“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.”



“Minority Leadership Project” aims to bridge the divide between haves and have-nots

Technology continues to play an increasingly integral part in education, but making it equally available for minority students still remains a challenge. This new site from the International Society for Technology in Education was conceived as a forum for teachers in minority communities to share ideas, voice concerns, and discuss ways to better the quality of education among some of America’s least-privileged students. The site features a Live Chat section where educators can go to pool resources, get answers to pressing questions, and exchange suggestions about how to advance educational opportunities for minority students. To keep up on current trends and evolving issues, minority educators can use the site’s Article Share feature to read papers written by peers and post findings of their own for review. A Resource link provides access to a number of sites focused on helping educators breach the digital divide. The site also contains a comprehensive directory of education leaders involved in the minority community—including short biographies and contact information—in its Leadership Bureau. Finally, registered members can access any number of archived eMail messages from other members, allowing them to make more conscious, well-informed decisions.



Funding for start-up widens schools’ online options

Schools’ options for providing supplemental learning resources to at-risk students and accelerated learners are opening up. A group of venture investors have awarded $7.5 million in financing to Advanced Academics, an Oklahoma City company that delivers online learning to students in grades seven through 12, the company announced June 6.

“In a difficult environment for venture capital, I believe securing this level of financing sends a strong message about our achievements thus far, as well as the future of our business model,” said Baxter Brings, president and CEO of Advanced Academics. “We have solidified our executive team with top talent in the education publishing industry, correlated our course offerings to more state standards, increased the number of states where we have certified our teachers, and continue to deliver the best possible online experience for high school students.”

Advanced Academics’ new investors are Council Ventures, of Nashville, Chrysalis Ventures, of Louisville, Ky.; and Prosperitas Investment Partners, also of Louisville. Previous investors who participated in the financing were Chisholm Private Capital Partners and American Fidelity Group, both of Oklahoma City.

Since January 2002, Advanced Academics has added eight new states for operation: Alaska, Georgia, Michigan, Montana, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Washington. Three recent new contracts include a pilot project with the Detroit Public Schools, the Seattle Public Schools, and the South Brunswick, N.J., Public Schools. Brings says additional major contracts will be announced during the summer.

Under the business model Advanced Academics offers to schools, a staff of certified teachers at the company handles all aspects of the learning experience, including course development, assessment, grading, and 24/7 availability for interaction with the student via real-time chats, eMail, and telephone calls. According to Brings, the company also provides custom reporting and time monitoring of student activity that can be viewed online not only by the district, teacher, and student but also by parents and guardians. Advanced Academics also provides all data necessary for accreditation and funding, plus financial and audit records.


Grant Awards

$4.1 million from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development

Pennslyvania Gov. Mark Schweiker announced on May 23 that more than $4.1 million will fund 78 “Stay, Invent the Future” challenge grant projects throughout the state. The program is designed to show Pennsylvania youth what job opportunities exist within the state so they don’t feel compelled to leave, and many school districts were grant recipients. Overall, the state is designating $12 million over two years to reverse the out-migration of Pennsylvania’s young people by showcasing the state’s positive attributes. St. Mary’s Area School District is using its $50,000 grant to create a web design program for high school students in cooperation with area businesses, and the Greenville Area School District will use its $6,500 grant to demonstrate how new technologies are being implemented in local businesses.


$3 million in scholarships and prizes from Intel Corp.

More than 500 high school students from around the world received more than $3 million in scholarships and prizes at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. Students representing 39 countries entered their rockets, robots, and ideas for advancements in medicine in Intel’s international science competition, held May 17 in Louisville, Ky. Participants “exemplify what our countries and businesses need in tomorrow’s work force: students who excel in math and science,” said Intel chief executive Craig Barrett. The top prize went to 17-year-old Alexander Mittal of Greenwich High School in Greenwich, Conn., for his computer science project, “Nanoconstruction with Self-Assembling DNA-PNA Complexes.” The project has the potential to change the way computer chips are developed, resulting in smaller, faster, and cheaper electronic devices.


$135,000 in equipment and training from the SMARTer Kids Foundation

Nine schools from across Canada and the United States will receive free classroom technology, training, and the opportunity to connect with peers while participating in the 2002-2004 Connections program from the SMARTer Kids Foundation, the philanthropic arm of SMART Technologies Inc. of Canada. Over the next two years, students from all nine schools will collaborate on projects and communicate with each other across distances. The Connections program will follow students through grades five and six, culminating with student representatives and their teachers meeting for a week of fun and learning in Calgary in May 2004. All schools participating in the Connections program will receive at least one SMART Board 580 interactive whiteboard, a Floor Stand 570, and an NEC VT440 projector. Each Connections package is valued at approximately $15,000 per participating school.


$40,000 from the Verizon Foundation

A character education program for teachers and parents in New York state has been awarded a $40,000 grant from Verizon Foundation. The money will go to a Buffalo-based nonprofit organization called EPIC Inc., which stands for Every Person Influences Children. The grant will enable EPIC to purchase a videoconferencing unit so the group can hold its “Parent-Link” training programs via teleconference from its National Center for Parenting and Character Education in Buffalo. Verizon Foundation supports programs that create innovative eSolutions, help bridge the digital divide, foster basic and computer literacy, and create a skilled work force. The foundation promotes partnerships in technology with organizations serving the needs of diverse communities, people with disabilities, and the economically and socially disadvantaged.


$30,000 from National Semiconductor

Several teachers from two Texas school districts received $30,000 through a National Semiconductor Corp. grant program called “Innovative Idea Grants,” which recognizes teachers for the creative ways they use the internet in the classroom. The money will be used to buy whatever the teachers need to implement their vision, whether it’s hardware, software, or peripherals such as scanners, printers, and digital cameras. Teachers from the Arlington Independent School District plan to use the internet for research, videoconferencing with musicians and scientists, and documenting field trips with video cameras. The Mansfield Independent School District will expose kindergarteners to web page design and have high school students build biography web pages. Since 1998, National Semiconductor has donated more than $1.5 million to teachers in Texas, California, and Maine.



Grant Deadlines


School Leadership Program

This program, available through the U.S. Department of Education, aims to help high-need school districts develop, enhance, or expand innovative programs to recruit, train, and/or mentor principals and assistant principals. There is $10 million designated for this program. An estimated 22 grants ranging between $150,000 and $750,000 will be awarded.

Deadline: July 8


Improving Literacy Through School Libraries

Schools and districts in which 20 percent of the families have incomes below the poverty line can apply for their share of $12.5 million offered through the U.S. Department of Education to improve literacy through school libraries. Schools can use these funds to purchase and use advanced technology that increases information literacy, information retrieval, and critical thinking skills. The money also can be used to facilitate the sharing of internet links and resources among schools and school libraries, as well as activities that aren’t technology-related, such as professional development and providing after-hours access to school libraries. The department expects to grant 250 to 300 awards averaging $50,000 each.

Deadline: July 24

Contact: Margaret McNeely at (202) 260-1335 or literacyandschoollibraries@ed.gov


Gateway Olympic Sponsorship PC Donation Program

Now that the 2002 Olympic Winter Games are over in Salt Lake City, Gateway will donate up to 4,500 computers loaned for use during the Olympics to track official event results and standings. Consideration is limited to eligible organizations recognized by the IRS as a nonprofit entity, with priority given to schools and community centers whose programs help enhance access to technology for traditionally underserved communities. Any organization interested in being considered must complete an online application; faxed or written applications will not be accepted.

Deadline: July 31



Sol Hirsch Education Fund Grants

To help improve meteorology education, the National Weather Association each year offers three grants of $500 each to K-12 teachers. Selected teachers may use the funds to take an accredited course in atmospheric sciences, attend a relevant workshop or conference, or purchase scientific materials or equipment for the classroom. Requests for equipment and supplies must state the items required and how they will be used to enhance weather studies, how many students and teachers will be involved, and whether this is a new project or part of an ongoing effort. Applications are available online.

Deadline: Aug. 1


Toshiba’s Grade 7-12 Grant Program

The Toshiba America Foundation funds teacher-planned and led programs, projects, and activities that aim to improve science and mathematics teaching. While Toshiba accepts applications for grants under $5,000 year-round, applications for grants of $5,000 or more are due August 1. Examples of previous funded projects include seventh-grade students learning to use microscopes while exploring real medical case studies, and high school students using scientific instruments to test water quality. Applications can be downloaded from the web site listed below. Before submitting a completed proposal, teachers are encouraged to contact the foundation by calling (212) 596-0616 or (212) 596-0667.

Deadline: Aug. 1


Discounts for NEC Visual Presentation Products

The SMARTer Kids Foundation, the philanthropic arm of SMART Technologies Inc., has announced $65 million in grants to be applied toward discounts for NEC visual presentation products. Successful applicants will be able to purchase NEC products—including projectors and multimedia displays—at discounts of up to 39 percent of the suggested list price. Grants are available to qualifying schools located in the United States and Canada and must be used to purchase products by Sept. 30.

Deadline: Aug. 31

Contact: (403) 228-8565



Coca-Cola Foundation Grants

The Coca-Cola Foundation supports quality education and encourages new solutions to the problems that impede educational systems today. It also supports programs that have been proven to work. The foundation supports public and private colleges and universities, elementary and secondary schools, teacher training programs, educational programs for minority students, and global educational programs. Proposals are reviewed quarterly and must be received by September 1 for the next round.

Deadline: Sept. 1



ClassLink Grants

Sponsored by cell phone manufacturer Nokia and a consortium of cell phone service providers (organized by the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association), this program gives cell phones and free calling time to classroom instructors. The program is designed to create additional in-class learning opportunities by enabling students to call subject matter experts during school time, and also to provide instructors with emergency access to telephones to ensure their safety and the safety of their students. To date, more than 30,000 cell phones and 12 million hours of free phone time have been donated. Grants are made by individual local wireless providers; to find out if your provider is participating in the program, go to the ClassLink web site.


Innovation Grants and Learning & Leadership Grants

The National Education Association’s Foundation for the Improvement of Education (NFIE) now offers more than 300 small grants of $1,000 to $3,000 each on an ongoing, year-round basis. These grants fund classroom innovations or professional development for improved practice in public K-12 schools and higher- education institutions. NFIE will award up to 250 Innovation grants worth $2,000 per year, and 75 Leadership & Learning grants ranging between $1,000 and $3,000. Grants will fund activities for 12 months from the date of the award.

Contact: (202) 822-7840



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.


‘Augmented reality’ soon could enhance learning

An emerging technology known as “augmented reality” soon will allow people peering through computer-powered goggles to overlay virtual images atop those of the real world. Researchers say the technology has practical applications for everything from law enforcement to education.

For a firefighter, a computer-aided scene might show a school’s fire exits and sprinkler connections—vital details in a fire. For a police officer responding to a school incident, the goggles could relay video surveillance images of an assailant, helping the officer get a bead on the bad guy.

And for students, the technology might provide virtual images to supplement lessons.

Chris Dede, Timothy Wirth professor of learning technology at Harvard University, envisions a scenario in which museum exhibits, for example, are augmented by virtual environments. At a panorama showing dinosaur bones found at a tar pit, the technology might depict a virtual reconstruction of the dinosaurs that were trapped at that prehistoric location.

For now, augmented reality—a clever amalgam of computing, Global Positioning System navigation, and a device that tracks a person’s head movement—lives mainly in the cluttered realm of university research labs.

The systems first are supposed to determine the user’s exact location and field of vision. Then, depending on the program running on the hard drive, the computer augments the scene with images—a yellow building label for the firefighter, a blinking red dot for the sharpshooter, a virtual reconstruction for the student.

Researchers at Columbia University are fashioning some of the innovations. There, users can strap on a backpack frame bristling with 25 pounds of antennas, batteries, and computing gear and take a tour of the upper Manhattan campus.

Instead of seeing only the university’s Greek Revival halls and tree-draped plazas, the computer goggles superimpose images of long-demolished Victorian buildings that housed an insane asylum predating the school. Building name tags pop up and disappear when you turn your head to gaze around the campus.

The project, created by Columbia’s schools of computer science and journalism, has a more pressing purpose than mere campus orientation.

The lead federal agency funding the project is the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Research, which is spending $2.5 million a year on augmented-reality research.

Spurred by the deaths of United States military personnel in Somalia in 1993, the Navy wants scientists to develop a belt buckle-sized computer and slim pairs of computer glasses to help the Marines fight better in cities.

The Navy also is developing a version for amphibious landing craft that aims to guide invasion forces through minefields, fog, and other hazards. It seems plausible that the resulting technologies eventually will find their way onto school buses, say, to reduce the risk of transporting students during periods of poor visibility.

In Singapore, developers are building an augmented-reality system for a military defense of that city-state. And in Britain, researchers want to use it to “see” buried pipelines during construction projects.

Other research projects under way across the United States and elsewhere aim to use augmented reality to aid everything from surgery to education to jet engine repair.

Columbia computer science professor Steven Feiner, who gets about $150,000 per year of the Navy’s funding, is developing the visual interfaces seen by wearers of the computer goggles.

The clunky backpack system built by Feiner and his students is cobbled together from a laptop computer and a pair of GPS satellite receivers—one developed by the Russian military—along with a head tracking device, a high-speed wireless internet connection, and a tiny video camera.

When the wearer’s location tells the computer to augment the scene with an image, it pops up on a pair of Sony goggles with a see-through liquid-crystal computer display.

“We are not implying that someone should walk around with something that weighs even half of this,” Feiner said, giving a tour of his lab, where mannequin heads are scattered among computer parts and workstations. “Being able to look at stuff, and seeing information in context with that stuff, that’s what [this technology is] all about.”

Augmented reality should be ready for consumer use in a decade or so, Feiner said, and it could be ready for education even sooner.

First, U.S. soldiers will be trying it on for size.

One impetus for the Office of Naval Research’s Battlefield Augmented Reality System, known as BARS, was the 1993 battle of Mogadishu, where 18 Americans—and hundreds of Somalis—died in fierce urban combat.

A three-dimensional cityscape is one of the most treacherous battlefields, laced by tunnels and sewers below and buildings above, with clutter and traffic at street level. Enemy forces can be tough to distinguish from friendly ones. Snipers and mines could be anywhere.

In the Mogadishu battle, U.S. military personnel on a critical rescue mission got lost in the city’s sandy alleys, because street signs had been taken down.

In future city battles, U.S. soldiers with augmented-reality viewers will see labels on buildings and streets and also active details, like areas of sniper fire and locations of friendly forces, said Lawrence Rosenblum, director of virtual reality research and systems at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C.

“All of a sudden, [a soldier using augmented reality] can be really involved in what’s happening and know what’s going on around him,” Rosenblum said. “We’re taking that information, giving it to him in a way that’s never been done before. That’s got to make him better.”

When such technology makes its way to the classroom, it’s bound to make teachers better, too.

Related links:
Columbia University’s Mobile Augmented Reality Systems project

Office of Naval Research’s Battlefield Augmented Reality System project

Chris Dede’s web site


Report: eLearning raises thorny policy questions

Despite the escalating prevalence and support for eLearning programs across the country, virtual schools raise many policy and logistical questions that have yet to be answered sufficiently, said the editors of a recently released report on eLearning.

“Technology Counts 2002: E-Defining Education,” which reports the findings of Education Week’s fifth annual 50-state educational technology survey, finds more and more students are attending school without ever entering a traditional bricks-and-mortar classroom.

A total of 12 states have created online high schools and 25 states have laws that permit cyber charter schools, the report said. Approximately 30 cyber charter schools have emerged in a dozen of those states. In addition, 32 states have started some type of eLearning initiative.

An estimated 40,000 to 50,000 students will have enrolled in an online course by the end of this school year, according to “Virtual Schools: Trends and Issues,” a report released last fall by WestEd.

Oregon and South Dakota already administer their state tests online, and 10 additional states are looking into web-based assessment through pilot programs.

eLearning is big business, too.

The Florida Virtual High School, the nation’s largest, most prominent state-sponsored virtual school, serves 5,000 students. The school receives $6 million each year from the state, plus it earns extra revenue by selling its courses to schools in other states, such as West Virginia.

The Virtual High School, operated by a Massachusetts-based company, is a collaboration of 200 high schools in 28 states and 8 countries.

While eLearning initiatives are multiplying rapidly, Kevin Bushweller, the report’s project editor, cited some key points for educators to consider before they plunge into eLearning in their own districts:

• Is it even necessary? eLearning is best used to fill gaps in a school’s curriculum offerings and shouldn’t necessarily replace key courses, Bushweller said.

• Does the infrastructure exist already, or will it take a significant investment?

• What kind of access do students have to the internet?

• Are the courses aligned to state standards?

• Who should provide and design the courses—a company such as Apex Learning, or the school’s own teachers?

• Should students get the same credit for completing a virtual course as a traditional course?

• Which students are eligible to participate? Virtual schooling is not ideal for every student, as it requires self-motivation and parental guidance.

• How much training should teachers receive? Teachers can’t use the same tactics as in bricks-and-mortar classrooms and will need sufficient training to make the switch effectively to a virtual classroom.

• How will schools ensure high-quality curriculum? Courses can’t just be slapped together. Schools need to consider what’s lost when students and teachers don’t meet face to face and how they can compensate for this.

Virtual schools that haven’t worked through all the issues beforehand have faced serious repercussions. Prominent virtual schools in Ohio and Pennsylvania already have faced opposition from education groups and legal action that has brought unsolicited media attention.

According to a state audit, Ohio’s largest cyber charter school, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (eCOT), ended last school year almost $4 million in debt.

School officials blamed the deficit on start-up costs, depreciation of equipment, and having to write off almost 400 computers the school was unable to collect from students who left eCOT before the year ended.

Besides erasing its deficit, the school must repay the Ohio Department of Education about $1.6 million as part of a settlement over a dispute involving its enrollment figures. The settlement resolves overpayments the department allegedly made to the school during the 2000-01 school year.

The state will deduct the money from eCOT’s regular state aid payments each month for three years. The annual repayment of about $550,000 represents 3 percent of eCOT’s yearly revenue of $16 million.

In addition to the school’s money problems, the Ohio Federation of Teachers has sued the state over its charter schools, arguing they violate both the Ohio Constitution and state law.

Pennsylvania’s largest internet-based charter school, Einstein Academy, just settled a lawsuit of its own. The school finally will receive $3.4 million that state officials withheld over questions about whether the school was operating legally.

The department has dropped its lawsuit, but the school now must ensure that it meets several conditions, including providing services to special education students, responding to parental complaints, and properly accounting for its billing and spending practices.

Einstein has struggled to deliver computers and textbooks to families on time since it opened in September, and its internet service provider terminated service to the school in March because it was owed nearly $80,000, leaving many students in the lurch.

School officials attributed their financial problems to the refusal of many bricks-and-mortar school districts to pay tuition bills to Einstein. They claimed these problems were aggravated by the state’s decision to withhold additional funding.

The “Technology Counts” report also cited the “Guide to Online High School Courses,” a draft report from a coalition of companies and education groups—including the National Education Association and National School Boards Association—that expresses concerns about eLearning becoming more popular in the lower grades.

Other findings of “Technology Counts” include:

• Nationwide, the student-to-computer ratio improved to 4.2 to 1, down from 4.9 to 1 in 2000. The number of student per internet-connected computer improved to nearly 7 to 1.

• Only 13 states have incentives in place to encourage teachers to use technology in the classroom.

Related links:
“Technology Counts 2002: E-Defining Education”

WestEd’s “Virtual Schools: Trends and Issues”

Ohio’s Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow

Einstein Academy Charter School


eSchool News Online Update

Enhancements and expansions are occurring at warp speed at the electronic version of eSchool News. While we’re hard at work creating these improvements, this space in the newspaper will bring you periodic briefings so you don’t miss anything.

We’ll get you up to speed on the new resources and services just becoming available from eSN Online (http://www.eschoolnews.org). It’s all free of charge, of course, for the benefit of K-12 decision makers who read eSchool News and visit eSN Online.

eSchool News Forums http://www.eschoolnews.com/cgi-bin/ultimatebb.cgi

Nothing beats the candor, currency, and swift communication of peer-to-peer collaboration. Now eSchool News provides yet another way to exchange news and views with your fellow school executives. The brand-new eSchool News Forums are designed just for you. They’re flexible, dynamic, and free. Here’s where you’re in charge. We’ve created 12 discussion topics based on the many requests from readers, but our new online bulletin board allows you to start any relevant topic you like. Participate with as much or as little public identification as you choose.

Here are the eSchool News Forums that are ready for you right now:

EDUCATOR DISCUSSION AREA—lively dialog on core issues such as:

• Best Practices in School Technology— Educators share technology strategies

that work best for them

• Worst Practices in School Technology— As a service to colleagues, educators share technology lessons from the school of hard knocks

• School Board Confidential— Anecdotes and antidotes of school board- challenged educators

• Significant Issues & Emerging Trends— Educators weigh in on important ideas, developments, and topics

• Tech Tips and Tricks— Time-savers & life-savers for tech-savvy educators

• Story Ideas for eSchool News— Suggest subjects for coverage in the eSchool News family of print and electronic publications

And back by popular demand . . .

The debut of the eSchool News Forums marks the return—in improved fashion—of our educator acclaimed ListServs. Now, faithful subscribers and new visitors alike will be able to tune in on what their colleagues have to say on these essential topics:

• Integrating Technology into the Curriculum— Educators share ideas on making technology a seamless part of instruction

• Grants & Funding for School Technology— Educators share tricks, tips, sources, and strategies on getting grants and raising money for school technology

• School Safety & Security— Discussions on keeping students, school personnel, and school property safe and secure


• Comments on Hardware Companies —Unvarnished opinions from educators about their hardware suppliers

• Comments on Software Companies —Unvarnished opinions from educators about their software

• Comments on Other Technology Companies — Unvarnished opinions from educators on consulting firms, integrators, and other school tech vendors


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.