Students to teach school administrators about technology

Forget high-paid consultants—students will be teaching Nebraska’s principals and superintendents about computers.

As part of a technology training program beginning this summer, top school officials across the state will be paired with students so they can learn from one another.

Students will learn new skills and the administrators will see firsthand how students react to technology, said Nebraska Education Commissioner Doug Christensen June 28.

It’s important for administrators to use the latest technology so they can lead by example, said Jerry Sellentin, director of the Nebraska Council of School Administrators.

“I still use a pocket calendar,” he said. “It’s been very effective for me. I ought to have a Palm Pilot in my hand as well as a laptop.”

Help is on the way.

Over the next three years, about 900 Nebraska principals and superintendents—most of the state’s top school administrators—will receive a laptop and handheld computer, such as a Palm Pilot, to help them better understand technology and learn to use it.

The equipment is being paid for thanks to a $1.3 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which is setting up similar programs in all states.

Gates is chairman and one of the founders of computer software giant Microsoft Corp., which achieved a victory of sorts when a federal appeals court on June 28 unanimously overturned an order to split the company in two. The court left intact a finding that Microsoft illegally used its monopoly in the Windows operating system, however.

As principals and administrators become more adept and comfortable with the technology, it is hoped they will push harder for infusing computers in their schools’ curriculum, not just creating a stagnant computer lab, Christensen said.

Part of that learning will occur with the student mentoring program, Christensen said.

“The student’s probably going to help them turn on the computer or Palm Pilot,” he joked. “Technology is as natural to a child as picking up a pencil is to us.”

Woody Ziegler, a retired elementary school principal from York, Neb., said the time has come to energize school administrators.

“Technology leaders need to start with principals and superintendents,” he said.

Christensen guessed that about 30 percent of Nebraska schools effectively use technology into the classroom.

“If an administrator is not comfortable with technology, it is going to be very hard for [him or her] to lead” the staff, Christensen said.

Besides the Nebraska program, other recent technology leadership grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation include the following:

  • $1.7 million to Wisconsin, which will be used along with matching grants from various private companies to fund a three-year, $3.3 million Wisconsin School Leadership Academy.

    Gov. Scott McCallum said about 82 percent of the state’s administrators, or 1,800 of them, will be able to participate in the program. Each participant will get a laptop computer and training on how to use the technology. The grant money also will be used to hire nationally recognized speakers for the seminars.

  • $1.7 million to South Carolina to equip every superintendent and principal in the state with a new laptop computer. The computers will assist school officials with their technology training, state Education Superintendent Inez Tenenbaum said June 19.

    Principals and superintendents will meet twice a year for technology training to learn how to use the technology to improve education, Tenenbaum said. The sessions also will help school executives make data-driven decisions.

  • $3.6 million to Virginia for a program based at the College of William and Mary. The Virginia Initiative for Technology and Administrative Leadership, or VITAL, program will be administered by the Virginia Educational Technology Alliance at William and Mary’s School of Education. The grant money will be matched by Virginia legislative funds and the grant partners, according to a news release.

  • $7.5 million to New York. State Education Commissioner Richard Mills said the training would be handled through the 15 new “leadership academies” the state is setting up for continuing professional development of school professionals.

    More than 5,000 New York superintendents, principals, and other administrators will get training with the help of the Gates’ grant, Mills said.

These awards bring the number of states receiving grants from the Gates Foundation to 24 as of the end of June. The foundation has committed a total of $100 million to train school administrators in the use of educational technology. Its goal is to reach administrators in all 50 states by 2003, officials said.

Links:

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
http://www.gatesfoundation.org/learning/ed

Nebraska Council of School Administrators
http://www.ncsa.org

Virginia Initiative for Technology and Administrative Leadership
http://faculty.wm.edu/lbberg/vital

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Private school requires handheld computers for high schoolers

A private school near Winston-Salem, N.C., reportedly is the first K-12 school in the country to require the use of Palm handheld computers in its high school and to pilot their use by all students, starting in first grade.

Palm Inc., a leading provider of handheld computers, and Forsyth Country Day School (K-12, enr. 755) made the announcement June 25 at the National Educational Computing Conference in Chicago.

According to Eric Peterson, assistant headmaster at the school, ninth through 12th grade students returning to school in late August will find something extra in their registration packets—a Palm IIIc handheld, a portable keyboard, and a suite of software applications.

The school is working with Palm and several third-party developers to select an appropriate set of software applications to be used by students and faculty across the curriculum.

“We are a relatively small school with a very big idea, one that will have tremendous benefits to our 850 students and faculty,” said Peterson. In addition to issuing Palm handhelds to the high school students, classroom sets of Palm handhelds will be used in science and math classes in both the middle and elementary grades.

The school also plans to integrate the devices into its brand-new, multimillion-dollar science, math, and academic support centers.

“We see Palm handhelds as a ‘transforming technology’ for our students and for schools in general. For the first time, we have access to a device that can deliver on the fundamental promises of technology in the classroom,” Peterson said.

“This is the first time a K-12 school in the United States has mandated the use of handheld technology in its school and made the commitment to use it in a range of academic and administrative areas,” said Mike Lorion, vice president of education markets at Palm.

“These areas include math, science, English, foreign language, grading, and test assessment. Forsyth Country Day School will be a showcase—a place that other schools can use as a model,” he said.

The school’s long-range plans include integrating Palm handhelds into its intranet to use for sending eMail messages, synching assignments, and connecting to school and individual class web sites.

In addition, students will use wireless services to get online material via web-clipping applications for use in classes.

In the future, the school plans to distribute eTextbooks and course materials on Secure Digital (SD) cards. SD cards are about the size of a postage stamp and can be inserted into the expansion slot of Palm m500 series handhelds for instant access to applications, content, data storage and backup, images, and video clips.

This year, students will pay a fee to acquire the handhelds, but thereafter the school’s regular tuition and fees will cover the costs for the Palms in the same manner they cover the costs of desktop computers and other electronic resources.

Hank Battle, Forsyth Country Day School headmaster, says his school has invested close to $500,000 in technology initiatives over the last few years but decided the next logical step was to jump into using handheld devices rather than laptops.

“The problem with laptops is that by the time you get a class together and fire up laptops, it is 10 minutes before you have everyone going,” he explained. “That is a loss of class time every day.”

School leaders started experimenting with using devices equipped with the Palm operating system and, according to Battle, the educators were “just amazed with the number of applications available.”

“As we got into this, we realized there was just so much school-related software available, everything from gradebooks to graphing calculator-emulators,” he said. “Kids are able to edit, write, take quizzes, and we were able to communicate to one another.”

Other features that sold the school on using Palms were the portability of the devices and the ability to download electronic texts.

“The eBook downloads really mitigated the need to carry some weighty textbooks,” said Battle.

Finally, Battle said the low cost of personal digital assistants—at least when compared to the cost of laptops—was a factor in the decision. The Palm IIIc retails for $299, and the required portable keyboards cost an additional $99. That’s compared to about $2,000 for a single laptop.

Battle said the district is not requiring Palm brand computers per se, just devices with a Palm operating system, to ensure that the machines are compatible for synching.

Peterson, who also is an English teacher and football coach, launched a pilot program during the past school year that reportedly met with widespread enthusiasm from the teachers and students who participated.

He used Palm handhelds extensively in his British Literature classes. In addition to the basic organizational functions the handhelds provided, his 25 students took vocabulary and reading quizzes on the Palm handhelds after Peterson distributed the quizzes via infrared beaming.

They also took notes, wrote papers, and viewed electronic texts of literary works downloaded from the Palm Digital Media web site.

Peterson himself used his Palm handheld to record student grades, attendance, and various class notes.

“Last year, we piloted this with seniors, and they were very excited about it,” said Battle. “Then, at the end of the term they were asked to vote on whether we should make these required. It was 98 percent in favor of requiring the handhelds.”

In coaching, Peterson uses the handheld to scout and analyze opponents’ football game films to better prepare for a given week’s game.

“During a game, the Palm handhelds let us chart opponents’ tendencies and play-calling patterns in real time, allowing us to make better adjustments during the game itself,” he said.

During the summer, teachers at Forsyth Country Day School will participate in staff development sessions, led by Peterson, who has been certified as a Palm Education Training Coordinator (PETC).

Palm’s PETC program certifies local educators to deliver consistent and up-to-date staff development curriculum on the use of Palm handhelds in education.

The summer sessions will provide skills training for the faculty in the basic operation of Palm handhelds and the variety of curricular possibilities for implementing them in education.

“We thought doing this would be taking the next leap forward in technology, and we wanted to be ahead of the curve,” said Battle. “As with anything, we are looking for ways to become more efficient and ways to improve ourselves as educators.”

While other schools are beginning to consider handheld devices, not everyone agrees that Palms make an effective tool for classroom use. Last year, officials at River Hill High School in Clarksville, Md., had announced they would equip one English class of 15 students with Palm Pilot Vx devices through a partnership with Mindsurf Networks.

MindSurf, a $70 million joint venture between Baltimore-based Sylvan Learning Systems Inc., Owings Mills, Md.-based Aether Systems Inc., and San Francisco-based Critical Path, had created an educational tool out of the Palm handheld computer, with general internet access and web browsing, a searchable dictionary and encyclopedia, a graphing calculator, games, and financial applications.

But Mindsurf soon began getting feedback from the teacher, Rick Robb, saying the handheld devices were not adequate for the class’s needs. As a result, River Hill officials recently decided to switch the Mindsurf pilot program from Palm computers to the iPaq Pocket PC from Compaq Computer Corp., a device running on Microsoft’s Pocket PC operating system that combines the portability of a handheld device and some of the additional power (206 MHz Intel processor and up to 64 megabytes of memory) of a laptop.

“Within a week we had tapped out of it. We were looking for a lot more power and functionality than [the Palm computers] had,” said Robb.

Links:

Forsyth Country Day School
http://www.fcds.org

Palm Inc.
http://www.palm.com

Palm Digital Media web site
http://www.palm.com/ebooks

River Hill High School
http://www.howard.k12.md.us/rhhs

Mindsurf Networks
http://www.mindsurfnetworks.com

Compaq Computer Corp.
http://www.compaq.com

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CEO Forum: Measure student achievement on ’21st-century’ skills

America should begin now to equip students with a new set of “21st-century” skills, according to the latest report released June 25 by the CEO Forum on Education and Technology, a national partnership between business and education executives.

Because testing now drives so much of the K-12 curriculum, said forum co-chair Bill Rodrigues, vice president and general manager for education and healthcare at Dell Computer Corporation, education and political leaders soon should begin to incorporate those 21st century skills into tests of student achievement. But first, he added in an interview with eSchool News, educators and others need to identify what those skills are.

The nation’s investment in school technology will pay off, the new report said, only if student achievement is technology’s ultimate objective.

Titled “Key Building Blocks for Student Achievement in the 21st Century,” the new report, which concludes a five-year analysis, said technology is most effective when used to support such fundamentals as assessing progress toward educational goals, creating equitable access to learning opportunities for all students, and establishing accountability for student outcomes.

The report goes on to define the new set of skills students will need in the 21st-century work place, including digital literacy, inventive thinking, effective communication, and the ability to work as a team—skills, the report said, many students lack and few schools teach.

“It’s critical to prepare students for the digital economy of tomorrow, and the best way to do so is to begin incorporating 21st-century skills into their educational experience and closely measuring the results,” said Joan Kratz, vice president of large business services for BellSouth Corp. and a CEO Forum member.

“Technology is present in every aspect of business. The future of our nation’s work force hinges on our ability to provide the tools and the skill set needed to effectively manage and utilize eBusiness technologies,” she said.

“We need to have citizens who can help make policy decisions about things like biotechnology,” agreed Anne Bryant, executive director of the National School Boards Association and another CEO Forum co-chair. “It’s a different world we’re getting kids ready for.”

The forum’s annual snapshot shows that students in American schools are only slowly moving toward developing the new skills—despite the fact that these skills are increasingly required by employers.

To ensure that the nation’s investment in education technology improves student achievement, the CEO Forum offers these six recommendations for schools, government, and parents:

  • Focus education technology investments on specific educational objectives;

  • Make the development of 21st-century skills a key educational objective;

  • Align student assessment with educational objectives while including 21st-century skills;

  • Adopt continuous improvement strategies to measure student progress;

  • Increase investment in research and development and dissemination of best practices; and

  • Ensure equitable access to technology for all students.

“The real message is that we’ve got to tie the technology outcomes to education objectives and student achievement. That is what it’s all about,” said Bryant.

By encouraging the development of 21st-century skills within the school curriculum, the CEO Forum concludes that student achievement levels will expand from the traditional “three Rs” to a higher level of thought processing.

“Assessment, achievement, alignment, accountability, access, and analysis all need to revolve around the link between educational objectives and the use of technology,” Bryant said. “We believe this focus will produce exciting results.”

Educators mostly agree the recommendations are a good place for school leaders to start when planning for the future.

“I think the CEO Forum report is a frank admission that simply putting a computer on Johnny’s desktop is not going to make us a more competitive nation,” said Rick Bauer, chief information officer for the Hill School, in Pennsylvania. “Equally superficial is the idea that somehow we are going to see an improvement in [grade-point averages] with faster computers.”

Contrary to what some people believe, Bauer said, there is no correlation between a school district’s test scores and the speed and quality of its computers.

“I think some educators were sold that line,” he said. “With this report, there is a realization that technology has to be marbled throughout the school culture to be effective.”

Bruce Manning, technology coordinator for Plainfield Public Schools in Connecticut, generally agrees with the report’s recommendations but worries that concerns about infrastructure and connectivity are still roadblocks for some schools.

“Don’t underestimate the current condition of many schools that still require infrastructure and modern computers,” he said. “An infrastructure and hardware base should be required first. From that point on, specific educational objectives can be clarified.”

The big challenge now, said Bauer, is how to measure the “21st-century skills” advocated by the report. “The questions now is, how do we codify someone’s ability to collaborate?” he said.

Last in a series

“Key Building Blocks for Student Achievement in the 21st Century” is the fourth and last in a series of reports that has explored the impact of technology in the classroom.

The CEO Forum’s first report, released in October 1997 and titled “From Pillars to Progress,” examined the four pillars set out by President Clinton for using technology to improve education: hardware, connectivity, professional development, and content.

The report noted the gains schools had made installing hardware and connecting to the internet, but it challenged schools to move beyond infrastructure by implementing all four pillars, and it included a yardstick for measuring progress, an instrument called the School Technology and Readiness (STaR) Chart.

The group’s Year Two report, “Professional Development: A Link to Better Learning,” focused on staff development and technology training. Released in February 1999, it recommended several steps to ensure that teachers are well-equipped to prepare kids for a digital future.

Among these recommendations were that (1) schools of education should make sure tomorrow’s teachers know how to use technology in the classroom; (2) current teachers and administrators should be brought up to speed on how to integrate technology into the curriculum; (3) policy makers should create systems that reward educators for using technology in an effective manner; and (4) the business community should collaborate with educational institutions to make sure students are ready for the next century.

The Year Three report, released in June 2000, was titled “The Power of Digital Learning” and focused on integrating digital content. The report made two primary recommendations for success, once schools had committed to a vision of digital learning.

First, the forum urged administrators to conduct an inventory of their schools’ digital content to determine possible sources of and purposes for this content. Once a district had determined its needs, the group recommended that educators increase their investment in the right kinds of digital content.

“The Year Four report is the culmination of the other three reports,” said Bryant. “We first came together in response to the [Clinton] administration’s call to enact the four pillars of technology in education. And we’ve added a fifth pillar—that is student achievement.”

For more information about the CEO Forum on Education and Technology or to get a copy of any of these reports, you can visit the group’s web site or call (202) 585-0250.
—With additional reporting by Gregg W. Downey, editor of eSchool News.

Links:

CEO Forum on Education and Technology
http://www.ceoforum.org

CEO Forum Year Four Report
http://www.ceoforum.org/downloads/report4.pdf

BellSouth Corp.
http://www.bellsouth.com

Dell Computer Corporation
http://www.dell.com/us/en/gen/default.htm

National School Boards Association
http://www.nsba.org

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NBPTS and ISTE plan online video library of best teaching practices

Some teachers and education groups are creating an online library of videos that will show exemplary practices for teaching with technology—based on two sets of nationally recognized standards—to help both preservice and in-service teachers use technology in the classroom more effectively.

The online library, called The Digital Edge: Accomplished Teaching with Technology, is a joint project of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) and the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). It was announced June 25 at the National Educational Computing Conference in Chicago.

“Too often, the student-teaching experience fails to address the complex challenges and opportunities new teachers face in today’s classrooms,” said Lajeane Thomas, project director for ISTE’s National Educational Technology Standards (NETS).

“The Digital Edge offers powerful, technology-based resources for demonstrating innovative applications of technology for learning, and [it] promotes a mentoring model actively supporting prospective teachers with feedback on problems faced daily in the classroom,” she said.

The Digital Edge will house a series of videos created by a group of National Board Certified Teachers. Teachers who have attained this certification have reached the highest level of teaching ability, according to NBPTS, and only 9,500 such educators have been certified to date.

The board-certified teachers will videotape themselves teaching lessons in which they use technology effectively in the classroom. The lessons will be correlated to two nationally recognized sets of standards: the NBPTS standards and ISTE’s NETS.

The board-certified teachers also will “reflect” on the lessons they record. In the reflection, they will analyze and explain why they taught the way they did, what worked, and what changes they might make in the future.

“Reflection is a large part of the National Board certification process,” said Lynne Wyly, executive associate for special projects at NBPTS. The Digital Edge project “won’t just be a video and a lesson plan; there will be other scaffolding around it.”

Mentoring also will play a large role in the project, Wyly said. Some of the board-certified teachers participating in the project will mentor preservice teachers via the web. “As they are mentoring these new teachers, they will use all the [Digital Edge] resources as part of their mentoring,” Wyly said.

Although the library will be accessible to everyone, at least three teacher colleges—California State University at San Macros, George Mason University in Virginia, and Louisiana Tech University—will begin using these resources to train new teachers in the fall of 2002.

There is an increasing interest across the country for preservice teachers to be trained in technology integration before they enter the classroom. “Many states require technology competency before new [teacher] licenses are given,” Wyly said.

School districts that hire preservice teachers who have gone through this program will know the teachers they hire have had exposure to both high-level teaching experience and high standards in technology integration.

“Also, many schools are requiring technology training for in-service teachers,” Wyly said. She estimated the Digital Edge will be available for all teachers to use in the fall of 2003.

In the first year of the project, 30 board-certified elementary school teachers will create lesson resources for kindergarten through sixth grade. In the second year, another group of board-certified teachers will make them for middle school and high school.

The project’s organizers have given the teachers some guidelines regarding what lessons they should record to make sure the video library covers a wide range of subject areas and grade levels. Each lesson will focus on a specific learning objective, and each will best typify ISTE’s NETS and the NBPTS standards.

“We want [participants] to pick the best examples of their teaching,” Wyly said.

Before any lesson resource is published in the digital library, it will undergo a process of quality control and stringent review, Wyly said.

The board-certified teachers each will get an Apple iBook, a professional microphone, and a digital camcorder. The teachers will tape themselves using the camcorder, then edit the video with Apple’s iMovie editing software.

“By putting what you’re talking about on video, it’s a really rich way of showing what you mean,” said Don Knezek, coordinator of the ISTE NETS project. “It’s like learning a dance. You can read about dance and think about how the steps flow, but to actually see it is much, much better.”

There will be threaded discussions on the project’s web site, so teachers can discuss the videos they watched and the lessons they tried in their own classrooms. They will be able to ask questions and share their experiences.

In July, Apple will train the participating teachers to make and edit their movies. Also, Apple is building the web site that will house the Digital Edge project.

The AT&T Foundation awarded NBPTS $1 million to pay for the project’s other expenses. ISTE also has applied for a Preparing Tomorrow’s Teachers to Use Technology grant.

The participating teachers made a one-year commitment to the project and will be paid an honorarium for their work. Their travel expenses to participate in group training also will be covered, and they will gather at the next Florida Educational Technology Conference for a peer review and demonstration.

Links:

National Board for Professional Teaching Standards
http://www.nbpts.org

International Society for Technology in Education
http://www.iste.org

Apple Computer Inc.
http://www.apple.com

AT&T Foundation
http://www.att.com/foundation

George Mason University
http://www.gmu.edu

California State University San Marcos
http://www.csusm.edu

Louisiana Tech University
http://www.latech.edu

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Web-based tool measures Arizona teachers’ tech proficiency

An agreement between Arizona education officials and a Utah-based company will enable all 40,000 of Arizona’s teachers to use an online assessment program to help them determine their level of technology proficiency.

Officials say the iAssessment program will allow Arizona teachers to develop individual professional development plans to improve their use of technology as an instructional tool. It also will help the state’s schools target their professional development resources more appropriately by giving them data about teachers’ skill levels in aggregate form.

iAssessment, an application service provider specifically tailored to the education market, was awarded the contract by Arizona School Services through Educational Technology (ASSET).

ASSET is a membership-based association for school districts, but according to the group’s executive director, Kathryn Kilroy, the state School Facilities Board selected ASSET to make the iAssessment tool available to every district in the state.

Beginning in June, Arizona educators were given the chance to gauge their technology aptitude and determine what measures they should take to improve their skills, Kilroy said. The tool, still in its beta-testing phase in Arizona, is expected to be rolled out across the state by August.

The project is funded through the Arizona Schools Facilities Board’s computer deployment program and has been named “MyCompass.”

Its goal is to fill in the gaps so teachers can better integrate technology to support learning and improve student achievement, said Dan Cookson, co-founder of iAssessment.

Experts agree that training works best if it’s targeted to the specific skill level of teachers.

“With iAssessment, [school administrators] can use this to give them a picture of where their teachers are with technology proficiency,” Kilroy said. “That way, they can apply their professional development resources at the appropriate level.”

The educator assessment portion is completely confidential for the educator.

“Administrators do not receive reports on teachers, but we do provide administrators with a site analysis that is made up of aggregate data,” Cookson said. “We can lump that data by school, district, region, or county, and then the administration can tell where there are larger gaps in the understanding of technology.”

The program works on two fronts, he explained: “One front is that it provides the personalized data to the teacher about their professional development plan. On the other front, it provides that cumulative data to the decision-makers so they can make informed decisions.”

Under the direction of ASSET, iAssessment customized its Diagnostic Learning System program for Arizona teachers. MyCompass is based on criteria that align with Arizona’s academic standards and the International Society for Technology in Education’s National Educational Technology Standards.

Users gauge their aptitude in five categories: basic concepts and skills, professional and personal productivity skills, communication and information skills, classroom instruction skills, and integration of technology into the curriculum.

Within each category, there are a variety of subjects that educators can test themselves on.

“Specific topics under those categories might include items like the ethical use of intellectual property, presentation skills like PowerPoint, or how to work with others on the World Wide Web,” said Cookson.

Teachers can access MyCompass from any computer with a 56K modem, using a username, password, and a four-digit identification number to ensure privacy.

“The tool primarily consists of multiple-choice, true-false type questions. The teacher reads the questions and answers immediately by clicking [his or her] response,” said Cookson.

As soon as the assessment is completed, the program instantly calculates the teacher’s score and immediately presents proficiency charts and recommendations on what type of professional development is needed.

According to Kilroy, the Arizona test takes teachers about 45 minutes to complete, though they don’t have to complete the assessment in one sitting.

“It is totally flexible. They could do one category per day for a week if they wanted,” said Cookson.

Once teachers receive their personalized recommendations for professional development—selected from the pre-determined list of available state and local resources—they are encouraged to take the classes and attempt to improve their technology skills. At any time, users can reassess themselves to monitor their progress, growth, and response to their prescribed training.

The professional development content for Arizona educators using MyCompass was hand-selected by ASSET, but varies from state to state.

“For instance, we’ve worked with some school groups that want to deliver online professional development through Classroom Connect,” said Cookson.

Kilroy explained that local districts will be able to modify MyCompass to create a district-specific professional development resource list, if desired. “Districts often want to do their own professional development, and this way they can populate the database with their own offerings as well,” she said.

As of now, the iAssessment testing is entirely voluntary for Arizona’s teachers.

“There are no plans to mandate this type of thing at the state level,” said Kilroy. “But I know there are districts that have already incorporated this as a requirement for receiving [federal] Technology Literacy Challenge grants.”

According to Cookson, the cost for iAssessment’s diagnostic tool varies, depending on the number of users.

“Per educator, the range is usually between $4 and $7, depending on the site. Each one is a little different,” he said. “Usually we can have [a new customer] up and rolling in about 21 days or so, depending on the complexity of how the district wants its information configured.”

According to the company, the online tool is already used by some 300,000 educators in California and Indiana.

Links:

iAssessment
http://www.iassessment.com

ASSET’s MyCompass
http://mycompass.asset.asu.edu

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Feds dole out $36 million for creation of magnet schools

U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige has announced 21 new grants totaling $36 million in federal support for magnet school programs that bring diverse groups of children together, offer public school choice, and create innovative educational programs for students.

The awards–the first of an expected 60 grants and $95 million to be awarded over the next several months–are going to school districts in 14 states. Distributed under the federal Magnet Schools Assistance Program, the funding will help school districts set up or strengthen magnet programs, and technology is one of the components eligible for support.

“Parents, armed with options and choice, are equipped to ensure that their children get the highest quality education possible,” Paige said. “Competition among schools can be a powerful motivator to help schools improve the quality and scope of programs they offer, and to make sure that young people learn the core knowledge that they need to succeed in the world today.”

Awarded June 12, the funds will help school districts establish or expand existing magnet programs that are part of a school district’s court-ordered or federally approved desegregation plan.

To qualify for funding, projects must:

  • Foster interaction among students of different social, economic, ethnic, and racial backgrounds in classroom activities and extracurricular activities;
  • Carry out a high-quality educational program that will substantially strengthen students’ reading skills or knowledge of mathematics, science, history, geography, English, foreign languages, art, music, technology, or vocational skills;
  • Reduce, eliminate, or prevent minority group isolation in participating schools;
  • Address the educational needs of the students who will be enrolled in the magnet schools; and
  • Encourage greater parental decision-making and involvement.
The projects in Hot Springs, Ark.; Rapides Parish, La.; Lansing, Mich.; Berkeley County, S.C.; and Harrison County, Miss., are first-time magnet schools grant recipients.

The department expects to fund a total of 60 awards, ranging in size from less than $1 million to more than $2 million a year over three years. Almost $15 million will fund the continuation of four other magnet schools programs that received initial funding last year, as well as 15 innovative programs that involve local desegregation activities that expand parental choice through the use of strategies other than magnet schools.

The Magnet Schools Assistance Program is authorized under Title V, Part A of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act as amended in 1994 and is administered by the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE).

OESE is not accepting any more applications this year, and you should also note that competitions for this grant do not take place yearly, but every three years. For further information, call Steve Brockhouse, (202) 260-2476, or visit http://www.ed.gov/offices/OESE/SIP/programs/msadd.htm

Fiscal Year 2001 New Grant Recipients

Arkansas

  • Hot Springs School District, $2,028,382
    Contact: Donald R. Waldrip, (501) 624-3372
  • Little Rock School District, $2,336,370
    Contact: Linda Austin, (501) 324-2112
California
  • San Diego Unified School District, $2,024,098
    Contact: Patricia A. Trandal, (619) 725-7153
  • San Jose Unified School District, $2,262,650
    Contact: Sharon Andres, (408) 535-6378
Connecticut
  • New Haven Public Schools, $1,906,292
    Contact: Edward Linehan, (203) 946-5696
Florida
  • Miami-Dade County School District, $1,015,782
    Contact: John Johnson II, (305) 995-1704
  • School Board of Pinellas County, $2,152,979
    Contact: Deidra K. Honeywell, (727) 588-6539
  • School District of Escambia County, $1,025,692
    Contact: Linda R. Gulley, (850) 469-5329
  • Seminole County Public Schools, $953,240
    Contact: Sherry O’Leary, (407) 320-0458
Indiana
  • Indianapolis Public Schools, $1,654,560
    Contact: Billie Moore, (317) 226-4794
Louisiana
  • Rapides Parish School Board, $1,926,696
    Contact: Lyle Hutchinson, (318) 473-8585
Massachusetts
  • Springfield Public Schools, $2,245,324
    Contact: Joshua P. Bogin, (413) 787-7752
Michigan
  • Lansing School District, $2,147,493
    Contact: Shari J. Miller, (517) 325-6125
  • Kalamazoo City School District, $2,275,408
    Contact: Yvonne Davis, (616) 337-0183
Mississippi
  • Harrison County School District, $1,166,442
    Contact: Charlotte Davis, (228) 539-5946
New York
  • Community School District #21 (Brooklyn), $1,655,160
    Contact: Barry M. Fein, (718) 714-2541
  • Yonkers City Schools, $1,993,846
    Contact: Fern Eisgrub, (914) 376-8213
North Carolina
  • Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, $2,132,154
    Contact: Robbie Kale, (704) 343-5030
Pennsylvania
  • Philadelphia School District, $551,561
    Contact: Harry J. Gaffney, (215) 335-5043
South Carolina
  • Berkeley County School District, $653,982
    Contact: Anne B. Godbee, (843) 899-8640
Texas
  • Aldine Independent School District, $2,123,718
    Contact: Diane Creekmore, (281) 985-6416

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eSN Exclusive: N2H2 snags paid users, reaffirms its ‘absolute’ commitment to K-12

Since switching from a free, ad-sponsored business model to a paid subscription model last fall, Seattle-based N2H2 Inc.—the nation’s top filtering provider to K-12 schools—says it has retained 62 percent of its school customers who used the Bess Partners Program.

But with new legislation forcing schools to filter their web access or lose federal funding, the company’s announcement begs a question: Where have the other 38 percent of N2H2’s customers gone?

School administrators contacted by eSchool News for this story cited cost as the key factor in their decision whether to stay with N2H2’s service or look elsewhere. But at least one school official questioned whether N2H2’s recent change of direction signals a shift in focus away from its core market—education.

On June 13, N2H2 issued an announcement saying it had reached a company milestone of 14.5 million students now using its filtering services in schools worldwide.

The release said that the company’s 62 percent conversion of its education-based Bess Partner Program customers to a fee-for-service model resulted in more than $2.5 million in new contracts, enabling the company to reach a “cash positive” position by fourth quarter 2001.

The announcement came as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is set to implement the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA), which requires filtering in federally funded schools.

Under the rules set forth by the FCC, schools and libraries must certify that they have an internet safety policy and are using filtering technology—or are “undertaking action” to do so—to be eligible for eRate discounts in Program Year Four, which begins July 1.

N2H2’s announcement also followed on the heels of recent internal changes within the company, most notably the addition of Philip Welt—formerly of Microsoft—as its new president and chief executive. Welt’s addition will boost N2H2’s expansion into the business and enterprise filtering markets, a company statement said May 24.

Does this mean N2H2 is abandoning its roots in K-12 education? Some current and former N2H2 employees have said that is exactly what is happening. But those comments came before the announcement of the high free-to-paid conversion rate.

Craig Blessing, the company’s director of sales, denies such reports categorically.

“We remain absolutely committed to education. Quality of filtering and the ability to fit the needs of schools better will always be foremost in our minds,” he said. “We were founded by educators, and we have invested huge efforts in creating an education product—but we do intend to branch out and move into the corporate and government space.”

Blessing attributed the company’s less-than-perfect conversion rate to the pricing concerns of schools.

“We are not the [most] inexpensive product on the market,” he said. “We spend a lot of time making sure useful items are not inappropriately blocked. … Anyone could start a low-entry product, like many of our competitors. If we decide we do not need a large technical support staff like the one at N2H2, you or I could start a filtering company from our home computer.”

Blessing says many of the lower-tier—and cheaper—filtering products on the market charge as little as $100 per month to filter unlimited users on the server. In contrast, N2H2 typically charges $5 or more per workstation, per month, depending on what type of server users are running.

Heather Cook, a spokeswoman for rival company SurfControl, which makes the Cyber Patrol filtering system, said the average cost of Cyber Patrol for 100 users is $1,595 per year. Cook said she could not say how many of N2H2’s former school customers might have switched over to Cyber Patrol, but she did say the company has added 1,600 new education customers in the last nine months.

“Overall, we have seen an increase in sales, but we do not attribute that to [the looming deadline for CIPA compliance]. We attribute that increase to our own marketing efforts and the time of year of the procurement cycle,” Cook said.

User comments

According to Ann Malven, technology coordinator at Nevada Community Schools in Nevada, Iowa, her district had received N2H2’s free Bess Partners Program service when it was offered.

“Most of the schools participating in the free program did not renew their contracts, because the price quoted was much more than N2H2 originally promised,” she said. Her district is now looking for another alternative, though she said many educators in the district believe they should not filter at all.

Price is a key consideration for schools, agreed Eileen Palsgrove, director of technology for Crystal Lake School District 47 in Illinois—but it might not be the only factor. “N2H2 is more expensive than some other companies, and I think some school people are angry at the ‘bait and switch’ idea of being free first and then charging for the same service,” she said.

Crystal Lake has always used N2H2’s service, Palsgrove said, but the district opted not to take part in the Bess Partners Program because it contained advertising, a violation of school board policy.

Palsgrove said she didn’t think the company’s new leadership or its expansion into the enterprise market were significant factors for schools. But Rob Miller, director of technology for the Magnolia Independent School District in Texas, said he questioned whether N2H2’s focus remains on the school market.

Miller said his district is part of Region VI, an education service center encompassing more than 50 Texas districts. Region VI is getting ready to switch to another filtering solution, and Miller chaired the committee that studied filtering solutions. “We had asked representatives of N2H2 to come talk to us, and they didn’t,” he said. “We looked at several solutions, and I believe the region is going with Websense.”

On the other side of the issue, officials at Westbrook High School in Westbrook, Conn., decided to switch over to N2H2’s fee-based service because they already had invested $4,000 in the Bess server they purchased back when the service was free.

“The investment in the server was certainly a consideration in moving to [the fee-based] service,” said Principal Robert Hale.

Linda Humphrey, technology director for Lane School District in Lane, Okla., explained that her district switched to the fee-based model because it had been satisfied with N2H2’s service in the past and wanted to continue to receive eRate funding under the new law.

“As the only person in our small district maintaining 90 computers and a small video production studio, my main concern was the time involved in whatever product we chose,” she said. “I have found there is little to no administration time involved in the N2H2 service.”

Accolades like that have made N2H2 confident that it will continue to be the leader in school internet filtering, though it may be more costly than the competition.

“I don’t think we’ll ever get to 100 percent [conversion from free to paid customers]. A portion of people will always be upset when there is change,” Blessing conceded.

But with CIPA set to take effect soon and with some high-level partnerships in the works, Blessing says N2H2 expects to have a busy summer.

As of March, N2H2 has expanded from its proprietary server model to become a certified partner with Microsoft’s ISA platform.

“We are really trying to give schools more platform options,” said Blessing, explaining that the company thought Microsoft was a good place to start because so many schools already have those servers in place.

“We’re going to expand to a variety of platforms, and we’ll expand beyond Microsoft,” he said.

Links:

N2H2 Inc.
http://www.n2h2.com

SurfControl
http://www.surfcontrol.com

CIPA regulations
http://www.fcc.gov/Bureaus/Common_Carrier/Orders/2 001/fcc01120.doc

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Web-based gaming environment used to teach science

By October—with the same video game technology that lets you ride a virtual surf board or drive a virtual race car—students in a pilot project should be able to hop on their virtual bicycles and peddle their way to a better understanding of science. The technology may hold special promise for those students who struggle with more traditional methods of instruction.

In an effort to engage students’ interest more fully, a group of researchers and classroom teachers has turned the platform used to play interactive video games on the internet into an educational environment to teach science.

“Students who are relatively uninterested in typical classroom labs may be drawn in with a world that they are interested in—the gaming environment,” said Chris Dede, a Timothy Worth professor of learning technology at Harvard University.

As the popularity of online gaming has increased, so has the number of young people who have become captivated with its virtual capability and functionality.

“From a gaming perspective, it’s mindless,” Dede said of the platform, but he suspects that if the platform were to deliver educational content, then students would be just as engaged with that content as they are with video games.

Funded with a $1 million National Science Foundation grant, which ends in January 2002, representatives from Nobel Learning Communities, Harvard University, the Smithsonian Institution, and George Mason University are working together to research what impact—if any—the gaming environment has on learning.

“We are researching whether this technology could take subjects that teachers find hard to teach to students not doing well in traditional schools and see if they can do better,” Dede said.

The gaming environment, known as the Multi User Virtual Environment (MUVE), is “largely unexplored, and it’s a big part of kid’s lives,” Dede said.

For the project, the Smithsonian is providing content, George Mason University is providing server space, and Nobel Learning Communities plans to pilot the application in some of its classrooms. Dede said he will pilot the platform in some New England schools as well.

Currently, the group—which includes technologists, scientists, historians, researchers, programmers, and teachers—is in the process of developing the browser-based application for middle school students. Together, they’re deciding what it will look like and what content it will have.

So far, they are working on two lessons: one, on bicycles, will teach physical and material science, and the second, called River City, will teach biology and ecology.

In the bicycle unit, students will be able to experiment virtually with bicycles from different time periods. Like a video game in which the user can select his or her weapon and armor, students will be able to select different bicycles, accessories, and costumes from different time periods.

Students will experiment with the bicycles by riding them in the virtual environment, like they would in a computer game. Of course, in this situation they would be asked to analyze what happened. “In this environment, students are actively engaged in problem-solving rather than being passively engaged in receiving information,” Dede said.

Also, the MUVE will contain built-in information resources—such as video, articles, audio, or pictures—to enable students to delve deeper into the topic. In addition to science, the project will cross subject borders and meet some of the learning objectives in history, language, and social studies.

“As a teacher, I can see that it’s a good way to teach some of these physical concepts that some kids just don’t get,” said Patti Philips, who teaches seventh and eighth grade at Brighton School in Seattle.

Phillips said she has some students who do not function very well in the classroom setting, but when it comes to learning from television or a computer, they have no problems.

“Seventy percent of our kids are learning by doing, and they like to be in an environment where they can be in control,” Phillips said. “With this technology, I can lead them, but they can go above and beyond what I’m teaching.”

Lynn Fontana, chief educational officer of Pennsylvania-based Nobel Learning Communities, which operates private schools across the country, likes the opportunity to develop a tool to engage students who were not previously engaged.

“As a set of private schools, we need to be significantly different and better than what is traditionally around,” Fontana said. “Our parents are paying a tuition to have their children at our schools.”

By working directly with the developers, Nobel teachers can ensure that the MUVE will address what’s hard to teach in science, what’s needed in the curriculum, and won’t waste precious classroom time, Fontana said.

The project participants hope to pilot the educational MUVE by October and have preliminary research results in November, in time to re-apply for funding.

Links:

Nobel Learning Communities
http://www.nobellearning.com

Harvard University
http://www.harvard.edu

The Smithsonian Institution
http://www.si.edu

George Mason University
http://www.gmu.edu

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Schools, other consumers slow to embrace Linux

Long considered the computer operating system of the pocket-protector set, Linux at one point seemed poised to enter into America’s schools and establish itself as a possible competitor to Microsoft Windows and Apple’s Mac OS.

Don’t hold your breath.

Companies that produce hardware and software for Linux have touted the benefits and efficiencies of Finnish programmer Linus Torvalds’ open-source operating system, but schools have yet to embrace the platform, citing a lack of educational applications and limited technical expertise.

Linux is a free computer operating system that offers the potential for true multitasking and greater stability than Windows, its proponents say.

Because the source code is free, thousands of developers around the world continually work to improve both the core operating system software and programs that run on it.

Most Linux elements can be downloaded for free, but Red Hat, Corel, and other companies have combined the operating system with popular components and fairly intuitive installation programs and bundled it all into packages sold in computer stores.

Most of these companies hope to make money by offering training, documentation, and support services.

Ottawa-based Corel Corp. began marketing the Linux platform and applications to the education market as far back as the March 2000 Florida Educational Technology Conference (FETC) in Orlando.

At that show, Corel demonstrated its own desktop version of Linux, which, the company claimed, was easy to install, easy to use, and simple to integrate within existing networked environments.

The software could be downloaded without cost from Corel’s web site and be installed in a separate partition on the hard drive of Windows-based computers, so the machines could run using either system. Unlike earlier versions, Corel’s version of Linux employed a graphical user interface for easy navigation.

At FETC 2000, Corel also launched a Linux-based version of its WordPerfect Office 2000 suite, with word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation software.

Educators who previewed the software at the conference said Linux could be a great fit for the education market, because of its low ownership cost and flexible deployment.

“Schools are spending thousands of dollars a year to license Windows,” one Florida educator said, “and with Linux, there is no planned obsolescence every few years.”

Not ready for desktop prime time?

Because Linux’s source code is free and can by modified by anyone, improvements have been quick and constant. But that freedom is a double-edged sword that also forces users to deal with complicated configurations and lack of a uniform code.

As a result, Linux last year was able to capture less than 2 percent of the desktop PC market for consumers, which remains dominated by Microsoft Corp.’s Windows, according to International Data Corp. figures.

Eazel Inc., which had been one of the most promising companies trying to bring Linux to the masses, went out of business last month after failing to attract investors.

“We were probably trying to do too much too fast. Frankly, we still have a couple years to go before Linux catches up with Windows,” said Bart Decrem, an Eazel co-founder. “The reality is that Windows is good enough for most people.”

Last September, eSchool News reported that Corel had posted a deep second-quarter 2000 loss of nearly $24 million that reflected dwindling cash reserves, shrinking demand for its established software, and little indication that the Linux-based products would rescue the company. The loss came even after Corel laid off 320 employees, or 21 percent of its work force, earlier that year.

In October, rival Microsoft invested $135 million in Corel’s stock, purchasing a 24.6 percent stake in the company. Since then, Corel has rallied slightly by posting a small profit in first quarter of 2001, earning $534,000, or 1 cent a share, on sales of $32.5 million in the quarter.

Sales of the company’s Linux-based products have been disappointing, however. Corel reported Linux sales of $4.9 million over the first half of 2000—only 25 percent of its target of $20 million for that year.

Educators agree on one thing: One of the biggest barriers to widespread adoption of Linux has been the lack of applications developed to run on it.

“The primary reason for not using Linux more widely is the lack of application support,” said Jim Hirsch, assistant superintendent for technology at the Plano (Texas) Independent School District.

“We support over 400 instructional and administrative applications, and these applications are the reason we have technology in our classrooms and departments. Hence the need to run an operating system that supports them,” he said.

“This is also the primary deciding factor as to when we deploy PC versus Macintosh computers,” Hirsch added.

Some use at server level

There are ways around the “lack of applications” problem, Linux users say. In April 2000, eSchool News featured a school district in North Carolina that had switched its servers over to Linux.

“The main reason we are using Linux for our server environment is because it costs less,” said Monty Fuchs, Haywood County School District’s technology coordinator at the time. “I can put it on as many servers as I want, and I can put as many users on as I want.”

Haywood schools saved an estimated $50,000 on all the licensing they would have bought had they not switched, said network administrator Michael Williams.

According to Williams, the district has gotten around the applications problem by using software that emulates Windows NT, allowing all NT applications to run on top of the Linux servers. The emulator they use is available at no cost from Samba.com.

“Thanks to the emulator, as far as the students and teachers know they are working on NT,” said Williams.

Still, not everyone is convinced.

“What we’re going to have to see is a grassroots movement” for Linux to catch on among K-12 schools, said Derik Belair, former director of strategic applications for Corel. But that movement has not taken off fast enough to entice educators to switch platforms, it seems.

Market research firm Quality Education Data (QED) has a limited amount of information on server operating systems at the district level, explained Gus Greival, QED’s manager of market research analysis. But there is a good deal of anecdotal evidence suggesting a fairly low level of acceptance for Linux, he said.

Greival said there is some evidence in QED’s database that the Linux OS is being used at the server level, particularly as a web server. “But it does not appear to have entered the classroom at all,” he said.

“There is some appeal to the open-source nature of Linux, but that appeal can be offset by the limited number of applications for educational purposes,” said Greival.

And that is not the only drawback to the Linux platform.

Greival explained that in his experience—he worked at a university that switched its servers entirely to the Linux OS—the open-source server is not as easy to troubleshoot when problems arise.

“My experience with Linux has been that when you run into trouble, it is not as straightforward to solve those problems,” he said. “When you have a problem with Microsoft, for instance, there are all sorts of ways to get help, and it’s available at a very remedial level. With Linux, you need to be pretty familiar with how your machine is working to get help.”

Williams admits that Linux can be more difficult to use. Haywood schools have employed a free web-based configuration tool called Webmin.com to administer the network. Otherwise it might be very difficult for network technicians unfamiliar with the intricacies of the Linux OS.

“Before [we started to use Webmin.com] the Linux network was strictly command-line entry,” said Williams. “Webmin really makes for an easier user interface.”

Despite the challenges, Williams has few regrets about installing the open-source solution in his district and advises the reluctant to give it a shot for themselves.

“I’d suggest getting an old computer and loading it up and starting to play,” he said. “I think [users will] be hooked.”

Links:

Corel Corp.
http://www.corel.com

Microsoft Corp.
http://www.microsoft.com

Eazel Inc.
http://www.eazel.com

Haywood County School District
http://www.haywood.k12.nc.us/public

Plano Independent School District
http://www.pisd.edu

Quality Education Data
http://www.qeddata.com

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Flap arises over students’ online teacher ‘evaluations’

By regularly losing court cases when they’ve tried it, school districts around the nation have learned they pretty much are barred from taking punitive actions against students who create web sites on their own, even when school officials find those web sites offensive. Now, according to the June 14 New York Times article, some teachers at a New York City high school reportedly have taken matters into their own hands.

eSchool News’ repeated attempts to elicit comment from any member of the faculty, administration, or school board involved in this matter have—to date—been unsuccessful to date, but those efforts will continue.

According to the New York Times, a 16-year-old top student at an elite New York City high school has reportedly been threatened with a lawsuit and with having faculty recommendations for college withheld because he created a web site to evaluate his teachers.

Gary He, a student at Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan, started a web site where Stuyvesant’s 3,000 students could anonymously assess their teachers’ performances, the Times said.

The evaluations have since been removed, but some of those initially posted actually seemed to encourage sound study habits, it was reported:

“Participate! When I had him, he assigned homework every night and the next day, we’d discuss it, so that’s important to know,” one student reportedly wrote about social studies teacher Robert Floersch. But the anonymous commentaries also contained personal asides that some teachers apparently found onerous. “Tests count a lot. If only he would stop smoking those Camels.”

Visits to He’s site reportedly grew from 200 to more than 700 per day before teachers found out about them.

One teacher suggested at a regular meeting with the principal May 21 that teachers respond to the criticism by refusing to write college recommendations for anyone in the junior class, according to a report in the school’s newspaper, The Spectator.

In late May, He stopped operating the web site, but with some reluctance.

“Teacher Evaluations [web site] is currently down but will soon be back better than ever,” He reportedly wrote in the area of the site that once contained the evaluations “The vox populi must be heard.”

Another person posting to the dismantled evaluation area had this comment: “Since [New York City teachers] can’t really be fired for anything less than a felony, SOMEONE has to keep an eye on them. Why not the people they’re paid to teach? Who else knows better?”

According to the New York Times, a math teacher, Bruce Winokur, threatened He with a libel suit, and other teachers reportedly let the young man know how angry and uncomfortable they were.

“I don’t want to spend my summer days in a courtroom,” He told the Times.

But He, who has a 92 average, now faces the challenge of getting recommendation letters for admission to a good school, the Times said.

Some of the students posting comments on the matter had balanced advice for both teachers and students.

“To those of you who post weak comments that are obviously just the product of academic frustration: grow up,” wrote student Sean Brandt in the evaluation area of the site. “To those of you who threatened legal action against Gary or other such petty revenge against the moderator of this site: ditto.”

Officials at the high school declined to comment and directed eSchool News to the superintendent, who could not be reached. Attempts to contact teachers at the school also were unsuccessful.

This post to the student site signed with He’s name seemed to sum the situation: “Hey people who found this site through a newspaper or a newscast… This is just another site, nothing special. All of the ‘controversy’ resolved about two-three weeks ago, what you are seeing is what’s left from the battle. So anyhoo, try not to mess it up too much, all you computer experts out there. Have a nice day everyone!”

The “quote of the day” on the high school’s official web site on June 19 was from Eric Hoffer: “The basic test of freedom is perhaps less in what we are free to do than in what we are free not to do.”

Links:

He’s site: Stuynet.com
http://www.stuynet.com/

Stuyvesant High School
http://www.stuy.edu/

New York City Board of Education
http://www.nycenet.edu/

New York Times article
http://www.nytimes.com/2001/06/14/technology/14STU Y.html?searchpv=nytToda

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