Mississippi’s effort to put computers in classrooms needs more money

Mississippi Gov. Ronnie Musgrove’s effort to put a computer in every public classroom in the state by late 2002 is on track, but more money is needed to finish the project, a state official says.

“Right now, we have an immediate need of $2 million to fund the remainder of the 6,300 computers which have to be installed by the first of the school year,” said Michael Boyd, policy and planning director for Musgrove.

Boyd said a recent survey of 30,000 classrooms statewide showed that only 12,602 did not have internet accessible computers.

The $28 million total project is the largest public-private partnership in the nation, Musgrove said in May. Musgrove and the leader of Entergy Mississippi traveled the state in a bid to raise the additional $2 million from private donors. About $4 million has been raised already.

Blake Wilson, president of the Mississippi Economic Council, said communities are getting on board with the project because they can see where their money is going.

“Every dollar raised–100 percent–goes to the purchase of the computers and the training of teachers to use them,” Wilson said. “This is not just to put computers in the corner of the classroom to collect dust.”


Maryland governor signs repeal of school cell phone ban

Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening has approved repealing a ban on bringing cellular phones and pagers to school in 16 of Maryland’s 24 jurisdictions. The ban will remain in place in Baltimore city and Baltimore, Caroline, Dorchester, Somerset, Talbot, Wicomico, and Worcester counties.

Local school officials from other counties will work with the state Department of Education to develop their own policies.

The ban initially was intended to head off drug crimes and distraction in schools. But Ron Peiffer, a state Department of Education spokesman, said the state school board supported repealing the ban because many parents want their children to carry cellular phones for their own safety.

The prohibition, which applied to other forms of wireless technology, also prevented teachers and students from using some cutting-edge equipment in classrooms, Peiffer said.

“I think these other things have now outweighed the concerns about it,” Peiffer said. “Locally, if people still see the potential for problems, they can close it down.”


Libraries win partial victory in filtering lawsuit

Public libraries will have until July 2002 to certify that they have adopted internet filtering technologies required by a new federal law, under terms of an agreement reached in U.S. district court.

The agreement came during a hearing on the twin lawsuits filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Library Association challenging portions of the Children’s Internet Protection Act.

Under the law passed last year, libraries and schools would lose federal grants earmarked for technology unless they install computer filtering software that blocks access to online material deemed “obscene,” “harmful to minors,” or “child pornography.” Libraries were supposed to be in compliance by July 31, with certification by October.

The lawsuits challenge portions of the law that affect libraries, not schools. The suits contend the law violates freedom of speech.

The agreement reached May 15 with federal prosecutors requires libraries to indicate this year that they are evaluating their options, said Theresa A. Chmara, a lawyer for the library association. Schools will still have to begin complying by July 1 and certify their compliance with the law by October 27.


“spaceKids” sends learning into orbit

“spaceKids” was developed by Space.com, a space science web site that offers rich, compelling, entertaining, and educational content for everyone, from astronauts to educators to kids. spaceKids uses IBM’s HotMedia technology for its zoom-in capabilities and features EarthKam, a series of images taken by satellite and provided in a fast, easy format for downloading. The site includes a photo gallery of actual images of heavenly bodies, from comets, to asteroids, to sun storms, to craters. It also provides students and teachers with great movie clips of shuttle missions, liftoffs, famous moments in space history, and television clips. Kids can participate in an “Ask the Experts” chat on the site, in which astronomy and space science experts answer questions on any of 26 different topics, from the moon, to telescopes, to galaxies. The Solar System portion of the site begins with a virtual tour of the corner of the universe we call home, and it answers questions about some of our solar system’s leading characters, such as our sun, the planets, and their satellites. Students with Flash 4 and Shockwave capability also can play space-related educational games. spaceKids includes a “Just for Teachers” segment, with lesson plan modules for using the site in classroom instruction. Kids and adults alike will enjoy this colorful, interactive, and entertaining resource.



New technology has parents excited, students worried

Schools in Washington state are adopting a computer program that allows parents to check the internet every day to see whether their kids skipped class, handed in their homework, and even what they had for lunch.

A cooperative representing 277 of Washington’s 296 school districts signed a contract in May to start bringing the technology into the state’s schools by fall 2002. Districts in many states already have the programs, said Geannie Wells, director of the Center for Accountability Solutions at the Arlington, Va.-based American Association of School Administrators.

Teachers enter information such as grades, homework assignments, and attendance into a web site, where parents with a password can see it. Parents can find out what foods have been charged to their children’s lunch money accounts and whether their children have been given detention.

Administrators say it’s easier than reaching a teacher by phone, and anything that encourages parents to be more involved in their child’s education is a blessing.

“I would have loved to have had access to that information when my daughters were in school,” says Cynthia Nelson, the technology director of the Edmonds (Wash.) School District. “Once they hit middle school, you don’t empty their backpacks every night. All of a sudden it’s like, ‘Don’t touch my stuff!'”

The Edmonds district is a member of the Washington Schools Information Processing Cooperative, an alliance designed to help the state’s schools afford technology. The cooperative’s executive director, Jeff Conklin, says it is investing about $20 million in a system made by a company called Skyward Inc., in Stevens Point, Wis. All the cooperative’s schools should have access to the program within five years.

The system also will update schools’ administrative and accounting software, simplify scheduling, and make it easier for teachers to analyze data about classes and grades.

Parents love the web-based system, because it will help them keep better track of their kids. But a lot of kids–even those who go to class and earn decent grades–think it’s creepy.

“Our parents don’t need to know everything we do all the time,” says Brittany Tucker, a 15-year-old sophomore at Meadowdale High School in Lynnwood, Wash. “High school’s supposed to be a time when you’re starting to get out on your own.”

Despite the suspicions of students who might feel their privacy is being violated, the law is clear that parents have a right to look into their children’s school records, said Andrew Shen, of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, D.C. As long as the information posted is accurate and the system is secure, there shouldn’t be a problem with privacy, he said.

Skyward has been wildly popular with parents in the Big Rapids School District in Michigan, said Joe Bouman, the district’s technology director. “They’re ecstatic. We have parents signing up for the service every day,” Bouman said.

In one instance, he said, parents suspected that their middle-school child wasn’t eating a healthy lunch. Using the program, they found out the child was buying fruit juice and ice cream every day.

They asked administrators to block their kid from buying juice and ice cream. Now, whenever the child shows up at the register, the computer tells the lunch lady, no juice, no ice cream.

Most of the system’s benefits are for teachers and parents, who, according to students, already have all the control they need.

Brittany Tucker’s father, John, says he knows kids might feel that way, but it’s good for them.

“Brittany’s a pretty good kid, but there are certainly times I wish I could keep better track of her,” he said. “I think the more we can control our kids, the better off in the long run they’ll be.”

Besides Skyward, other companies offering similar products include Chancery Software, NCS Pearson, PowerSchool, Administrative Assistants Ltd. (AAL), and Limitless Inc.


Washington Schools Information Processing Cooperative

Skyward Inc.

Chancery Software Ltd.

NCS Pearson


Administrative Assistants Ltd.

Limitless Inc.


N2H2 taps new chief executive

N2H2 Inc., the leading internet filtering company in schools with a reported 14 million K-12 users, announced that Microsoft veteran Philip Welt, 45, has joined the company as its new president and chief executive officer. In his new role, Welt will be responsible for broadening the company’s enterprise offerings and building upon its extensive educational client base. Former N2H2 CEO Peter Nickerson has assumed the role of board chairman.

Welt’s track record for consistently delivering strong growth and impressive operating results was a driving force for the move, according to company officials. Welt, helped expand the software giant’s presence in Mexico, growing sales revenues in the region by more than 400 percent in one year. In 1995, Welt became director of worldwide sales for Microsoft subsidiary Softimage.

“Moving forward, my goal in leading N2H2 is to drive toward profitability and establish the same dominant presence in the enterprise filtering market that we have already achieved in the K-12 global school market,” said Welt. “Over the coming months you’ll see N2H2 introducing a broad array of new enterprise products, as well as engaging in some significant partner and customer relationships that will greatly expand our reach into the corporate filtering market.”

Though Welt will focus on broadening the company’s enterprise business, school customers of N2H2 may be reassured to note that Welt is involved with several nonprofit philanthropic endeavors specifically focused on education. These include financing the Louis Gregory Scholarship Fund,working in Seattle public schools, and sitting on the board of a multicultural private school in Seattle’s Central District.


Mindsurf Networks to Acquire Discourse Technologies

Mindsurf Networks Inc., a provider of wireless computing solutions for the K-12 market, announced it will acquire Discourse Technologies Inc., a developer of groupware applications for the school market. The Discourse product suite is designed to provide real-time individual student assessment.

“The Discourse product suite adds powerful teaching functions to the Mindsurf Networks solution,” said Bruce Davis, CEO of Mindsurf Networks. “In conjunction with our wireless technology, teachers can now administer electronic curriculum and assessments to their students in a controlled and direct fashion. They will immediately know which students understand a concept and which students do not. That kind of real-time feedback leads to results.”

With the integration of the Discourse software into the Mindsurf Networks solution, teachers will be able to follow all students’ learning in real-time and assess comprehension while teaching. As a result, they can instantly remediate, provide additional resources and even track and score results. For example, a teacher conducting a lesson on metamorphosis can push a video clip from the internet to all students, which they view on their individual handheld computers. The teacher can ask them questions and then watch their responses–student by student–on a PC.

Mindsurf Networks delivers a wireless computing solution for K-12 educators and students that enables ubiquitous, handheld computing at very low cost. Launched in July 2000, Mindsurf Networks is a $70 million joint venture between Sylvan Ventures, the venture arm of Sylvan Learning Systems Inc., and Aether Systems Inc.


98 percent of public schools have internet access

The percentage of public schools wired to the internet has increased to 98 percent–up from 95 percent last year–according to statistics released May 9, but education groups say more work still needs to be done.

Since 1994, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) has surveyed approximately 1,000 public schools each year to find out how many are connected to the internet, so the U.S. Department of Education can measure the progress of the nation’s investment in technology.

According to the report, in the fall of 2000, 98 percent of the nation’s public schools had access to the internet, up from 35 percent in 1994. The percentage of classrooms wired to the internet also has increased dramatically. In 2000, 77 percent of classrooms offered internet access, compared to 64 percent last year and three percent in 1994. Unlike previous years, there were virtually no differences in access to the internet by school characteristics–such as poverty level and metropolitan status–in 1999 or 2000, the report said.

For example, in 1997 there was a gap of 24 points between the percentage of the wealthiest schools (86 percent) and poorest schools (62 percent) connected to the internet. In 2000, that gap was only 5 percentage points.

The overall ratio of students to instructional computers reached five to one last fall, better than six to one in 1999. Similarly, the ratio of students to instructional computers with internet access improved. It was nine to one in 1999 and seven to one in 2000.

Despite these advances, education advocates say the battle is not over yet.

“It’s great news and not so great news. We made tremendous strides in the highest-poverty schools, but we’re still not there yet,” said Norris Dickard, senior associate at the Benton Foundation. “There’s enough in this report to show that the job is not done yet.”

In the poorest schools, the ratio of students to internet-connected computers improved from 17 to 1 in 1999 to 9 to 1 in 2000. However, nine students to one computer is still higher than the national average of 7 to 1.

Percentage of schools connected to the internet:

Percentage of classrooms connected to the internet:

Student to computer ratio:

Student to internet-connected computer ratio:

Student to internet-connected computer ratio in poorest schools:

Percentage of schools with computers accessibe after school hours:


“Cyber Newseum” teaches kids to think critically about the news

The Cyber Newseum was created by the Newseum, an interactive museum located in Arlington, Va., that takes visitors behind the scenes to see and experience how and why news is made. The Cyber Newseum highlights several of the museum’s exhibitions online, showing what it’s like to be on the front lines and in the trenches reporting on conflicts that affect the fates of nations, cultures, and human lives. The “War Stories” exhibit demonstrates what it’s like to a war correspondent, with interview clips from correspondents from World War II, the Korean conflict, Vietnam, Desert Storm, and other international conflicts. This history of war reporting includes first-hand stories told by the men and women who have gone to battle with pens and cameras. “Holocaust, the Untold Story” examines the role of the press during World War II. The exhibit asks whether a more aggressive press during that conflict might have saved lives. It dispels the myth that the Holocaust was a secret and explores the reasons why newspapers downplayed the horrifying reports from Europe. “Capture the Moment: Pulitzer Prize-winning Photographs” displays the images that have touched the American consciousness over the years. The exhibit displays every Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph since 1941–the first year a photograph was eligible for the award–to the present day. The site’s Shockwave version includes accompanying narration by the actual photographers who have won journalism’s most prestigious award. This is a great resource to get kids thinking critically about what they see and hear reported in the news.



Look for American history “Within these Walls”

This web site from the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History follows the inhabitants of a single house in Massachusetts, over the course of 200 years. The site runs in correlation with the museum’s “Within these Walls” exhibition, in which a real two-and-a-half story house was moved from Massachusetts to the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. and is now located on the museum’s second floor. Visitors to the web site–and the exhibit–are invited to discover the stories of five families who lived in the house from the 1760s to the 1940s and made history in their kitchens and parlors through everyday choices and personal acts of courage and sacrifice. Students learn how their lives reflected the great changes and events in American history, from colonial times, the American Revolution, slavery, and abolition to immigration, industrialization, and World War II. Virtual visitors are invited to look inside the house to find original architectural details, as well as furnishings that suggest how some of the rooms might have been used. Artifacts from the different time periods–such as an 18th-century doll, a rare Revolutionary War coat, an antislavery almanac, and World War II posters–all suggest what the daily lives of the home’s inhabitants may have been like. This easy-to-use, glossy site, which requires the Flash plug-in, provides kids and history teachers with a fascinating visual glimpse into different time periods throughout American history.