Paige: Focus on learning outcomes, not hardware

U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige called for educators and industry leaders to think beyond the number of computers and internet connections in schools and focus instead on using technology as a means of providing high-quality education. Paige’s comments came at a national summit on educational technology held Jan. 25 in Washington, D.C.

“Over the past decade, our states have made great progress in getting computers and getting internet connections into the classrooms. It’s now time for the next step,” Paige said. “Our mission should be about the quality of education.”

He said computers not only should be turned on, but they should be integrated into the curriculum and “add value to student performance.”

Paige acknowledged that the digital divide is still an issue, but he said the number of computers isn’t as important as improving student achievement. “Access is still a problem in certain places that we have to fix. The [real] issue is how we use this access—how we get results,” he said.

Educators, industry leaders, and key policy makers from across the nation met at the half-day summit, which was hosted by the National Coalition for Technology in Education and Training.

Participants included former U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley; Neil Bush, chief executive officer of Ignite! Learning; Phil Bond, U.S. Undersecretary of Commerce for Technology; and Chris Dede, Timothy E. Worth Professor of Learning Technologies at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education.

Paige invited the business community to help schools carry out the goals set forth in the new education law, No Child Left Behind.

“The president asked us to create a system that leaves no child behind. It’s going to require all of us. It will require us to do things differently. We can’t get there doing things the same way we’ve always done,” Paige said.

Technology will play a vital role in accomplishing the objectives of education law, he said.

“To accomplish this mighty mission, we have to become much more efficient and much more effective in our operations. The rest of the world has looked to technology for this increased effectiveness and efficiency, and I believe there’s much to be gained there for educators as well,” Paige said.

He said technology can help improve all aspects of education, and that’s why the new education law has technology initiatives dispersed throughout. Though only $867 million is targeted specifically for technology, down from previous years, Paige said several other programs provide grant dollars that may be used for technology.

“Instead of having a single category designated to technology, we find technology integrated throughout the bill,” Paige said. “In fact, there are 10 separate programs or more that address the topic of technology.”

He did not specifically identify all the programs, but the law allows technology to be used for student data management systems, distance learning, virtual schools, literacy, and teacher training.

“It is not just about spending more, it is about spending more wisely,” Paige said.

In addition, Paige identified teacher technology training as another important issue facing schools.

“We are getting to the point now where we have more technology available than we have teachers ready to use this technology,” Paige said. “So we have to … provide more opportunities for them to catch up.”

More research needed

For technology to improve student achievement, educators, policy makers, and industry leaders must identify technology tools that provide solutions to the specific problems that teachers face, Paige said. Seventy-one percent of teachers say there is a lack of good instructional software, according to a study by the National Center for Education Statistics.

“Now it’s time to move beyond hardware to software that actually brings a solution to teacher’s problems,” Paige said.

The No Child Left Behind Act earmarks $15 million to focus on long-term research and development of effective educational technology.

“The idea here is not to just have the technology, but to make sure the technology is designed to offer solutions to actual teacher problems, to discover what tools have the most dramatic impact on teachers, how students could be best benefited by this. These are the types of questions we seek answers to and invite your participation in,” Paige said.

Neil Bush, chief executive officer of Ignite! Learning, reinforced the role technology can play in helping all students achieve, regardless of their individual learning styles.

“All kids can learn, they just learn in different ways,” Bush said. “Beyond that, I think we all know intuitively that learning is effortless. We learn best by doing stuff, by applying concepts.

“The old memorize-and-forget model is failing our kids, it’s boring them to death,” Bush added. “Technology has an incredibly powerful potential … to engage the child in authentic learning.”

The 32-member panel speculated on how best to implement the research and development agenda imposed by the new federal education law. The group called for closer alignment of federal, state, and local policies.

Some groups think the United States is spending too little on research. A survey of international investment in ed-tech research, released by the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) four days after the summit, found that less than $40 million was invested for non-military applications in fiscal year 2000. The survey also found that United States research programs are scattered across many different agencies with little coordination.

Despite the considerable public resources spent to acquire school technology, “a considerable gap separates the educational technology now in use from the incredible potential offered by these technologies,” the report notes.

“This is an absurd situation, given that we are only using a fraction of the potential power of this new technology,” said Dr. Henry Kelly, FAS president, in a statement.

“Simulations that can be the basis of discovery-based learning, systems that adapt to each student, multi-dimensional measures of a student’s expertise are crucial for ensuring that no child is left behind and that adults have easy affordable access to learning services,” he continued. “But the opportunity can’t be captured without a sustained research investment many times larger than the amounts now being spent.”

Links:

National Coalition for Technology in Education and Training
http://www.nctet.org

Webcast of summit
http://www.minds.tv/service.asp?PID=webcast&CID=webcast&GCID=aschedule

Survey of International Investment in Educational Technology Research and Development
http://fas.org/learn/intl_rev/index.htm

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High school tests high-tech weapon scanner

Officials at Skyline High School in Longmont, Colo., are about to employ a new tool in their effort to keep their students safe: a sophisticated weapon-scanning technology originally developed for military use.

The high-tech security system, initially designed to track enemy submarines, will be installed at each of the school’s entrances to scan for weapons as students enter the building. The system’s creators say it is superior to the metal detectors used in most schools and airports today because it eliminates the “false positives” these traditional systems often generate.

“What this does is ferret out the metals that are of higher density, or ferrous metals that are contained in guns and knives,” Skyline principal Tom Stumpf said. “These items contain metal that has a higher density than the metals in three-ring binders and pacemakers and underwire bras.”

In August 2000, a representative from WorldNet Technologies—the Bellevue, Wash., company that makes the WeaponScan 80 system—approached participants in a Colorado education convention and asked for volunteers to become a demonstration site for the technology in K-12 education. Skyline’s safety committee unanimously agreed to become a pilot site at no cost to the school.

For the free, one-year pilot, Skyline will have at least nine weapons-detection units—each about the size of a traditional metal detector portal—installed at school entrances. In addition, teachers have been given mobile phones, and cameras have been installed externally.

“We know that the worst-case scenario is probably not going to be prevented,” said St. Vrain Valley School District Superintendent Richard Weber. “We’re just trying to increase the probability that this kind of intervention may have a usefulness in catching instruments that may come into a school.”

WorldNet Chief Executive Officer Phil Ortega said there are a number of reasons the WeaponScan system is more efficient than a traditional metal detector.

“First, it doesn’t use the same technology,” he said. “The average metal detector uses a magnetometer that looks for density of metal. The technology behind WeaponScan is basically sonar-radar technology.”

WeaponScan essentially looks like a normal metal detector portal. According to Ortega, it works by creating a grid system that assesses any weapons-grade metal that passes through the portal. Any metals detected are assigned a signature.

Ortega said the technology is so precise that, based on the signature, users can tell what brand of weapon it is and “that it’s in an ankle holster on your left ankle, six inches from the ground.” The technology can even detect weapons hidden in body cavities, he said.

WeaponScan takes a JPEG image of every person walking through the portal. If the person sets off an alarm, this image is wirelessly and instantaneously sent to whoever is designated as the viewer. That school official then can choose whether to sound an alarm or surprise the offender. If no dangerous materials are detected, the JPEG is overwritten by the next person’s photo.

“One benefit of WeaponScan is that it can send out an alarm signal overtly or covertly. That’s a real benefit in a dangerous situation,” said Ortega. “This way, the administrators have the element of surprise. It is easier to approach someone who does not know they’ve been detected, and it is safer to neutralize that type of situation.”

Ortega expects that within nine to 12 months WorldNet will release a next-generation WeaponScan unit capable of detecting plastic materials found in some weapons, such as Glock-brand handguns.

According to Ronald Stephens, executive director of the National School Safety Center in Westlake Village, Calif., false positives—in which mundane items set off a traditional metal detector—happen “consistently.” Stephens’ organization works to prevent crime and violence on school campuses.

“That’s why most schools don’t use walk-through detectors,” he said. “They use handheld detectors, which intensifies labor costs because you have to have someone to work them.”

The WeaponScan system was demonstrated at Skyline last spring and received mostly positive responses, said Stumpf.

“There was one parent [who] was very upset about it at the time, but he has relented since then,” Stumpf said. “He was concerned that it did not guarantee 100-percent security, but that is not our goal. Our goal is to enhance the security we already have in place.”

Members of the Boulder County, Colo., chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and some students said the system would violate privacy rights. They also say the device isn’t needed. No students have been expelled from Skyline this year or last year for bringing a weapon to school, according to the district.

The base cost for a single WeaponScan unit is $28,000. Although education pricing has not been set yet—figures will be announced after the installation at Skyline—Ortega said the cost will be “in the vicinity of the cost of traditional metal-detection systems.”

“In the education environment, you know that you have to stretch the money in the direction that is most important—and that is learning,” he added. “Our goal is to price the full turnkey solution in a manner that schools can afford.”

According to Stephens, traditional metal detectors generally cost a few thousand dollars.

“But you still have to scan the book bags,” he said. That means schools must purchase a $15,000 or $20,000 magnetometer, like those used in airports. “You can buy a handheld scanner for $150, but then you have to pay someone to work it,” he said, adding that even walk-through units require two or three employees to regulate the line and hand-check after alarms sound.

School safety professionals caution that metal detectors—even ones that employ very high-level technology—deal only with a symptom, not with a problem.

“Most secondary schools have multiple entrance and exit points,” Stephens said. “Schools I’ve visited have a metal scanner set up at the front door, but students enter from other entrances. It’s not unusual to see a rug or stick shoved [between] doors for additional access to the campus. The concept of minimizing those entrance points is very daunting.”

Stephens said three items should be considered when assessing the need for metal scanning:

  • There should be a compelling cause, such as a prior history of weapons offenses in the building;

  • The policy should be “consistently enforced and fairly applied”; and

  • Administrators should make sure the search is not too intrusive with respect to students’ age and gender.

“You have to ask, ‘How would we as adults want to be treated?'” said Stephens. “Students understand the line between supervision and ‘snoopervision.'”

Just because a technology exists does not mean it should be installed in schools, said Stephens: “School safety policies live and die by the goodwill we create or ignore.”

Only about 1 percent of America’s schools use a full-time metal detector, according to the United States Departments of Education and Justice.

Officials from these two agencies say students reporting other students who bring weapons to school still seems to be the most effective way of halting school violence.

_________________________________

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Links:

St. Vrain Valley School District
http://www.stvrain.k12.co.us

National School Safety Center
http://www.nssc1.org

WorldNet Technologies’ WeaponScan
http://www.weaponscan.com

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Up to 53 percent off the cost of NEC visual presentation products

This grant from the SMARTer Kids Foundation is intended to help educators purchase NEC visual presentation products for their classrooms. All public or private, accredited, nonprofit educational institutions, as well as nonprofit museums, libraries, and science centers involved in K-12 or higher education, are eligible to apply. Grants range from 11 percent to 53 percent of the suggested list price for the purchase of qualifying NEC visual presentation products.

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News Analysis: AOL, Microsoft legal wrangle could vex educators

When the elephants fight, it’s the grass that gets crushed. And technology leaders at the grass roots in education have reason to worry that this old African proverb just might apply to the legal battle now joined between technology pachyderms Microsoft and AOL Time Warner.

Media conglomerate AOL Time Warner Inc. has filed a lawsuit against the software giant seeking damages for harm done to AOL’s Netscape internet browser. The now flagging Netscape browser had ruled computer desktops until Microsoft began giving its competing browser away.

Analysts and legal experts agree this newest chapter in the ongoing antitrust saga against Microsoft is sure to prolong the court proceedings even further. Some fear the costly struggle will drain needed resources from technology research and development at both companies. And others say the fight is for ultimate control of the internet.

What is clear is that Microsoft now faces three distinct legal fronts in defending its business practices. U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly is considering a settlement to the original antitrust case that has the support of the federal government and nine state attorneys general, while nine other states are still suing Microsoft.

Many of Microsoft’s business practices, including ones in which the company encouraged computer manufacturers and internet providers to distribute its Internet Explorer web browser instead of Netscape, were found to be anticompetitive by a federal appeals court last year.

AOL, which bought Netscape in 1999, wants Microsoft to cease its contested business practices and pay damages. AOL Time Warner executive John Buckley noted that court ruling and said, “This action is an attempt to get justice in this matter.”

A Microsoft spokeswoman said the software giant is “disappointed” that AOL Time Warner has chosen litigation.

“We’ve consistently tried to work more closely with [AOL executives] in a variety of areas, including instant messaging,” the Microsoft representative said. “They have consistently turned us down.”

AOL Time Warner filed its lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia Jan. 22. Under federal law, AOL would be entitled to triple any actual damages found by the court.

The company also asked for an immediate injunction against “ongoing and further damage” involving the Netscape Navigator browser, Buckley said.

But Microsoft officials questioned AOL’s motives in filing the suit. “This lawsuit is not about consumers, this is about a company concerned about its business performance and attempting to use the courts rather than innovating in the marketplace,” said the Microsoft spokeswoman, who wished to remain anonymous.

One possible option, if a judge ruled in favor of AOL, would be to force Microsoft to sell a stripped-down version of its Windows operating system so computer manufacturers could choose which internet browser to offer. That has also been requested by the nine state attorneys general suing Microsoft in federal court.

The federal government and the nine other states settled their landmark antitrust suit with Microsoft last year, but that settlement is still under consideration by Kollar-Kotelly. AOL has been a longtime critic of Microsoft and has talked frequently with prosecutors throughout the case.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson, who heard the federal government’s case against Microsoft in the Netscape matter, found that Microsoft tried to keep consumers from being able to choose Netscape. The appeals court affirmed many of Jackson’s decisions.

Microsoft’s business practices “help keep usage of Navigator below the critical level necessary for Navigator or any other rival to pose a real threat to Microsoft’s monopoly,” the appeals court wrote last year.

Perhaps, but that isn’t the reason for AOL’s current lawsuit, Microsoft alleges.

“After hearing all the evidence in the antitrust trial, AOL purchased Netscape for $10 billion,” said the Microsoft spokeswoman. “Now, AOL wants to blame Microsoft for Netscape’s and AOL’s own mismanagement.”

At least a few analysts agree. AOL was more interested in Netscape’s media property, the Netscape.com web site that many users kept as their home pages, said Ken Allard, senior vice president of research at Jupiter Media Metrix.

Other Netscape initiatives, such as browser development, enterprise software, and services did not receive as much attention, Allard said. AOL also never integrated the Netscape browser into its proprietary online service, instead relying on a version of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer.

In a viewpoint posted on the ZDNet web site Jan. 25, market research firm Gartner Inc. said the real battle between AOL and Microsoft is over control of content.

“Both the online content provider and the software developer are determined to be the trusted party that internet users rely on to store all kinds of information—such as addresses, bookmarks, passwords, and credit card numbers,” said Gartner.

This control is particularly key to AOL Time Warner and Microsoft, Gartner said, because “if either company can become the default holder of presence information, it will have access to significant and recurring revenue.”

University of Baltimore law professor Bob Lande said of AOL and its lawsuit: “This is a company that obviously can afford it, and wouldn’t take the step lightly. I think they’ve got an excellent chance of success, given that the government has established the facts and established that Microsoft has broken the law.”

But proving Microsoft’s guilt could be a long time in coming, industry experts say.

“Given the stakes, and the spin machines that both companies have at their command,” said the Gartner viewpoint, “the fireworks around the AOL Time Warner suit hold the potential to eclipse those of the government trial.”

A judge would still have the challenge of choosing a remedy that would restore competition to the internet browser market. Netscape now has less than 20 percent of the internet browser market, compared to more than 70 percent in 1995.

“You can’t literally put the market back in the competitive position it was in, so you’d have to think of a forward-looking remedy to help restore competition in the market as best as possible,” Lande told ZDNet.

For educators, who increasingly rely on web-based content in classrooms and central offices, anything with the potential to significantly alter the accessibility and richness of the internet is a development worth watching.

“Educators are highly susceptible to industry decisions and in many cases they have a great impact on the educational process,” said Chip Kimball, assistant superintendent for information technology at Lake Washington School District in Redmond, Wash.

“The education community … is controlled and driven by the publishers, not by educators,” he said. “The same is true with web content and electronic resources. While the delivery methodology may change [from] print to digital, content issues and control issues have not.”

Links:

AOL Time Warner
http://www.aol.com

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

Gartner Inc.
http://www.gartner.com

Lake Washington School District
http://www.lkwash.wednet.edu

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Georgia aims for paperless school board meetings

The DeKalb County School Board recently became the first school board in Georgia—and one of the first in the nation—to commit to moving all of its functions to an online format. The initiative is part of the Georgia School Boards Association’s New Millennium Leadership Program, which aims to “change the way boards of education manage information to improve student achievement.”

To accomplish this goal, the association has partnered with Apple Computer to provide the hardware, software, and professional development needed to transform boards of education into paperless governing entities.

The program will explore innovative uses of the internet to deliver information, training, and administrative procedures to district leaders and stakeholders, including community members, students, teachers, and parents.

According to the association, board members in the state see this new “online school board” program as a way to capitalize on the internet to improve decision-making, while simultaneously setting a leadership example for students, faculty, and the community at large.

“If we don’t use [the internet], how do we expect teachers to embrace it?” DeKalb County School Board Chairman Brad Bryant told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “This is an excellent opportunity for us to become better board members.”

Right now school board processes in DeKalb County are heavily paper-dependent, according to Dr. Edward Bouie, executive director of DeKalb’s management information systems.

At each month’s board meetings, all seven board members and the superintendent are handed packets containing the financial report for the month, the human resources report, the student discipline report, and the minutes from the previous month’s board meetings.

“The packet is without a doubt 200 to 300 pieces of paper,” Bouie said.

Ultimately, board members will be using the Apple platform’s “eAgenda” web tool to read reports and recommendations, correspond with each other, check policies, consult the association’s school law guide, and get their entire board meeting packets online. But Bouie says it will be this fall before they become proficient enough with the system to do away with paper entirely.

The eAgenda tool will give school board members a specially designed web site containing all the information they need to make informed decisions and disseminate information to stakeholders.

Having computers equipped with the eAgenda program present at school board meetings will give board members the ability to call up the information they need instantaneously.

All district and state rules and regulations will be maintained on the system and easily can be accessed without having the secretary go out and find a copy. And if a board member is not present at the meeting, he or she can be reached via the internet.

Phase I of the New Millennium Leadership Project will provide a turnkey solution emphasizing the board’s use of eMail and the internet through a series of customized training classes held over several months. During these classes, board members will learn how to access information quickly.

Phase II of the project will integrate the board’s understanding of technology with web-based tools offered by the Georgia School Boards Association and others to enhance the efficiency of the board’s operations. Examples of such tools include online policy manuals, electronic board meeting agendas, and online reference manuals such as the association’s “A Guide to School Law in Georgia.”

“eAgenda will take all of that information, put it in an electronic format, and post it on a web site so [it] will be accessible on the web,” said Bouie. “The other aspect is that eAgenda will have a database of archives, so board members can go back and pull up old information.”

The ability to compare old and new information should improve data-driven decision making by board members, Bouie said. He added that the searchable archives will be available to parents and community members as well.

“There will be a link [to eAgenda] from the board section of the web site,” he said. “This also satisfies the law that says an agenda must be posted 24 hours before a board meeting.”

DeKalb County school board members are now undergoing in-depth training on the operation of their new laptops, basic web skills, and the eAgenda software. Most of the training is being conducted by representatives from Apple Computer.

“We have also issued our school board members [personal digital assistants], and I’ve done the Palm training,” Bouie added.

The board approved $45,000 for the purchase of the iBooks and the training, but this does not include the cost of developing the web site itself.

That will cost in the neighborhood of $80,000, said Bouie, and funds have not yet been appropriated. Where that money will come from will be determined after the training concludes in February.

Bouie said the software should feature an online archive for board member and stakeholder access as early as this spring, but the first paper-free board meeting is not scheduled to take place until September.

Links:

DeKalb County School Board
http://www.dekalb.k12.ga.us/board

New Millennium Leadership Program
http://www.gsba.com/millennium

Apple Computer Inc.
http://www.apple.com

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Computer program lets kids learn while their parents shop

In an effort to extend learning beyond the traditional school day, some elementary schools now provide access to educational software at local grocery stores so students can learn while their parents shop.

The project—called CyberLane—is a partnership between elementary schools, Publix Groceries, and software maker NCS Learn. So far, a handful of schools in Florida, North Carolina, and Georgia offer grocery-store access to educational software so students can hone their reading and math skills.

“With the focus on student achievement in Georgia, as in other states, it’s important to take learning outside of the school,” said Stephen Dolinger, superintendent of Georgia’s Fulton County Schools. “And we will take advantage of any opportunity to make it fun.”

Once students register to participate in the CyberLane program, they receive a CyberLane card that enables them to use computers set up at local Publix Groceries stores to complete homework assignments and access the school’s NCS Learn SuccessMaker software.

“It’s a good product, and it’s one that’s in our schools,” Dolinger said. The software offers individualized instruction, so once students log on they can work through the program at their own pace, he said.

When students come to the grocery store with their parents, they sign in to use computers at the store’s customer service desk. Parents must leave their driver’s license and car keys. Then, the child and parents are issued walkie-talkies so they can communicate with each other.

The educational software is only available to students after school hours. During the school day, Publix Groceries allows its employees to use the computer equipment to learn English as a second language.

In Fulton County, Spalding Drive Elementary and Woodland Charter Elementary are the main schools involved in the CyberLane program, Dolinger said, but children from other schools also are invited to register and participate.

NCS Learn donated the software and training, and Publix donated the space in the grocery store. The PTA at Spalding Drive Elementary raised money to provide four computers at its local Publix, whereas Woodland used a charter school grant to buy three computers for its neighborhood store.

“Space is an issue for a supermarket, but [company executives] saw this as a way to reach out to the community. It would also benefit their employees,” said Noris Price, principal of Woodland Charter Elementary School, who worked with Publix for a year before the project was approved.

“We use the software during the school day, so this was just a natural way of extending learning,” Price said. “It shows students that learning doesn’t just happen in a school house during the school day.”

Price said her school has used NCS Learn software for three years and has found that the programs make a positive difference. “We have seen—and we have data that show—students who have used it for a year or more do show academic improvement,” Price said.

Since the CyberLane program was set up in November, Price said, approximately five to 10 students use the software for 30 minutes each evening. The school’s technology specialist checks on the computers at the grocery stores once a week.

Taking learning into the grocery store also provides parents—especially those with limited English skills—with the opportunity to see their children do school work.

“An unseen benefit is that the parents can actually be there to watch their child learn,” said Steve Gardner, vice president of marketing and business development for NCS Learn. “Most of these parents work during the day and don’t have the opportunity to come into the class and observe what their kids work on. Here, they can.”

Schools interested in starting the CyberLane project in their neighborhood can contact NCS Learn. “Because the profiles and needs of each district are different, we packaged the model and made it available to all of our sales reps. If it fits the needs of their customers, they then work with them to set it up at the local level,” Gardner said.

Links:

Fulton County Schools
http://www.fulton.k12.ga.us

NCS Learn
http://www.ncslearn.com

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Web site lets Kentucky parents check teachers’ credentials

Kentucky parents and citizens now can search a single web site to find out the credentials of every public school teacher in the state, thanks to a project that one expert called “the next logical step” in using the internet to hold schools accountable to stakeholders.

The Kentucky Educational Professional Standards Board (EPSB) developed the Teacher Certification Inquiry web site to let everyone know what certificates and diplomas each teacher has, as well as the subjects and grade levels they are authorized to teach.

“All of the information on the web site was previously available by either a phone call or written letter. This just makes it available 24-7,” said Mary Ellen Wiederwohl, a spokeswoman for the EPSB, which oversees the state’s certification of teachers.

The site, which was launched last week, also assists local school districts in assigning personnel correctly, because interpreting the various certificates and diplomas can be tricky.

“What is on the face of a teacher’s certificate doesn’t always tell the whole story,” Wiederwohl said. For example, a high school English teacher can also teach humanities, but his certificate might only say English.

Placing teachers according to their qualifications is especially important, because Kentucky law forbids schools from allowing teachers to teach outside of their field or grade level.

Schools caught violating this law lose state funding for that position. In the last three or four years, EPSB has conducted audits to make sure that every teacher is assigned according to his or her certification level, Wiederwohl said.

Last year, only 18 people were found to be teaching outside of their qualifications. “In previous years it was over 100, and last year it was over 50,” she said.

The technology behind the database is a monumental feat, Wiederwohl said. The web site pulls information together from four state databases: teacher certification, financial reporting, student course scheduling, and the master database of job positions.

“This is the first component of a rather large data re-engineering project we are undertaking in Kentucky,” Wiederwohl said. “We are aligning all databases so they can essentially talk to each other and share data.”

Being able to access all of these data will help school administrators at all levels make good policy decisions, Wiederwohl said.

“The more imperical data we have about teaching and what’s going on in schools, the more we can make better policy decisions both in our offices and in the general assembly legislature,” she said.

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) supports the idea of making teachers’ credentials available on the web.

“It would be very helpful for parents to know what the certification standards are for their children’s teachers and to see if they are under emergency credentials or teaching out of field,” AFT President Sandra Feldman said.

Kentucky’s Teacher Certification Inquiry project might be the first of its kind in the country.

“I don’t know of any other states that are doing this,” said Tom Dawson, a fellow in education affairs at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that focuses on school choice initiatives. Last year, Dawson’s organization created a clearinghouse of web-based school report cards from around the country, called “The Report Card Report: America’s Best Web Sites for School Profiles.”

“I think it’s a great idea, and it’s the type of thing that parents would be interested in, just like the school report cards. It’s the next logical step,” Dawson said.

If a parent checks information on the web site and finds a discrepancy, he or she can notify EPSB anonymously. Then, EPBS would begin an investigation to determine if the school district had falsified information, Wiederwohl said.

Even without the web site, parents have made claims to the organization.

“Every year we have gotten reports from parents. Most are anonymous and difficult to investigate,” Wiederwohl said. “Now that this information is sitting on the web as to what everyone is legally able to do, we might get more reports of falsification where we can investigate and take legal action.”

She added, “It’s always better to conduct your business in daylight. We don’t have anything to hide here, and we pride ourselves on having filled our public school positions with qualified individuals.”

Some of the state’s teachers were wary of the project because they thought it would divulge personal information, Wiederwohl said, but “there is no private information on [the web site] like addresses and phone numbers. What was private before is still private.”

Links:

Kentucky Department of Education’s Education Professional Standards Board
http://www.kyepsb.net

American Federation of Teachers
http://www.aft.org

Heritage Foundation’s Report Card Report
http://www.heritage.org/reportcards

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Online registration takes guesswork out of class scheduling

A high school in Eagan, Minn., is about to become one of the first public secondary schools in the United States to require its students to register for classes online, a practice that has seen widespread acceptance on college campuses in recent years. School officials say transferring the process to the internet will save money and enable them to compare different scenarios quickly and easily.

Eagan High School, located near Minneapolis, started planning for web-based registration about a year ago. The school’s first online registration will take place from January 28 to February 12 for students in grades eight to 11.

Each grade level has a designated day and time slot for registration, and parents and their children will work with teachers, counselors, and administrators on these dates to create customized 2002-03 school year schedules for each student.

Registration will take place in the school’s library and computer labs for now, but students eventually will be able to register for their classes from home.

“For school year 2002-2003, 100 percent of our students will register online,” said assistant principal David Lange.

Bringing parents, students, teachers, counselors, and principals together at the school “will make for more appropriate and accurate registrations” in this first year of implementation, Lange said.

Students and their parents can log onto the school’s web site to view a complete list of required and elective courses, with links to online course descriptions. Teachers can also view their class schedules by clicking on a button on the web site.

All courses offered at Eagan High School for the 2002-03 school year are listed alphabetically on the school’s site. Users simply click on the desired letters in the left-hand column.

The online course registration system was created by local software company Infinite Campus. The company’s software is marketed by another company called SchoolExtra, under the name SchoolExtra Campus.

According to Karl Beach, operations director for Infinite Campus, the software is a fully integrated student information system, which includes a comprehensive, object-oriented database.

“What that means is that rather than being focused on a specific set of fields, our system has ‘objects’ that allow us to model the way the real world works,” he said. “You can have multiple dwellings associated with a family, for instance. It allows for far more deep and rich information.”

The SchoolExtra Campus software also gives Eagan High School students and parents a powerful scheduling engine. The online registration module will feed into the scheduler.

“The benefit of the online registration screen—since it is web-based—is that it can be configured to meet the user’s needs,” said Beach. “For example, we have a configurable online registration screen.”

Beach compares the software’s interface to that of an eCommerce web site, given its customer-centered focus. When students go online to register for classes, they first enter a scheduling request. The registration tool then takes this request, stores it in a secure manner in a database, and makes the data available to the scheduling engine. The request is then factored against the school’s master schedule.

Finally, the scheduling engine takes the request and produces a finished student schedule. And it does all of this amazingly fast, according to Beach—a benefit to both school users and families.

“For the first time, schedulers can do ‘what if’ scenarios,” he said. “They can schedule for both a six-period day and a seven-period day, and see which works better. They can use that information to really make data-driven decisions.”

Eagan no longer publishes a print version of its “Student Registration Guide,” which lists all the courses available to students. That’s a big money-saver, said Lange.

“Other registration-related materials, data processing costs, and clerical ‘days’ of labor saved will help us save over $7,000 this year in hard cash,” Lange said.

What makes Eagan High School unique is how far school officials have gone in embellishing the registration web site, said Beach.

“They have links to other web sites and interesting descriptions of courses,” he said. “Some classes have hyperlinks that lead to the department’s web site, so kids can see what goes on in class, hear audio files, and view digital video snippets. It’s almost entertaining.”

Students eventually will be able to register for classes from home, and company and school officials say the advantages of online scheduling and registration are compelling.

“We want education to be individualized and customer-focused. This gives you an eCommerce feel,” said Beach. “Why would you want to fill out bubble sheets that have to be corrected, run through a scanner, and then have some poor secretary go and reconcile the forms?”

There is a standard licensing fee for the SchoolExtra Campus software of $5 per student, per year. There are also a variety of support packages that can be negotiated separately.

Other costs include that of the clerical time that is usually spent in the registration process. “However, the clerical time involved has been substantially less than traditional means of registration,” Lange said.

Approximately 25 school districts currently use the Infinite Campus product, Beach said.

Links:

Eagan High School
http://www.eagan.k12.mn.us

SchoolExtra Campus, by Infinite Campus
http://www.schoolextra.com

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Probation officers use software to protect kids from sex offenders

Don Spurlin was listening to a seminar on computer software designed to protect children from sexual predators. He wondered, why not use it to protect predators from their own impulses?

The software could be added to the computers of sex offenders who are on probation, he thought, and used to alert authorities to illicit activities.

Spurlin, a Sangamon County, Ill., probation officer with a caseload full of sex offenders, got on the phone to the maker of Cyber Sentinel, an internet filtering and monitoring program. Security Software Systems had never considered using the software for law enforcement, but it welcomed the idea.

Soon the software was being tested, and it has worked so well the county plans to require the software for offenders in the future.

“We’re protecting children by preventing the offenders that we know about from being able to do the things they’d like to do,” Spurlin said.

Four Sangamon County sex offenders have Cyber Sentinel on their computers. If they go to a prohibited web site, use sexually explicit language, or even use phrases common to online predators, Spurlin gets an eMail message letting him know that probation conditions may have been violated.

Even the probationers don’t seem to mind.

“At first, I thought that this is taking everything away from my privacy,” said Jim McIntire, 33, of Springfield, who’s been on probation for six years for criminal sexual abuse.

“The more I thought about it, the more I realized they’ve got a tight rein on me. With this, at least they know I’m on the computer and I’m not out doing something different.”

Cyber Sentinel was developed to record chat room conversations, instant messages, eMail, and images that are sexually explicit, so that parents can see what their children are doing online, said Dan Jude, president of Security Software Systems, based in Sugar Grove, Ill.

To alert parents to predators who might be contacting their children online, Jude said, Cyber Sentinel relies on a library of offensive and explicit words developed with law enforcement agencies.

It even includes phrases commonly used by offenders, such as “Do your parents use this computer?” or “Do you like older men?” and can be customized with personal information such as the child’s school name, phone number, and address.

Some probation offices across the country are using similar programs, said Carl Wicklund, executive director of the American Parole and Probation Association. They have obvious benefits but must not replace human contact, he said.

“If you’re too reliant on any technology, the facts may hide the truth,” Wicklund said.

Authorities can decide which words or phrases generate an eMail alert. “If it’s just the ‘F’ word, the probation officer can decide whether to disable a word out of the library,” Jude said.

That’s what happened with McIntire, who is in counseling and wants to see the software used widely to stop others from sexual crimes.

His computer activity produced nearly 100 eMail messages to his probation officer in just one week. It turned out the offensive language was used in a chat room McIntire was visiting when he played online card games. Spurlin removed some of the words from McIntire’s Sentinel library.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which recognizes that people on probation have fewer rights than other citizens, nonetheless wants to make sure authorities don’t go overboard with the software.

“It’s reasonable for people to want to read articles and even look at pictures that have references to sexuality that don’t raise concerns about future sex offenses,” ACLU attorney Benjamin Wolf said.

Security Software gave Sangamon County 100 copies of the $35 product. Officials had to get permission to install the software on the machines of the four using it.

Of the county’s 70 or so sex offenders on probation, only about a dozen have computers. Adult Probation Director Michael Torchia said others are being asked if they’ll also accept Cyber Sentinel.

Future sex offenders on probation who have computers will have no choice. Torchia has gotten judicial approval to change the probation code to require the software.

Links:

Security Software Systems
http://www.securitysoft.com

American Parole and Probation Association
http://www.appa-net.org

American Civil Liberties Union
http://www.aclu.org

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Virginia district recalls 11,000 student laptops

School officials in Henrico County, Va., are recalling all 11,800 laptop computers given to the district’s high school students in order to install upgrades and security devices aimed at curbing student abuses.

The measure comes after a few highly publicized incidents of abuse have tarnished what officials last year hailed as a groundbreaking program to provide Apple iBooks to all 23,000 middle and high school students in the district.

Since the laptops were handed out to Henrico County high school students last fall, some 50 to 60 students have been disciplined for downloading pornography, officials say. Also, police are investigating whether two students used the computers to hack into the computers of teachers and fellow classmates to alter grades.

The computers will be collected from the suburban county’s seven high schools beginning Feb. 1. It will take up to two weeks to install the upgrades, officials say.

“It’s going to create a more structured system for school use,” said Superintendent Mark Edwards of the recall.

During the servicing, such widely abused functions as games and music downloads will be eliminated or heavily restricted, said Charles Stallard, director of technology for the district.

“Basically we’re creating three separate environments: home, school, and testing,” Stallard, who has overseen much of the laptop initiative, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Students will be required to log on to one of the three environments each time they turn on the computer, and failure to select the correct environment will lock them out of certain functions, Stallard said.

Students also won’t be able to use the computers’ file-sharing function, except to turn in assignments to teachers’ machines. Instant messaging will be limited to home use.

In addition, loading any new games or software will be impossible without having the additions made by county technology personnel.

When the $18.5 million, four-year deal to lease the computers was announced last spring, it was believed to be the largest such program of its kind. But a $37 million deal between Apple and Maine state officials, announced earlier this month, aims to provide laptops to that state’s 33,000 seventh and eighth graders within the next two years.

Edwards emphasized that an overwhelming majority of the district’s students have used the laptops responsibly.

“We knew there would be challenges, but we still see the benefits every day for children throughout the community,” he told the Times-Dispatch in December. “Obviously, we’re paying very careful attention” to the abuses.

Links:

Henrico County Public Schools
http://www.co.henrico.va.us/schools

Apple for Education
http://www.apple.com/education

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