SurfWatch Educational Edition

Internet filtering specialist SurfWatch has created a server-based content solution designed specifically for schools. Dubbed “SurfWatch Educational Edition,” the technology differs from filtering products by creating a secure learning environment–a “virtual sandbox”–that directs students to educational sites while keeping them away from inappropriate ones.

Among the partners whom SurfWatch has chosen to provide content within its secure learning environment are the Children’s Television Workshop, the creators of Sesame Street; NevaSoft, providers of web-based curriculum for teachers; the Internet Scout Project, sponsored by the National Science Foundation; the Tech Museum of Innovation, which offers interactive science and technology exhibits; and Yahooligans!, which enables safe surfing through a broad range of content for kids ages 7-12.

SurfWatch Educational Edition runs on both Microsoft and Netscape proxy servers. Pricing for schools starts at $495 for one server supporting up to 50 users.

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States, schools sharply divided over proposed Microsoft settlement

The epic legal battle between the U.S. Department of Justice (JD) and Microsoft Corp. took a giant step toward resolution last week, as the two parties on Nov. 2 asked a federal judge to approve a settlement of antitrust charges that would set new rules for the nation’s hard-hit technology industry.

But an informal poll of school technology leaders across the country revealed a mix of opinions that leaves educators as sharply divided over the settlement as the states’ attorneys general who joined the government’s landmark suit.

The deal would require Microsoft to give independent monitors full access to its books and plans for five years to ensure compliance and to provide information to help rivals make products compatible with its dominant Windows operating software.

However, only two-thirds of the 18 states that joined the federal government to sue Microsoft for antitrust violations are willing to accept the proposed settlement. The others are determined to go to trial.

Six states expressed support for the proposed settlement struck last week between JD and the software giant to end the monopoly case, and at least six others successfully negotiated new concessions with Microsoft that moved them closer to a deal.

Those changes broadened disclosures Microsoft must make to rivals about the operation of its powerful server software. By adding the phrase “or the internet” to one section, lawyers for the states explicitly required Microsoft to reveal technical details about servers other than just those used for office networks.

That slight change could broaden the settlement to cover Microsoft’s future business strategies of providing internet services. The states also negotiated to establish a separate oversight committee, so the states can ensure compliance.

Philip Beck, a lawyer for JD, described the new provisions as “clarifications, not substantial changes” and suggested the federal government wouldn’t object.

The proposed settlement

Terms of the settlement were closely guarded, and people close to the talks cautioned that precise language on important provisions was still being written.

The settlement would impose some restrictions on Microsoft during the next five years and could be extended two more years—until 2008—if the company violates terms of the deal, according to one person familiar with the agreement. A three-person panel would monitor Microsoft’s compliance.

The current antitrust case is rooted in allegations that Microsoft violated a related 1995 agreement with the Justice Department.

The prospective settlement would not require complete disclosures by Microsoft of the “source code” blueprints for its monopoly Windows operating system, the underpinnings of its multibillion-dollar business, according to business analyst David Readerman of Thomas Weisel Partners in San Francisco. But portions of the Internet Explorer web browser would be disclosed.

Microsoft would have to offer a version of Windows without extra features side-by-side with versions that “bundle” those features. The settlement also would prohibit restrictive contracts between Microsoft and computer makers that would discourage them from buying the slimmed-down version, Readerman and other sources said. But it would permit Microsoft to continue to offer financial incentives, such as price discounts, to entice computer makers to sell the fatter Windows.

Other concessions by Microsoft include allowing customers to remove portions of Windows via an icon on the desktop; in current Windows versions, that icon is harder to find. The company also would continue to offer previous versions of Windows for a fixed period of time.

The settlement offer is closely modeled on penalties imposed by a federal judge last year. Under that language, while Microsoft would have to offer an “unbundled” version of Windows, the extra features would still be within the program—just hidden from view. Software makers could continue writing software that takes advantage of those features.

Educators’ reaction

Some educators find the proposed settlement to be unacceptable, while others welcome a resolution to the legal struggle.

“We believe the settlement didn’t go far enough in curbing the monopolistic practices of Microsoft. The settlement will still allow Microsoft to control the technology made available to everyone,” said Alan Whitworth, technology director at Jefferson County School District in Kentucky.

Kyle Hutson, technology director at Rock Creek Schools in Kansas, agrees that the proposed settlement doesn’t impose enough penalties or restrictions.

“What penalties and restrictions? The consent decree amounts to ‘don’t do it again,’ which is precisely what [JD] said to Microsoft in 1995,” said Hutson.

“Microsoft broke that one, and I predict they will break this one as well. After all, their penalty for breaking it will be another two years of supervision. If I was on probation for breaking a law, I highly doubt my penalty for breaking probation would be an additional two years of probation,” he added.

“We will continue to explore alternative operating systems as Microsoft depreciates the ones we currently use. Philosophically, our school district vigorously opposes [the Children’s Internet Protection Act] because of its lack of local control. In my opinion, Microsoft’s anti-competitive practices usurp local control in a similar fashion,” Hutson concluded.

Sheryl Abshire, district administrative technology coordinator for the Calcasieu Parish Public School System in Louisiana, had a different opinion.

“Continuing the discussions and stretching out the decision does nothing but further undermine consumer confidence in this segment of our economy,” Abshire said.

“Our school district has enjoyed a good working relationship with Microsoft, and they have aggressively provided very competitive educational pricing that meets our needs for their products. I believe it is time to settle the ongoing dispute and move on with enhancing the image of the technology industry.”

States’ reactions mixed as well

The states’ Nov. 5 discussions about whether to accept the proposed settlement reflected their many divergent views and different levels of commitment throughout the case, as well as the effort by the coalition leaders—including Iowa and Connecticut—to keep the states together.

After all-night negotiations, Microsoft hinted it was finished negotiating and was willing to continue the fight in court with those states that don’t sign the settlement.

U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly consulted with the mediator in the case and said she may let disgruntled states continue the lawsuit, even as she weighs whether to approve the settlement with the others.

Microsoft asked the judge not to let that happen. In a separate court filing, it asked the judge to delay any further court proceedings until after she decides whether the settlement is in the best interest of consumers. “Sound public policy demands that this court decide whether the proposed final judgment is in the public interest before permitting the states private litigation to proceed,” the company said in its filing.

Eric Green, the mediator, said attorneys general in some states remained very troubled despite the additional provisions sought by their colleagues. He did not identify them.

Other states indicated they would sign the settlement as JD negotiated it. Those states included North Carolina, Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, Kentucky, and New York, a person close to the discussions said.

Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly said the settlement has too many loopholes and refused to agree without major changes.

“Microsoft will use this agreement to crush competition,” Reilly said. Reilly and his staff spent the weekend scrutinizing the agreement. “Every definition is riddled with exceptions,” he said.

In Illinois, Attorney General Jim Ryan said he is inclined to sign the agreement.

“I am pleased that the Microsoft case appears headed for resolution and that Illinois consumers will have gained a freer and more competitive marketplace as a result,” Ryan said.

Links:

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

U.S. Department of Justice
http://www.usdoj.gov

Jefferson County School District
http://www.jefferson.k12.ky.us

Rock Creek Schools
http://www.rockcreek.k12.ks.us

Calcasieu Parish Public School System
http://www.cpsb.org

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Illinois school uses polygraph test to suspend students

A Dunlap, Ill., high school may be the first in the nation to use a polygraph machine to discipline students.

The purpose: to determine whether the teen-agers violated Dunlap High School’s code of conduct by attending a party where alcohol was consumed.

Seven of the 10 students who submitted to the lie detector exams—all of them football players—flunked the questioning last month and were barred from competing in the first round of the state playoffs. Some of their parents wept when they learned their children had lied to them.

Dunlap High went to extraordinary lengths to get to the bottom of what was otherwise a routine case of teen-agers getting into trouble.

School Superintendent Bill Collier said it was the right thing to do to sort the guilty from the innocent: “It may look bad, it may sound bad, but it’s the fairest way.”

The investigation began after police broke up a party Oct. 6. Nobody was arrested, but officers took down the names of everyone present and traced the registration of all cars parked there. Their list of 15 athletes was turned over to school officials.

Three students admitted guilt when confronted. But many others claimed that they had left the party as soon as they realized alcohol was present. So school officials proposed the polygraphs.

Two students were suspended from the team after refusing to take the test, and seven more were suspended after flunking. Collier pointed out that three students were cleared who might otherwise have been punished.

“For these three kids, this worked exactly the way it is supposed to work,” he said.

Dunlap High went on to lose the Oct. 27 playoff game 28-7.

Mike Griffith, a policy analyst for the Education Commission of the States in Denver, said he has never heard of a school using polygraphs in such a way, and he called it an extreme measure.

“But in the end,” he said, “if the parents don’t file a complaint and the school district is satisfied, it’s a done deal.”

Matt Jones, an attorney who represented the students who took the polygraphs and their parents, said a lawsuit is unlikely, but parents may try to pressure the school board into changing its policy regarding parties. The students’ names were not released by the school or Jones.

Jones said the suspended players—most of them starters—had greater concerns than the outcome of the game.

“Part of the disappointment is the public scrutiny and having their parents disappointed in them,” the lawyer said. “With most of them, it’s not about their participation but because they let down their team.”

Some in this central Illinois town of about 1,000 people 12 miles north Peoria have been openly critical of school officials.

“You would think they have better things to do,” said Mark Wade, a 1979 Dunlap High graduate. Wade said the drinking policy existed when he was in high school, and athletes and others were sometimes questioned about their weekend activities. He said students sometimes lied, and their answers were accepted; nobody gave them a polygraph.

“That wouldn’t have washed. The parents wouldn’t have stood for it,” he said.

Collier and Jones said that before each polygraph session, held at the school board’s offices, the students and their parents were taken aside. The students were asked to describe their actions that night. Before the examinations began, the parents were asked to leave to eliminate distractions.

Afterward, the polygraph examiner went over results with the students and their parents. Collier described the scene as sad, with some parents shedding tears as they realized their children had lied to them and the school.

The superintendent said getting the truth was more important than a football playoff game.

“I do know kids and adults can’t continue to tell lies,” he said. “Parents need to do more communicating with their kids on real-life issues and find out what they’re doing on weekends.”

Links:

Dunlap High School
http://illinois.ihigh.com/dunlap

Education Commission of the States
http://www.ecs.org

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House bill would establish ‘kid-friendly’ web domain

Lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives are considering having the government establish a “child-friendly” internet domain, because the international body that governs domain names has refused to create a suffix for child-appropriate content. Opponents of the measure worry about giving the U.S. government power to influence what is deemed “appropriate” for children using the internet around the world.

The bill originally called for the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to create a “.kids” domain, which would join other suffixes such as “.com” and “.org” found at the end of web addresses.

But the measure was amended Nov. 1 to create a “.kids.us” space, which would be overseen by the federal government.

Assistant Secretary of Commerce Nancy Victory told the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet that Japan, China, and some European countries had objected to the original legislation, saying the United States should not establish guidelines for the World Wide Web.

“Unilateral action by the United States to create an international ‘dot kids’ domain is at odds with the global nature of the internet and a domain name system,” Victory said.

Panel Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., said the change makes it more likely the plan will be adopted.

“My view is that if we were to rely on [ICANN] to get its act together to implement a ‘dot-kids,’ my young kids would be parents perhaps by the time it got done, if at all,” he said.

The internet naming organization’s board voted against the .kids suffix last November amid concerns about who would set the standards for child-appropriate material.

The House bill says that only sites with material deemed appropriate for children under 13 could get a “.kids.us” suffix. Participation would be voluntary and the sites would be continuously monitored. A parent or school administrator could restrict a child’s computer so it could visit only those sites.

The bill would establish an independent board that would set criteria for use of “.kids.us.” It also would require that the domain be publicized to parents.

Rob Courtney, a policy analyst with the Center for Democracy and Technology, said putting “.kids” under the “.us” domain is an improvement. But he said his organization is still concerned about who will be responsible for monitoring, enforcing, and funding the effort and about what standards will be used.

“What a family in Peoria, Illinois, thinks is appropriate is likely to be different than a family in New York or San Francisco,” he said.

Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., a sponsor of the bill, said because the use and registration of “.kids.us” space would be voluntary, there is no effort by the government to restrict access or otherwise infringe on civil liberties.

“This proposal simply creates an area where healthy speech for children can exist, and inappropriate speech is free to exist anywhere else,” Markey said.

An internet startup, New.net, has been offering “.kid” names, along with several other unsanctioned suffixes such as “.sport,” “.xxx,” and “.travel.” But sites with the alternative names can only be viewed by using certain service providers or making adjustments to computer settings.

The Commerce Department has authority to issue “.us” web space. The department has given NeuStar Inc. a contract to manage the space.

Victory said the Bush administration supports the goals of establishing a kid-safe domain, but she said it might violate the NeuStar contract. Lawmakers on the subcommittee said they were frustrated that the department is not being cooperative and said they would give it authority to issue “.kids.us” space.

“As a parent, I’m not interested in excuses,” Upton told Victory. “I just want it done.”

Links:

House Energy and Commerce Committee
http://energycommerce.house.gov

International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers
http://www.icann.org

New.net
http://www.new.net

NeuStar
http://www.neustar.com

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Ed projects use web to promote understanding, information-sharing

President George W. Bush has announced the creation of two new web-based education projects that will allow students and educators from the United States to collaborate on projects and share ideas with those in other nations.

The first is an eMail exchange program between students in an effort to promote global understanding; the second is an international database of best practices in teaching.

At a local elementary school in Washington, D.C., Oct. 25, Bush publicized the formation of “Friendship Through Education,” an initiative that uses the internet to link United States students with students from predominantly Muslim countries.

To start, three U.S. schools that were directly affected by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks will be linked with schools in Islamic nations. Eventually, at least one school in every state will participate.

“One way to fight evil is with good; you can help by writing letters to boys and girls your age. You can let boys and girls know what you think is important. You can let boys and girls know what your dreams are, and ask them about theirs, too,” Bush said to students at Thurgood Marshall Extended Elementary School.

Students will use eMail to exchange letters and better understand each other’s countries and cultures. They’ll also be encouraged to swap essays, artwork, and participate in collaborative projects.

“One of the best ways to deter terrorism is through education and understanding,” the White House said in a statement. “This interaction will build friendships and involve students in discussions of issues facing them as future global citizens.”

Some of the participating countries include Egypt, Indonesia, Qatar, Pakistan, Turkey, Bahrain. The program also is intended to reach refugee camps inside Afghanistan.

“We’re using our laptop technology to communicate with two schools we’ve been partnered off with in Egypt,” said Mirian Acosta-Sing, principal of Mott Hall School in New York City, another of the first schools to join this project. The third is Patrick Henry Elementary School in Arlington, Va.

“The students kind of see themselves as ambassadors for the United States, so they are taking this quite seriously,” she said.

The Mott Hall sixth graders already have begun exchanging eMails with the Egyptian students, and they planned to read the eMails they’ve received to each other Nov. 2.

“The kids are really excited. They’re researching and going to different web sites to read about Muslim religion,” Acosta-Sing said. “This is really going to make social studies come alive for them.”

A consortium of nongovernmental organizations and private companies is making Friendship Through Education possible by identifying schools in Muslim nations to participate, providing internet communications to students, assisting with translations, and facilitating classroom projects.

The group includes iEARN-USA, the United Nation’s Cyberschoolbus, ePals Classroom Exchange, Global SchoolNet Foundation, People to People International, Schools Online, Sister Cities International, US Fund for UNICEF, and Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools of the Peace Corps.

It’s up to individual schools and teachers to decide exactly what they will do, according to Lisa Jobson, program director of iEARN-USA and the key organizer of Friendship Through Education.

Educators who’d like to participate can get information and register at the Friendship Through Education web site (see link below).

International best-practice database

The U.S. Department of Education and four Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) nations have agreed to use the internet to post best practices in education and to promote international collaboration on internet-based learning.

The initiative, called the APEC Cyber Education Cooperation, was announced Oct. 22 during a recent APEC forum in China.

Korea, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Singapore, and the United States will participate in developing a database of best practices for educators to access via the internet. The content will focus on the use of technology in the classroom, the teaching and learning of other subjects, and the exchange of people and ideas.

Using the database, for example, teachers could find curriculum materials and lesson plans used by Singapore teachers to help their students achieve the best scores in the world on international mathematics assessments.

“A global economy demands a work force that has the capacity to continually update its education and skills through access to the latest developments in a variety of fields, from engineering to fiber-optics,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige.

“President Bush has made education his top domestic priority, and the eLearning initiative advances the education goals and further strengthens the economies of our APEC neighbors, as well as our own.”

Links:

White House
http://www.whitehouse.gov

Friendship Through Education Consortium
http://www.friendshipthrougheducation.org

U.S. Department of Education
http://www.ed.gov

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Technology Leadership Town Hall Meetings

CoSN is co-sponsoring a series of free teleconferences on important policy and leadership issues. November’s satellite Town Hall meeting will be on Smart Budgeting for Technology. Topics include Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) models, planning for future technology purchases, and budgeting processes that include the TOTAL costs of owning and integrating technology. The broadcast is scheduled for November 15, 4:30-6:00 pm Eastern Standard Time.

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eSN Exclusive: Online procurement company Simplexis to be acquired

The assets of Simplexis, a K-12 online purchasing company once chaired by former presidential candidate Lamar Alexander, are being acquired by an eProcurement company with no previous experience in the school field, eSchool News has learned.

A business document obtained from Simplexis by eSchool News says the firm is “closing its business.”

The Simplexis web site is still running, but no one at the company returned this reporter’s phone calls, and no company voice-mail system picked up.

Sources close to a pending transaction who wished to remain anonymous have confirmed that Simplexis soon will be “transferring [its] assets” to the other company, which reportedly will continue to provide service to all school organizations currently signed with Simplexis.

That’s news to the Mentor Village Exempted School District in Ohio, which signed a multiyear licensing agreement with Simplexis in June. “We have not heard of this,” said district spokeswoman Fran Russ. “After Thanksgiving we’re planning to start training our staff to use [the Simplexis purchasing system].”

Neither Simplexis nor the acquiring company has announced the deal, and both are reportedly operating under a policy of nondisclosure. The impending deal might be surprising to the school districts using the Simplexis system, but the acquisition probably comes as no surprise to industry analysts.

In the past year, most of the education-focused eProcurement sites have faced lean times as the internet economy has softened across the board, according to venture capitalists and industry experts.

In April, eSchool News reported that Simplexis was walking a thin line, though sources within the company denied any financial troubles. It seems Simplexis was caught in a difficult position because of the declining fortunes of its primary investor, Internet Commerce Group (ICG).

According to Simplexis, ICG started putting pressure on the school company to show revenues sooner than planned—or else close up shop. The investment company wanted to cut its losses and return the money that remained in the bank—close to $10 million—to its investors.

ICG’s representatives on Simplexis’s board of directors reportedly tried to liquidate the company, but they came up one vote short.

Simplexis officials have neither confirmed nor denied this report in the months since the story initially ran.

Simplexis’s founder and former chief executive, Amar Singh, told eSchool News in April, “Right now … we project we’ll start to make money in early 2002.”

But now it appears Simplexis will not make it to 2002. At the time he was interviewed, Singh said there were about a dozen districts using the company’s complete solution. That figure referred to districts that had implemented the company’s system fully and trained their staffs to use it. Simplexis is not the only eProcurement company that has disappeared.

In 1999, Ben Holsinger, education product manager at SHOP2gether.com, told eSchool News, “We started doing electronic procurement in the small-business market and had a number of education customers, but the system wasn’t quite right for schools. So we built a new system just for schools, using educators’ input.”

But SHOP2gether.com is another of companies that didn’t make it through the internet shake-up, changing its business model and downsizing so that the once web-based service now sells procurement software to schools.

The phenomenon is not surprising to industry analysts.

“It is not a matter of whether eProcurement will get a toehold, it is really a matter of revenue and business model,” said Lou Pugliese, entrepreneur in residence at Novak Biddle Venture Partners in McLean, Va.

Market analysts and venture capitalists agree that new investment opportunities for online purchasing have all but dried up, and even those companies with sufficient initial funding are having a hard time finding sustained financial backing.

According to Pugliese, the viability of an eProcurement company depends on how fast its business can scale inside of schools. He thinks schools will adopt web-based solutions more readily once they begin to see a monetary savings, but that might not happen before the venture capital runs out.

In fact, the entire business model might have been flawed from the start, at least according to some within the industry. The “transaction-based” model was one that most online purchasing companies—backed by healthy doses of venture capital—adopted as their initial business strategy.

Basically, it meant that schools were allowed to use their services for free, while vendors paid a small transaction fee each time a school customer purchased their products through the eProcurement site. Most online purchasing companies have now abandoned that model as a primary source of income.

“A fundamental problem with companies that try to be the middleman is that competition drives price towards cost. What ends up happening is that the consumer saves money, but the middleman companies don’t make any money,” said Jack Biddle, general partner at Novak Biddle Venture Partners.

Like a number of other companies, Simplexis announced last year that it would start to charge school districts for implementation and use of the system, rather than rely solely on transaction fees.

“It should be easy for a district to share part of [its] savings with Simplexis,” Singh said in April. At the time, he said the company was receiving revenue from a combination of transaction fees and fees from schools.

Links:

Mentor Village Exempted School District
http://www.mentorschools.com

Simplexis
http://www.simplexis.com

Novak Biddle Venture Partners
http://www.novakbiddle.com

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WebTV Take Home Kit

The WebTV Take Home Kit from Philips Electronics provides all the necessary equipment for teachers to access the internet through their home or classroom TV at a fraction of the cost of a computer system‹under $220

for the education model. The kit features a WebTV terminal, wireless keyboard, remote control, RF adapter, printer adapter, cabling for the television hookup, and a 25-foot phone cord, all packaged in a convenient carrying case. Philips’ Planet K-12 worked with WebTV to develop a “smart card” that will help educators find resources on the web.

Philips Electronics has also established a web site for novice internet users which explains how to navigate and find information on the internet using WebTV. The web site’s URL is http://www.takehomekit.com.

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Pocketalk

The new Pocketalk voice mail/pager from ConXus Communications works just like a portable answering machine for your pocket, allowing you to play, fast forward, reverse, pause, save, and delete messages from your telephone callers the moment you receive them. With Pocketalk, you can determine immediately which messages are urgent and which can wait until you’re back in the office for a response.

Pocketalk currently is offered only in the Dallas, Houston, Orlando, Miami, Tampa, Los Angeles, Chicago, Baltimore, and Washington D.C. areas. ConXus is working to make Pocketalk widely available by 1999.

Pocketalk works in audible, vibrate, or silent mode. It allows up to three minutes of message storage.

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LaserFiche Document Imaging

LaserFiche allows you to scan paper documents or import files into a single database for easy storage of all your schools’ records. Over 15,000 pages can be stored on a single LaserFiche CD.

You can run the document storage system alone or on a NetWare or Windows NT network. In addition, LaserFiche WebLink soon will be available for browsing scanned documents via a web browser.

Several search options,including a full-text keyword search, let you find the records you need among thousands of documents in just a few seconds. Other features include multiple user-defined databases, unlimited index fields, and a simple graphical interface.
LaserFiche is a division of Compulink Management Center, Inc.

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