Schools to get $1 billion for technology

Schools will receive an additional $130 million in federal funding for technology in fiscal year 2002, under action taken in both the House and the Senate last week.

What remains unclear is how the money will be distributed.

After Congressional leaders and the Bush administration reached a general budget agreement, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees each approved separate versions of the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education spending bill.

Both versions would raise the amount of money available for school technology to $1 billion, up from $872 million in fiscal 2001. But, because each bill follows the framework outlined in the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) by its respective chamber, there are significant disparities between the two versions.

The House version, passed by the Appropriations Committee Oct. 12, would increase overall education spending by $7 billion, to $49.2 billion. Total funding for elementary and secondary education programs is pegged at $29.9 billion, nearly $5 billion more than last year’s spending.

Of this figure, $1 billion is directed to a single technology block grant program that would be distributed to school districts by state education departments, and an additional $16 million is provided for the Ready to Learn program, which funds the creation of educational public television programming.

The Senate version, approved by the Appropriations Committee Oct. 11, would increase overall education spending by $6.3 billion, to $48.5 billion.

Of this figure, $1 billion is allocated for technology among five separate programs: $777 million to the core technology block grant program (Technology Literacy Challenge Fund); $125 for the Preparing Tomorrow’s Teachers to Use Technology (PT3) program; $59 million for the Star Schools program; and $39 million for the Ready to Teach and Ready to Learn programs.

A final compromise version of the appropriations bill is not expected until House and Senate leaders can agree on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. But, because both branches of Congress agree on the basic amount of school technology funding, it’s likely this figure would remain set.

Besides the spending levels for various technology programs, legislators also must agree on how the main block grant will be distributed to schools. The House version of the ESEA reauthorization bill would distribute 60 percent of the funds by formula and the remaining 40 percent by competitive grants. The Senate version would distribute all of the funds through competitive grants.

Educational technology advocacy groups, such as the Software and Information Industry Association and the Consortium for School Networking, favor the competitive approach because they say a formula allocation would spread funds too thinly to be effective. But school officials in comparatively wealthier districts generally favor the formula approach because they say it is a more equitable solution.

Until a compromise can be reached, federal programs for school technology and other education initiatives are being funded by a continuing resolution. The new fiscal year began Oct. 1.

Links:

House Appropriations Committee
http://www.house.gov/appropriations

Senate Appropriations Committee
http://appropriations.senate.gov

Sidebar: Education appropriations figures for fiscal year 2002

Here’s how funding for educational technology and other programs that directly or indirectly support school technology stack up in the House and Senate appropriations bills approved in committee last week:

Program House Senate FY2001
Educational Technology $1.016B $1B $872M
Title I (disadvantaged students) $10.5B $10.2B $8.76B
Teacher Quality/Training $3.175B $3.04B $485M
Class Size Reduction $0 $0 $1.62B
School Construction $0 $925M $1.2B
21st Century Learning Centers $1B $1B $846M
Innovative Ed. Programs (Title I) $385M $410M $385M
Bilingual & Immigrant Education $700M $516M $460M
Special Education (IDEA) $8.53B $8.11B $7.11B
Educational Technology $1.016B $1B $872M
(Source: Software & Information Industry Association)
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Educators explore ‘Best Practices’ at eSN conference

Saving money while increasing the effectiveness of school technology investments was the recurring theme discussed by the school superintendents, technology directors, and instructional coordinators who gathered at the eSchool News “Best Practices in School Technology” conference in Vienna, Va., Oct. 7-9.

During perceptive presentations, educators heard best-practice stories from their peers, experts, and corporate solution providers about how best to train teachers, increase technology use in the classroom, and budget for technology initiatives.

Attendees also shared strategies for cutting technology costs, increasing school safety and security, and improving relations with stakeholders.

The conference—which was sponsored in part by Aladdin, AMD, bigchalk, Gedanken Experiments, NetSchools, and SurfControl—also featured a special presentation on what schools need to know about the Children’s Internet Protection Act. (For more details, see the “CIPA Survival Guide” on the eSchool News web site—link below.)

Professional development

Now that a majority of schools have computers and internet access in each classroom, school administrators are challenged with getting teachers to use the technology in their instruction. Attendees heard professional development strategies ranging from technology mentors and off-site visits to summer institutes and online workshops.

At the Klein Independent School District in Texas, teachers train each other through a mentoring program called Technology Integration Mentor.

The district pays teachers a $1,750 stipend to be a mentor, said Ann McMullan, Klein’s instructional technology director. Each mentor serves as a lifelong learner, a teacher of students and teachers, a technology advocate, and a curriculum team leader.

“Professional development becomes part of every day,” McMullan said, as teachers can turn to a mentor in their own building for help, support, and encouragement.

Heidi Clevenger-Blair, digital media coordinator for the Deer Valley Unified School District in Phoenix, said her district holds two-hour, face-to-face workshops in the mornings and afternoons to accommodate teachers’ busy schedules.

“We usually have three times the attendance in the morning than we do in the afternoon,” Clevenger-Blair said. As part of the training, teachers have to travel off site and look at how other classrooms and schools operate.

Clevenger-Blair also said she forms user groups—like a Palm user group—so the district’s users of specialized technology can get together and share software and tips.

Charlie Garten, executive director of the Poway Unified School District outside of San Diego, recommends that school districts spend at least 30 percent of their technology budgets on staff development.

Besides traditional professional development sessions throughout the year, Poway teachers attend summer institutes to sharpen their technology skills. Then, these teachers share what they learned with at least six other people.

Several districts now use online courses to augment their professional development activities.

“Online learning isn’t ‘the’ way to do professional development, it’s another way,” said Mike Rutherford, business development manager at Blackboard Inc., a maker of software used to build online courses.

Online learning lets teachers learn on their own time, but learning online occurs much more slowly than in face-to-face experiences. Rutherford said school officials should let teachers know what to expect from the course immediately to avoid frustration.

Also, he warned educators not to expect that online learning will replace face-to-face staff development, or that everyone will like it, or that your staff developers know how to teach in this environment.

Setting standards for what staff and administrators should be able to do with technology can determine how effectively technology investments are used. To help educators to get started, the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) is developing a set of technology standards for school administrators.

Best Practices conference attendees received a draft of ISTE’s new Technology Standards for School Administrators. The final version of the standards will be released in November. Until then, ISTE is still accepting feedback on the standards from educators at its web site (link below).

Keith Krueger, executive director of the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), said his organization is developing two online professional development courses to be launched later this year.

Integrating technology into instruction

In the past, developing curriculum that met standards and other accountability measures was often a year-long process. Now, web-based software tools are available that enable teachers to plan lessons that are aligned with standards and linked to assessment tools.

Eliot Levinson, chief executive officer of the BLE Group, said these educational tools “are doing for education what ATM machines did for banking.”

Using this kind of software, teachers and administrators can pinpoint an exact instructional level for each student.

John Krewer, superintendent of the South Plainfield Schools in New Jersey, is using SkillsTutor in his district to provide students with anytime, anywhere learning opportunities.

Teachers, students, and even parents are learning how to use this web-based tool to extend learning beyond the school day. “In the last two weeks, I trained 3,200 parents on SkillsTutor on parent-teacher night,” Krewer said.

Soon, South Plainfield students will be able to use the software in three local supermarkets while their parents shop. Krewer said the students will access SkillsTutor online and communicate to their parents using walkie-talkies.

Planning and budgeting strategies

To make technology initiatives possible, school districts need to plan and budget for the long term, especially because technology money—which often comes from grants—isn’t guaranteed year after year.

“Schools should have a plan of what to do if the money dries up,” said Sara Fitzgerald, vice president of communications for Funds for Learning LLC and CoSN.

Fitzgerald explained total cost of ownership, an analysis tool developed in the mid-1980s to help enterprises manage rapidly rising technology costs. By planning for the future and analyzing expenditures, schools can be prepared and save a great deal of money, she said.

While accepting donated computers might seem like a financial blessing, Fitzgerald said, donated computers often cost school districts more money than they are worth.

“Down the road this becomes a real problem for schools, because you have a real mishmash of hardware and software,” she said. Maintenance and support for all these various machines require more time and knowledge from the technical staff.

“Schools should put a policy in place saying they will only accept a computer if it meets these specific standards,” she said. Using a leasing strategy keeps a school district’s network and hardware relatively standardized and current.

In writing a technology plan, Jim Crossett of North Carolina-based Focus Management Group Inc. said, “The first thing we always need to have is a specific set of technology goals.”

The plan should budget for both the short and long term, considering issues such as how many students there should be per computer, what software you’re going to use, and how fast service and support will happen.

The technology plan will help educators understand and explain technology investments to key stakeholders—parents and community members.

To get started writing a three- to five-year technology plan, Lisa DeMuelle, director of educational services at Edmin.com, said school officials first should select a committee, develop a committee charter, conduct research, establish a timeline for developing the plan, and establish a budget.

Next, the committee should write the plan, including a vision and mission statement, as well as goals for curriculum, professional development, infrastructure, hardware, funding, budgeting, monitoring, and evaluation.

The Edmin.com web site, sponsored by Compaq Computer Corp., offers a free, online, comprehensive technology-planning tool to guide educators through this entire process step by step.

Extending district finances through technology

Through innovative practices, school districts like Hays Unified School District No. 489 in Kansas have been able to maximize their district’s finances.

Craig Ludwick, the district’s technology director, said that before his district standardized its computer hardware through a leasing agreement, his staff supported 90 different computer models, resulting in higher costs and slower response times.

Now Ludwick said he spends 22 percent of his technology budget on hardware and 78 percent on training and support.

Schools also stand to save money with the emergence of the Schools Interoperability Framework (SIF), an industry-wide standard that will enable software programs from different vendors to share data.

In some school districts, a single student’s name can be entered 60 times into different programs, according to Timothy J. Magner, SIF director. If all software programs in a district can share data in real time, regardless of their manufacturers, these data only have to be entered or updated in the system once.

“This is not a product. It’s a way software vendors can build their products to allow [different] programs to talk to each other,” Magner said.

Currently, more than 100 software makers participate in SIF, but it has only been piloted in four school systems so far. School leaders who want to participate can contact SIF through its web site.

Software delivered either through the internet or over a wide-area network also can provide a cost-savings to schools, according to Catharine Ronayne, director of sales and marketing at NCS Pearson.

An application service provider (ASP) hosts and provides remote access to software over the internet to relieve customers from the burden of managing the software themselves.

Network administration, security, and support

Emerging technologies, such as fingerprint scanning and face and voice recognition, are helping some schools address increasing safety and security issues.

Biometric forms of identification can solve problems created by identification cards or passwords that are forgotten or passed to another individual, according to Rick Bailey, of Food Service Solutions Inc., which installs biometric identification systems in school cafeterias.

These systems can be used to allow entry into buildings, log onto computers, check out books in the library, and buy lunch in the cafeteria. Schools save money on identification cards and can know instantly who went where, and when, Bailey said.

Internet filters are intended to protect students from harmful material on the internet, but they also allow schools to maximize their bandwidth, according to Susan Getgood, vice president of marketing at SurfControl.

“Internet filtering isn’t just to block porn, it’s to use your network to the best of its ability,” Getgood said.

The company’s internet filter, Cyber Patrol, allows administrators to pinpoint and manage exactly what is chewing up bandwidth, like students downloading sports clips.

Viruses such as Nimda and Code Red have cost schools both money and class time, but an all-in-one product from Aladdin Systems Inc. designed specifically to prevent viruses and hackers from taking down a school’s network and computers.

Reaching stakeholders electronically

When community members understand why technology is helpful to schools, they are more likely to support a school’s initiatives—but first schools have to get local citizens to understand technology.

Steve Miller, executive director of the Mass Networks Education Partnership in Allston, Mass., recommends that school districts use a variety of media outlets to get their message out to stakeholders, such as writing a regular column in the local newspaper, doing a radio call-in show, or appearing on a community-access cable show.

Schools can also use their web sites to post information, and they can open up computer labs after hours to community members.

“No computer lab should ever go unused from eight in the morning until 10 at night,” Miller said. When designing the lab, include separate doors to the outside so the lab can be opened even when the school is closed.

The school board of the Calcasieu Parish Public Schools in Louisiana operates an eMail discussion forum on its web site to increase communication with community members as part of a two-year project with the National School Boards Foundation.

“Not many people go to our school board meetings, so our community was not really engaged with our school board,” said Sheryl Abshire, administrative coordinator of technology for the district.

The web site features information about who the board members are, what the board’s policies are, various committees, a calendar, and minutes from past meetings.

In addition, the site includes online polls about issues the board will be deliberating, such as school uniforms. The site and its discussion forum provide school board members with “lots of positive feedback and support, which makes their job and decisions so much easier,” Abshire said.

Initiatives like this help the public gain trust in the school system while at the same time fostering support for the district’s initiatives. “The public is seeing what we’re doing in real time. We’ve opened up the doors of our meetings and … our board room,” Abshire said.

Links:

eSchool News Best Practices in School Technology Conference
http://www.eschoolnews.com/bp

CIPA Survival Guide
http://www.eschoolnews.com/features/cipa

Aladdin Systems Inc.
http://www.ealaddin.com

AMD
http://www.amd.com

bigchalk
http://www.bigchalk.com

Gedanken Experiments
http://www.gedanken-experiments.com

NetSchools Corp.
http://www.netschools.com

SurfControl
http://www.surfcontrol.com

Consortium for School Networking
http://www.cosn.org

Klein Independent School District
http://www.klein.texas.schools.esc4.net

Deer Valley Unified School District
http://www.dvusd.k12.az.us

Poway Unified School District
http://powayusd.sdcoe.k12.ca.us

Blackboard Inc.
http://www.blackboard.com

ISTE’s Technology Standards for School Administrators
http://cnets.iste.org/tssa

BLE Group
http://www.blegroup.com

South Plainfield Schools
http://www.southplainfieldnj.com/schools/sp9.htm

CoSN’s Total Cost of Ownership study
http://www.cosn.org/tco

Focus Management Group
http://focusmg.com

Edmin.com
http://www.edmin.com

Hays Unified School District No. 489
http://www.hays489.k12.ks.us

Schools Interoperability Framework
http://www.sifinfo.org

NCS Pearson
http://www.ncspearson.com

Food Service Solutions Inc.
http://www.foodserve.com

Mass Networks Education Partnership
http://www.massnetworks.org/mnep

Calcasieu Parish Public Schools
http://www.cpsb.org

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Free-speech group calls filtering software ‘hopelessly flawed’

A new report from an anti-censorship alliance of 50 nonprofit organizations claims that internet filtering software is “hopelessly flawed.” The report comes as schools seek to comply with the Children’s Internet Protection Act, which requires schools to filter students’ access to the web if they wish to receive federal eRate discounts on their internet connectivity.

Makers of filtering software dismissed the report as inaccurate and based on outdated information.

“Internet Filters: A Public Policy Report,” released by the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC), summarizes existing information about products designed to filter out internet sites that are deemed controversial, offensive, or inappropriate for adolescents or children.

In the spring and summer of 2001, NCAC’s Free Expression Policy Project surveyed all of the studies it was able to locate describing the actual operation of 19 products commonly used to filter web sites, including those most widely sold to schools: N2H2’s Bess, SurfControl’s Cyber Patrol, Symantec’s iGear, 8e6 Technologies’ X-Stop, and WebSense, from the company of the same name.

Written by Christina Cho and directed by Marjorie Heins, a former First Amendment litigator for the American Civil Liberties Union, the report’s purpose is to “present this information in one place and in readily accessible form, so that the ongoing policy debate will be better informed about what internet filters actually do.”

The report summarizes previously existing studies from 1997 to the present to create an extensive listing of blocked web sites by category. Categories include artistic and literary sites, sexuality education, gay and lesbian information, political topics and human rights, and web sites about censorship.

Filtering programs are not delivering on the services they promise, NCAC researchers conclude.

In hundreds of cases, the report declares, the filters block valid sites in error. Researchers say one reason is because the technology relies largely on detecting key words or phrases such as “over 18,” “breast,” or “sex.”

In one study cited by the report, Bess blocked House Majority Leader Richard “Dick” Armey’s official web site. (Ironically, Armey—a Republican—supported the new filtering law.) In other studies, Symantec’s iGear blocked a United Nations report titled “HIV/AIDS: The Global Epidemic,” while Smartfilter blocked an online brochure called “Marijuana: Facts for Teens,” published by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

“The problem stems from the very nature of filtering, which must, because of the sheer number of internet sites, rely to a large extent on mindless, mechanical blocking identification of key words and phrases,” wrote Cho.

Even when a company employs human beings to review sites manually, there remain “massive problems with subjectivity,” the report states. Critics of filtering insist that the political attitudes of different manufacturers are reflected in their decisions to block certain sites on topics such as homosexuality, human rights, and even criticism of filtering software.

For instance, the report alleges that Cyber Patrol unjustly blocked sites with a political slant, such as the Flag Burning Page, which examines the issues behind flag burning from a constitutional perspective. Cyber Patrol did not, however, block sites promoting firearms, such as the National Rifle Association’s web page.

“Ultimately, less censorial approaches such as media literacy, sexuality education, and internet acceptable-use training may be better policy choices than internet filters in addressing concerns about young people’s access to ‘inappropriate’ content or disturbing ideas,” wrote Cho.

Filtering companies say NCAC has its facts wrong.

“We at SurfControl take very seriously the matter of protecting First Amendment rights,” said Susan Getgood, the company’s vice president of marketing. “In fact, one of the reasons there is not a broader censorship law in the United States is because the Supreme Court in 1998 thought filtering software was so good that it made censorship laws unnecessary.”

As for the specific incidents mentioned in the report, Getgood said the information is very dated and does not reflect the state of filtering technology today.

“The authors’ definition of how filtering works is erroneous and does not correctly describe how most filtering products work or how well they work,” she said. “Products have not relied on key word filtering for years.”

According to Getgood, it is impossible to comment on the specific sites the report says are blocked erroneously without knowing more.

But in any event, SurfControl does not “block” web sites, she said. Instead, the company “place[s] sites into categories and allow[s] companies, schools, parents, and individual users to make their own choices about what they want to filter, depending on their own definition of acceptable use.”

Javier Garriz, senior product manager of enterprise solutions for Symantec, echoed Getgood’s sentiments.

“The software can be configured to allow as much or as little web content to be accessed, as specified by the user, consistent with whatever policy that user’s organization might have regarding access to web-delivered information,” he said.

For example, one of the content categories available for filtering through iGear is “Advanced Sex-ed,” which includes sites that provide medical discussions of sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV and AIDS.

“If the administrator of the software chooses to place that particular category in the ‘deny’ state—i.e., if the administrator’s intention is to block access to sites containing that type of content—then the software would, indeed, deny access to those sites,” said Garriz.

Furthermore, administrators can always override any content classifications contained in the URL database supplied with the system.

“The system was designed to be simple enough to allow changes in policy settings to be made by the people who are in the best position to make these determinations—the [K-12] teachers themselves,” Garriz added.

The new report contains nothing that hasn’t been said before by critics of filtering software, but NCAC said it hopes the report will intensify the debate over filtering in schools.

Most filtering companies seem unperturbed about the report’s findings.

“I think [the report] actually speaks very well for N2H2,” said David Burt of N2H2’s public relations department. “These guys aggregated 10 pieces of research about N2H2 from 1997 to 2001 and found only 90 sites wrongly blocked out of more than 4 million. That’s an accuracy rate of 99.99 percent.”

Links:

Internet Filters: A Public Policy Report
http://www.ncac.org/issues/internetfilters.html

SurfControl’s Cyber Patrol
http://www.cyberpatrol.com

Symantec Corp.
http://www.symantec.com

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

WebSense
http://www.websense.com

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Study: eCommerce could cost schools, governments $54 billion by 2011

The rise in business conducted over the internet could cost state and local governments more than $54 billion in lost sales tax revenues by 2011, according to a new study.

Spurred by these latest figures, some state and local policy makers and education officials are urging Congress to intercede to help states collect sales taxes on items purchased online.

The study, released Oct. 2 by the Center for Business and Research at the University of Tennessee, also raises by 41 percent its previous estimate of sales tax losses from eCommerce in 2001, from $9.4 billion to $13.3 billion.

Published as Congress debates the future of taxes on the web, the new figures could influence the debate on Capitol Hill about whether states should be allowed to set up a simpler, streamlined system allowing collection of sales taxes on remote purchases.

These taxes are already imposed but are rarely collected, partly because of a Supreme Court ruling in 1992 that a business must have a physical presence in a state before it is required to collect that state’s taxes.

Congress is moving to extend a moratorium that expires Oct. 21 on internet access taxes and taxes that single out the internet. State and local governments, joined by a coalition of traditional retailers, say the moratorium measure should include permission to begin setting up a new sales-tax system.

“The current sales-tax system is not compatible with a 21st-century economy,” Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, a Republican who co-chaired a congressional internet tax advisory panel, said Oct. 1 in a telephone interview with the Associated Press. “The states should be allowed to fix it.”

It’s an important issue for school districts, too, as they stand to gain—or lose—from the amount of revenue states are able to collect from online transactions.

The sales-tax study was commissioned by the Institute for State Studies, a Salt Lake City-based nonprofit organization that examines public policy related to technology.

Forty-five states and the District of Columbia currently levy sales taxes. Based on data from Forrester Research Inc., a leading eCommerce market research firm, the University of Tennessee study found that projected revenue losses from eCommerce in 2001 ranged from a low of $21 million in Vermont to a high of $1.75 billion in California.

By 2011, according to the study, Vermont’s losses would reach $87.2 million and California’s would top $7 billion. Total sales tax losses were estimated at $54.8 billion in 2011.

With losses of that magnitude, state and local governments would be forced to choose between raising taxes or cutting services such as education, law enforcement, and fire protection, the study’s authors said. Sales taxes, they said, would have to go up as much as 1.7 percentage points to compensate.

“When other factors causing sales-tax revenue to shrink are added in, the projected tax increases are even higher,” said William Fox, a University of Tennessee professor and study co-author.

The figures come at a time when many states are experiencing budget deficits as a result of the slumping economy. These shortfalls, it should be noted, follow several years of substantial surpluses in many states.

In Florida, which has been hit by a lack of tourism in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, Education Secretary Jim Horne is recommending that state legislators cut an ambitious $10 million plan to put leading-edge technology in some of the state’s classrooms.

Florida is projected to lose $932 million this year in sales tax revenue as a result of online purchases, according to the study.

Internet retailers say it would be impossible for them to comply with the current maze of state and local tax codes across the United States, and any new sales-tax structure would have to be crafted carefully to ensure that it doesn’t jeopardize the still-fledgling internet industry.

In an informal poll taken on the eSchool News web site early last year, 75 percent of readers said they opposed an internet sales tax on the grounds that it might hurt the growth and development of eCommerce. But a sampling of opinions after the University of Tennessee study was released suggested the tide has changed.

“Frankly, I would favor most anything that would provide more funding to expand the use of technology by children,” said Richard Melching, superintendent of the Evergreen School District in Clark County, Wash. “If [an internet sales tax] would do that, then I support it.” Ultimately, policy makers will have to decide a fair and equitable taxing practice for internet purchases, Melching said.

In Congress, the House appears likely to move ahead with a relatively simple extension of the internet tax moratorium that does not address the sales tax question. A bipartisan group of senators has been trying to reach accord on sales taxes but has been unable to do so.

Links:

University of Tennessee’s Center for Business and Research
http://cber.bus.utk.edu

Forrester Research Inc.
http://www.forrester.com/Home/0,3257,1,FF.html

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Schools navigate the CIPA-compliance maze

As the deadline nears for certifying their compliance with the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA)—which requires schools to use some sort of internet filtering technology as a condition of receiving certain eRate discounts—school administrators from across the country are taking many different approaches to the law.

Some are evaluating new filtering products, while others are holding town meetings to discuss their schools’ internet safety policies. At least a few strongly principled districts are forgoing the requirements altogether, chosing to give up eRate funding rather than use web filters. All can make use of the eSchool News “CIPA Survival Guide” (see link below).

Under the terms of the eRate, any school that receives discounted rates for “internet access, internet service, or internal connections” must certify by Saturday, Oct. 27, that it complies with the provisions of CIPA or is in the process of complying. The provisions also require schools to enact internet safety policies and hold a public school board meeting at which CIPA compliance is discussed.

In defiance of the law, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors has elected to ban all internet filtering software from the city’s public libraries. San Francisco libraries could lose $20,000 in eRate funding as a result, but local officials insist that CIPA unfairly limits free speech.

“Internet access that the library provides is often used by folks from different ethnic communities who may not have computers in their own homes,” said Supervisor Mark Leno. “That’s where the free-speech issue is especially significant and unfair.”

City officials aren’t alone in their assessment; both the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Library Association have filed suit against the library portion of the law, calling it unconstitutional. But these lawsuits would have no bearing on whether schools would have to comply.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has ruled that local communities have the authority to decide which filtering products, if any, allow their schools to comply with the regulation. This flexibility means that schools are able to tailor their own solutions, sometimes without the help of a prepackaged filter or monitor.

“We feel [we’re] probably in compliance if we have a thorough acceptable-use policy, filter some sites we know are inappropriate, and follow through with supervision and consequences,” said Sue Maiers, technology coordinator for McLeod West Independent School District in Brownton, Minn.

Not purchasing a new software product allows McLeod West to save money. “With no money for even upgrading from our old Pentium I [computers], it is crazy to spend our budget on filtering software if we are already monitoring student access effectively,” Maiers said.

For schools that are evaluating new solutions, the choices can be confusing. As a glut of new and existing filtering companies compete for the K-12 dollar, school leaders find themselves sorting through an array of choices. By eSchool News count, more than three dozen companies now offer filtering or monitoring products aimed at the K-12 market. This development is seen as positive by some industry experts.

“In general, competition is always good, because it gives [schools] more options,” said Sara Fitzgerald, project director for the Consortium for School Networking’s Safeguarding the Wired Schoolhouse project. But Fitzgerald also warns that schools must beware of Johnny-come-lately companies that didn’t exist before the law was passed. Choosing filtering software should be done with care to minimize the risk inherent in the number of new providers for the education market. Fitzgerald recommends that school officials “come up with a checklist of questions” and “work up a matrix of issues” that will help them screen software to find the best fit with their needs. A sample checklist is available on the Safeguarding the Wired Schoolhouse web site (see link below).

Fitzgerald also recommends that school officials look to their peers to help them determine which solution is best. Companies should be able to provide a list of references to help in this process. “Ask the companies what other districts have adopted their solution,” she said.

Additionally, Fitzgerald suggests that school leaders compare their needs with those of peer districts with similar cultures, taking into account factors such as curriculum needs, teachers’ comfort level with the internet, and how children will use web sites. Internal professionals, including the technology director, teachers, and curriculum administrators, will play an important part in the process.

One factor schools should be sure to consider is the degree to which a solution can be tailored to a wide range of curriculum needs. For this reason, Governor Mifflin School District in Shillington, Pa., chose a filtering product that could be customized for each of the district’s campuses.

“One of my campuses is a K-3 facility; another is K-6. The main campus involves students in grades 7-12. I can work with administrators and the technology committee to adjust and exempt [web site addresses] based on curricular needs,” said Sandra Becker, director of technology for the district.

Whatever solution is adopted, it’s important to have support from district stakeholders. Fitzgerald encourages districts to foster “buy-in from community and parent leaders” for the solution ultimately adopted. Much of this buy-in can be gained during school board meetings.

Bringing the policy to the community for discussion causes little difficulty for most schools.

“Since we had already included the required CIPA components in our previous documents and district practices, there was little discussion once the [policy’s] format change was explained. No debate or controversy on this one,” said Jim Hirsch, assistant superintendent for technology at the Plano Independent School District in Texas.

Governor Mifflin’s Becker also reported a smooth meeting process, with “no discussion from the community” and the only questions coming from school directors.

Low-tech solutions should not be overlooked. Gary Beach, publisher of CIO Magazine and founder of Tech Corps, a nonprofit organization that seeks to improve education through technology, advocates writing and strictly enforcing an acceptable-use policy, drawing on common-sense measures to keep students away from objectionable content.

“Turn the monitors around” so that all can see the activity, he said. “Peers rather than products are going to be the most powerful deterrent” to unacceptable use of the web.

Because the CIPA requirements are new to the eRate funding process, some kinks will have to be worked out, even for the best-prepared district. “We are taking this year as a growth year,” said Becker.

Links:

CIPA Survival Guide
http://www.eschoolnews.com/features/cipa

Consortium for School Networking
http://www.cosn.org

Safeguarding the Wired Schoolhouse
http://www.safewiredschools.org

Tech Corps
http://www.techcorps.org

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Compaq recalls 594,000 power adapters

Compaq Computer Corp. is recalling about 594,000 power adapters and cords used with certain notebook computers sold in the United States because they can overheat and cause fires, the Associated Press has reported.

Though a Compaq spokeswoman said it was unclear how many of the company’s school customers might be affected by the recall, some of the adapters in question were sold with notebook computer models marketed to schools, including the Armada 110.

Houston-based Compaq has received five reports of fires linked to the AC adapter cases, the Consumer Product Safety Commission said Oct. 4. No injuries were reported.

The recall, part of a worldwide recall of more than 1.4 million AC adapters, involves adapters with the model series number “PPP003SD,” “PPP003,” and “PP2012.” The number is located directly under “Compaq Computer Corporation” on the AC adapter label.

The AC adapters were sold individually and with the following notebook computers: Armada M300, Armada 3500, Armada M700, Armada E500s, Armada E500, Armada V300, Armada 100s, Armada 110, Notebook 100, Prosignia 170, and Prosignia 190.

“If a school has this particular adapter, [school administrators] should just go ahead and ask for a new one,” said Compaq spokeswoman Barbara Crystal.

Compaq distributors sold computers with these AC adapters and the individual adapters themselves from September 1998 through July 2001. The computers with these adapters sold for between $999 and $4,399, and the individual adapters sold for between $65 and $98.

This recall and replacement program affects only the AC adapters described above, not the notebook computers themselves.

“This is not the only AC adapter Compaq uses, so not every adapter for our computers is affected,” Crystal said.

The safety commission said consumers should stop using the recalled AC adapter and power cord and contact Compaq to order free replacements.

“Only five failures were reported out of 1.4 million adapters, so I don’t think it has a large impact—but we are also making it easy to get a replacement,” Crystal said.

For more information, consumers can call Compaq toll-free at 1-888-302-7689 between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. CDT Monday through Friday. Replacements also can be ordered and tracked online at Compaq’s AC Adapter Replacement Program web page.

In July, Apple Computer recalled 570,000 AC adapters after the company received six reports that they overheated. Last spring, Dell Computer Corp. recalled about 284,000 laptop batteries because they could overheat and catch fire.

Links:

Consumer Product Safety Commission
http://www.cpsc.gov

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

Compaq’s AC Adapter Replacement Program web page
http://compaq.com/products/notebooks/adapt errecall

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SIIA: Fewer, stronger ed tech companies will serve schools

Educators are likely to have fewer technology products to choose from as the sagging economy thins the ranks of technology vendors, a new report predicts. But on a brighter note, the report says those companies that do survive will be tougher and more stable and less likely to leave educators in the lurch.

According to “Trends Report 2001: Trends Shaping the Digital Economy,” from the Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA), schools continue to spend more on educational software than they have in the past.

“Per-pupil expenditures for software [are] projected at $10.08 in 2000-2001, continuing the general upward trend from $6.51 in 1997-1998,” the report said. Software makers have responded to educator’s needs by offering products that enable personalized learning and enhance instructional management, communication, and distance learning.

But now that the “internet boom” is over, educational technology companies must return to proven business practices, the report said. Investors are no longer willing to take chances.

“While private investment in eLearning increased from $220 million in 1996 to $2.68 billion in 2000, it declined to just $400 million by the last quarter of 2000,” the report said. “Similarly, while a record-setting 10 education companies went public in 2000, only two were able to make the IPO [initial public offering] jump after April.”

Analysts aren’t shocked that educational technology is taking a hit from the tanking economy.

“It’s not at all surprising. It’s much more of a reflection of what’s going on in the market as a whole than in educational technology,” said Peter Grunwald, president of Grunwald Associates, an educational technology research and consulting firm.

During the height of the internet economy, the pendulum swung too far, Grunwald said. Now, the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction.

“There are some added complications due to the events that occurred Sept. 11,” he said.

Educators won’t see many new educational technology companies for a while. They’ll also see a slowdown in new products coming to the market.

“Raising venture capital right now is next to impossible for a young start-up,” said Jim McVety, an analyst at Eduventures.com and a source quoted in the SIIA’s Trends Report.

“Two years ago, it would have taken a few months to raise a significant amount [such as $20 million],” McVety said. “Now it takes 12 months to raise $1 [million] to $2 million.”

Grunwald agrees. “Clearly, there is going to be a more detailed screening applied to new concepts and products,” he said. However, a more detailed screening process will eliminate efforts that were not well thought-out or researched.

In the last few years, the education technology market has been flooded with new products and tools to help educators do their jobs better.

“On the face, less choice for schools is not a good thing, but it means certain products and services will become stronger,” Grunwald said.

In addition to a reduction in venture capital funding, an increasing number of educational technology companies are consolidating and collaborating as a result of economic conditions, the report said.

“Between the second quarters of 2000 and 2001, the number of private investment transactions in the education industry decreased from 51 to three, while the number of merger and acquisition deals increased from 27 to 35,” the report said. “This trend will likely continue and accelerate in the coming year.”

Consolidation is intended to help both struggling companies and industry leaders. For example, when Sun Microsystems acquired Isopia, Sun gained a learning management system.

“Pearson’s acquisition of Family Education Network and NCS provides one example of the effort to leverage traditional dominance of the textbook market into the emerging online environment,” the report said.

“There certainly is some consolidation going on,” Grunwald said. “For a while, that will reduce the number of choices educators will have in terms of products and services.”

Collaboration also is increasing.

“Companies that once would have been fierce competitors are now finding ways to partner and profit together. This trend comes in reaction to various market forces,” the report said.

For example, Classroom Connect has partnered with Compaq Computer Corp. and EDmin to provide educators with a comprehensive educational technology solution. Textbook publishers Houghton-Mifflin and Sylvan have teamed up to form Classwell Learning to make sure their content is web-enabled.

SIIA’s Schools Interoperability Framework (SIF) initiative has brought together more than 100 businesses in a collaboration to ensure that different software products can interact and share data.

“In education, you have a targeted audience making decisions over a large number of offerings,” McVety said. “In K-12, you have such a diverse range of offerings it makes sense to bring them together for the buyer.

“I think that’s what superintendents want,” he added.

Despite the overall weakening of the technology sector, the educational technology market is among the most stable sectors of the economy. According to the SIIA’s report, it is more stable primarily because its revenue comes from public funds, not general or business consumers.

“Federal K-12 educational technology funding alone amounts to about $4 billion annually, including the eRate discount program,” the report said. Local and state funds contribute an additional $5 billion or $6 billion.

Grunwald agreed that the education market is more stable than the consumer market. “As many people know, education and educational technology expenditures are not going to go away overnight,” he said.

Links:

Software and Information Industry Association
http://www.siia.net

Grunwald Associates
http://www.grunwald.com

Eduventures.com
http://www.eduventures.com

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FCC: Schools retain their wireless spectrum

Education advocates are applauding the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for what they view as a victory for distance education. The federal agency has released a decision that will allow future wireless devices to use more space on the airwaves but won’t take away segments used by schools to do so.

In a unanimous vote disclosed Sept. 24, the FCC decided not to give the spectrum outright to wireless telephone companies so they could use it for new devices that deliver high-speed internet access or video on handheld devices. Instead, these companies will have to ask current school and nonprofit licensees to use portions of their spectrum first.

The FCC had been looking for ways to accommodate new wireless technologies for consumers for several months. During that time, education advocates had gone head to head with telecommunications companies to ensure that school districts weren’t forced to give up the wireless spectrum that currently supports distance learning and videoconferencing for thousands of students.

In one scenario floated by the FCC, schools would have been moved from the 2500 MHz to 2690 MHz frequency band—which currently supports Instructional Television Fixed Service (ITFS), a distance-learning technology that has provided educational services to students and teachers since the 1960s—to another portion of the spectrum to make room for advanced wireless solutions (also called third-generation, or 3G, technologies).

The move to a new frequency band would have meant that schools almost certainly would have faced 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.

What’s more, school districts stood to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in licensing fees if the move had taken place. Many districts lease their excess spectrum capacity to companies such as WorldCom or Sprint in exchange for computer labs, equipment, broadband access, or cash. If these companies no longer needed the district-owned frequency channels, such partnerships no longer would have applied.

“I think the ruling the FCC made was in the best interest of students, educators, and the United States,” said Bob Baker, director of technology services at Houston Region 4 Education Service Center, an organization that includes 54 school districts and approximately 900,000 students—about 25 percent of the state’s enrollment.

The service center has been on an ITFS network for 15 years and uses it for distance education programs, professional development for teachers and administrators, conducting administrative meetings, and going on electronic field trips.

The possibility of simply expelling current licensees from the band was rejected overwhelmingly, said Rodney Small, an economist in the FCC’s office of engineering and technology.

“For the time being, a mobile allocation will be added to the band, but there will not be any possibility of mobile use [within the band] in the immediate future,” Small said.

Although the decision allows for the eventual possibility that companies could use the ITFS spectrum for mobile services, this would require additional rule-making and some significant technological advances, Small explained. Currently, fixed wireless systems—like those operated by schools on ITFS—cannot coexist with mobile systems because of signal interference.

“This means the mobile companies can’t come to schools and say they are going to take over our spectrum. They’d have to ask us for it first,” said Mary Conk, a legislative analyst for the American Association of School Administrators.

Two commissioners, Michael Copps and Gloria Tristani, dissented from part of the opinion, saying that allowing 3G services to one day enter the ITFS spectrum is not in the best interest of schools and nonprofits currently holding licenses.

In a joint statement, Copps and Tristani wrote, “No educational users expressed support for adding a mobile allocation [to the ruling]. Absent evidence that mobility will assist educational users, we risk the unintentional consequence of undermining the mission of the ITFS.”

The dissenting commissioners concluded that while they support the decision not to relocate current licensees, “adding a mobile allocation for the 2500 megahertz band is premature, unwise, and contrary to the statute.”

The terms of agreement are satisfactory to school users of ITFS, however, despite the open-ended nature of the decision, which does not rule out future use of the ITFS spectrum by telecommunications companies.

“There is nothing permanent about any of this, but I think any ruling that maintains the flexibility of license holders is a good thing,” said Houston’s Baker. “There are those who might like to remain exactly as it was, but that is not reality. We’ve got to find ways to coexist with parties with similar interests. Thinking we can keep [ITFS] solely to ourselves is unrealistic.”

Schools that want to apply for a portion of the ITFS spectrum may still do so under the FCC’s ruling.

“If there is a channel still available, then they can apply for a license,” said Small. But rural schools stand a better chance of finding available spectrum on ITFS than those vying for overcrowded urban airwaves, he said.

Links:

Federal Communications Commission and 3G
http://www.fcc.gov/3G

Houston Region 4 Education Service Center
http://www.esc4.net

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

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Privacy groups claim Microsoft’s Kids Passport is a ticket for trouble

Some privacy and consumer advocates allege that a new Microsoft service, which is intended to help parents control the information their children give out online, actually is misleading and fails to comply with a federal law aimed at protecting children’s online privacy. They have asked the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate.

Microsoft denies the allegations and says the groups’ complaints amount to nit-picking. The Electronic Privacy Information Center, along with the Center for Media Education and 11 other organizations, filed supplemental materials in support of a pending complaint with the FTC Aug. 15.

The law in question is the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). It prohibits unfair or deceptive marketing practices and requires web sites aimed at kids to display prominently a detailed and easy-to-read privacy policy.

COPPA also requires web sites to obtain “verifiable parental consent” before collecting, using, or disclosing any personal information, such as names or addresses, from children under 13.

Kids Passport is a version of Microsoft’s Passport technology, an online service that lets users create a single profile–including user name, password, and other information–that can be used on all participating web sites. The service’s goal is to make web-surfing and internet shopping easy for consumers.

According to the Microsoft Passport web site, “Kids Passport helps protect and control online privacy for children by obtaining parental consent to collect or disclose a child’s personal information” from one convenient, centralized location.

Parents can use Kids Passport as a tool to let participating web sites collect or disclose personally identifying information about their children.

When a child tries to sign on to a web site that requires personally identifying information, the child can ask a parent or guardian for permission by sending an electronic request through Kids Passport. The parent or guardian reviews the request and can grant a specific level of consent or can deny consent altogether.

Microsoft’s Kids Passport appears to meet most of COPPA’s requirements, but privacy advocates are concerned it doesn’t meet them all.

“Microsoft is promoting its Kids Passport to parents as a service that will protect their kids’ privacy, when in fact it doesn’t appear to comply with the law,” said Gabriela Schneider, senior policy analyst at the Center for Media Education. “It’s misleading to parents.”

The Kids Passport privacy policy says, “It is important for you to read the Privacy Statement and Terms of Use for each web site you are consenting for your child to visit and use.”

But under COPPA, Schneider said, “there should be one [privacy] policy that outlines all of the details” if there is a single consent form for parents.

With Kids Passport, parents need to read the individual privacy policy of each web site their kids visit. The Microsoft service “puts the burden on parents to see if the web sites have changed their policy,” Schneider said.

A Microsoft representative told eSchool News, “Kids Passport is only a mechanism to help parents with parental control. Should Kids Passport be the one to govern the privacy policies of all these sites? Microsoft never positioned it to be that.”

Microsoft Passport is not mandatory for users, but it is one of the foundation services of the Microsoft .NET initiative, which aims to offer personalized experiences to users any time, anywhere, from any device.

Links:

Center for Media Education
http://www.cme.org

Microsoft Kids Passport
http://kids.passport.com

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“NASA Connect” helps kids learn practical applications of science

http://connect.larc.nasa.gov

NASA Connect is a free, annual series of integrated math, science, and technology instructional distance learning programs for students in grades 5-8. Each program has three components: (1) a 30-minute television broadcast, which can be viewed live or taped for later use; (2) an interactive web activity, which gives educators an opportunity to use technology in the classroom setting; and (3) a lesson guide describing a hands-on activity. These three components are designed as an integrated instructional package. Teachers who register on the NASA Connect web site will receive, via eMail, the date of upcoming shows, a show summary, and a PDF version of the lesson guide. The lessons seek to establish a connection between the math, science, and technology concepts taught in the classroom and those used every day by NASA researchers. The 2001-2002 series uses proportional reasoning as the “integrative thread” that connects the topics of each program.

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