Benton report: eRate needs more money, less paperwork

Despite its “impressive” impact in helping the nation’s schools connect to the internet, the eRate remains a work in progress, according to a new report from the Benton Foundation and the Educational Development Center’s Center for Children and Technology (CCT).

The report, called “Great Expectations: The eRate at Five,” recommends several steps to improve the program, including raising the funding cap beyond its current $2.25 billion level and reducing the burden of paperwork on applicants.

After the current funding period ends, federal eRate discounts will have resulted in a nearly $9 billion investment in telecommunications services, internet access, and internal connections for the nation’s schools and libraries.

“The effect of the [program] has been truly impressive,” said the Benton Foundation’s new president, Andrea Taylor, at a Nov.16 luncheon forum marking the report’s release. “Many schools have leapfrogged in terms of their infrastructure from the Industrial Age to the Information Age.”

But as four eRate champions in the United States Congress jointly wrote in their preface to the report, “This is no time to rest on our laurels.”

“Work remains to be done in a number of areas, including professional development, curriculum design, and assessment,” wrote Rep. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., Sen. John D. Rockefeller, D-W.Va., Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, R-Maine, and Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich.

The report “highlights a number of areas where work is needed and provides useful tools and suggestions for maximizing this important investment.”

Benton and CCT compiled their observations from field research and hearings in the new report, which contains chapters written by experts in the field of educational technology.

In the first chapter, Benton Foundation Senior Associate Norris Dickard suggests these seven steps for improving the program:

  • Keep the eRate under the direction of the Federal Communications Commission and keep its focus the same. “Calls to move the eRate to the Department of Education as part of a block grant are misguided,” Dickard wrote. “Making it part of the annual appropriations could jeopardize the funding.”

  • Lift the funding cap from its current level of $2.25 billion. According to Dickard, “The unmet needs are especially acute in the area of internal connections.”

  • Reduce the paperwork burden on applicants. The Schools and Libraries Division (SLD) of the Universal Service Administrative Co., the group that administers the eRate, should examine ways to streamline the application process so that smaller schools and districts can participate on equal footing.

  • Conduct outreach and assistance to schools in low-income communities. A California study revealed that 43 percent of disadvantaged schools participating in the survey did not even know about the eRate.

  • Investigate ways to improve program administration and structure. Dickard urges policymakers to ask, “Is the [SLD’s] centralized, federal application and appeals process the most efficient way to deliver services?”

  • Reassess the appropriateness of current discount levels and priorities. Dickard asks, Do the current discount levels and priorities reflect the most pressing needs? Is looking at the free and reduced-price lunch program the most accurate way to determine need?

  • Expand the list of eligible products, services, and vendors. The SLD recently announced that new services, such as Internet2 and wireless networks, will be eligible for eRate discounts in Year Five. What other technologies should the eRate make room for in the future?

Margaret Honey, CCT director, and her colleague Andy Gersick discussed how eRate participants can measure the return on their investment—a timely issue in light of the Bush administration’s focus on accountability.

Their organization is in the final stages of perfecting an Evaluation Toolkit, which will help educators assess the impact of technology-rich activities on skills development, student learning, and media literacy.

“Evaluations have to enable school leaders to determine if they are achieving their goals,” Honey said. “But they need to focus not just on outcomes, but … on process as well.”

In “Great Expectations,” Honey explained that schools must move beyond looking for a direct correlation between investments in technology infrastructure and rising standardized test scores.

Rather, she writes, “We must create assessment frameworks that directly correspond to the unique teaching and learning opportunities that technologies make possible.”

Chris Dede, professor of learning technologies at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, introduced his “State Policy Framework for Assessing Educational Technology Implementation” and discussed the need for a more coordinated and systematic approach to educational technology policy-making.

Dede explained how educational technology investments impact, and are affected by, the larger educational reform context in which they are made. He also mentioned the success of the Milwaukee School District, where eRate funds have made it possible for the district to connect all schools to a districtwide network of high-speed lines and fiber optic cable.

“One of the reasons that innovation is so difficult for schools is because our conditions for success are very complex,” he said. “You must understand that the impact of the eRate is as a system, and all the parts of that system are interconnected.”

Following Dede’s comments at the luncheon forum, the panelists fielded questions and comments from the audience.

Among the notables in attendance was Linda Roberts, director of the Education Department’s Office of Education Technology during the Clinton administration. Roberts’ office oversaw the introduction of the eRate program and was pivotal in ensuring the program’s early success. She urged fellow attendees at the event to make data-driven decisions regarding how to acquire and spend eRate discounts.

“When we started this [program], we dreamed that all districts would sit down with their [technology] plan, dream about what they wanted, and then actually [write] the plan,” she said.

Roberts also urged school leaders to look at best and worst practices to get an understanding of how other districts have incorporated the eRate into their overall technology plans successfully.

“The important thing now is to ask, ‘What makes a difference?'” she said. “Why did they do it right in Milwaukee schools, for example, and throw away $20 million in District XYZ?”

“Great Expectations” continues a series of reports on the eRate made possible with support from the Joyce Foundation, a Chicago-based philanthropy with a strong interest in school reform and educational technology.

In February 2000, the Benton Foundation and CCT released “The eRate in America: A Tale of Four Cities,” one of the first studies of the impact of the multibillion-dollar federal program.

To receive a copy of the new report, send an eMail message with your name, title, organization, and mailing address to decendre@benton.org. You can also download a copy at the Benton Foundation’s web site after Dec. 8, foundation officials said.

Links:

Benton Foundation
http://www.benton.org

Educational Development Center’s Center for Children and Technology
http://www2.edc.org/CCT/cctweb

Joyce Foundation
http://www.joycefdn.org/home.htm

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Everything you need to know about mobile computing in schools (but were afraid to ask)

School computer labs are no longer down the hall in many schools; laptops are moving them into the classroom. As laptops become more popular with educators, one site aims to show that convenience and ease-of-use do not always make for simple implementation. “Learning with Laptops” was designed to put the use of these new technology tools into perspective. The site offers teachers and administrators a chance to get feedback on products and software and to make better choices based on peer evaluations. The site offers product reviews, laptop horror stories, recommendations on implementation, and related news headlines about laptop technology. A section titled “First Year Laptop Reflections” allows teachers and administrators to look back on the hindsight of their peers before making decisions or purchases they might regret in the future. Created by a husband-and-wife team of educators with a combined 38 years of experience teaching kids and adults how to make better use of computers, Learning with Laptops is updated weekly and provides several links to other areas of laptop-user interest across the web.

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Parents want gag on TV news in classroom after Sept. 11

In wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, school boards across the nation are re-examining their policies about showing live television coverage in the classroom.

In Ashland, N.H., parents went as far as asking the school board to ban television news from the classroom after children were allowed to watch the Sept. 11 events unfold.

Brian and Amy Moriarty told the school board Nov. 6 they had collected names of 175 parents who, like themselves, objected to teachers letting their children watch live news coverage of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Amy Moriarty said her 10-year-old daughter was so traumatized by the coverage she missed seven days of school.

“My child was subjected to that over and over again,” she said. “I didn’t let my children watch that at home.”

She asked the school board to adopt guidelines for television use in classrooms that prohibit teachers from showing violent current events to their classes.

“The only channels we watch at my house are the Disney Channel, Nickelodeon, and Animal Planet,” she said. “I don’t let them watch the news.”

Board chairman Brian Chalmers said he believed the board needs to adopt a policy on classroom television.

“This event wasn’t consistent with what normally happens, however,” he said. “Hopefully, it will be an event that we won’t see again on live television. Some people turned it off because they couldn’t bear to watch it. The school let the children watch it because they felt it was history in the making.”

Principal Bill Tirone said TV isn’t generally used in the classes, but “it was an event we felt was important to present to the older students.”

Parent Tara Fortuno objected.”The kids are not old enough to make the decision to watch these things,” she said. “It may be appropriate for high school, but with elementary it’s different.”

Current events presented live do not give the teacher the chance to determine priorities and appropriateness, she said.

Board member Rick Burgess, who heads the board’s policy committee, said he would welcome the parents’ recommendations.

“My concern is where do you draw the line on input from television?” he said.

Judy Seltz, media relations manager for the American Association of School Administrators, believes the issue is comparable to situations where community members lobby to ban certain books in school.

Seltz said schools should have a policy in place for the use of news and mass media in the classroom that is loosely based on students’ age and maturity level. She also maintains the decision should be made locally rather than nationally.

“If people within a particular community are concerned about this issue, they need to make changes within that community. But, from what we’ve seen and heard, most schools did an extraordinary job on Sept. 11,” Seltz said.

Many K-12 teachers made the decision to turn off television sets and directed children to confer about the events with parents, she said.

Seltz added that what most districts did on Sept. 11 was “use good judgement based on the age of the child.”

The National Education Association received several calls about the way the events of Sept. 11 were handled in the classroom, according to spokesperson Darryl Figuroa.

“It happened differently in classrooms around the country,” she said. “The major advice is to help [children] feel secure and encourage them to talk about it.”

The Ashford school board’s policy committee will draft new guidelines before next its meeting. However, policies must be presented at three consecutive meetings before final approval.

Amy Moriarty asked the board to ban classroom television news until a policy could be adopted. “Is my daughter going to be subjected to that again while you’re waiting for that policy?” she asked.

Superintendent Scott Andersen objected. “I would be opposed to a wholesale ban on news coverage,” he said. “There are six adults here, but there may be people out there who appreciate news coverage in the classroom.”

Brian Moriarty suggested an age limit. Fortuno suggested 10.

“My 8-year-old does not need to watch people jumping out of buildings. I’ll make the decision whether she watches it at home, but it’s not up to the teacher to turn it on where she has to watch,” Fortuno said.

Moriarty said parents should be asked to sign a permission slip before their children can watch current events on television. Burgess said he could agree with that until a policy is in place.

Links:

Ashland School District
http://www.ashland.k12.nh.us

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

National Education Association
http://www.nea.org

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Microsoft’s $1 billion class-action settlement to benefit schools

Software giant Microsoft Corp. will give more than $1 billion in cash, software, training, and computer hardware to thousands of the nation’s poorest schools during the next five years, under a tentative agreement to settle more than 100 class-action lawsuits that alleged Microsoft products were overpriced.

The agreement was submitted to the Federal District Court of Maryland Nov. 20 and is awaiting approval by U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz in Baltimore, who is overseeing the class-action suits.

If accepted, the settlement will provide cash, computer hardware, software, technical assistance, and training to all qualifying schools—those with 70 percent or more of their students receiving free or reduced-priced lunches, or about 14 percent of all schools, according to company estimates.

“It is a settlement that avoids long and costly litigation for the company and, at the same time, I think really makes a difference in the lives of millions of school children in some of the most economically disadvantaged schools in the country,” said Microsoft’s chief executive officer, Steve Ballmer.

Microsoft was hit with a host of private lawsuits claiming antitrust violations after the government filed its antitrust suit against the software company in 1998. Many states dismissed the suits because new computer buyers did not buy the Windows operating system directly. The remaining cases were consolidated under Motz.

Michael Hausfeld, representing a group of private plaintiffs in Washington, D.C., said he originally thought of the unorthodox settlement idea about nine months ago after realizing that each of the 65 million computer buyers eligible to gain from the settlement would likely receive only about $10 if they won the case or a settlement were reached.

Terms of the settlement

With $150 million in seed money, Microsoft said it will create the National eLearning Foundation to offer grants to underserved schools for purchasing computers and software. The foundation also will spend $100 million to establish sustainable programs to support technology in schools.

In addition, the foundation will oversee another $160 million to be used for technology support programs to assist participating schools.

Eligible schools can request a standard subscription to Microsoft’s TechNet technical support program, which includes Microsoft resource kits, service packs, technical information, training materials, and technical training CDs.

Microsoft will give up to $90 million to train teachers, school administrators, and support personnel to integrate technology.

Furthermore, the company will give at least 200,000 software licenses to nonprofit computer refurbishing organizations so they can install Microsoft operating systems on refurbished personal computers. Eligible schools could apply for grants that would reduce the price of these refurbished machines to $50 each, Microsoft said.

During the five-year period, eligible schools will be able to request a wide range of educational and productivity software at special prices for both PCs and Macs.

The products included in this offer are Office XP, Office 2000, Office 2001 for the Mac, Windows XP Professional, any Scholastic Magic School Bus title, any My Personal Tutor title, one Windows 2000 server and client access license, and one Encarta Class Server and access license.

Educators’ reaction

Many educators are pleased that this unusual settlement will benefit needy schools.

“In light of the years of prospective litigation that these suits would have caused, I am pleased that the parties chose to settle, and in a fashion that will help the neediest of America’s schools,” said Rick Bauer, chief information officer at the Hill School in Pottstown, Pa.

“The scope and direction of the relief is both comprehensive and fair,” he said, adding that it “sounds like a win-win to me.”

“This settlement has great potential to help school districts—like Western Heights—that have invested heavily in technology infrastructure,” said Joe Kitchens, superintendent of Western Heights School District in Oklahoma.

“As … a district that serves a high number of economically disadvantaged students, our district is always challenged to find the resources to upgrade technologies and train staff to use acquired applications,” he added.

While most educators seem satisfied that the settlement will help poor schools acquire software and train teachers to integrate technology into the classroom, some say it still doesn’t address Microsoft’s high prices.

“Nothing in the decision addresses Microsoft’s pricing schemes that are outrageous at best,” said Ken Eastwood, assistant superintendent for instruction and technology at New York’s Oswego City School District. “The suggested solution is not really a solution, but a political attempt to sweep the issue under the rug.”

According to Eastwood, Microsoft’s new educational licensing prices are so high that his district, which was featured in Microsoft case studies, is no longer able to afford Microsoft products and is turning to free alternatives like Star Office and Linux as potential solutions.

As for donated computers to schools, Eastwood said, “That is just passing on problems to the schools.”

Others worry that the program’s eligibility requirements aren’t a true indicator of need—and the program therefore won’t impact the schools with the greatest need.

“This seems like a creative way to settle a lawsuit,” said Dennis Dempsey, superintendent of Crook Deschutes Education Service District in Oregon. “Unfortunately, using free and reduced lunch as a qualifier does not mean that all the poor schools in the country will get the help that will be provided by this settlement.

“There are many small schools, especially one-room schools, in the western United States that do not operate free and reduced lunch programs because it is not cost-effective to do so. Thus, a very poor small school would not qualify for the help provided by the settlement, which would be unfortunate.”

Norris E. Dickard, senior associate at the Benton Foundation, which focuses on digital divide issues, agrees.

“Since other major federal investments already give priority to schools with large numbers of students in poverty, it will be important that the resources go to the schools that really need them—the ‘last mile’ schools where students still do not have connected PCs in the classroom,” Dickard said.

“One billion dollars over five years is small compared to other investments—the eRate is $2.25 billion a year—but it is certainly a positive sign that the deal seeks to benefit schools and other organizations that serve needy students,” Dickard said.

The program would operate in addition to Microsoft’s other charitable efforts. _________________________________

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Links:

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

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FTC warns of ‘mousetrapping’ sites

Educators beware: Some sleazy internet opportunists have set out to scam children who accidentally misspell the addresses of popular web sites. The Federal Trade Commission’s claim that one cyber-scammer is using common misspellings of internet addresses to target unsuspecting visitors with a barrage of pop-up pornography and gambling ads has K-12 decision makers discussing what should be done to prepare students for such internet traps.

The FTC issued a preliminary injunction against John Zuccarini of Andalusia, Pa., last month for his alleged violation of the agency’s regulations regarding unfair or deceptive acts in commerce.

The complaint argues that Zuccarini—who reportedly has lost 53 similar cases in the past two years—continues to use more than 5,500 web site addresses to trap internet users in several advertisements for pornographic, gambling, psychic, and lottery sites. Zuccarini is accused of using common misspellings of web addresses from popular culture, including several variations of teen sensation Britney Spears’ web page and the Cartoon Network’s site, to bait visitors to his own sites by mistake.

The complaint is similar to many lodged in the past against Zuccarini. Courts already have forced him to turn over domain names such as www.encata.com, which exploited anyone who mistakenly left out the letter “r” from the web address for Microsoft’s Encarta Online encyclopedia.

While Zuccarini already has turned over several of his web site addresses and been fined numerous times for damages, the FTC is contesting that he continues to operate web sites under similar circumstances.

For educators, Zuccarini’s case and others like it pose serious questions about the safety of students online.

Nancy Willard, project director for the Responsible Netizen at the University of Oregon’s Center for Advanced Technology in Education, says these web sites are designed with the intention of fooling individuals into visiting them.

“Folks who are involved in this type of activity are trying to trick people into going to their sites. We, as educators, have an obligation to teach kids how to deal with these kinds of people,” Willard said.

One way to avoid internet scam artists, Willard says, is to teach students always to double-check the correct spelling of a web site address and never to guess about a web address. But caution isn’t a foolproof means of protection, and mistakes do happen. That’s why educators need to teach kids what to do when they encounter these internet traps.

“If kids get to one of these places by mistake, their first reaction will be shock. Their second reaction—the more damaging reaction—will be fear,” Willard said.

According to the FTC, many of these sites use a technique called “mousetrapping,” which makes it very difficult for mistaken visitors to exit the sites once they have entered them. Mousetrapping works by disabling a user’s ability to close the browser window or retreat to a previous page. If the web surfer attempts to close or leave a page, this attempt causes a new advertising window to pop open. Many of these sites also open with a hidden timer that causes new pop-up windows to open the longer a user stays on the site.

Once a user encounters these pop-up sites, the only known way to combat the advertising assault is to close the open browser and exit the program.

It’s important for students to understand these courses of action so they aren’t helpless if they encounter a mousetrapping site, Willard said: “We need to empower these kids. In most cases, I don’t know of a real significant effort to educate kids about these issues.”

Educators also might want to clear the cookie files of computer systems used by students, Willard said. Cookies are short pieces of data that help a server identify a user. The data each cookie collects can then be used by the scam artists’ servers to identify internet users’ browsing habits. If the cookies are cleared from the system, servers cannot monitor where users have been. If a cyber-scammer cannot determine which web sites have been visited, it will be harder for that person to decide which web addresses to target.

The only other defense against these cyber schemes in schools is the use of internet filtering technology, which blocks student access to inappropriate sites. But the problem with web filters is that cyber-scammers just move to new, yet-to-be detected web address and continue operation.

The FTC has no evidence that web-scammers are setting out to target children specifically. But, said Willard, they are setting out to target people who make mistakes and “children make the most mistakes.”

It is estimated that Zuccarini makes $800,000 to $1 million a year on commissions, which he receives from companies that experience hits on their sites as a result of his ads.

According to FTC attorney Marc Groman, the agency views Zuccarini as a major contributor to the existence of these types of scams on the web. To date, he is the only person the FTC has cited for violations. Groman says the FTC hopes to use Zuccarini’s case as a deterrent for others who already do or might consider participating in similar internet practices.

If Zuccarini’s cyber scheme is found to be in violation of the law, the FTC will seek forfeiture of all of his more than 5,500 web addresses and any profits that he has made from his operation. “Schemes that capture consumers and hold them at sites against their will while exposing internet users, including children, to solicitations for gambling psychics, lotteries, and pornography must be stopped,” FTC Chairman Timothy Muris said in a statement.

Links:

Federal Trade Commission
http://www.ftc.org

Responsible Netizen
http://netizen.uoregon.edu

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History and Politics Out Loud is a site to hear as well as see

Since the very first reports hit the news wires, the tragedy of Sept. 11 has been compared to other great national tragedies, but perhaps none so much as the Dec. 7, 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. In the days following the attack, President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously asked Congress for a declaration of war in one of the most stirring speeches ever recorded. Now students can listen to the actual speech in RealAudio and read about how it came about on the “History and Politics Out Loud” web site. The site’s authors note that in his book, “Lend Me Your Ears: Great Speeches in History,” William Safire says that the first draft of Roosevelt’s opening line read, “…a date which will live in world history, the United States was simultaneously and deliberately attacked.” Roosevelt substituted the much stronger but less familiar “infamy” in place of “world history” and used “suddenly” to replace “simultaneously.” History and Politics Out Loud is a searchable archive of politically significant audio materials for students and teachers. In addition to Roosevelt’s “infamy” speech, students can hear the actual words of other great figures in history, from John F. Kennedy, to Winston Churchill, to Nikita Khrushchev, to Martin Luther King, Jr. The site allows users to browse speeches by date, by speaker, or by speech title.

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District’s audio surveillance results in class-action claim

In a case that could have broad repercussions for schools that use video cameras to monitor student activities, a former Berks County, Pa., student has sued her former school district, saying that her privacy was violated when an audio-equipped school bus camera recorded her conversation.

Morgan Keppley, 20, filed a lawsuit in Berks County Court seeking more than $50,000 in damages and requesting class-action status to represent all students in the Twin Valley school district who rode camera-equipped buses.

The suit claims that Twin Valley used bus surveillance cameras to record actions and conversations of students, including Keppley.

“It is our understanding that is going on without anyone’s knowledge,” said Keppley’s attorney, Simon Grill.

The suit did not reveal the nature of Keppley’s recorded conversation, and Grill declined to discuss the matter. School officials said they were not immediately aware of the exact events that prompted the suit.

Named in the suit are the school district, school board members, and two bus companies that serve the district, Eschelman Transportation Inc. and George Krapf Jr. & Sons, according to the Associated Press.

According to district operations director Jeff Ploppert, every bus in the district is fitted with an opaque camera box. The cameras themselves are rotated from bus to bus, but children and drivers are not made aware of whether their bus is currently fitted with a camera.

All school buses have a posted sign saying that a surveillance camera might be on the bus at any time, Ploppert said.

Grill tells a different story. When he looked at a number of buses a year ago, there were no such signs posted, he said. “Maybe those buses did not have them at the time and they do now,” he said. “But when we looked at them [last year], there was just a [camera] box.”

Blake Krapf, co-owner of the George Krapf Jr. & Sons bus company, declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Greg Eschelman of Eschelman Transportation said the district is in charge of the camera videotapes, which also capture audio. The bus companies install the boxes in the buses, but the school district is solely responsible for owning, operating, and monitoring the cameras, Ploppert concurred.

Eschelman defended the cameras’ function, saying they enhance safety and monitor pupil and driver conduct.

“I think these law firms should be ashamed of themselves for pursuing legal action against an item which is used solely to improve school bus safety,” Eschelman said.

Ploppert acknowledged that the cameras record both audio and video data, but he explained that when tapes are viewed, only the video portion is made available to the parties involved.

When asked whether the cameras have the capability to record audio data, Ploppert responded, “Anything is possible. But audio [surveillance] is not what we or any district uses the cameras for.”

According to Grill, however, the purpose for which someone uses the audio recording is legally immaterial.

“What matters is that they did not put it in by mistake,” he said. “The federal standard is that the only defense you have is if you put in by mistake. The word for that is ‘inadvertent violation.'”

Terry VanLear, president of the Reading-based bus company VanLear Equipment Inc., said his firm disconnected the camera audio upon hearing of the lawsuit against Twin Valley.

But he agreed with Eschelman, saying the cameras have fulfilled their mission to curb discipline problems.

“If the kids know the camera is on board and know they are going to be recorded, they won’t [misbehave],” he said.

Grill countered that the recordings violated the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment guarantees against illegal search and seizure.

According to her attorney, Keppley felt violated and wanted the district’s practice of recording audio on the cameras discontinued.

“We aren’t saying anything about the video,” Grill said. “We are contesting the audio. That falls under the [Pennsylvania] Wiretapping and Surveillance Control Act.”

The essence of the state wiretapping law is “that somebody cannot conduct audio electronic surveillance unless they have the permission of all parties to record conversations or communications,” Grill said.

That law also states that when a law enforcement agency seeks permission to tape an audio conversation, it must first get permission from the Pennsylvania Superior Court to do so.

“Maybe [Twin Valley] did get permission from the Superior Court to do this,” said Grill. “But I doubt it. They have not shown us that they did that yet.”

Alan Matchett is president of Alexandria, Va.-based Eyeseeu.com, a security consulting company that installs video cameras in schools

“My first reaction to this is, ‘Who in the world would put audio [recording] in school buses?'” he said. “I wouldn’t go near audio, and most security professionals I know wouldn’t, either.”

Matchett agreed with Grill that, in most states, all parties must know that their voices are being recorded for it to be legal. He said the way most security cameras are connected to the recording device would make it very hard to record audio inadvertently.

“Usually there is a yellow connector for video and a white or red connector for audio, and they are usually clearly marked. You’d have to plug both of them in to do audio,” he said.

“In my opinion, there is really no reason for a school to use audio,” Matchett continued. “That is for formal investigations, and if that is the case, then law enforcement should be involved. There are liabilities associated with audio recording.”

The case has just gotten under way, all parties noted, and the “discovery” portion of the proceedings—wherein attorneys for the prosecution and defense disclose pertinent documentation on the case—has yet to take place.

Grill said ideally he’d like to have the audio surveillance stopped and was seeking compensation for all people whose conversations were “intercepted, disclosed, or used.”

“The third thing is that we want to make people aware that there is an electronic surveillance device recording what their children are saying,” he said.

Links:

Twin Valley School District
http://www.berksiu.k12.pa.us/twinvalley.htm

Eyeseeu.com
http://www.eyeseeu.com/index1.htm

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Anthrax scares prompt colleges to seek online applications

In the wake of anthrax-related scares that have delayed mail shipments across the country, some colleges are urging high school seniors to apply online to meet application deadlines.

Bowdoin College, for example, said students seeking early acceptance could avoid anthrax-related mail delays by filing applications by computer or fax machine.

The early-decision process, adopted by many elite private colleges, guarantees accepted students a spot in the incoming class. In some cases, colleges require students to accept or reject the decision immediately.

Students at Bowdoin, a liberal arts college in Brunswick, Maine, have been able to apply online for three years. About 10 percent of last year’s 4,500 applicants applied that way.

But with the first-round early-decision deadline Nov. 15, officials used the college’s web site to remind students of the electronic option.

“It’s something we wanted to bring people’s attention to, in light of the fact that the regular mail has been affected,” said Sue Danforth, college spokeswoman.

The message encouraged students who had not yet mailed their early-decision applications “to apply electronically through our online application.”

Those who had mailed their applications but were concerned the paperwork might not arrive on time were encouraged to fax copies to admissions.

Bowdoin’s reminder came after Princeton University in New Jersey, which does not accept online applications, urged applicants facing a Nov. 1 early-decision deadline to fax in their applications. Princeton acted after anthrax was discovered in a post office that serves the university, causing that mail center to shut down.

At Colby College in Waterville, Maine, admissions director Steve Thomas said one mail-related concern is with prospective international students.

He said some application packages mailed to Colby from abroad can fit the description of packages the FBI has warned Americans to be wary of.

“You know, they’re kind of thick and bulky,” Thomas said. They also can have too much postage and carry no return address.

To avoid such packages getting held up in the postal system, Colby recently sent out an eMail message to 2,000 prospective international students advising them of the correct way to send mail to this country. Better yet, the college suggested, would be applying online.

Students also can apply electronically at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, where a recent anthrax scare at a local post office disrupted mail delivery to the college for a day.

Wylie Mitchell, the dean of admissions, said Bates stopped short of urging applicants to use the online option. “We were kind of in that spot of not wanting to overdramatize what’s happened,” he said.

He urges students using the regular mail to be early, but says that if a disruption in mail service occurs, “we’ll make allowances” as long as applications are postmarked in time.

Links:

Bowdoin College
http://www.bowdoin.edu

Princeton University
http://www.princeton.edu

Colby College
http://www.colby.edu

Bates College
http://www.bates.edu

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MindPlay’s My Reading Coach combats illiteracy

My Reading Coach, developed by MindPlay, is a phonics-based software program that uses a unique artificial intelligence technology to create a “digital teacher,” who teaches and interacts with the student just like a tutor would.

The technology behind the software, called TeacherSmarts, incorporates digital video, digital audio, and one-on-one responses from a virtual tutor. According to MindPlay, users of the software can improve from one to four reading levels in as little as 40 hours.

“Our Digital Teacher evaluates the learner’s skills and then teaches only the skills needed,” said Judith Bliss, the company’s founder and chief executive officer.

Based on a proven reading program created by speech pathologist Jim Larrabee, the software teaches phonics, spelling patterns, pronunciation, and letter formation. It automatically schedules review tests and reassigns lessons when needed. It also includes printable worksheets to reinforce skills and comprehension when students are away from the computer.

The software is compatible with PCs and Macs. The suggested retail price is $99.

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Low-priced caching servers from Swell Technology

As an alternative to expensive proprietary servers, check out the Tsunami CPX series of web-caching server appliances developed for schools and small offices by Swell Technology. Based on the open-source Linux operating system, the CPX series offers affordable, easy-to-use, high-performing web-caching products, the company says.

The Tsunami CPX 1000, geared toward schools, can handle two to three T1 lines. Caching servers save bandwidth and increase internet speed by saving a copy of previously visited web sites, so the next time the site is visited, it is reloaded from the local server.

This product performed best when it was compared with other servers priced less than $4,000 at a recent industry-wide marathon event, known as the IRCache Bake-off. The server also performed better than several servers that cost more than $4,000, the company said. The Tsunami CPX 1000, which sells for $2,139, also features access control to block game sites, pornography, or other inappropriate content.

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