Starting in September, every school in Arizona will have free internet access to more than 250 software titles—including tests, reference materials, eMail, and student information systems—as a result of a $27.9 million deal involving more than 60 companies.

The deal is believed to be the largest single deployment yet of an application service provider (ASP) model in K-12 education. If it proves successful, it could open the door for further acceptance of this method of software deployment among school districts nationwide.

The Arizona School Facilities Board awarded this four-year contract as part of its plan to address a 1998 state law—called Students FIRST: Fair and Immediate Resources for Students Today—that requires equal funding and resources for every school in the state.

The $28 million software contract completes a three-stage process. Initially, the board purchased 40,000 computers to bring the student-to-computer ratio in the state’s schools to 8 to 1 as the law required. Next, the board focused on internet access.

Because not all districts had adequate bandwidth, the board contracted with Qwest Communications for three years to provide, monitor, and maintain internet connectivity for every school district. Qwest is still in the process of wiring every desktop computer.

The state also provided every school with a firewall from Cisco Systems and internet filtering from Websense Inc.

“We’ve got computers. We’ve got bandwidth. Now we just need content,” said Dr. Philip E. Geiger, executive director of the Arizona School Facilities Board.

Arranged by the Cox Education Alliance along with KPMG Consulting, the software package enables the state’s 1,210 schools to access educational software from companies such as LearningStation, VIPTone, PowerSchool, NetSchools, EBSCO, Grolier, Video Schoolhouse, Edmin.com, NCS Pearson, and ChildU.

The agreement also includes:

  • 20 Cisco Academy Lab Packs;

  • research tools such as a dictionary, thesaurus, encyclopedia, atlases, anthologies, and classic fiction;

  • special pricing on Microsoft products;

  • professional development;

  • extended AppleWorks education pricing to students;

  • eMail for both students and teachers; and

  • Microsoft license extensions to all students and teachers 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Ensynch, an Arizona-based company, will store and secure school-related data electronically for the state’s schools at a server farm. “They’ll be storing all the data and managing it for us,” Geiger said.

In addition to the software provided by the state, Arizona’s schools can purchase 7,000 optional software programs at a reduced price. “Every district will have a little different offering,” Geiger said. “They’ll have free access to the 251 titles, plus whatever else they buy.”

Schools will access all the software though an ASP model, meaning the software will be hosted remotely and delivered to the schools entirely through the internet.

“We think the ASP model is the way the world is going. Schools are typically behind in adopting stuff like this, but we think we are moving Arizona ahead in this,” Geiger said. “We expect that districts will use ASPs as the main source of accessing files and information rather than using file servers.”

Creating a statewide package saves individual districts in Arizona from establishing their own contracts, freeing them to focus on the business of teaching and learning.

“The ASP model really allows the districts to reduce their costs,” Geiger said. Not only can districts save money from accessing software that is free to them, but technology staff won’t have to install, maintain, and update software on every single computer.

Liz Whitaker, director of technology and telecommunications at the Tucson Unified School District, said she was thrilled at the announcement because of its promised benefits.

“There’s a cost savings with respect to software itself. But there’s a much bigger cost savings with respect to trying to maintain all that software yourself,” she said. “This makes life simpler for us.”

It’s not that expensive for the state, either. “This works out to be about $8.15 per student per year,” Geiger said. “This is a fraction of a cost of a [textbook] … We’re paying pennies for what others pay dollars for.”

Students will have round-the-clock access to all the software. They’ll have complete access from home.

“Our concern is that we want to make sure we address the gap that exists for children who don’t have computers at home,” Whitaker said.

The software encompasses four main functions: content, student accountability, student assessment and information systems, and teacher resource and management systems. Schools can choose from several titles under each function, giving them more choice and flexibility. For example, under the terms of the deal, schools have access to four different student assessment and information systems.

Geiger figures some districts will use these resources more than others, but he said districts that use the software more often will get incentives such as access to more free software.

Some schools will be ready to start using the software in September, but the entire state won’t be ready until the end of the school year. Some school districts need to finish connecting their classrooms to the internet and installing caching servers.

“The next step will be moving districts to thin-client terminals,” Geiger said. With an ASP model, schools have no need for computers with hard drives, because the files are run on a central server and delivered through the internet. The lower cost of thin-client terminals will help the state realize its goal of one computer for every two students, Geiger said.

Including the cost of this most recent announcement, Geiger estimated the state’s total expenditure on educational technology to date is $177 million.

Links:

Arizona School Facilities Board
http://www.sfb.state.az.us/sfb/sfbpub

Tucson Unified School District
http://www.tusd.k12.az.us

Qwest Communications
http://www.qwest.com