ED: Tech is key to implementing new NCLB rules

Savvy school districts that have demonstrated what is known as “adequate yearly progress” (AYP) in reading and math can market online courses and other supplemental instructional services to underperforming schools, according to new rules proposed by the U.S. Department of Education (ED).

In the Aug. 6 Federal Register, ED published its long-awaited proposal for what states and school districts must do to comply with the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), President Bush’s signature education reform law, which takes effect this fall.

Although these rules are not final, states and school districts can use this Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for guidance on how to begin retooling their existing data management and reporting systems to comply with strict new accountability measures.

The 245-page notice also more clearly defines what AYP and supplemental services mean. Schools that do not demonstrate AYP for two consecutive years must provide transfer options to students whose parents request them, and schools that don’t meet AYP standards for three consecutive years must provide supplemental instructional services, such as after-school or online tutoring services, to students who need them.

Technology will be essential to implementing the requirements of NCLB, said John Bailey, director of ED’s Office of Instructional Technology.

“It’s almost impossible to enact [NCLB] without technology,” Bailey said. “The only way [educators] can identify what schools are underperforming is [by] using a data warehousing solution.”

NCLB requires states and school districts to use annual test scores, graduation rates, and other numeric indicators to measure their AYP, making the newly required statewide accountability systems invaluable.

“This is a good enough blueprint of the general direction [schools] need to head. It gives a little clarification,” Bailey said of the notice. “Our attitude was that there should be no dramatic surprises. If there are any areas that have caught people off guard, this is their chance to weigh in.”

State officials, educators, parents, and the general public have until Sept. 5 to submit comments and feedback on these proposed rules. Comments can be eMailed to Title1Rulemaking@ed.gov.

Raymond Yeagley, superintendent of the Rochester School District in New Hampshire, said state officials have been awaiting the release of this document to get more guidance on how to fit these high-stakes requirements into their state plans.

“Schools are going to have to start collecting and, more importantly, verifying very carefully all kinds of student data. There are now high stakes attached to the information in every state, not just a few,” Yeagley said. “Incorrect data could, for example, place a school in the category of ‘school in need of improvement,’ which could ultimately result in loss of students to other schools and some financial implications for the school and district.”

Here’s a summary of the proposed rules for how to implement the changes to Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act brought about by NCLB:

State accountability systems

NCLB requires that each state develop and implement a single, statewide accountability system to make sure every school achieves AYP. A state’s accountability system must be based on its academic standards and assessment. States must use the same system for all students, schools, and districts, though each state is free to develop its own unique system. The systems also must incorporate rewards and sanctions the states will use to hold their schools and districts accountable.

ED proposes requiring a single, statewide accountability system for each state starting with the 2002-03 school year. In addition, these systems must include guidelines for alternative assessment for students with disabilities but must ensure “that only students with the most significant disabilities take those assessments.”

Adequate yearly progress

NCLB requires each state to form its own definition of AYP. This definition must apply to every school and district, be statistically valid and reliable, and measure progress based primarily on the state’s academic standards.

The definition should include separate “annual measurable objectives” for math and reading for all students and also for different subgroups—including poor students, racial or ethnic groups, disabled students, and limited-English students.

States should use data from the 2001-02 school year to determine their initial AYP goal and should project further AYP goals until the 2013-14 school year.

“Adequate yearly progress must include intermediate goals that increase in equal increments over the timeline; the first increment must occur in not more than two years from the baseline year (2001-02) and the following increases must occur in not more than three years,” the notice said.

Also, a state’s AYP standards must include a required graduation rate for high schools and a similar indicator for elementary and middle schools.

For a school to achieve AYP, it must meet two criteria. First, each student and subgroup of students must meet or exceed the state’s annual measurable objectives. “If students in any subgroup fail to make the requisite progress, however, the school can still make adequate yearly progress if the percentage of students below proficient in that subgroup decreased by at least 10 percent compared to the preceding year and that subgroup made progress on one or more of the additional academic indicators,” the notice stated in what analysts refer to as the “safe harbor” provision.

Second, at least 95 percent of students in each subgroup enrolled at the school must be tested.

School improvement

There are three stages of improvement for failing schools, according to NCLB: improvement, correction, and restructuring.

Schools that don’t show AYP for two consecutive years must offer students transfer options, also known as school choice. After three consecutive years without meeting AYP, schools must offer supplemental educational services as well as school choice. Schools that fall into either of these categories are in the “improvement” phase.

If the school doesn’t improve after two years of offering supplemental services, it will be identified for corrective action. After one year of corrective action without AYP, the school will be identified for restructuring, which must include new leadership. All the while, the school has to offer school choice and supplemental services.

Communication with parents

Schools that are designated for improvement, correction, or restructuring must notify parents.

ED proposes clarifying this instruction by requiring that schools use a uniform, understandable format, and—to an extent practical—the notice should appear in the languages the parents speak.

Schools should use both direct mail and the internet to convey their message. Schools should make sure that notification protects the students’ and parents’ privacy.

In the notice, schools must explain the school-choice option and must list the supplemental services that are available, including technology-based or distance-learning services.

“The proposed regulations would help ensure … [that] schools develop a uniform approach for communicating with parents throughout the school improvement process,” the notice said.

According to ED, more than 8,600 schools nationwide already have been identified as improvement schools and must begin offering school choice and, in some cases, supplemental services on the first day of school this fall.

NCLB requires school districts to pay the full transportation costs for students to attend a school of their choice, but ED proposes limiting the financial requirement to 20 percent of a school’s Title I funding, so schools wouldn’t be obligated to satisfy all requests for school-choice transportation.

Supplemental education services

Title I defines supplemental services as tutoring and other academic enrichment services that are proven to improve student achievement. States must maintain an updated list of providers that parents can use and must monitor the quality and effectiveness of the approved providers.

The proposed rulemaking also permits individual schools and districts to provide failing schools with supplemental services.

ED proposes expanding the definition of “supplemental services” to include services provided by nonprofit organizations, for-profit businesses, public schools (including charter or private schools), or school districts. Schools identified for improvement, correction, or restructuring would not be eligible to provide supplemental services.

Students in failing schools don’t have to be limited by geography, Bailey said. Neighboring schools can offer supplemental services by providing online tutoring or creating software, and the failing school can offer distance-education courses via the internet.

Funding for choice-related transportation and supplemental services

School districts are required to pay 20 percent of their Title I allocation under subpart A to pay for school choice-related transportation, supplemental services, or a combination of the two. If parents request supplemental services, then districts must use at least 5 percent of this 20 percent to pay for them. States may set aside funds to help school districts that can’t pay for all requests.

ED proposes allowing school districts to offset this 20 percent of Title I funding by using funds from other federal, state, local, or private grant programs. Also, the department’s proposed rules clarify that school districts are free to exceed this 20-percent figure, but they aren’t required to do so.

Notice of state action

States are responsible for identifying schools for improvement, correction, and restructuring and reviewing these annually. Each state must publicize and disseminate the results of its review to teachers, staff, parents, and the community.

ED proposes that states be required to communicate these reviews in a uniform, understandable format, in a language parents can understand. States should use a direct means of communication, such as sending materials home with each student, as well as a broader method, such as the internet.

In summary, states and school districts have a lot of new information to disseminate under NCLB. States have to:

  • Notify supplemental service providers of the opportunity to provide their services each year;
  • Maintain an updated list of providers that parents can use;
  • Publicly report on standards and techniques for monitoring the quality of the approved supplemental service providers. If a provider fails to improve student achievement after two consecutive years, states must withdraw approval;
  • Provide schools with the results of standardized tests before the next school year begins, to determine if the schools are making AYP;
  • Publicize and disseminate the results of their annual state review;
  • Notify parents when a school is identified for improvement or correction;
  • Submit student enrollment counts; and
  • Tell the Secretary of Education the major factors that have significantly affected student achievement in improvement schools.

School districts have to:

  • Publicize and disseminate the results of their annual district review;
  • Notify parents and teachers of any school identified for improvement, correction, or restructuring;
  • Publicize and disseminate what steps they have taken to fix schools identified for improvement or correction; and
  • Publicize and disseminate their plan for new leadership or governance at schools slated for restructuring.

Finally, school districts that receive Title I funds would have to participate in the National Assessment of Educational Progress if selected. Participation formerly was optional.

Links:

ED’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (Look under “NCLB Regulations”)
http://www.ed.gov/offices/OESE/asst.html

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School weather data enlisted to fight terror

Schools participating in a network of more than 6,000 local weather stations across the country soon might play an important role in helping the government hasten its response in the event of another terrorist attack.

AWS Convergence Technologies Inc. of Gaithersburg, Md., the private company that operates the network, is making its weather data available through a partnership with the National Weather Service. The pact reportedly will bolster the government’s ability to protect lives and property.

The agreement, announced Aug. 6, gives the Weather Service access to data being collected by AWS WeatherNet stations, the majority of which are located in schools. In the event of a biological or other terrorist attack, this could greatly improve the mapping and forecasting of local air movement, so the military and emergency-response managers could make crucial decisions such as which areas need to be evacuated first.

Weather information has long played a pivotal role in the government’s ability to respond to major disasters. Following the Sept. 11 attack at the World Trade Center, for example, the Weather Service set up a network of weather stations around the site to collect wind data and predict the spread of smoke and dust.

If the new agreement had been in place then, data would have been available from more than 40 AWS WeatherNet stations in the area, significantly improving the government’s ability to respond, according to the company.

AWS President Bob Marshall said that after the terrorist attacks he decided to offer the company’s assistance if needed in the future.

At the same time, he said, the agreement is also a great learning opportunity for schools, where most AWS weather stations are located. It helps engage both teachers and students, and it shows them how the data can be applied to another use.

“The unique value and quality of highly localized, up-to-the second information … is critical for homeland security and emergency response applications,” Marshall said.

National Weather Service director Jack Kelly welcomed the program.

“AWS stepped up to the plate in response to the president’s call for American companies to support homeland security,” Kelly said.

With its WeatherNet stations, which are concentrated mostly in urban areas, AWS says it has the largest private weather network in the world. The service is affiliated with nearly 100 local broadcasters, who use it to provide neighborhood information in their reports and to improve local forecasts.

Students at participating schools use high-quality, commercial-grade weather sensors in conjunction with meteorological software and internet technology to measure 27 different weather parameters, such as wind speed and direction, temperature, relative humidity, and barometric pressure.

The data are sent in real time via the internet to AWS’s national WeatherNet network, where they are available to local broadcasters and other participating schools. Teachers can incorporate the data into their lessons, and AWS also supplies interactive lesson plans that make use of the WeatherNet data.

Data from the AWS weather network won’t be used in routine daily forecasting by the Weather Service, but will be available without charge whenever needed for emergency uses, agency officials said.

Links:

AWS Convergence Technologies Inc.
http://classroom.aws.com

WeatherNet Classroom
http://classroom.aws.com

National Weather Service
http://www.nws.noaa.gov

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Stalled Arizona wiring project gets new life—at a new price

The Arizona School Facilities Board agreed Aug. 2 to pay Qwest Communications an additional $40.7 million to finish wiring its schools for the internet. Work on the massive technology infrastructure was stalled when money from the original contract dried up in June.

Qwest agreed to resume wiring more than 800 schools as early as this week, with plans to finish the project by June 30, 2003. So far, only 559 out of 1,450 schools have been completed. But prior to the work stoppage, the company announced it had begun construction on 98 percent of buildings across the state.

The agreement marks what Arizona school officials hope is the final installment in a lingering controversy, which has since soured enthusiasm for the highly anticipated technology initiative.

According to School Facilities Board Interim Director Ed Boot, many schools across the state were so anxious to implement the new system that educators lost sight of a continuously rising swell in estimated costs.

“Schools were saying, ‘We don’t care what it costs, just get it to work.’ That was not the proper answer,” he said. “We did care about costs. The state is spending $40 million more than was anticipated. With the seriousness of recent budget scenarios, that is not exactly good news.”

In July, eSchool News reported that Qwest had discontinued work on the infrastructure after the board refused to fork over an estimated $50.7 million that was needed to wire the remaining schools and finish pending projects.

That was money the board said it wasn’t prepared to pay, citing a clause in the original contract stating the purchase price was “not to exceed” $100 million.

Claire Maledon, a Qwest spokeswoman, said neither side agreed that the initial $100 million contract was a point of impasse. That price, she said, was a starting block used to set the project in motion. “The expectation on both sides was that the $100 million purchase order was merely a kind of way to get things moving, to get this project under way,” she said.

Boot said the disagreement resulted from the fact that representatives on both sides were unclear as to what type of contract had been agreed upon. Some understood that the project was based on the size and scope of services rendered, but others viewed the initial $100 million as a “lump sum, fixed-price contract,” Boot said. “We just didn’t communicate clearly enough.”

He attributes part of that confusion to the sudden departure of former School Facilities Board Director Philip Geiger.

Geiger—who resigned in May amid controversy surrounding his alleged ties to a subcontractor hired by the board to deliver software to schools via the internet—was not forthcoming with initial estimates that, at one point, had pegged final costs near $300 million, Boot said.

According to Boot, Geiger and Qwest hammered out 37 revisions to the original agreement in efforts to lower those initial estimates. By the time the revisions had been completed, Boot said Geiger was able to reduce final costs to approximately $180 million, which was far better but still well above the $100 million figure.

Upon Geiger’s departure, Qwest and the board continued to haggle over what a fair price for the technology infrastructure should be. As the controversy neared a climax, state officials began to solicit bids from independent contractors, many of whom sought to one-up Qwest on the price.

During negotiations, the state considered seriously three bids from outside contractors, all of which ranged between $135 million and $175 million, Boot said: “It became clear that we [had] a $150 [million] to $200 million project.”

Once it was determined that the initial $100 million number was grossly underestimated, Boot said the decision to stay the course with Qwest was an easy one. Disagreements aside, Boot praised the quality and speed of the work Qwest did before the stoppage.

“We verified that the quality that we were getting was good,” Boot said. “We knew Qwest had the size and the wherewithal to pull this project off.”

Quality was so favorable that of the more than 500 schools already wired, Boot said there had been only 21 complaints about network connectivity. Of those 21 complaints, 13 turned out to be problems related to internet service providers, while another three were the result of equipment issues. That left only five complaints associated with cabling issues as a result of the work done by Qwest, he said.

“It’s unfortunate that we had to slow down while we all came to grips and decided that Qwest was the best path to take,” Boot said.

“This is a mutually beneficial agreement,” Maledon said. “[State] officials did entertain bids from other contractors, but in the end it was determined that Qwest offered the best solution.”

Still, some concessions were made on both sides to reach a fixed price.

First, considering the financial uncertainty surrounding the now-embattled telecommunications company, Qwest agreed to be paid on a per-school, post-inspection basis, Maledon said.

That means the company won’t see a dime for any of the work it does until each school passes a state inspection. “It’s a rolling pay scale,” Maledon said. By last count, only 220 schools had been cleared by such inspections.

But Qwest isn’t the only party making sacrifices to move the stalled technology project forward. To come to terms on the $140.7 million total, Arizona officials were forced to forgo the benefit of a three-year contract that would have covered all maintenance costs related to the new infrastructure, Maledon said.

The new contract also omits the wiring of 40 buildings throughout the state, including bus barns and other storage facilities—spaces Boot said never should have been considered in the first place.

Now that a fixed sum has been reached, educators, policy makers, and other stakeholders say they look forward to the completion of the project, which will bring internet access to the state’s most beleaguered schools.

“While the delay was difficult, I believe that what we have heard from the districts is that we need this project to happen,” Boot said.

Boot’s sentiments were echoed through the governor’s office. “This is a compromise, and it appears to be a workable compromise between the board and the company,” said Francie Noyes, press secretary for Gov. Jane Hull. “This is an equitable settlement.”

“The most important thing is to get these kids wired and get them on the internet,” Maeldon said. “We are just happy to have gotten this project back on track and are looking forward to moving ahead.”

Links:

Arizona School Facilities Board
http://www.sfb.state.az.us/sfbmain/core_home.asp

Qwest Communications
http://www.qwest.com

Gov. Jane Hull
http://www.governor.state.az.us

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District sued over eMail policy banning religious messages

A public interest group is suing a suburban Dallas school district over its policy banning employees from sending eMail containing religious messages.

The conservative American Center for Law and Justice, based in Virginia Beach, Va., filed suit Aug. 1 in U.S. District Court in Dallas on behalf of LaDonna DeVore, a receptionist in the administrative offices of Highland Park Independent School District.

DeVore sent a message through the district’s eMail system this spring about President Bush’s proclamation for a national day of prayer.

In her eMail, DeVore reportedly wrote a note above the copied text of the president’s proclamation that said: “The following proclamation by our president is an incredible statement by the leader of the free world, and I encourage you to pass this on to your friends and colleagues to set the stage for the National Day of Prayer this Thursday, May 2.”

The eMail was sent to acquaintances within the school system and friends outside the district, according to the suit.

District officials told DeVore her April 30 eMail was inappropriate and threatened to suspend her eMail privileges if she used the system again to send religious messages, the suit said.

The district allows employees to use its eMail system for both work-related and “limited personal” purposes, but prohibits “commercial, for-profit purposes, political purposes, religious purposes, religious worship, or proselytizing,” according to the lawsuit.

This policy is unconstitutional because it unfairly singles out religious messages, said Stuart J. Roth, senior counsel of the Virginia-based American Center, which was founded by evangelist Pat Robertson.

The suit contends that the policy violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. It requests that the court find the policy and actions of the school district unconstitutional and requests an injunction to prohibit the school district from continuing to enforce the policy.

“The law is clear: If a school district permits employees to communicate a wide variety of both work-related and private messages, it cannot prohibit a message from being communicated because its content is religious in nature. The policy in place is not only discriminatory but unconstitutional as well,” Roth said.

The school district referred reporters to attorney William Banowsky, who did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Edwin Darden, senior staff attorney for the National School Boards Association, said the district has the right to set reasonable limits on employees’ eMail use.

“If you say messages are open to everything, you could have individuals conducting the equivalent of church worships every day by eMail,” Darden said.

In this case, he said, the court will have to determine if DeVore’s eMail message was actually a form of “religious worship” or “proselytizing” as defined in the district’s policy.

Regardless of the court’s decision, it’s important for school leaders to write clear acceptable-use policies and regularly review these policies to address unthought-of or newly emerging issues, Darden said.

“The key is to sit down with a school attorney and think about what the parameters of the law are [with respect to] eMail,” he said.

Links:

Highland Park Independent School District
http://www.hpisd.org

American Center for Law and Justice
http://www.aclj.org

National School Boards Association
http://www.nsba.org

President’s National Day of Prayer Proclamation
http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2002/04/20020426-2.html

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This National Science Foundation (NSF) grant program aims to increase the opportunities for students and teachers to learn about, experience, and use information technologies within the context of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. ITEST addresses the shortage of technology workers in the United States and builds on the earlier NSF program for youth called After School Centers for Exploration and New Discovery (ASCEND). The program has three components: youth-based projects with strong emphases on career and education paths; comprehensive projects for students and teachers; and resource centers that engage in studies related to funded projects and provide technical support. The NSF anticipates awarding 20 to 25 grants totalling $15 million.

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The Innovative Teachers program addresses teacher training and retention of K–12 teachers. Through this program, Microsoft and the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) will give equipment and software reportedly worth $50 million to teacher colleges, education departments, and regional training centers over the next three years. Schools, school districts, and not-for-profit organizations need to form a CPE partnership to be successful with their grant applications. For more information, read the application and information available at the web site listed below.

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Study: Recruit Ph.D.s to teach science and math

A new report by the National Academies’ National Research Council recommends recruiting science and mathematics scholars with doctoral degrees to become K-12 teachers to address the shortage of qualified teachers in these subjects, while possibly improving math and science education at the same time.

The report, called “Attracting Ph.D.s to K-12 Education: A Demonstration Program for Science, Mathematics, and Technology,” is part of an ongoing project to address the nation’s shortage of teachers and the shortage of research positions for postdoctoral scholars.

Approximately two-thirds of the nation’s K-12 teachers are expected to leave teaching in the next 10 years, and an increasing number of well-trained scholars with doctoral degrees cannot find jobs in their fields, the report said.

In the first phase of the project, recent graduates were surveyed to determine their interest in becoming high school teachers. After finding a high level of interest, a committee of scientists wrote this report to propose starting a National Postdoctoral Fellowship Program to encourage scholars to become teachers.

“A program to bring talented science and mathematics Ph.D.s into the nation’s K-12 classrooms could help raise the level of both teaching and learning,” said M. Patricia Morse, chair of the committee that wrote the report and a professor at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Such a program “would offer post-docs a career path where they could help build bridges among our schools, colleges and universities, and science-rich institutions by applying their skills to support high academic standards and provide leadership in education reform efforts,” she added.

The fellowship program would select candidates for their content knowledge, commitment to K-12 education, and teaching suitability, the report said. The program would prepare participants for teacher certification and provide support during their first year.

The proposed fellowships would last two years, and fellows could expect to see a stipend of about $35,000 per year, the report said. The schools in which the fellows work as part of their teacher education would be expected to pay their stipends and benefits in the second year.

The fellowship program would start with a four-year pilot program that would place 15 fellows per year. If the program was proven to be successful, the authors recommend recruiting at least 30 fellows a year for 10 years. This would cost about $2.5 million a year, the report said.

Education experts applaud the goals of such a program, but noted it would barely begin to address the problem.

“Their program is targeted for introducing 300 teachers over the next 10 years. The problem is much bigger than that,” Jim Rubillo, executive director for the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, pointed out.

Getting qualified teachers into the schools is important, he said, but you also need to develop a support program to encourage them to stay.

“It’s well documented that we loose 30 to 40 percent of teachers in the first three to four years. The primary reason is that they feel isolated; they don’t have support,” Rubillo said.

“It has been said that if we could retain all the teachers that enter the profession, we wouldn’t have a shortage,” he added. “The issue is also retention, not just recruitment.”

Carla Daniels, a spokeswoman for the National Science Teachers Association, agreed.

“We totally support a program like this, but they need to keep the teachers [in the schools]. Teacher retention is the problem,” Daniels said. “You can keep recruiting teachers, but if you can’t keep them [in the profession] you will never combat the shortage.”

Daniels said school leaders can encourage teachers to stay by including them in the decision-making process, establishing mentoring programs, expanding professional development opportunities, and raising salaries.

“Research shows that people with math and science backgrounds choose not to go into teaching because of the difference in salary” between teaching positions and private-sector professional jobs, Daniels said.

The study was funded by the National Research Council with additional support from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Burroughs Wellcome Fund, Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation, and the Carnegie Corp. of New York.

Links:

National Academies’ National Research Council
http://national-academies.org

“Attracting PhDs to K-12 Education: A Demonstration Program for Science, Mathematics, and Technology”
http://www.nap.edu/catalog/10433.html?onpi_topnews_073002

National Council of Teachers of Mathematics
http://www.nctm.org

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

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Bush administration appeals internet-porn ruling

The Bush administration renewed its legal fight against internet pornography on June 20, asking the Supreme Court to permit Congress to pressure public libraries to block sexually explicit web sites.

In May, a three-judge panel in Philadelphia struck down the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA), which would have taken effect July 1. The law, signed by President Clinton in 2000, required libraries to install software filters on internet computers or risk the loss of federal funds.

Public schools and school libraries are still subject to the law.

The Justice Department, acting on behalf of the Federal Communications Commission and the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Sciences, formally notified the Supreme Court that it will appeal the ruling.

The panel from the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia ruled unanimously that the law relies on filtering programs that also block sites on politics, health, science, and other topics that should not be suppressed. Its decision was the third time since 1996 that courts have struck down U.S. laws aimed at keeping children from seeing internet pornography.

“Given the crudeness of filtering technology, any technology protection measure mandated by CIPA will necessarily block access to a substantial amount of speech whose suppression serves no legitimate government interest,” the judges wrote.

Under the law, adults could have asked for librarians to turn off the filters. But the court said some patrons might be too embarrassed to ask, and librarians may not know how.

Justice Department lawyers have argued that internet smut is so pervasive that protections are necessary to keep it away from youngsters, and that the law simply calls for libraries to use the same care in selecting online content that they use for books and magazines. They also pointed out that libraries could turn down federal funding if they want to provide unfiltered web access.

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Ohio’s new student ID system raises data-security fears

Ohio officials are preparing to assign an identification number to each of the state’s 1.8 million public schoolchildren to improve student-data tracking and boost academic performance. But in spite of state assurances that student data will be protected by the most sophisticated security technology available, the new ID system worries the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, which has asked the state for details on the plan.

The Ohio Department of Education says the Statewide Student Identifier System will be in place this coming school year. The state will use the system to study which programs are effective and which students need extra help, said department spokesman J.C. Benton.

Lawmakers approved the concept of the system two years ago when they overhauled the way the department collects data. The system also will help Ohio comply with the No Child Left Behind Act, signed by President Bush in January.

Last year, after lawmakers revamped Ohio’s proficiency-test systems, school districts began reporting test scores according to a child’s gender and race.

Although the state has received such information in summary form before, this will be the first time officials will have information on individual students, Benton said.

“Really, we’re not collecting anything more than we collect now when Joey starts the first day of kindergarten,” he said.

The department won’t have any personal information on students and will track them only by a number, Benton said.

The system requires schools to collect specific pieces of identifying information, including a student’s name, date of birth, place of birth, ethnicity, and gender. The information then is given to New York-based PwC Consulting, which assigns an identification number for each student.

The education department is paying the firm $1.25 million to manage the program. The company, a division of accounting and consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, will not receive any academic information about a child, according to state officials.

The system has “the most advanced security features available” for transmitting and storing information, Benton said.

Nevertheless, the ACLU of Ohio filed a public records request with the education department for all details about the project.

“We’re talking about the government collecting and collating vast amounts of information about students,” said Raymond Vasvari, ACLU legal director. “Once you start collecting data and putting [them] together in ways not generally available without doing the collecting, all sorts of questions arise.”

The school board in Akron, Ohio, decided to provide only the information required this year rather than include additional data—such as a student’s middle name and place of birth—which will be required next year.

“We felt this was information that had never been supplied about a child before, and the child would be able to be tracked,” said district spokeswoman Karen Ingraham. “We’re so sensitive to Ohio privacy laws regarding students, we just wanted to make sure the community did know information about their students would be in someone’s hands.”

Robert Rachor, who directs data collection and analysis for the Toledo, Ohio, city schools, told the Associated Press he supports the goals of the new ID program and believes the proper privacy protection is in place.

“My concern is there is so much data being collected on kids that I worry about the accuracy of the data,” he said. “People don’t have time to check it all.”

Other states are creating similar reporting systems. In Iowa, education officials last month predicted they would need a similar identification number.

Michigan is creating the Michigan Education Information System, although some districts have complained about the time and money they’re spending on the project.

Related links:
Ohio Department of Education
http://www.ode.state.oh.us

ACLU of Ohio
http://www.acluohio.org

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

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Corporate leaders ponder ways to serve schools better

Several corporate leaders have banded together to serve school customers better through the SchoolTone Alliance, a group of ed-tech companies focused on promoting the use of internet technologies in schools. At the group’s annual meeting, held June 17 at NECC, members discussed opportunities for companies that provide web services, tools, and applications for education to work together.

For example, the alliance is seeking to identify large, statewide requests for proposals, where several of its members can work together to provide schools with the necessary technology products and services. The group now also produces a monthly electronic newsletter about policy issues that are relevant to K-12 schools, so its members can better understand the needs of their school customers, and members can share case studies and best practices with each other through the SchoolTone Alliance web site.

At the meeting, John Bailey, director of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology, encouraged vendors to target underperforming school districts as showcase sites for how their technology solutions can turn a school district around.

Bailey also suggested that members lose the tech jargon and speak to educators in plain English so they can be understood more easily. He added that vendors should start reaching out to educators who are not actively engaged with technology—such as grant writers for school reading programs—but who could use technology as a solution.

Melinda George, executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA), reportedly recommended that vendors read state technology plans before they contact state officials. In addition to its other listservs, SETDA also is creating a corporate listserv for education vendors, George said.

SchoolTone Alliance member companies include AOL@School, bigchalk, Blackboard Inc., Citrix Systems Inc., Lucent Technologies, National Semiconductor, ACTV HyperTV Networks, Sun Microsystems, and Verizon.

Related links:
SchoolTone Alliance
http://www.schooltone.com

State Educational Technology Directors Association
http://www.setda.org

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