Iowa lawmakers question use of state technology fund

Iowa legislators said they will consider tougher rules for spending millions in state technology money after an audit found that school district officials paid for food, trips, and computers that ended up in teachers’ homes, the Des Moines Register reported March 2.

State Auditor Richard Johnson said a review of the 4-year-old School Improvement Technology Program identified several questionable expenditures, including $329,000 in computer equipment that was awarded to teachers in Waterloo as payment for completing a training program.

Waterloo school officials defended the computers-for-training deal, saying it had the approval of the state Department of Education. The department’s director, Ted Stilwill, said lawmakers intended to give districts maximum flexibility in how the money—$50 million per year—is spent.

Districts used the flexibility to pay cellular telephone bills, send employees on trips to technology conferences, buy food for crews that connected classrooms to the state’s fiber optics network, and purchase high-tech equipment such as binocular microscopes and digital pianos, according to the audit. Superintendents said they thought the expenditures met state guidelines.

“I don’t know how anybody could jump to that conclusion at all,” Senate Majority Leader Stewart Iverson, a Dows Republican, told the Register. “These were dollars that we appropriated for use of technology in the classroom, with the students. There’s clearly been some abuse. They should have known better.”

The School Improvement Technology Program was established in 1996 with $150 million for school districts, special schools, and the state’s 15 Area Education Agencies (AEAs). The law says schools can spend the money for the “acquisition, lease, lease-purchase, installation, and maintenance of technology equipment, including hardware and software, materials and supplies related to instructional technology, and staff development and training.”

Expenditures the audit questioned included $15,202 as partial payment for a telephone system by the Oskaloosa school district; $160 in cellular telephone bills by the Price Laboratory School in Cedar Falls; $2,270 for food and beverages at various training sessions sponsored by five AEAs; and $3,000 for seven digital pianos by Des Moines schools.

Toy Kerr, the Heartland Area Education Agency’s instructional technology consultant, said she was surprised by the audit’s questions about the electronic keyboards. Kerr, who had been a technology specialist with Des Moines schools, said the keyboards are “an innovative and wonderful use of technology.”

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Oklahoma House OKs internet filtering bill

The Oklahoma House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly March 12 to require its public schools and libraries to filter internet access to obscene materials, despite a federal law that mandates essentially the same thing.

Members voted 92-2 to require the blocking of materials that are deemed to be “obscene, child pornography, or harmful to minors,” the Daily Oklahoman reported March 13.

The bill’s author, Rep. Bill Graves, R-Oklahoma City, said studies show a link between pornography and violence. He said the bill is needed to counter the American Library Association, which he called a “liberal group” that is against any kind of censorship.

State schools Superintendent Sandy Garrett said the bill is not necessary because 97 percent of Oklahoma schools fall under the Children’s Internet Protection Act, a new law that requires all schools getting eRate aid to use filters. Only 17 of the state’s 544 school districts do not participate in the federal program, Garrett said.

Rep. Clay Pope, D-Loyal, said requiring schools to buy software devices to intercept pornography is too costly for small rural libraries. Pope offered an amendment to say that the filtering devices would be required based “upon availability of funding as determined by the local library board.” His amendment failed 48-45.

Lynn McIntosh, director of the Chickasaw Regional Library System, which consists of eight libraries in five counties, said Graves’ bill is unclear. She said it sounds like every computer would be required to have a filtering device, whether it is used by staff, adults, or children.

“It would be very expensive for us,” McIntosh told the Oklahoman. “All of our computers are centered where they can be supervised by our staff. Our board takes a pretty solid stand on local control.”

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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

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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

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Tech funding, accountability key in ESEA renewal

As Congress begins debate on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which shapes the federal government’s investment in education, school officials are getting an early glimpse of what might be in store for their technology programs.

Block grants seem like a foregone conclusion, as lawmakers on both sides of the aisle support President George W. Bush’s plan to consolidate funding. Of more concern to educators, however, are proposed accountability measures that would tie federal dollars to proven technology solutions and best practices.

The Senate has introduced a bill that would request $1 billion for educational technology under a subpart of Title II, called “State and Local Programs for Technology in the Classroom.”

Developed by the Health, Education, and Labor Committee as a compromise between Republican and Democratic leaders, the bill would consolidate funding into a single block grant that states would administer to school districts on a competitive basis, as Bush advocates.

Although the money could be spent on a variety of technologies, the Senate bill would attach several stipulations.

For example, states and school districts would have to submit detailed technology plans to be eligible for funding; school districts would have to spend at least 30 percent of their funds on professional development; and districts would have to propose initiatives that have been proven by scientific research to increase student achievement.

Also, school districts would have to evaluate how their instructional technology programs have increased student achievement and submit the results in a yearly progress report. If, after three years, a school district does not show measurable improvements, the district would not receive funding in subsequent years.

In addition, the Senate bill would retain the Preparing Tomorrow’s Teachers to Use Technology (PT3) program as a separate subpart of Title II. Under this program, colleges would be eligible for $150 million to pay for programs that prepare pre-service teachers to integrate technology into their curricula.

Finally, the bill would provide $5 million to fund the Eisenhower Clearinghouse for Mathematics and Science Education, which compiles and disseminates information about math, science, and technology programs. It also would direct Education Secretary Rod Paige to write a long-range National Education Technology Plan within 12 months of the bill becoming law.

Overall, education lobbyists and school technology directors say they are satisfied with the committee’s version of the bill. Many educators say they liked that the Senate bill reflects the need for national leadership on key ed-tech issues, such as professional development.

The need for teacher training is real, said Steve Cameron, educational technology director for St. Louis Public Schools. “If you don’t have pilots, don’t waste money on planes,” he said.

But observers expressed concern about the bill’s accountability measures. Many school leaders pointed out that it’s hard to measure the direct impact of technology on education.

“While numerous studies have correlated student improvement with investments in instructional technology, it is very difficult to tightly connect cause and effect,” said Dick Barkey, executive director of technology at Adams Twelve Five Star Schools in Colorado.

Observers expect a showdown between members of the Senate and the House of Representatives, where legislators there have proposed a bill that more closely follows the president’s plan. —C.B.

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Apple acquires SIS firm PowerSchool in $62 million deal

In what industry analysts say is a “startling” move that confirms the company’s rededication to education, Apple Computer announced March 14 that it would acquire privately held PowerSchool Inc., a leading provider of web-based student information systems (SIS) for the K-12 market.

“Apple has a legacy of helping teachers teach and students learn. We are now expanding that mission to include helping schools run more effectively,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s chief executive, in a company statement.

Like other web-based systems—such as Chancery Software’s Open District, NCS Pearson’s SchoolCONNECTxp, and Administrative Assistants Ltd.’s eSIS—PowerSchool’s eponymous software gives teachers and administrators the ability to manage student records via the internet and gives parents real-time access to their children’s grades and other information.

Voted the third-best SIS in a recent eSchool News Readers’ Choice Awards poll, PowerSchool reportedly is used by some 2,000 schools nationwide.

“By acquiring PowerSchool and welcoming its talented employees to Apple, we instantly become the leading provider of web-based student information systems nationwide,” said Jobs.

PowerSchool’s competitors disputed that notion.

“We have an installed base that is 10 times the size of PowerSchool,” said Rick Moignard, president and CEO of Chancery Software. “Obviously, I think Chancery has a very strong market position. We give our customers a first-rate product, and we’re extremely well-placed in this market.”

Though an Apple spokeswoman would not discuss the acquisition, a company press release suggests why Apple made the move: “Apple’s focus on administrative leadership is a major commitment. We recognize school leaders need access to reliable data in order to make informed decisions, which will lead to improved student performance. … Administrative leadership also means ensuring that all district stakeholders—students, teachers, parents, and administrators—have access to the tools and information necessary for their work.”

Some industry experts think the deal proves that Apple, once the undisputed leader in America’s schools, may be trying to regain its position atop the education market.

“The education segment is clearly very important for Apple, and it’s an area in which they are coming under pressure, particularly from Intel-based competitors,” said Charles Smulders, principal analyst the Gartner Group market research firm Dataquest. “They need to find ways to distinguish themselves.”

An industry expert who wished to remain anonymous put it another way: “It’s startling. This is far beyond the scope of what Apple’s ever done before, and I’ve always been very impressed with PowerSchool’s product.”

Apple has attempted to breathe new life into its education division recently, particularly with the rehiring of Cheryl Vedoe. A former vice president of Apple’s education division, Vedoe rejoined the company in November in the newly created position of vice president of Education Marketing and Solutions, reporting directly to Jobs.

Two other recent Apple hires may ring a bell in the ed-tech community.

David Dwyer, formerly of Apple Education and Computer Curriculum Corp., recently was hired as Apple’s director of education technology.

Apple also hired David Byer, former executive director of the Congressional Web-based Education Commission, a high-profile bipartisan group charged with reporting on the uses of technology in K-12 schools. Byer was hired as a senior manager of education strategy relations.

Signs that Apple was losing its market share in education began to surface in 1999, when rival Dell Computer cited figures from Dataquest indicating it had surpassed Apple as the No. 1 supplier of computers to schools, despite the iMac’s popularity.

Apple will acquire PowerSchool for $62 million in stock. PowerSchool, located in Folsom, Calif., currently has 160 employees.

Links:

Apple Computer
http://www.apple.com

PowerSchool Inc.
http://www.powerschool.com

Chancery Software
http://www.chancery.com

NCS Pearson
http://www.ncs.com

Administrative Assistants Ltd.
http://www.admassist.com

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Looking forward

Hello, everyone. My name is Bradley Kirkland, and I’m the new Online Publisher for eSchoolNews Online. I’d like to take this opportunity to introduce myself and tell you about the exciting things we have planned for you at eSchoolNews Online, your “School Technology Portal.”

My online journey began in 1989 on America Online with the Writers Club, an area devoted to writers at all levels, providing community, information, databases, courses, and articles. The Writers Club was (and still is) one of AOL’s Top 50 Members’ Choice areas, and is one of the largest and longest-running writing-related online operations. We incorporated the Writers Club in 1997, expanded to the internet in 1998, and were acquired by iUniverse.com in 1999. After overseeing the turnover and helping to build various services on the iUniverse.com site, I began looking for new challenges and opportunities. So … when I found eSchool News, I jumped right in!

But enough about me. Let’s talk about eSchoolNews Online, and what we can do to build the most beneficial site for you.

Over the next few months, we will be redesigning the site and building new functionality, services, and areas, expanding on the industry-leading information and services you’ve come to expect from eSchoolNews Online.

We have several things already in the works:

  • A community area that will allow you to network with other school technology professionals and regularly communicate your ideas and needs with us.

  • An eCommerce and ordering system that will allow you to purchase products, subscribe to newsletters, register for conferences, and more—all online!

  • Enhanced navigation and functionality that will allow you to find the information and services you need quickly.

  • Daily articles and more regular features.

  • More partnerships and alliances with other important companies in the school technology industry, increasing your ability to stay up-to-date and make the right decisions for your school technology needs.

This is just the beginning. As you no doubt know, the internet provides a wealth of possibilities. That said, there is only so much that we can do on our own. You are the ones who know best how we can help, so before we start building “the greatest school technology site in the universe,” I want to hear from you. Tell us what you want.

For the entire month of May, we’ll be taking in all of your thoughts and suggestions in our eSN Online Future Poll at http://www.eschoolnews.com/surveys/online/main.

Please take a moment to stop by and tell us a little about yourself, and let us know what you would like to see. You can let us know what you like about the current site, what you don’t like, and what you would like to see more of. And, for those of you who would like to become more involved with eSchoolNews Online—as a community leader, message board or discussion group moderator, or anything else—be sure to let us know.

Together, we’ll build something very special. I am looking forward!

Bradley Kirkland
Online Publisher
bkirkland@eschoolnews.com
301-913-0115 x111
fax 301-913-0119

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Learn to practice proactive—not reactive— grant-seeking

I recently received a telephone call from a school district on the West Coast asking for help writing a grant proposal. I’m a grant-writing consultant, so that shouldn’t be a problem, right? Well, there’s a little more to the story.

I received the call at 5 p.m. EST on a Monday and the proposal was due that Friday, less than five days’ notice. Plus, the application had to include some important pieces of information from a report that an outside consultant had spent the past year working on. When the district called me, officials still were waiting for the report. The staff member who called me was frustrated and sounded defeated, and understandably so.

I’m using this example to highlight the importance of preparing far enough in advance and leaving adequate time to put together a proposal. I know this has been mentioned before, but it seems there are still an awful lot of folks out there who operate in the last-minute mode, trying their very best to put a proposal together as those last minutes are ticking away on the clock!

First, I would like to appeal directly to school districts’ administrative staffs. If there isn’t a system in place in your district to disseminate information about grant opportunities to the appropriate staff people within a day of the receipt of this information, please consider putting such a structure in place. In many cases, your staff will need every second that is available to polish a project idea and to construct a well-written proposal.

How many of you read the “Grant Deadlines” section that usually is located right beneath this article every month? For many of these grants, only two months’ notice (or less) before the deadline is not enough time to collect all the information and work out all the details needed to submit a comprehensive proposal. However, even if you don’t have time to apply for the current funding cycle, you can use this information to prepare for future competitions under the same program.

When you see a new grant program, do you check to see if the funder will fund the types of projects you’d like to implement in your district? If so, do you get in touch with the funder or check the web site right away to find out more about the program and what is required in a proposal? Most people who see an impending deadline will become discouraged and let this opportunity pass. If no follow-up steps are taken immediately, in all likelihood this information is forgotten. However, you can turn this into a proactive situation by taking a few simple steps.

If the description of the grant program seems to fit some projects that your district would like to implement, do the research as soon as you see the information. (Better yet, do the research as soon as you identify some project ideas!) Contact the funder and ask for the request for proposal (RFP) or giving guidelines, or find out if this information is posted on a web site. Ask if there is a mailing list you can join to receive more information.

When you get the information about applying, review it and make a reasonably quick decision about whether it is worthwhile to apply for the upcoming competition. Realistically examine what material must be included and ask if this material is available. Do you meet the funder’s eligibility requirements? What kind of time do staff members have to work on the grant?

A decision must be made that is not influenced too much by the amount of the grant award, because a poorly conceived project that is translated into a hastily written proposal is not likely to be funded, anyway. If you decide not to pursue a grant opportunity this year, note when the competition was announced and whether a new one is expected next year. Make a list of all the items you’ll need and start collecting them now. Design a simple database to include information about funders for easy future reference. Keep copies of funders’ RFPs and guidelines on hand, so you can get a jump on the competition for next year.

Using these steps to achieve proactive grant-seeking should help reduce the stress of proposal writing and lead to better applications that contain well-developed projects. Always strive to avoid the last-minute proposal whenever possible!

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Grading the Latest in Classroom Management Software

Developers of classroom management software are regularly updating their products to meet the needs of educators. Many of the packages are still being developed by small, mom-and-pop operators—i.e., companies created by former educators who have direct knowledge about what is valuable in the classroom.

Software on the market today ranges widely in terms of features and complexity, as well as cost. However, the author observes that the “category killer” program that combines everything that’s needed into one simple, online program has not yet been developed.

Here is a quick look at the leading packages available today:

  1. Classroom Planner (http://www.classroomplanner.com).
    Built around very clean and simple web screens, this is a basic classroom management program (grades, seating assignments, scheduling, etc.) that is easy to learn and use. Although this software is web-accessible, only teachers and administrators can access the database; parents cannot.

  2. Classroom Windows 5.0 (http://www.classroomwindows.com).
    Essentially an expanded spreadsheet for tracking students’ grades. Has capacity for classes of up to 120 students. The software is extremely inexpensive: a free version can be downloaded on the web, and the “Pro Edition” is only $20. The software itself is not web-accessible.

  3. FastTracker (http://www.calicoed.com).
    In addition to gradebook features, Fast Tracker provides some enhancements, such as seating charts and a way to send eMail to parents and students with the touch of a single button. Easy to import initial student names and data, although the “Help” functions are minimal—so if something is not clear, it may be difficult to find an answer.

  4. Gradebook2 (http://www.gradebook.com).
    A good, basic program from Excelsior, one of the leading developers of gradebook programs. Gradebook2 includes the basics, as well as modules for lesson plans, discipline notes, and attendance reports. It is very web-friendly, including the capability to input digital photos of students into seating charts and to convert information into HTML so that parents can have access. Can be purchased for $50, or comes as part of Excelsior’s Pinnacle software program (see below).

  5. GradeQuick 5.0 (http://www.jacksoncorp.com).
    Provides all the basic features in an easy-to-use format, and more. It enables teachers to customize reports about individual students or classes and to send those over the web. Good interface with the web, if teachers want to maintain student info online. Price is on the higher end, $70.

  6. Pinnacle (http://www.gradebook.com).
    This is Excelsior’s souped-up package. It integrates virtually everything that a teacher would need—master class schedules, attendance, grades, rosters, and progress reports. It facilitates web-based feedback, as well as acting as a phone-message machine. One interesting feature is the ability to generate letters to parents automatically when their children reach a predetermined performance level.

  7. TaskStream (http://www.taskstream.com).
    Rather than being a gradebook and organizer, this software focuses on professional development and curriculum management by providing short courses on how to use software and the web. A “Lesson Builder” feature helps teachers develop courses that match state standards. The software also connects teachers with experts who can help them develop their courses and projects, especially those who use the web. It facilitates the exchange of ideas from mentor to teacher and teacher to teacher, but does not have grade-management capability.

  8. ThinkWave Educator 2.2 (http://www.thinkwave.com).
    This web-based service can be a stripped-down grading program, or it can be combined with other services from ThinkWave for managing attendance, classroom assignments, communications, etc. It’s a bit complex for the uninitiated.
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Seven Steps to Creating a Fail-Safe Contingency Plan

Electronic technology is great when it works, but it’s far less reliable than a textbook and blackboard (just ask a teacher in California!). Here is a systematic way to create a plan for responding to unexpected computer downtime, either in the classroom or in administration offices:

  1. Define possible threats. As a team, think about all the things that could go wrong, from computer malfunctions to sabotage by students or staff.

  2. Conduct impact analysis. Consider the impact of each of those threats and rank them from most damaging to least, and from most likely to least.

  3. Generate possible responses. Consider different approaches for responding to each threat.

  4. Identify responses. Choose a course of action for each type of threat. Be as detailed as possible. For example, if a decision is made that certain information cannot be lost, even temporarily, then decide how to provide an uninterruptable power supply (UPS) to that computer.

  5. Adjust policies to reflect the plan. If creating the fail-safe plan results in needing to obtain more information about users of the system or restricting their activities, make sure that everyone is told what changes are being made—and why.

  6. Implement the plan. Make it someone’s priority to ensure that it will be done.

  7. Review the plan periodically. This includes checking backup computer systems and networks on a regular basis to make sure they are backing up data as expected.
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