives from the fact that schools and the other institutions are the entities billed by vendors for services that then are discounted under the eRate.)

Each member of a consortium, however, must submit a new form—called Form 479, Certification to Consortium Leader of Compliance with the Children’s Internet Protection Act—to the billed entity of its consortium, which keeps these forms on file. The billed entity certifies on Form 486 that it has received completed Form 479 certifications from all its members and will make them available upon request.

The FCC added that, because the billed entity in a consortium is required to certify only that it has received a signed and completed certification from each of its members, it is not responsible for verifying the accuracy of these certifications.

Because it’s not fair to the whole consortium if some members fail to comply with CIPA, the FCC decided that only those schools or libraries that fail to comply should return any eRate discounts they received while out of compliance.

eRate discounts themselves cannot be used to pay for filtering technologies, the FCC said; the only federal funding source permitted to pay this expense is funding provided by the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Disputes

As required before issuing its final rules for CIPA compliance, the FCC asked for public comment. Though some respondents said schools and libraries should have to post their internet safety policies, the name of their filtering vendors, or instructions for registering complaints publicly, the FCC decided not to require these measures.

“Because the statute does not require these disclosures, we decline to impose additional burdens on schools and libraries,” the FCC said.

One respondent asked the FCC to certify the effectiveness of a school district’s internet policy and filtering technology, but because the law doesn’t require this, either, the FCC declined.

Others said filters are inconsistent and block too much or too little.

The FCC responded, “We presume Congress did not intend to penalize recipients that act in good faith and in a reasonable manner to implement available technology protection measures. Moreover, this proceeding is not the forum to determine whether such measures are fully effective.”

Both the ACLU and ALA have filed lawsuits against CIPA, claiming the law is unconstitutional.

The FCC included this response in its report: “In general, administrative agencies are to presume that the statutes that Congress directs them to implement are constitutional. We therefore defer to Congress’s determination that section 254(h) and (l) is constitutional and comply with Congress’s direction to promulgate implementing regulations.”

Reaction from the ALA was immediate. “We were profoundly disappointed by what the FCC did,” said Emily Sheketoff, executive director of the ALA’s Washington office. “They didn’t comment on the constitutionality of it, they just proceeded [in rule-making].”

ALA asked the FCC to not make CIPA retroactive to Year Four, but it did. Sheketoff said many schools and libraries will have to forfeit funding, despite completing the application process for Year Four, which started back in November.

Even though schools have the option to prove they’re in the process of installing filters, instead of having the filters already in place, Sheketoff said, “This is not just a 15-minute procurement issue. … You’re making an affirmative statement to the government that you’re complying with this law.

“There’s no money for schools and libraries to pay for this or the staffing that it’s going to take to implement it. We have to get over the major burden of putting in these technology filters at all,” Sheketoff added.

“In this country, there’s always been a commitment to local control in schools and libraries. This is really throwing a monkey-wrench in that,” Sheketoff said. “I hope this doesn’t lead to more of a loss of local control.”

Charlie Reisinger, director of technology for the Penn Manor School District in Pennsylvania, said, “Any reasonable school should already have considered and implemented an internet filtering or safety policy to protect students.

“My concern is that the filtering technology itself is not eligible for eRate funding,” Reisinger added. “Schools and libraries apply for [eRate] funding to offset the cost of internet connectivity, but now, if one adds in the cost of that filtering technology to the bottom line, the district is back to paying close to full price for connectivity. I was under the impression that the eRate was supposed to ease the burden of connectivity so schools could focus on instructional expenses.”

Links:

CIPA regulations
http://www.fcc.gov/Bureaus/Common_Carrier/Orders/2001/fcc01120.doc

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

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

Penn Manor School District
http://www.pennmanor.net

tags