Filtering company squares off with Triangle Boy for internet control

Like spectators at a fast-paced tennis match, savvy systems administrators could almost feel their heads spin with the rapid back-and-forth between publishers of a peer-to-peer application that allows computer users to foil internet content filters and the technicians determined to keep the blocked sites blocked.

In June, SafeWeb, a San Francisco-area internet security firm that advocates unfettered browsing of the internet, introduced an application called Triangle Boy. Advantage: uncensored browsers. But this month, an Orange, Calif., content management company announced its filtering solution is able to defeat Triangle Boy. Advantage: content managers.

SafeWeb said Triangle Boy is intended to give citizens of authoritarian countries free access to the information on the internet. Others worry it gives minors access to pornography. To appreciate the technological to-and-fro, you need to understand Triangle Boy. Based on explanations presented by SafeWeb, here’s basically how it works:

A student or other end-user downloads the 1 MB Triangle Boy application and installs it on his or her machine. Thus equipped, the user’s machine sends out requests for connections to a forbidden site. These data requests (or packets), when blocked by a firewall, seek out another machine on the internet also equipped with Triangle Boy.

Retaining IP (internet protocol) address information sufficient to identify the student’s machine, the intermediary computer running Triangle Boy forwards the student’s connection requests to a SafeWeb server. That server, in turn, sends the connection requests to the user’s intended destination. The server at the intended destination now responds to the initial content request but replies to the SafeWeb server. The requested content is encrypted by the SafeWeb server, which then “spoofs,” or mimics, the intermediary machine’s IP address and passes the content back the student’s machine. There, the content is decoded and served up on the student’s computer screen.

The content originates on a forbidden site, but the internet filtering system is tricked into seeing the incoming data packets as originating from the innocuous intermediary machine, which the filtering application has not been programmed to block.

8e6 Technologies Inc. claims its R200 Internet Filtering Server blocks access to the TriangleBoy network.

“We have found that Triangle Boy is a big concern for many of our clients, as it effectively gets around many of our competitor’s filtering products,” said 8e6’s Chief Technology Officer Dave Salch in a statement.

According to the company, R2000’s unique ability to detect use of the TriangleBoy product was made clear during a test of several different internet filtering tools at the Crowley Independent School District in Texas.

In Crowley, the district’s technology team ran demonstrations on a number of web filtering tools before concluding the R2000 was the only filter tested that was able to identify when users sought access to the TriangleBoy network.

“It was the only one we tested that could do it,” said Steve Stricklin, Crowley’s technology director. “But there may be other filters out there.”

According to Eric Lundbohm, director of marketing for 8e6, what impressed educators most wasn’t the ability of the R2000 product to monitor internet access, but rather the sheer number of people who had attempted to use TriangleBoy as a means of passing under the filter’s protection.

“I think it really surprised them when they saw how many people were going through the site,” Lundbohm said. “On the first day they implemented the filter, they already had people trying to get around it.”

The research revealed users had attempted to gain access to SafeWeb’s content more than 30 times in one 48-hour period. But, Stricklin admitted, there is no telling for sure if each user visited solely for access to Triangle Boy.

“All I can tell you is that they were there,” Stricklin said. “What they were doing there, I don’t know.”

N2H2, a company that provides web filters to 25,000 schools nationwide admits its services are not configured to detect use of Triangle Boy. But that’s because the service is not considered a bona fide threat in the school field, the company said.

“So far, we haven’t heard of Triangle Boy being a problem in our school districts. There are a number of reasons for this,” said David Burt, a spokesman for N2H2.

N2H2 said it was not worried about the use of TriangleBoy in schools, because SafeWeb has discontinued its efforts to push the product in the States, citing an inability to make a profit off the peer-to-peer service model.

Secondly, Burt said many schools already have solutions in place to prevent people from downloading or installing new applications onto school computers. In fact, companies such as Fortres Grand Inc. provide a number of tools to prohibit unauthorized users from installing or downloading client programs to school computers, he said.

“Frankly,” said Burt. “I don’t see much future in ‘peer-to-peer filter-defeating devices’ because unlike file-sharing devices, there is no potential money to be made here. That is also apparently what SafeWeb concluded.

“Were TriangleBoy ever to become a serious problem, we would take steps to stop it.” At 8e6, Lundbohm agreed the potential for unauthorized internet access in schools by way of Triangle Boy has decreased since SafeWeb changed its marketing focus.

“This is not a problem that is overtaking the world,” he said. But the development is significant because it marks just one of many new wrinkles school IT directors are sure to face as controversial products continue to burn quiet paths around advanced web-filtering tools.

“It’s like the virus business,” said Lundbohm. “You go to bed thinking you have found a way to stop all the viruses, then you wake and find there are still more problems to deal with. It’s a cat-and-mouse game.”

Links:

8e6 Technologies Inc.
http://www.xstop.com/

Crowley Independent School District
http://www.crowley.k12.tx.us/

Fortres Grand Inc.
http://www.fortres.com/

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

SafeWeb
http://www.safeweb.com/tboy_whitepaper.html

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Battle begins over federal ed-tech funding

Education leaders and members of Congress are bracing for another lengthy fight over key ed-tech programs in the 2003 federal budget.

The first round began July 16, when the Senate subcommittee that oversees education spending voted to fund several programs the Bush administration wants to eliminate—including Preparing Tomorrow’s Teachers to Use Technology (PT3), Community Technology Centers (CTC), and Star Schools. The House has not yet addressed its version of the education budget bill but is expected to cut these programs according to the president’s budget request.

A similar fight occurred last year, when the Bush administration and members of the House favored a strictly block-grant approach to school technology funding, while the Senate opted to keep some specific programs. These programs ultimately were preserved but with reduced funding.

Budget battle

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education on July 16 approved $67.5 million for PT3, an increase of $5 million over last year’s funding. PT3 funds partnerships between K-12 school districts and colleges of education to train pre-service teachers how to integrate technology into their instruction.

Advocates say it’s the only federal program that specifically addresses pre-service teacher training, an important topic as schools of education reform their pedagogies to address 21st-century classroom challenges.

The subcommittee also approved $32.5 million for CTC and $27.5 million for Star Schools, the same levels as last year’s funding. CTC funds the creation of community-based technology centers for adults and children to use if they don’t have access to computers or the internet at home. The Star Schools program funds innovative distance-education networks and other examples of advanced telecommunications projects that link students with educational resources.

Tony Wilhelm, vice president of programs at the Benton Foundation, said his organization has been working to promote the importance of PT3, CTC, and a third federal program targeted for the budget ax—the Commerce Department’s Technology Opportunities Program (TOP)—since President Bush released his 2003 budget proposal in February.

“We see [the Senate subcommittee’s actions] as the fruits of those efforts,” Wilhelm said.

The Benton Foundation has released two studies this month showing that a substantial gap still exists in home internet access for poor and minority children when compared with white or more affluent children. Although Commerce Department figures indicate this gap is closing more rapidly than ever before, Wilhelm’s organization is using these figures to argue for the continued investment in programs such as CTC and TOP that are proving to be effective.

Clyde Ensslin, director of communications for the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which oversees TOP, said the Bush administration agrees the federal government “has an important role to play in fostering the use of advanced telecommunication technologies to provide important social benefits.”

But Ensslin said programs such as TOP and CTC are expendable because there are other monies in the president’s budget that already address these priorities, such as ed-tech block grants.

‘Woefully inadequate’ science funding

The Senate subcommittee’s July 16 actions might have pleased Wilhelm and other advocates of educational technology, but they disappointed math and science education groups.

The subcommittee approved only $25 million for the Math and Science Education Partnerships program, a Title II initiative that encourages partnerships between K-12 districts and universities to improve the quality of math and science education. The program is authorized at $450 million in the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), which also requires annual mathematics testing of students in grades three to eight.

The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) called the $25 million figure “woefully inadequate.”

“This is a definite setback for science and math education,” said Gerald Wheeler, the group’s executive director, in a statement. “If we want to see the science and math education reforms so clearly outlined in [NCLB] actually accomplished, the federal government must step up and help lead the effort to improve K-12 mathematics and science education. The [Senate’s proposed] 2003 funding level is unacceptable.”

Members of the Senate appropriations subcommittee could not be reached for comment before press time.

In other action, the subcommittee approved $700.5 million for Enhancing Education through Technology, the ed-tech block-grant program that gives states money to distribute locally—half by formula and half on a competitive basis. The $700.5 million figure is the same as last year’s funding.

Title I received $11.85 billion—an increase of $1.5 billion—from committee members, while Title II, Improving Teacher Quality, received $3.1 billion, an increase of $250 million.

Links:

Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education
http://www.senate.gov/~appropriations/labor/index.htm

Benton Foundation
http://www.benton.org

U.S. Department of Commerce
http://www.doc.gov

National Science Teachers Association
http://www.nsta.org

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“Jazz in America” trumpets the roots of American music

“Jazz In America” is a new online curriculum that follows the emergence of this musical phenomenon from the cobblestone streets of New Orleans’ French Quarter to concert halls and music cafes across the nation. Sponsored by the Thelonious Monk Institute, the program aims to help students develop creativity, imagination, and a taste for America’s musical heritage. The program defines what jazz music is, explains how one should approach its style, and highlights some of the musicians who have made their mark on its culture. The curriculum focuses on the development of jazz through several lesson plans centered around the music and its place in American city life. Each lesson plan explores the social, economic, and political contexts within which jazz evolved. The 11th-grade curriculum, available on a national basis now, includes eight 50-minute class lessons to be taught as part of each school’s regular social studies or history classes. Programs for grades eight and five will be available in the coming months. In addition to the lesson plans, the “Jazz in America” web site includes a teacher’s manual, assessments, and a comprehensive Jazz Resource Library.

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As tech-savvy gangs flock to internet, so do police

The Boston Globe reports on the growing use of the Internet for gang activity. The recent identification of a Salvadoran gang in East Boston is held up as evidence that young people are cyber-savvy enough to arrange their meetings online. (Note: This site requires registration.)

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Students get a charge out of solar-powered race

Ten odd-shaped cars moved around the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway track in Ft. Worth at speeds of up to 35 mph, and the 155,000-seat stadium was empty.

The cars would be no competition for Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, and other NASCAR drivers—but the cars’ designers may soon be giving engineers, scientists, and inventors a run for their money.

The solar-powered cars built by high-school teams from several states were competing in the seventh annual Dell-Winston Solar Car Challenge, which started July 16 and ended July 18. The car that finishes the most laps wins.

“It gets kids excited about science again,” said Lehman Marks, who coordinates the race and heads the science department at The Winston School in Dallas. “The program is definitely increasing the number of students going into science-related fields, but no matter what they go into, they can use these skills.”

Marks founded the event as a new way to teach at The Winston School, a private school for students with dyslexia, attention-deficit disorder, and other learning challenges.

As Winston students excelled in the program, Marks expanded it by providing curriculum materials and workshops for schools across the nation.

Students work as long as 18 months on the project—raising money for equipment and other expenses that can run from $10,000 to $20,000, planning their cars, and then building.

The cars must meet certain weight requirements but take on different forms. The sun powers the solar panels, but that energy also is stored in batteries that can run for a few hours in the dark, Marks said.

Last year’s winner from Houston, Miss., competed again this year, as well as a junior team of ninth- and 10th-graders from the school.

“Teamwork is the key,” said Austin Jordan, 14. “We’re not going that fast, but we’ll last longer and finish more laps.”

The Chamizal school in Juarez, Mexico, also has two teams in the contest. Other teams are from Pampa (Texas) High; Newburgh (N.Y.) Free Academy; C4-Area Vocational School in Columbus, Ind.; and Ridway (Colo.) School.

Marks said students from different teams often hug him and tell him the program has changed their lives.

“For an old teacher, that’s like a million dollars,” Marks said.

Dell Computer Corp., in its second year sponsoring the contest, is awarding a $5,000 scholarship to the top female participant to encourage more girls to study science.

“We can’t think of a better program where students will learn skills critical to them when they enter the work force,” said Amy King, a Dell spokeswoman.

For the second year in a row, the Houston Solar Race Team took top honors, completing a total of 241 laps around the track in three days.

Links:

The Winston School
http://www.winstonsolar.org

Dell Computer Corp.
http://www.dell.com

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Lysol Brand and the National Science Teachers Association invite elementary teachers to submit innovative science projects for grants of $1,500 for to be used for professional development and classroom materials. The program invites U.S. K-6 teachers to develop inquiry-based classroom projects that help their students study health related issues. The Challenge also aims to stimulate student interest and participation in science at the elementary level, and to provide teachers with public recognition for their work. Forty teachers will be selected.

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$500 in credit to buy items that enrich the classroom, including techn

Teachers who register at the Adopt-a-Classroom web site can be adopted by an individual, a business, or a foundation. Once adopted, teachers will receive $500 worth of credit to purchase items that enrich the learning environment, including classroom technology. Teachers help solicit their own sponsors by downloading and distributing fliers within their community or by sending out a personalized, pre-written eMail from the Adopt-a-Classroom web site. Every donor receives information about the classroom it has adopted, including an itemized list of what teachers bought so donors can see the impact of their donation.

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ELC gets $3.5 million to show states how to comply with NCLB

A $3.5 million grant from the federal government will help transform a handful of states into showcase examples of how state education departments should operate to meet the tough new demands of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

The money is being given to the Education Leaders Council (ELC), a network of educational leaders working to advance school reform efforts. In turn, ELC will help train state and local school leaders how to track, analyze, and report student test-score data and other information to improve instruction.

Several states—including Kentucky, Massachusetts, and Indiana—have publicly declared that the requirements of NCLB are virtually impossible to implement.

The law asks schools to do several new things starting this September, including testing students every year in grades three through eight, showing adequate yearly progress (AYP), reporting more detailed data—and, of course, they can’t leave a single child behind.

“You were sort of able to bury your low-performing students in your average before,” said Brian Jones, vice president for communications and policy at ELC. But schools can’t do this anymore, he said. Not even special-education students are exempt from the law’s requirements.

Furthermore, the extra testing is going to produce more data than schools are used to seeing, Jones said. Analyzing this data is essential to helping schools meet their AYP goals, but most teachers and administrators are not skilled at data analysis.

If schools fail to meet these requirements, they risk losing federal funding. “There are definite penalties now that didn’t exist before,” Jones said.

Consequently, many school leaders across the country are feeling overwhelmed by the new demands and frustrated by what they perceive as a lack of guidance from the U.S. Department of Education (ED). But this initiative, called Following the Leaders, aims to show state and school education leaders that meeting the new requirements is possible.

“Seeing is believing,” U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige said. “This project will show our whole nation what is possible when the essential elements of reform are put in place.”

Through the initiative, participating states will receive assistance with how to report student data according to the new requirements and how to analyze the data to meet the required adequate yearly progress.

“It’s an empowerment thing. It’s giving them the tools they need,” Jones said.

ELC will help answer questions such as: How do you crunch information? How do you make intelligent and informed decisions? What do you need to do to meet the standards?

“There’s so much stuff that schools have to do right now—a lot has to do with reporting data,” Jones said. “AYP is still the absolute largest thing schools are struggling with.”

The Following the Leaders project is set for rapid deployment, Jones said. Applications for states interested in participating are due July 19. The first six states will be selected by Aug. 5. Projects in those states will be implemented immediately, to be ready in time for the new school year.

“Right now, we have 30 states that want to do this,” Jones said. “We need willing and wired participants—and the willing part is not the problem.”

Only a portion of the schools in participating states actually will take part in the program. Each state is asked to identify 15 to 90 schools they want to work with. Participating schools already must have the necessary technology infrastructure in place.

Schools will get software, training, and the philosophical guidance needed essentially to break old habits, Jones said. The initiative combines the products and services of several organizations in addition to ELC.

Participating schools will receive free access to web-based software from Project Achieve, a division of Achievement Technologies Inc. This standards-management software focuses on using student assessment data to improve education; it has components that teachers, principals, administrators, and parents can use.

AccountabilityWorks, a nonprofit organization with expertise in standards, assessments, and accountability, will provide the policy assistance. The Teacher Advancement Program, which was developed by the Milken Family Foundation, will help states attract, retain, and motivate talented teachers. Lastly, the entire project will be evaluated by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, a private foundation active in education reform and educational research.

The funding for this initiative comes the Fund for the Improvement of Education, under ED’s Office of Educational Research and Improvement.

Denis Doyle, chief academic officer of SchoolNet, makers of comparable data warehousing and analysis tools, said the program excludes competition and free enterprise, a highly-touted mantra of the Bush administration.

“This grant was made so it goes exclusively to ELC and then exclusively to Project Achieve. It essentially excludes other projects,” Doyle said. “We’re impressed with ELC’s energy and vision; we’re just disappointed that Mr. Paige didn’t expand the horizon of this.”

Nonetheless, schools need guidance implementing the requirements of NCLB and learning how to use data more effectively.

“It’s a badly needed effort,” said Michael Hickey, professor at Towson State University, who trains Maryland teachers to use data to improve student achievement. “Maryland is on the front edge of assessment and accountability, and [even] we have a great distance to go yet.”

John Bailey, ED’s director of educational technology, is a true believer in the use of data to improve education.

New York City reduced crime by using data-driven decision making, Bailey said. Each police precinct was held accountable for crime that occurred in its neighborhood. After a while, police were able to project crime patterns and trends so they could work proactively.

Data also have helped the economy recover from economic downturns faster, Bailey said, because company executives can predict their problems and act accordingly.

“If you can use these systems to identify crime trends and economic slowdowns and … respond to them faster, how do we help educators use these systems to improve education?” Bailey said.

Bailey questions why schools haven’t started using data-driven decision making already.

“Why did it take a new law to require this?” he asked rhetorically. “The business sector never needed a law that said you need to have data-driven decision making.”

Bailey acknowledged that the tools to make data-driven decisions are more available, affordable, and sophisticated than in the past, but he said part of the problem is that school officials look at data as things that are just reported, not used.

Links:

Education Leaders Council
http://www.educationleaders.org

No Child Left Behind
http://www.nochildleftbehind.gov

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

Project Achieve
http://www.projectachieve.com

Teacher Advancement Program
http://www.mff.org/tap/

Thomas B. Fordham Foundation
http://www.edexcellence.net

SchoolNet
http://www.schoolnet.com

Using Data to Improve Student Achievement
http://www.mdk12.org/data/course

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Grants to increase student achievement & access to educational content

The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation seeks to achieve greater quality and equality of educational opportunity in the United States and throughout the world through grants that support increased student achievement, improved access to exemplary educational content, and other goals as outlined on its web site. The foundation will not consider requests to fund student aid, individual scholarships, construction, equipment and computer purchases, health research, or health education programs. Applicants should submit a brief letter of intent for initial review, after which proposals may or may not be requested. Full proposals will not be accepted unless they are requested. Check the foundation’s web site for details before sending a letter of intent.

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$5,000 to $10,000 for education initiatives

The Texas Instruments Foundation requires no special application form. Grants usually range from $5,000 to $10,000, but the foundation has awarded some schools up to $100,000. Approximately 65 awards are granted each year. Applicants are encouraged to submit one- or two-page proposals that briefly outline the following: purpose of the organization, population served, amount requested, how the requested funds will be used, how the proposal matches funding interests of the foundation, and a copy of 501(c)(3) designation. Proposals are considered from civic, research, educational, health, welfare, charitable, and cultural organizations that have been ruled to be tax-exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code and that are not private foundations as defined by the code.

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