The past year began with a significant change in political leadership and ended with a profound change in national perspective, as the tragic events of Sept. 11 fundamentally altered the American consciousness. From a school technology standpoint, 2001 saw the implementation of a controversial filtering law, the resurgence of Apple in education, and the debate over cyber education in Pennsylvania. In this special retrospective, the editors of eSchool News reveal their choices for the 10 most important school technology stories of 2001.
10. Arizona puts ASPs on the map
The application service provider (ASP) modelin which customers lease software applications that are delivered over the internethas been slow to catch on in schools so far, despite the promise of easier management and the ability to always have access to the latest versions of software. But that could change if a revolutionary program launched last fall by Arizona state officials proves successful.
Beginning in September, all Arizona public schools were given free access to more than 250 software titles over the internet, the result of a $28 million deal with more than 60 companies. If the dealbelieved to be the largest single deployment yet of the ASP model in educationworks out, it could open the door for further acceptance of this method of software deployment among schools nationwide.
“All Arizona schools get ASP software” (Sept. 2001)
9. More schools outsource their IT functions
In August 2000, the Detroit Public Schools made headlines when officials announced a $90 million, 5-year contract with local computer firm Compuware Inc. to manage the district’s entire information technology (IT) department. The Detroit deal was the most high-profile example of a trend that continued to develop in 2001, as major computer manufacturers such as Compaq and Gateway began marketing end-to-end solutions for schools that encompass service, support, planning, and even network installation and management.
Outsourcing their technology needs to a single vendor frees cash-strapped school districts from having to hire a technical support staff to keep computers and networks running smoothly. It also enables district personnel to focus on their core functions of teaching and learning. Supporters of this type of arrangement say it’s a natural extension of a practice that already exists in school districts, many of which turn over their food service and transportation chores to outside contractors. But critics say they are wary of giving control over mission-critical computer systems to an outside service provider whose core competency isn’t education. (For an in-depth report on this growing trend, see our February 2002 issue.)
“Detroit schools tap private firm to run their IT division” (Oct. 2000)
“Technology becomes a ‘utility’ as schools try hands-off approach” (Aug. 2001)
8. HP-Compaq merger clouds school purchase plans
In the wake of the Sept. 3 announcement that high-tech giant Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) would acquire Compaq Computer Corp.one of the top three computer makers in the school fielda Compaq official assured eSchool News that the company’s existing school customers had nothing to fear from the merger. But most school technology directors who spoke with eSchool News said they intended to take a wait-and-see approach before purchasing any additional Compaq products.
The matter was further clouded in the weeks following the announcement, as both the Hewlett and Packard families said they would vote against the deal. The families’ opposition threw the merger in doubt, because together family members and their foundations control about 15 percent of HP’s stock. (The deal is subject to the approval of shareholders; the date for a shareholder vote has not been set.)
“Schools mull HP-Compaq deal” (Oct. 2001)
“Pending HP-Compaq deal draws family fire” (Jan. 2002)
7. Cyber education tests Pennsylvania districts
The concept of cyber education received a big test in Pennsylvania last year, as several school districts in the Keystone State refused to pay the bills for students from their jurisdictions who enrolled in online classes at any of the state’s seven cyber charter schools. The Pennsylvania School Boards Association filed a lawsuit in April claiming the schools were illegal, and in October the group released a highly critical report claiming the cyber charter schools had siphoned some $18 million in unbudgeted expenses from the state’s public education system.
Other states with virtual schools have managed to avoid these kinds of conflicts because they created their virtual schools as state-funded initiatives, rather than pitting districts against the cyber schools for funding, observers say. The issue has yet to be resolved in Pennsylvania, but state lawmakers have introduced legislation that would require the state to fund the cyber schools and the cyber schools to sign agreements with districts before enrolling their students.
“Judge: Districts must pay for cyber education” (July 2001)
“Legal fur flies over Pennsylvania cyber schools” (Oct. 2001)
“Report: Cyber schools are costing Pennsylvania districts big bucks” (Oct. 2001)
6. Apple polishes its education status
Hoping to revive slumping sales to the education markettraditionally a cornerstone of the company’s businessApple Computer Inc. announced a new leadership position dedicated solely to education when it appointed Cheryl Vedoe as vice president of education marketing and solutions in November 2000. Apple had lost its position as the longtime leader in education sales to rival Dell Computer Corp. the year before, but “the education market is a top priority for Apple, and we intend to regain market share beginning in 2001,” said Apple CEO Steve Jobs in announcing Vedoe’s appointment.
The company did just that, starting with a landmark acquisition in March of PowerSchool Inc., a leading provider of web-based student information systems for the K-12 market. “Apple has a legacy of helping teachers teach and students learn,” Jobs said of the deal. “We are now expanding that mission to include helping schools run more effectively.”
In addition, in what might be the largest single deployment to date of laptop computers in education, the company in May announced a four-year, $18.5 million program to lease 23,000 iBooks to schools in Henrico County, Va. The Henrico County program and other such successes had Apple poised to regain the top spot in education sales, according to a survey of schools’ purchasing plans last spring by market research firm Quality Education Data.
“Apple hopes to regain shine with new education post” (Jan. 2001)
“Apple acquires SIS firm PowerSchool in $62 million deal” (May 2001)
“Laptops to transform learning for 23,000 Virginia students” (June 2001)
“Survey: Apple likely to regain top spot in education sales” (August 2001)
5. Open-source movement challenges Microsoft monopoly
In his keynote address at the LinuxWorld conference in San Francisco in August, Red Hat President and CEO Matthew Szulik issued a challenge that reverberated throughout the open-source software community: Work with educators to free schools from dependence on more costly proprietary software programs. Szulik’s challenge formed the basis for his company’s Open Source Now campaign, which aims to spread the use of open-source software programssuch as the Linux operating systemamong schools.
Earlier in the year, software giant Microsoft Corp.the biggest beneficiary of proprietary softwaremade headlines by going after the Philadelphia school system for software piracy. The Philadelphia schools were forced to audit each of their computers because Microsoft received an anonymous tip that a teacher had illegally copied a Microsoft program onto a school computer. “Had they chosen open-source software, my company and others would have encouraged them to make as many free copies as they needed, saving millions of dollars and hundreds of hours of inventory work,” Szulik said in his speech.
In a Nov. 20 proposal to settle more than 100 class-action antitrust suits against it, Microsoft offered to give more than $1 billion worth of cash, software, training, and refurbished computers to 16,000 of the nation’s poorest schools. But critics of Microsoft’s offerincluding Szulik and Apple Computer CEO Steve Jobsargued the proposal would only further extend the company’s monopoly into schools.
“Microsoft aims to sink school software pirates” (Aug. 2001)
“Schools are latest battleground in open-source campaign” (Nov. 2001)
“Why schools need open-source software” (Nov. 2001)
“Microsoft’s $1 billion class-action settlement to benefit schools” (Nov. 2001)
“Red Hat challenges Microsoft on settlement offer” (Nov. 2001)
“Apple fights Microsoft’s $1 billion ‘gift’ to schools” (Dec. 2001)
4. Schools forced to filter web access
The controversial Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) took effect this past year, despite opposition from school and library groups. The law requires schools receiving federal funding for technologyincluding eRate discounts on their internet access or internal connectionsto take certain steps to block students’ access to inappropriate materials online, including the use of web site monitoring or filtering technology.
Schools receiving Year Four eRate discounts were required to certify by Oct. 27 that they comply with the law or are in the process of complying; an exception was made for schools receiving late notification of their Year Four funding. But many school and library leaders objected to CIPA for a variety of reasons: the law creates an unfunded mandate, filtering technology isn’t reliable, local decision makers know best how to protect their students, and so on. The city of San Francisco even chose to forgo millions of dollars in eRate support for its public libraries so it wouldn’t have to comply.
The American Library Association and the American Civil Liberties Union sued to block CIPA and their lawsuit is still pending, though it doesn’t have any bearing on whether schools would have to comply. One beneficiary of the law: companies that make filtering software. eSchool News reported last October that some two dozen companies now offer filtering solutions.
“School filtering law draws deeply divided responses” (Feb. 2001)
“Free-speech groups sue to block filtering law” (March 2001)
“What’s wrong with CIPA” (March 2001)
“eSN Exclusive: Filtering and the eRate: What you need to know right now” (July 2001)
“Schools navigate the CIPA-compliance maze” (Oct. 2001)
“Report calls filters ‘hopelessly flawed'” (Nov. 2001)
3. Dot-com failures leave many schools in the lurch
The shakeup of the internet industry took its toll on several education startups last year, including Minneapolis-based wwwrrr Inc., which developed and sold online learning programs and hosted school web sites; California-based iMind Education Systems, which touted a web-based curriculum management and assessment tool; and Phoenix-based Dotsafe Inc., which offered free filtering to schools. School customers who relied on their services were left scrambling to find alternatives when these companies went belly-up, often with little or no warning.
With the stumbling of the internet economy also came the demise of the ad-sponsored business model, and companies such as N2H2 and ZapMe! found they had to start charging customers for services and equipment they used to provide at no cost, as long as schools were willing to put up with banner advertising in the margins of their web browsers. Though the demise of this business model satisfied critics of advertising in schools, it took away a technology funding option that was attractive to many cash-strapped districts.
Another loser in the dot-com shakeup was the highly-touted online school procurement business. Many startups in this field failed before they even got going, while the survivorseschoolmall.com, Epylon, and Simplexisdiscovered they couldn’t make any money through transaction fees alone, and they began charging schools for their services. Then in November, Simplexis announced its assets were being acquired by PublicBuy.net, an eProcurement company with no prior experience in the school field, creating further doubts as to the viability of the online school procurement market.
What’s more, a recent report from the Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA) predicts the trend will continue into this year. Schools are likely to have even fewer products to choose from as the sagging economy continues to thin the ranks of technology companies, the report said. On the bright side, the companies that do survive will be tougher, more stable, and less likely to leave educators in the lurch, SIIA said.
“Wwwrrr’s online learning business folds” (Feb. 2001)
“iMind shuts its doors” (April 2001)
“Filtering company Dotsafe becomes another dot-bomb” (June 2001)
“N2H2 to end its free internet filtering service” (Jan. 2001)
“Schools zapped by ZapMe! mull legal recourse” (Jan. 2001)
“eSN Special Feature: Schools see mixed results so far from eProcurement” (June 2001)
“SIIA: Fewer tech companies will serve schools’ needs” (Nov. 2001)
“eSN Exclusive: Online procurement company Simplexis to be acquired” (Dec. 2001)
2. Bush blueprint consolidates school tech funding
The first few months of the Bush administration didn’t bode well for ed-tech advocates, as the president recommended a $55 million reduction in school technology spending in his first budget to Congressand there was talk of changing or eliminating the eRate altogether. But in the end, Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” plan consolidated school technology funding into a single $1 billion block-grant program, half of which will be distributed to school districts by formula and half competitively. The $1 billion figure represents a 16-percent increase over 2001 spendingand, oh yes, the eRate will survive, at least for the short term.
“Bush plan to overhaul eRate divides educators” (March 2001)
“Tech funding, accountability key in ESEA renewal” (March 2001)
“Bush administration backs away from plan to overhaul eRate” (April 2001)
“Bush budget would cut school technology funding” (May 2001)
“Legislators approve technology block grant” (Nov. 2001)
1. Aftershocks from 9-11 affect school communities
The terrible events of Sept. 11 seemed to affect every aspect of our lives, and education was no exception. In the wake of the terrorist attacks, many school leaders reexamined their policies banning cell phones, because these were used by students and staff members alike to reconnect with family members. Some school communities debated whether it was appropriate to show live television news coverage in the classroom, given the graphic nature of the Sept. 11 footage. And anthrax scares prompted colleges to seek online applications from students who were applying for early-decision admissions.
The events had other, subtler effects on school technology programs as well. Their impact on many states’ economiessuch as Florida, where tourism plummeted immediately following the Sept. 11 attackshas forced state officials to trim education programs, including technology, from their budgets. On a national level, the focus on domestic security has come at the expense of other legislative matters, including a bill to bring copyright law into the digital age.
“Deficits curb states’ ed-tech plans” (Jan. 2002)
“Digital copyright bill could be 9-11 casualty” (Jan. 2002)
“Some schools revisit cell phone bans after 9-11” (Jan. 2002)
“Anthrax scares prompt colleges to seek online applications” (Jan. 2002)
“Parents want gag on TV news in classroom after 9-11” (Jan. 2002)
“Terror tests schools’ communication efforts” (Dec. 2001)