“Out2Teach.com” focuses on integrating technology in the classroom

Ninth-grade students Evan Russo and Marshal Roch have teamed up to create this online portal for the educational community. Out2Teach.com proves that in the technology age, sometimes it’s the students who know best. Focusing on the integration of technology into the classroom, this very professional student-created site provides a categorized link database where teachers can turn to find new and unique ideas for improving classroom instruction. Out2Teach also offers educators tips on how to update and create their own web sites under the constraints of limited time and resources. In another section, teachers can post messages and articles for peer review and comment. Educators from around the globe thus can use the site as a way to gauge the changing sentiments of K-12 educators worldwide. A major idea behind the site’s conception is that all educators should have a voice whenever they want to be heard. “Every voice is important,” said Roch in a press release. “Everyone needs to have the opportunity to share their ideas.”


‘CIO Time Share’ connects small schools with high-tech help

For school systems that can’t afford to hire their own top-level technology staffs, an innovative consulting service promises to provide the expertise of some of the best school chief information officers (CIOs) in the country.

The service, called CIO Time Share, connects small school districts with 25 experienced school CIOs.

“Small school systems—if they can’t manage technology well—are going to be second class,” said Eliot Levinson, chief executive officer of the BLE Group, an educational technology consulting firm founded in 1994 that specializes in all facets of technology planning, training, and implementation in schools.

Levinson started the CIO Time Share service as a way to close a rift he says is every bit as real as the digital divide, but doesn’t get enough attention: the gap in technological expertise between large and small school districts.

Small districts can rarely match the high wages offered by the corporate world and therefore have trouble finding technology personnel who can manage a school district’s day-to-day technology and can plan for the future, Levinson said.

Generally, a small school’s technology staff consists of former teachers whose background is in education, not the IT field. “They don’t really understand enterprise-wide computing systems,” Levinson said.

Instead of hiring their own CIO, these school districts can borrow a CIO working in another district when they need to perform large tasks, such as auditing their hardware and software systems, drafting a technology plan, finding sources of funding, writing requests for proposals, or tackling any other management problem they might have.

“The kind of help they need is strategic, not operational,” Levinson said. “We’ll answer any question they have within 24 hours.”

Bruce Bovard, superintendent of the Canon-McMillan School District in Pennsylvania, which has approximately 4,100 students, has been using CIO Time Share since April 2000, because he says it’s hard to recruit and retain someone both skilled and affordable.

“You don’t really get someone who understands the big picture,” Bovard said. He relies on CIO Time Share to provide high-level strategic planning.

“They are the experts we turn to when we can’t handle the question ourselves,” Bovard said.

Through CIO Time Share, districts can get help writing budgets and presenting them to the school board, conducting quarterly reviews to see how well the school district followed its technology plan, or even negotiating deals with vendors.

According to Levinson, sharing services can also produce economies of scale and volume purchasing. “If we are bringing groups of schools together under a vendor, we expect to get better prices than an individual district could get,” Levinson said.

CIO Time Share staff will spend a few days doing a systematic, on-site evaluation to assess how well a district is using its current technology, then create a plan for what the district could do to improve in the future. The service also provides a monthly technology newsletter to keep client districts apprised of recent trends.

Bovard said the time-share service is helping his district identify its needs, obtain grants for staff development, write technology standards for teachers and a plan for how to achieve them, purchase a student curriculum management system, and develop guidelines for staff members who will be assigned laptops. One thing he appreciates about the service is that it’s vendor-neutral.

Bovard added that CIO Time Share is giving his district a “gentle nudge into the future.”

The service is “pushing us,” Bovard said. “It’s not just about helping us get where we want to go. [The consultants] let us know where the rest of the world is going.”


BLE Group Inc.

Canon-McMillan School District


Software group’s anti-piracy campaign targets students

Hoping to spread the message to a new generation of students that copying software from the internet is wrong, the Business Software Alliance (BSA)—an industry trade group that represents software developers around the world—will distribute a free anti-piracy curriculum to 25,000 U.S. elementary and middle schools this August.

Although school leaders agree respecting intellectual property is an important concept for students to understand, some educators question the value of BSA’s curriculum.

“Play It Safe in Cyberspace” is the second anti-piracy curriculum developed by BSA. The new curriculum will target young computer users.

“Kids are increasingly becoming more cyber-savvy at a younger age,” said Laurie Head, BSA’s director of marketing and communications. “We thought it was best to reach out to them at a younger age, when they are still forming their internet behaviors.”

Software piracy remains a threat to the software industry.

“Almost half of all internet users have downloaded software on the internet. Eighty-one percent [of users] have not paid for all the copies they have made,” Head said, citing figures from a BSA survey released May 29.

The U.S. software industry reportedly lost more than $2.6 billion to software piracy in 2000, according to “The 2000 Global Software Piracy Report” conducted by the International Planning and Research Corp.

“Piracy has increased worldwide three percentage points,” added BSA spokeswoman Debbi Bauman.

In 1998, BSA created a similar curriculum with Scholastic Inc., called “Reboot Your Attitude,” that focused on why kids shouldn’t swap computer disks. But the proliferation of the internet has made it easier for students and others to copy software illegally, so the BSA felt the need to update its curriculum.

“There’s more of an emphasis on the internet” in the new curriculum, Head said. “It still covers some of the same material, and it has more of an internet focus.”

BSA is developing its newest curriculum with Weekly Reader, a 100-year-old company that publishes a weekly four-page newspaper for students in seven different grade levels that is distributed to some 50,000 schools nationwide.

The Play It Safe in Cyberspace curriculum includes a short teacher’s guide, activity sheets, and a classroom poster. There are four activities for grades three to five and four activities for grades six to eight.

Students will address questions such as: What is creative work? What is copyright law? Who get hurts when you copy software? What’s your piracy I.Q.?

“It’ll involve some online work and some interactive discussion in the classroom,” Head said.

One activity has students write their principal a letter that explains what they’ve learned about software piracy and then asks the principal to initiate a software audit of the school’s software.

BSA plans to mail 25,000 curriculum kits to U.S. schools on Weekly Reader’s distribution list this fall, and PDF versions will be available to download from the group’s web site. BSA also created a downloadable Canadian PDF version—available in both English and French—and plans to mail 5,000 postcards to Canadian schools to let them know they can download a version of the curriculum tailored to their language and laws.

The organization refused to say how much money it is spending to develop and distribute its curriculum. The project reportedly is funded with money recovered by BSA from organizations found to have violated anti-piracy laws.

Many school districts have adopted policies that prohibit software theft, and several schools already educate their students about software piracy.

“Students seem to have a laid-back attitude about sharing software, and they don’t seem to understand how it affects companies or how serious an offense it is,” said Chris Mahoney, director of technology for the Lake Hamilton Schools in Arkansas, where media specialists begin teaching about software piracy in middle school.

Kathy Schrock, administrator for technology at Nauset Public Schools in Massachusetts, said teachers in her district address intellectual property—including copyright, bibliographic citations, fair use, the Napster controversy, shareware versus freeware, and software copying—in computer classes for grades five through eight.

“It is not just software piracy that needs to be addressed, but the much larger issue of respecting the intellectual property of others and giving credit—or payment—as required in licensing agreements and U.S. copyright law,” Schrock said.

Mahoney said some teachers may need more than just a free curriculum before they can start teaching the subject.

“Teachers need to be trained in issues concerning software piracy before they are asked to incorporate it into their lesson plans,” he said. “Staff development would be an important key to make the teachers more aware of software piracy themselves. A better understanding of the laws would certainly be passed on to the students—especially in classes where technology is a part of the classroom.”

Others are skeptical of receiving educational content from a software trade group such as BSA.

“It is extremely unlikely that our school district will use any curriculum developed by [BSA]. We strongly object to their tactics as a software piracy watchdog,” said Dick Barkey, executive director of information technology for the Adams 12 Five Star Schools in Colorado.

One of BSA’s most prominent members is software giant Microsoft Corp., which has come under criticism by educators for its aggressive policing of school districts’ software use. Recently, Microsoft toned down its demands for software audits in some of the largest districts in the Pacific Northwest after school leaders there complained the company wasn’t giving them enough time to comply.

BSA’s new anti-piracy curriculum “puts [the group] in the position of enforcing compliance with the law when they are representing an organization [Microsoft] that has been convicted of violating the law. Somehow I doubt that the BSA curriculum explains all of this,” Barkey said.

“Regarding having students write letters to their principals telling them how to administer software anti-piracy programs, I think it is one of the worst ideas I have ever heard of,” Barkey added. “We are not that short of creative writing assignments for students.”


Business Software Alliance

Weekly Reader

Lake Hamilton Schools

Kathy Schrock

Adams 12 Five Star Schools

Microsoft Corp.


SAT essay requirement spotlights writing-assessment tools

When The College Board—distributors of several national standardized tests—announced June 27 that its Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) would include a handwritten essay by March 2005, improved writing instruction moved up on the test-preparation agenda for schools from coast to coast.

Educators began the hunt for software and other computer-based products to help teachers bolster students’ writing skills. Thanks in part to the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), similar searches already are under way to help teachers impart and accurately assess reading and math skills.

Although some educators remain skeptical, companies such as Vantage Learning Inc., of Yardley, Pa., report they have just what educators are looking for. In May, Vantage was selected to provide writing-assessment and development services to some of Massachusetts’ largest school districts.

The pilot program enables approximately 2,000 students in grades 10 and 11 in Boston, Springfield, Worcester, and Southern Berkshire Regional school districts to practice their writing online and receive immediate feedback.

Scott Elliot, chief operating officer for Vantage, said the inclusion of an essay question on the SAT will highlight the need for improved writing instruction in the classroom.

“It underscores the importance of writing, and that is really going to apply downward pressure on middle and high schools to teach these skills,” Elliot said.

One possible solution: Vantage’s My Access!. This online writing-development tool employs the company’s IntelliMetric essay-scoring technology to assess how well students are answering written questions. It also provides a portfolio that enables users to update their work, while letting teachers monitor student progress more easily.

IntelliMetric, works by learning the pattern of several hundred essay scores. Once a pattern is recognized, the application is able to match individual student essays to that pattern, providing instant feedback on grammar, content, style, and structure, Vantage said.

According to Elliot, the product can drastically reduce the cost of grading tests. Machines can do the job in less time and for less money than humans can, he said. “There is dramatic cost savings to be had.”

Besides Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, three other states—California, Oregon, and Texas—have used the company’s My Access! product, including the IntelliMetric essay-grading tool, on a pilot basis.

In Pennsylvania, educators confirmed the IntelliMetric tool was an effective way to cut costs.

“It is cost effective,” said Beth Gaydos, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Education. “Being able to use the software actually cuts the cost of test-grading in half.”

But Pennsylvania has no plans to enter into a long-term contract with Vantage, Gaydos added. The initial contract expired last January. Although the technology proved effective for technical writing errors such as spelling and grammar mistakes, Gaydos said, it was unable to adjust to the various writing styles of different students. “There are just some things only a teacher can pick up,” she said.

But there is a more basic obstacle to adopting the technology throughout the state, Gaydos explained. Implementing Vantage’s system effectively on a statewide basis is not feasible for Pennsylvania schools, she said, because to do so would require more computers than the schools could afford.

“It would almost require every classroom to have a computer for every student,” she said.

Educators who spoke with eSchool News said they were encouraged by the addition of an essay question on the SAT. But many remained skeptical of the potential for machine markers to adjust to the varied writing styles of individual students. Some maintained it is impossible for machines to provide balanced literary criticism and feedback, two elements essential for effective critiques.

“I am pleased to learn that there will be an essay. I believe it will make the SAT more valuable and a better measure of probable college success,” said Raymond Yeagley, superintendent of the Rochester, N.H., Public Schools and an expert on student information systems.

But Yeagley remains skeptical about essay-grading technology: “I would be suspicious of the quality of scoring. The software may be good at checking against rules. However, I doubt that the software would be able to judge content or pick up on the times when a departure from standard rules will create a subtle impact on the meaning or impression of a phrase,” Yeagley said.

Marc Liebman, superintendent of the Marysville, Calif., Joint Unified School District, shares his New Hampshire colleagues’ reservations about essay-grading software.

“There are programs that pick out words and phrases to assess whether or not a written document is on task. There are programs that will evaluate grammar,” he said. “But neither of these is comprehensive enough, nor has the intelligence to subjectively evaluate the author’s thinking, organization, or writing skills. This is a task that needs the human touch to be accurately evaluated.”

Such cautionary attitudes notwithstanding, The College Board now incorporates IntelliMetric technology in programs designed for use in higher education. The assessment system is at the heart of The College Board’s ACCUPLACER Online service, a placement-testing program for incoming college students. It is used in Writeplacer Plus and in the new Writerplacer ESL, unveiled June 27, for assessing writing skills among students who use English as a second language.

According to Elliot, technology from his company already assesses more than 4 million students per year.

IntelliMetric won’t be used to grade the revised SAT, according to The College Board, because the technology does not work on handwritten assignments.

According to Wayne Camara, vice president of research for The College Board, the essays will be graded by certified teachers and educators, who will be allowed to access the handwritten essays from their desktops at home. The handwritten tests will be scanned into a computer and made accessible over the internet, he said.

The human graders will be expected to evaluate more than 3 million essays during the first year of full-scale implementation.

“The increased importance of solid writing skills is going to put more emphasis on writing instruction,” Elliot said. “The criticality of writing is increasing.”


Marysville Joint Unified School District

No Child Left Behind Act

Rochester Public Schools

The College Board


Writerplacer Plus Electronic


With PC tracking software, stolen laptop recovered almost instantly

A teacher from DeSoto High School in Texas, knowing she would be out of the classroom on school business for the day on Friday, April 17, hid her laptop in her desk drawer. When she returned to school later that afternoon, she went to retrieve the laptop—only to discover that it was missing. But thanks to a PC tracking program from Absolute Software of Vancouver Brtitish Columbia, school officials were able to recover the machine just 20 minutes after it was reported stolen.

As mobile computers become an increasingly standard part of K-12 instruction, schools are looking for ways to protect their technology investments. Absolute claims that its ComputracePlus program is the first software-and-service solution to enable the recovery of lost or stolen PCs almost instantly.

This was the first laptop to disappear since the DeSoto Independent School District, a southern Dallas County district that encompasses 20 square miles and serves 7,100 students, selected ComputracePlus a year and a half ago to safeguard approximately 1,000 laptops. Jim Cockrell, the district’s executive director of technology services, said the decision already is paying off.

“In the first two months of our laptop deployment program … we had about four or five machines go missing, and that was just unacceptable for us,” Cockrell said. “Our leadership team [agreed] that ComputracePlus was the most appropriate approach to protecting our laptops, so we got the funding and moved on it.”

After ComputracePlus is installed on a PC’s hard drive, the software-tracking agent silently calls into Absolute’s monitoring center in Vancouver on a scheduled basis each time a user logs onto the internet. If a Computrace-equipped PC is reported lost or stolen, its location can be traced, and Absolute works with law enforcement officials to recover the asset. The software reportedly survives efforts to delete it—even if the thief were to reformat the hard drive.

The physical location of a stolen PC is discovered using two important technologies: Automatic Number Identification (ANI), which allows the company to identify the phone number and corresponding street address of any call location in North America, even unlisted numbers and those equipped with Caller ID blocking; and Internet Protocol (IP) address, which is a unique fingerprint for every PC at the time of communication. When a stolen PC’s IP address is captured by the Absolute monitoring center, it is traced to the owner of that IP domain. The recovery officer then contacts the domain’s administrator to determine who is using the stolen computer.

To date, approximately 2,000 customers rely on ComputracePlus to track and locate lost or stolen PCs. Absolute says it has recovered 95 percent of the computers reported lost or stolen to its monitoring center.


Use cost-cutting eMedia to sell your schools

With more than 40 states facing burgeoning deficits, school budgets are getting slashed from coast to coast. Often, public information and communications are among the first items to get the ax.

Facing shrinking print budgets for newsletters, brochures, fliers, lunch menus, and mailings, school leaders need to focus more on what works and less on what they’ve always done.

This means more relationship-building and personalized, one-to-one communications and fewer “Dear Parent” memos and “To Resident” mailings.

Thankfully, new media techniques such as electronic newsletters and online publications can support this kind of public relations effort with little or no additional budget impacts, other than staff time.

For example, armed with a customer contact management software program such as Interact Commerce Corp.’s ACT! (for under $200), a $15 per hour college student on summer break, and internet-based eMail, school leaders can start building a database of people they need to stay in close contact with.

Called “opinion leaders” or “key communicators” by PR pros, these are those “E.F. Hutton” folks in your community (when they talk, people listen) who can make or break your program, school, or district.

They can be power leaders—such as the mayor, county commissioners, corporate CEOs, and newspaper publishers—or influential community members, such as PTA presidents, realtors, school reporters, neighborhood activists, Kiwanis Club presidents, and the local ministerial alliance.

Large districts often break their databases into two distinct camps: one for internal audiences such as teachers, bus drivers, and support staff, and one for external targets such as Chamber of Commerce executives, arts leaders, and the region’s largest employers.

At the very least, every school should have contact information (including eMail, voice mail, cell phone, fax, and pager numbers) for all staff members, parents, volunteers, and business partners in a database.

That way, principals and other administrators can use eMail, voice mail, or fax broadcasting to stay in touch with VIPs on a regular basis (six to 12 times per year minimum) with news and information concerning their children and their schools.

If time allows, a school secretary or parent volunteer can use Microsoft Word, Publisher, or other user-friendly software to create an electronic version of the school newsletter. These one-pagers should be filled with short, to-the-point, bulleted news items, deadlines, and lots of kids’ and teachers’ names.

Once the basic template is created, it takes just a few minutes to plug in the weekly or monthly news items—especially if teachers and other school reporters eMail them to the editor.

The format should be easy to read and use, with lots of short, action-oriented headlines, subheads, bullets, and other graphic organizers. One or two font styles and colors are plenty. When it comes to electronic newsletters, content, accessibility, and speed matter more than graphic design.

The goal is to get and keep people interested in what is going on at your school or district. Each news item should just be a sentence or two, followed by a hotlink to your web page or another online resource

By focusing on “news you can use”—such as registration deadlines and school lunch menus—and by including memorable, fun facts that parents and teachers can share at the neighborhood grocery store, recreation center, or synagogue, you can help create a positive “buzz” about your school or district.

The content of electronic newsletters also can be targeted to meet the needs of specific audiences. Business leaders, for example, are less concerned about individual students (unless the student is their child) than they are about test scores, academic rigor, character education, teacher quality, and the wise use of tax dollars.

Frequency also is an issue. Rather than wait for months and then load up an eMail with 10 to 15 news items, you often get more leverage by sending more regular communications and focusing on one or two stellar announcements.

The key for any audience, however, is to keep your missives short. View the subject line on your eMail as your communication’s headline. If you don’t grab your readers in the first word or two, they may trash your eMail without reading it.

While this is less of a concern with affinity groups such as parents and PTA members, you still need to be respectful of their time. Everybody is busy, and no one has time for junk mail, even if it comes electronically and from your child’s school.

You’ll also need to resist the temptation to mark all school and district eMails as urgent or high priority. Like the little boy who cried “wolf” one too many times, you might find yourself wearing out your readers’ responsiveness.

The newsletter may be included in the body of the eMail or sent as an attachment. Attachments can backfire, however, as more and more businesses use blocking software to combat viruses and spam.

If you’re not sure which technique will suit your key audiences best, ask them—and then listen to what they tell you. Also, make sure you include an “opt out” message at the end of your newsletter or eMail, especially if you don’t get the contact information directly from the source.

In additional to eMail and electronic newsletters, more school communications professionals are developing online publications, from simple brochures posted in Adobe Acrobat, to electronic magazines (eZines) created specifically for the web that feature in-depth articles, photo displays, and interactive features such as editor chats and virtual tours.

While the initial conversion from print to online can be time-consuming and expensive, the ability to make changes on an as-needed basis is quickly making print obsolete, especially for data-intensive documents such as personnel directories, course catalogues, school profiles, and test results.

By posting its personnel directory online, for example, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) is saving more than $50,000 per year in printing costs as well as thousands of hours of staff time from several departments, including human resources, public information, graphic production, the print shop, storage, and distribution.

Once obsolete as soon as it was printed, the online personnel directory is now updated automatically every time there is a change in the mainframe employee database.

Firewalls and other safeguards keep private information in personnel files private; employees dictate whether their home addresses or phone numbers may be shared district-wide. Not surprisingly, the directory has become one of the most frequently visited features on the district’s sophisticated intranet (internal web site).

The intranet, including the personnel directory, is advertised via the district’s weekly electronic newsletter, “Direct Line,” which is eMailed to all staff members and posted on all school and department bulletin boards.

The new communication tools seem to be working. In a recent survey, employees said they appreciated the district’s new efforts to keep them informed—a marked improvement from two years ago, when a lack of communication from central administration caused many staff members to cite the daily news as their primary source of information.

Like CMS, districts across the country are shifting more publications to the internet and cutting print newsletters, brochures, catalogues, budget books, and other traditional communications tools.

Whether the growing emphasis on electronic and web-based communications helps improve morale and create better public engagement and support of our schools or widens the information gap is largely up to us.

We can seize these new tools to build and maintain relationships with the people that matter most, or we can simply repeat the same mistakes online that we made in print and hope our “one size fits all” communication approach manages to hit its target.

Related links:
Interact Commerce Corp.’s ACT!

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools

Electronic newsletter publishing


Product Spotlight

Apple expands into server market with Xserve

Apple Computer Inc. on May 14 introduced its first-ever rack-mountable server product, called Xserve. Aimed at environments where Macs are plentiful—such as schools—the device includes software that reportedly can check on the status of a client computer’s hard drive to predict when a failure might occur.

Designed to appeal to technology staff who want a compact, easy-to-use server for file serving, printing, video streaming, database applications, computational clustering, and web and eMail serving, Xserve is based on the UNIX operating system. The idea for an Apple server grew after the Cupertino-based company last year introduced its newest operating system, Mac OS X, which also is based on UNIX.

Xserve features remote management tools to make set-up and maintenance easier, Apple said. System administrators can receive notification of a client computer’s failure via eMail, pager, cell phone, or handheld computer.

Pricing starts at $2,999 for a 1-gigahertz G4 processor model with 256 megabytes of memory. A dual-processor model with 512 MB of memory costs $3,999.

(800) 800-2775


VTech introduces handheld solutions for students

The VTech XL Series of handheld and notebook-styled electronic devices provides schools with a cost-effective way to introduce young kids to computers while reinforcing reading, writing, and math skills. Each of the four devices in VTech’s XL Series product line is portable and small enough to be stowed in a locker or backpack.

The devices feature a variety of education-specific software applications, including a calculator, unit converter, class scheduler, artwork studio, music creator, and more. They also include access to trusted educational resources such as Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary and Encyclopedia Britannica.

The ClassMaster Notebook ($149.99), geared toward nine to 12-year-olds, features educational games that let students practice grammar, reading, comprehension, basic geometry, and pre-algebra. The device also lets students do word processing and internet research. Students can upload their projects to a PC to save, eMail, or print. The notebook includes a free, one-year subscription to Encyclopedia Britannica Online.

The SkillStarter Handheld ($39.99) has a touch-screen interface that lets youngsters play games to practice reading and math skills. The SkillStarter Notebook ($59.99) includes a full LCD screen, keyboard, and mouse. In addition to playing educational games, kids can use it to make and record their own music and learn to type.

The MindBooster Notebook ($79.99), for kids ages seven to nine, is designed to promote independent learning and empower kids to apply what they already have learned in school to solve language, math, and logic activities, VTech said.

XL Series devices connect to a standard computer using VTech’s optional vPort Accesory ($19.99).

(800) 521-2010


Check out this automated check-out system from Sagebrush

Students and teachers now can check out library books and other resources by themselves with UCheck, a self-checkout program from Sagebrush Corp. of Minneapolis, Minn. The system aims to save library media specialists valuable time, freeing them to help students and staff members find the information they need.

“Checking out materials to patrons can be a time-consuming task, but it doesn’t have to be,” said Gail Mazure, UCheck product manager. “Using UCheck, librarians can successfully and conveniently let patrons check out their own materials from the library, so the library staff has more time for other library tasks.”

UCheck comes with a password-protected administration component that allows library staff to choose from a variety of methods for how materials will be checked out. Staff members can place restrictions for those who are not allowed to check out their own materials, such as young children. If a restricted person attempts to check out materials, the system will display a message indicating that the checkout process cannot proceed. The program also enables staff members to create, preview, and print status reports.

UCheck integrates seamlessly with Sagebrush’s Athena and Winnebago Spectrum library automation programs, according to the company.

(800) 533-5430


New web-based early learning program teaches math and reading skills

K-2 Learning MileStones, from Achievement Technologies, is a web-based early learning program that helps instructors teach primary phonics and math while reinforcing word recognition skills.

Teachers can use the program to assess, teach, and review pre-reading and basic math concepts while helping first and second graders build critical thinking skills. Teachers can even create individual instruction plans for students by having each child take a 15-question pre-test from a bank of more than 500 test questions aligned to state objectives.

The software requires minimal reading or keyboarding skills from students but challenges kindergartners and serves as an intervention for struggling students, the company said. It supports special education classes and guides ESL learners with Spanish audio instructions. Audio feedback with an animated character provides students with helpful hints throughout the program.

K-2 Learning Milestones comes with a comprehensive Teacher’s Guide aligned to each state’s standards for language and math. The guide contains printable worksheets for take-home activities, and the software’s printable reports allow teachers to remain accountable with administrators and parents. The program costs $2,495 for a CD-ROM and one-year internet subscription; each additional year is $995 for unlimited use in a single building.

(888) 391-3245


Macromedia’s suite of web-design tools could save schools a bundle

Macromedia Inc. is offering a suite of software tools for building everything from web sites to multimedia applications at an attractive price for schools.

Under the company’s new site-licensing solution for education, schools with more than 500 students can purchase the Macromedia Studio MX suite for only $3,000, while schools with fewer than 500 students pay just $2,000.

The Studio MX package includes the latest versions of Macromedia’s Dreamweaver, Flash, Fireworks, FreeHand, and ColdFusion programs. The new site-licensing solution for education also includes sample curriculum and lesson plans to help teachers start teaching web design courses or integrate web projects into standard academic subjects. In addition, Macromedia offers an online course on its web site to help train teachers in the use of these tools.

(800) 457-1774



Calendar of Events


July 5-7

San Diego. 2002 ESRI Education User Conference. Educators who use geographic information system (GIS) technology in their schools will have a unique opportunity to discuss their findings with peers and discover new classroom uses for mapping technology at this event. The conference also aims to answer any questions educators have about GIS and explore ways to implement the technology more efficiently.

Contact: (909) 793-2853, ext.1-2624


July 14-17

Baltimore. Rural, Small School System Leaders Conference. Sponsored by the American Association of School Administrators, this conference features technology and management content useful for superintendents of small or rural school districts. Sessions will address concepts such as data-driven decision making and using Palm handhelds to manage information.

Contact: (703) 875-0769


July 20-21

Seattle. Exploring the Future of Learning: A ThinkQuest Live Event. Co-hosted by the University of Washington and Advanced Network and Services, the nonprofit organization that created the internationally renowned ThinkQuest competitions, this event offers an in-depth exploration of today’s most promising emerging technologies—and the opportunities and challenges they bring to the future of learning. The event will combine an interactive technology and learning laboratory with a series of in-depth discussions facilitated by a group of leading ed-tech thinkers.

Contact: ajustham@learningspace.org


July 24-26

Arlington, Va. Society for Applied Learning Technology (SALT) Education Technology 2002 Conference. The Education Technology 2002 conference will continue SALT’s practice of bringing professionals from the education, industry, and government communities together to present information on their accomplishments in the areas of technology-based learning systems, management systems, research, and applications. Focus areas will include knowledge management and instructional systems development, technical skills training, and eLearning.

Contact: (540) 347-0055


July 25-27

Philadelphia. EDVentures 2002. Sponsored in part by the Association of Education Practitioners and Providers, this 12th annual conference will focus on entrepreneurship and new or developing opportunities in the education marketplace. Workshops and panel topics will include the virtual classroom, education reform legislation, funding, curriculum and accreditation. Attendees will have the opportunity to hear from more than 80 industry professionals and participate in 30 different discussion panels in all.

Contact: (800) 252-3280



Aug. 14-16

Madison, Wis. 18th Annual Conference on Distance Teaching & Learning. Sponsored by the University of Wisconsin-Madison, this conference will offer more than 150 workshops, advanced seminars, cracker-barrel discussions, and information sessions that will examine a wide range of practical applications, teaching methods, course designs, innovative solutions, and emerging technologies in distance education.

Contact: (608) 265-4159


Aug. 14-16

Orlando. International Security Conference & Exposition 2002. This conference, sponsored by Security Industry Association, will focus on technological advancements in security systems. The event will allow educators to explore new ways to improve security in their schools. More than 500 exhibitors will be on hand to showcase the latest developments in security technologies for school, business, and personal use.

Contact: (800) 840-5602



Sept. 12-13

Oklahoma City. Encyclo-Media Conference 2002. This annual conference sponsored by the Oklahoma Department of Education is expected to bring together more than 3,200 participants and 400 vendors for two days of discussions and breakout programs designed to improve educational technology in schools.

Contact: (405) 521-2957


Sept. 22-25

Los Angeles. EdNET 2002. Sponsored by the Heller Reports, this business leadership forum gives industry executives a place to discuss trends on the business side of educational technology. Forums, roundtables, and discussion groups will focus on market trends, funding sources, new technologies, and activities of key players in the industry. The conference is billed as an opportunity for business leaders to forge key relationships with colleagues, potential customers, and government officials.

Contact: (847) 674-6282



Going AYP

Reports of the impending demise of public education owing to implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act are greatly exaggerated . . . . Well, maybe just exaggerated.

If these reports have not reached your receptors quite yet, they soon will, unless I miss my guess.

The fuss involves Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), the shibboleth for the math and reading achievement that schools soon must demonstrate as a requirement of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 2001, known fondly around the Bush Administration as the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLBA).

Starting next year, schools will have to show students making adequate progress in reading and math based on state assessments. If the schools fall short, parents will be able to ask that their children be transferred to better performing schools or receive supplemental education services, such as tutoring or virtual schooling. According to the new federal law, the AYP-deficient school district will have to pay for the transportation or supplemental instruction.

News accounts in Georgia, Illinois, and especially North Carolina have been whipping some educators and fellow travelers into a frenzy. Early indicators suggest schools—even traditionally well-regarded ones—will fail in droves.

Why? Because the performance of kids in all major demographic categories—including racial groups, low-income categories, students with limited-English proficiency, migrant status, and Special Education students—must be reported separately; their assessment results must be “disaggregated” as the feds like to say. If the average performance of any one of these groups fails to measure up, the whole school fails—or so it is reported.

Under NCLBA, gone are the days when even excellent average performance would win you an ovation at the Chamber of Commerce cookout. In North Carolina, where state officials track student test performance in a way similar to NCLBA, educators got a rude awakening last month.

Only 27 percent of all the schools in North Carolina would have made the grade. Or at least, that’s how the Charlotte News and Observer saw it. This development understandably caused a sensation among some North Carolina educators and among certain education journalists.

“I shudder to think what people are going to say when they see this,” Chapel Hill-Carrboro, N.C., Superintendent Neil Pederson told the Observer. “It’s so inflexible. If any group of kids fails to meet the standard, the whole school is labeled as failing.”

Don’t get me wrong. Having 73 percent of the schools fall short in an educationally progressive state like North Carolina would hardly be comforting news. But what keeps the report just this side of cataclysmic is the “Safe Harbor” provision of NCLBA, which the newspaper account didn’t mention.

Under that sanity preserver, the whole school does not fail if students in the under-performing demographic group demonstrate (1) a 10 percent gain in performance compared to the previous year and (2) adequate progress on any one of a number of academic indicators, such as the group’s graduation rate.

This safe harbor provision should moderate the failure rate, but it can’t entirely prevent the piccalilli from hitting the propeller. When headlines blare and news anchors bray about massive failures in school systems from Maine to Malibu, you’d better be ready.

To a great extent, I expect, the coming uproar is the first consequence actually intended by some authors of the NCLBA. At last, the shameful divide will be out in the open, too glaring to ignore any more . . . or so goes the theory at any rate. (But you know as well as I, Americans can be amazingly nimble when it comes to sidestepping the inconveniently obvious. But who knows, maybe it will be different this time.)

Fortunately, we have unprecedented technological resources available to battle education inequities. You can read about those resources in every issue of eSchool News. Just look at this month’s report on Reading Software, for example. To an extent greater than ever, we know the problems; we even have many of the solutions.

Critics of public education are preparing to lock and load with the plentiful ammunition that will be supplied by NCLBA. But let’s not panic. Let’s keep our heads down and our powder dry. Let’s work with due diligence in the months before the eruption. We still have some time.

Let’s find ways to anticipate the coming heat and use it to shed light on what’s ailing education and our society—and then seize the moment to fix those things . . . or at least, to scamper five or six steps forward before we’re knocked two steps back.


Capture your next grant with a clear dissemination plan

A few weeks ago, I received a phone call from a principal in Michigan who asked about dissemination. His project was funded and was an outstanding success, and he was looking for ways to spread the word so others could learn from his school’s experience.

Some requests for proposals (RFPs) will ask for a dissemination plan up front, although this isn’t very common. Still, it’s important to keep in mind—especially at the federal level—that reviewers are looking for projects that can be replicated. And, if people don’t hear about a project, chances are it won’t be replicated!

Including a dissemination plan and monies in the budget to fund these activities, even when they aren’t asked for in the RFP, can boost your chances of receiving a grant.

What is dissemination? It’s the process of spreading the information about your project to audiences who might be interested in your experience and your results. Usually, you want to disseminate information about a grant project so others can learn about the process you followed, the outcomes you achieved, and the mistakes you made. People might want to replicate your project in their own schools, or they might want to understand how the collaborative process worked in your particular project so they can replicate this process in a project of their own.

Why are funders interested in dissemination? Usually for the positive public-relations benefits it generates. Funders want to show they’re making a difference for students by supporting projects with results. They also want to show that their monies are being used wisely and effectively.

You have several options regarding the dissemination of your grant-funded project. Presenting or publishing your findings are the two most common methods.

Read an RFP carefully to see if there are any restrictions or requirements about dissemination, especially regarding travel. If there aren’t any, consider adding funding for travel to statewide, national, and/or international conferences to present your findings. Be careful to identify conferences that the reviewers will view as credible (rather than choosing conferences based on their appealing locations!) and that will have the biggest impact in terms of audience numbers. For technology-related conferences, consider the National School Boards Association’s Technology + Learning Conference in November and/or the National Educational Computing Conference in June.

If you choose to publish your findings, identify those publications that are most appropriate for the project and find out how to submit an article. Publications to consider include eSchool News and Technology & Learning magazine; for eSchool News, send a query first by eMail to Managing Editor Dennis Pierce at dpierce@eschoolnews.com outlining your proposed topic. You could also look at statewide or organizational newsletters as two more possible avenues for publication.

Besides presenting or publishing your findings, you might want to create a report that outlines your project’s results and distribute it to specific audiences. Decide which audiences might find your project’s results most useful, and identify who will receive a copy. For example, you might want to talk to representatives from a statewide organization to see if they want to distribute your report to their membership.