Report: U.S. students tops in computer access, but average in performance

United States students have better access to computers than students in nearly every other industrialized nation, according to a new report. And girls in the United States say they’re comfortable with technology more often than girls in other countries do.

But the report also suggests that America is divided into high and low achievers in a way several other nations are not—and that U.S. students, on average, perform no better than the rest.

Issued Oct. 29 by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the annual report says each school computer is shared, on average, by five students in the United States. In other OECD countries, the average is 13 students per computer.

Among 16 OECD countries with comparable data, 15-year-old American girls are the most comfortable with computers: 88 percent say they’re comfortable or very comfortable, compared with 70 percent, on average, in other countries.

The report also says the United States is in the top tier on a list of 32 countries for its percentage of 15-year-olds with “top-level literacy skills”—students who are among the best in the world at understanding complex texts, evaluating information, and drawing on specialized knowledge. But the report warns that enough students are doing poorly in the United States that they bring the nation’s level down considerably.

About 12 percent of U.S. 15-year-olds are “top-level,” 2 percentage points more than the international average, the study said. Only six other countries have a higher percentage of top students: Australia, Canada, Finland, Ireland, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.

If the number of low-performing 15-year-olds is added, though, the United States begins to look average.

About 6 percent of American students are “below basic,” unable to do all but the most basic work. That’s about the same as most other industrialized countries and puts the United States’ achievement data squarely in the middle of the pack.

“It’s only on average that [U.S. students are] doing average,” said Barry McGaw, an Australian educational psychologist and OECD’s director for education. He said well-financed suburban schools in the United States, for instance, are producing excellent students.

“At the top end, [U.S. students are] doing quite well,” he said.

The study said countries such as Japan, Korea, Iceland, and Finland have done a better job overcoming poor students’ hardships. In those countries, poverty is less likely to accompany low school achievement, it said.

Reg Weaver, president of the National Education Association, said the key to helping poor children succeed is to provide better facilities, smaller classes, better technology, and other things suburban students enjoy.

“All kids can learn,” he said. “But you have to make the playing field level.”

Teacher training and prep time also are keys to success, experts said.

The report found that, on average, U.S. teachers spend hundreds of hours more in front of students each year than teachers in other countries. In fact, high school teachers in the United States spend a whopping 73 percent more time teaching than the international average, roughly equivalent to 59 extra eight-hour days each year, the report said.

Rob Weil, deputy director of educational issues for the American Federation of Teachers, said teachers in other countries enjoy a mindset that says their planning and consultation time is considered work, not break time.

“In other countries, there’s a belief: Teachers working together to really polish their craft is really important to the quality of education,” he said. “What’s going to improve education [in the United States] is that teachers work together and improve their content knowledge.”

Professional development for teachers is especially important when it comes to computer use in schools, said Raymond Yeagley, superintendent of the Rochester, N.H., Public Schools. Although American students might have greater access to technology overall than their peers in other countries, many teachers still don’t know how to use computers effectively as a learning tool, Yeagley said.

“I have observed many teachers struggling to find the right way to integrate their newly acquired tools with the teaching skills they have used for many years,” he said. “Simply having good tools available will always be insufficient to produce excellence. Before technology will achieve its potential in the classroom, teachers will need to become master artisans in its use.”

For Ken Eastwood, assistant superintendent for instruction and technology at the Oswego, N.Y., City School District, the findings in the OECD report were predictable.

“There continues to be this misconception that technology relates directly to student achievement,” he said. “Technology is a tool to those correlates that increase student achievement, not a direct correlate itself. Technology [merely] enhances and reinforces good instructional methods, time on task, and [high-]quality teachers.”

Two other findings from his year’s OECD “Education at a Glance” report:

  • Mid-career U.S. teachers, with an average $40,037 salary, rank eighth among 27 countries with comparable data, but the United States ranks 22nd when teacher salaries are compared to gross domestic product.

  • Twenty-four percent of U.S. 15-year-olds said students don’t listen to what the teacher says, average compared with other countries.

Links:

Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development
http://www.oecd.org

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New web resources help school leaders understand NCLB

When the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) was signed by President Bush in 2001, it brought with it a laundry list of new responsibilities for educators nationwide. Now the U.S. Department of Education (ED) has put together a number of online tools designed to help school leaders muddle through the details.

The latest resources are a 140-page desktop reference covering every major program and aspect of the legislation and the inaugural issue of a new eMail newsletter published by the department.

Availability of these new guides was announced only days after state school officials nationwide received a blunt letter from Education Secretary Rod Paige, in which he commended some educators for their support of NCLB initiatives while chastising others for their complacency, calling them “enemies of equal justice and equal opportunity.”

According to Paige’s letter (see full text following this story), several schools across the country are not yet wholly committed to seeing the legislation succeed. In fact, he said, some are looking for ways to lower educational standards, rather than face the consequences of failing to meet more stringent demands.

“Unfortunately, some states have lowered the bar of expectations to hide the low performance of their schools,” the letter said. “It is nothing less than shameful that some defenders of the status quo are trying to hide the performance of underachieving schools in order to shield parents from reality. Not only is this political tactic an embarrassment, it undermines the public’s trust in education as a cornerstone of freedom.”

The letter pledged that the federal government is committed to working with state and local school officials to achieve four key principles of the legislation: providing accountability for results, more flexibility and local control, enhanced parental choice, and instruction based on scientifically based research.

To help school leaders meet these goals, ED is turning to technology.

According to Dan Langan, an ED spokesman, few arenas provide a better means of disseminating those resources to hundreds of thousands stakeholders nationwide than the internet.

“The internet is one of the most powerful tools we have to reach out not only to policy makers, but to parents as well,” he said. “Technology is big part of everything we do here at the Department of Education. It’s a powerful way to reach out to people.”

The new desktop reference, which can be downloaded for free from ED’s web site, contains information on every major program in the law, including standards for improving academic achievement; recruiting, training, and retaining high-quality teachers; flexibility and accountability; English as a Second Language (ESL) instruction; and the use of technology in the classroom.

According to ED officials, the manual details the purpose of each program, tells what’s new in the law and how each program works, and lists requirements, including how to achieve quality and measure performance, as well as key activities and responsibilities of state education departments.

Langan said the new desktop reference is one of several resources federal officials are providing to make sure all schools comply with the law. “We are engaged in a variety of outreach activities,” he said. “We have a myriad of ways to spread the word.”

Another of those ways involves the publication of ED’s latest online newsletter, “ED News: No Child Left Behind.” The twice-monthly publication culls the department’s web site for documents and press releases covering different aspects of the legislation. The new resource contains grant information, best practices related to NCLB implementation, and important announcements made by Paige himself.

According to Langan, ED also is using a number of face-to-face encounters—including regional conferences, workshops, and educational tours—to help spread the word about NCLB.

School officials and education organizations nationwide say ED’s latest efforts, especially its use of technology, so far have been effective.

Randall Moody, manager of federal policy and politics for the National Education Association (NEA), said, “Overall, I think the department has done a good job of getting the information out.”

Moody called the desktop reference “pretty comprehensive” and said he thinks ED has showed a concerted effort to help educators understand what is expected of them under the new legislation.

Still, he said, interpretation of the law remains difficult because requirements are filtered down through several channels before finally reaching individual teachers in the classroom. “I think there is still confusion,” he said.

According to Moody, it’s not practical to expect state and local educators nationwide to make the same interpretations. “Everyone has their own take on these things,” he said. “That’s to be expected.”

Rob Weil, deputy director of educational issues for the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), provided a similar assessment. “I’ll put it this way, [ED] does a good job of making the information available,” he said. “Although it’s not always so easy to find.”

Weil said ED’s desktop reference and eMail newsletter are very effective resources. What’s difficult, however, is finding information outside of those channels.

According to Weil, ED’s web site is a treasure trove of resources to help educators implement the new legislation. The problem is that the massive amount of content makes it nearly impossible for novice users—including many teachers—to search efficiently, he said.

Weil said more simplicity is necessary if the government expects teachers to take an active role in the implementation process. According to him, teachers are not as savvy at mining and culling complex databases as the policy makers and analysts who perform such tasks on a daily basis.

“The AFT believes teachers need to have a bigger say,” he said. “Certainly, the new law provides for that, but the leadership has to be open to allow teacher participation.” Weil said the real problem with the legislation is that, in some cases, no information exists at all. A number of the requirements—including those provisions for supplemental services and scientifically based research—have never been attempted. “We’re trying to learn as we go,” he said. “I think they are trying everything that they can think of.”

Still others complain all the free information and online tools in the world will do little to help those schools in areas where adequate funding remains the primary barrier to overall improvement.

“If ED wants to set these standards and expectations, let them pay for them. They don’t even pay all of the expenses we have for the implementation of Americans with Disabilities Act mandates,” said Marc Liebman, superintendent of Marysville Unified School District in California. “What that means is that Secretary Paige in effect is saying, ‘You’ve got to do it, and it is your problem.’ Giving us resource web sites won’t get us there. ED needs to put their money where their goals are—at a level of funding that will truly make a difference.”

Links:

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

No Child Left Behind: A Desktop Reference
http://www.ed.gov/offices/OESE/reference.html

National Education Association
http://www.nea.org

American Federation of Teachers
http://www.aft.org

Letter from Secretary of Education Rod Paige to Chief State School Officers

October 22, 2002

Dear Chief State School Officers:

This year our nation entered a new era in education: we declared that we will build an education system in which every child learns. We will support schools that make sure children are safe and parents involved. And we will construct a system in which schools and educators are held accountable for student achievement.

Americans all across our country understand the nature of the challenge before us. They have repeatedly told their elected representatives at the state, local, and federal level that educating every child is our nation’s most important domestic priority.

In Washington, both Democrats and Republicans heard this call and united behind an extraordinary moral vision to answer it. Our leaders made a bold commitment to provide equal education under the law by passing the No Child Left Behind Act.

I am writing to thank those of you who have accepted the challenge of that law and to applaud you for your efforts to educate every child and improve every school.

In response to the new federal law, nearly every state has recognized the absolute reality that thousands of schools are in need of improvement and that millions of children are not learning. In fact, some states have taken a bold stand and listed hundreds, even thousands, of schools “in need of improvement” in an effort to get those schools the help they need.

It is important to note the law does not use the term “failing” schools, because in some cases, schools identified as “in need of improvement” may, in fact, be succeeding in some measures.

What’s important is that we know these schools are capable of getting better results for all their students. By identifying schools as “in need of improvement” you are indicating your commitment to help them reach their potential as soon as possible. In fact, you are blazing a new trail as you confront the evidence and do something about it. I applaud you for your courage.

Such actions reinforce the message that No Child Left Behind is a constructive law and its reforms flow from a bipartisan spirit and belief that every child can learn. Simply put, a school identified as “in need of improvement” is a school that the President, the leaders in Congress, and the American people believe can improve.

By devoting new energy to those schools identified for improvement, you have refocused the debate and taken the first steps toward changing students’ lives for the better. Such honesty is a badge of courage and should be acknowledged as such by the citizens in your state. It shows that many of you understand that real accountability begins with informing the public and inviting support as well as scrutiny.

You are not trying to “game” the system for short-term benefits and no one can accuse you of trying to lower the standards for what your students should know.

The American public already understands that our schools can and must do better if we are to continue to live as a free and prosperous people. When more than two out of every three fourth-graders can’t read proficiently on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, we know there is a problem that requires decisive action.

To confront our nation’s education challenges we must be bold and we must be honest. Only by openly discussing our schools’ weaknesses can we begin to enact reform and build new strengths.

In many instances, we have seen principals and districts embrace the new spirit of accountability and achievement, embodied by No Child Left Behind. In Oregon, for instance, when several neighborhood schools were listed as in need of improvement, the principals gathered together with parents and presented a clear plan for action showing exactly what they will do to improve achievement.

Such leaders understand that change begins with accepting the truth—the truth that we can do better. Indeed, as studies of effective management and leadership show: encouraging excellence begins with attracting the right people as well as facing harsh realities.

Unfortunately, some states have lowered the bar of expectations to hide the low performance of their schools. And a few others are discussing how they can ratchet down their standards in order to remove schools from their lists of low performers. Sadly, a small number of persons have suggested reducing standards for defining “proficiency” in order to artificially present the facts. This is not worthy of a great country. I hope these individuals will rethink their approach for the benefit of the students in your states.

The law is meant to spur improvement, encourage reform, and inspire new initiatives so that every boy and girl learns.

Thus, it is nothing less than shameful that some defenders of the status quo are trying to hide the performance of underachieving schools in order to shield parents from reality.

Not only is this political tactic an embarrassment, it undermines the public’s trust in education as a cornerstone of freedom. In order to ensure authentic school reform, our nation must raise the bar of expectations. Every child can learn. Every child must learn. And thanks to this bipartisan law, every child will learn.

Those who play semantic games or try to tinker with state numbers to lock out parents and the public, stand in the way of progress and reform. They are the enemies of equal justice and equal opportunity. They are apologists for failure. And they will not succeed.

Right now, the challenge for state officials is to ask which schools are improving, how to emulate their success, and to believe that reform isn’t just possible; it is inevitable. The American people demand it.

Once parents discover that children in their local schools are not learning as well as they could, they will demand results—no matter how much one state tries to buck accountability.

As a former superintendent of the Houston Independent School District, I understand the promise and peril of improving schools. It takes courage to confront the forces of bureaucracy, regulation, and special interests that try to cripple even the most sincere efforts to increase achievement and accountability.

Fortunately, there are schools and reform leaders across our nation who have shown how quickly effective leadership can transform student achievement and how swiftly success can sweep through a school. With a dedicated focus on accountability and achievement, any school that needs improvement can create a new culture of learning and excellence in just two years or less.

The good news is that we know what works: scientifically proven methods, aligned standards, assessments, and instruction, school and district leadership focused on student learning, accountability for results, and highly qualified teachers will improve achievement and bring success.

Admittedly, our nation’s commitment—to teach every child—is ambitious. But we have the tools. And we have the know-how. Where we face a real challenge is in generating the will to see this vision through.

Americans agree that we need higher standards and higher expectations to press our schools to new successes. It is also why President Bush and Congress want to build a world-class teaching corps, so that every school and state has the chance to perform well.

Inside the classroom, nothing is more important than a teacher who has mastered his or her subject. That’s why the law supports finding and recruiting teachers who have the content knowledge and the life experiences to teach confidently and effectively. Our nation needs its most inspiring and dynamic citizens to teach the next generation.

By providing for alternative routes to the classroom, our schools can supplement their faculties with engineers and programmers, nurses and researchers, soldiers and scientists, who are willing to step forward to help children learn. Although some critics continue to attack aspects of the law and some naysayers have even convinced themselves that some children are too poor or too different—looking to learn, we know they are wrong.

Many of you have seen real reform in action because you have personally pressed reform forward. We share the belief that our efforts to improve achievement for all children will succeed if applied openly, honestly, and resolutely.

For those who have embraced the challenge, I thank you. The President, Congress and the American public believe that every child can learn and every school can improve, if we work toward that end as a people united.

Our nation’s schools are up to this task. They will find a way to ensure every child gets the kind of education that opens the doors of opportunity, provides the skills to succeed, and preserves the precious freedom of our nation.

In closing, let me reiterate this Department’s full commitment to forge a working partnership between the federal government and every state to get the job done. America’s children are counting on us.

Sincerely,

Rod Paige

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U.S., China announce joint eLanguage project

American students soon will be able to learn Chinese over the internet at no cost, thanks to a new $3 million project spearheaded by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) in cooperation with the Chinese Ministry of Education.

U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige and Zhou Ji, vice minister of education for the People’s Republic of China, signed a memorandum of understanding Oct. 21 to jointly build a web-based system that will help students and educators learn a second language free of charge online.

Initially, the eLanguage Learning System (ELLS) will focus on teaching English and Chinese as second languages. ED officials say the project eventually will be expanded to encompass other languages, too.

Paige said the project will build cultural awareness and increase binational communications through the study of language. “The eLanguage project recognizes the importance of language skills in a world economy and advances education goals for children of both nations,” he said.

“We view this eLearning project as a very significant one,” said Zhou Ji. “Through it, our kids can learn not only each other’s language, but also society, culture, and history. We have a project which will benefit our children’s language learning today and subsequently help to build better mutual understanding and trust in the future.”

The project also has practical implications for both nations.

Considering the size of China’s population and its rate of adopting technology, the web will soon be dominated by Chinese, said Alan Ginsburg, ED’s director of planning and evaluation. Also, China is an important trading partner with the United States, he said, and many Chinese students are interested in learning English.

The eLanguage project was one of three web-based education initiatives announced by President Bush at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Shanghai last October. The other two projects are the Cyber Education Cooperation, which would create a web portal and knowledge bank of best educational practices from both hemispheres, and the Asia-Pacific eLearning Alliance, which encourages major computer companies to increase web-based learning opportunities around the globe.

ED will contribute $3 million over three years to the eLanguage project through its Star Schools program, which is designed to improve instruction in foreign languages and other subjects using advanced telecommunications technologies. If the Star Schools program is eliminated as the Bush administration has requested in its fiscal 2003 budget, Ginsburg said the department would seek alternative funding sources.

Because there is a shortage of qualified foreign language and English-as-a-second-language (ESL) teachers in the United States, ED is trying to determine the viability of using the internet to teach a second language.

Many foreign-language teaching materials already exist in print, but ED believes this material should be available online as well. “The private sector has not been willing to develop such a system, in part because of the high front-end costs to demonstrate technical feasibility,” ED said in a statement.

Because ELLS will be free of charge, the system will reach millions of children in underserved populations, including the disadvantaged, illiterate, and limited-English proficient, ED said.

The United States will develop and pay for the English curriculum, and China will develop and pay for the Chinese content.

Although China and the U.S. are working cooperatively to develop, implement, and study this project, ED will maintain ownership of the content and technologies developed.

“We are designing the eLanguage project so it is modular and other languages can be added. For the U.S., one of the first priorities is adding Spanish,” Ginsburg said. Other languages won’t be added until the initial phase is complete, which is estimated to take some 18 months.

ED will work with the U.S. Army Training Support Center on this effort, because the center already has the technical expertise to develop such a system. If this system is proven to be effective, ED believes the private sector would step in and further develop a comprehensive language program once the initial funding runs out.

Northrop Grumman Corp., which was awarded the contract through the U.S. Army Training Support Center, will develop a technology platform to run the program, as well as 35 fifty-minute modules of English as a second language curricula that emphasize listening, speaking, reading, writing, and comprehension skills.

Existing second-language learning activities also will be converted to work on this platform.

The lesson plans will incorporate the principles and standards of good language practice in K-12 education, ED said. Curriculum manuals used to supplement the ELLS project also will be developed.

The eLanguage project will have animated language-learning materials that motivate and teach students, such as a computerized speech tutor to produce accurate facial movements synchronized to audible speech.

It also reportedly will include real-time assessment that individualizes instruction, as well as online language support systems such as chat rooms, key pals, multilingual dictionaries, and references to support learning.

Links:

eLanguage Learning System (ELLS)
http://ott.educ.msu.edu/elanguage

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AOL launches kids’ online safety campaign

America Online has launched a new internet safety campaign for kids built around an automated instant-messaging “buddy” that dispenses advice in real time.

Kids can add “AOLSafetyBot” to their buddy lists of friends on AOL Instant Messenger. It’s programmed to answer, within seconds, such questions as whether kids should agree to physical meetings with online acquaintances or reveal such personal information as their address and age.

Some experts wonder, however, whether a scripted program can always be an appropriate guide in a complicated online world, given varying age groups and parental preferences. The SafetyBot campaign, launched Oct. 23, also includes a web site at AOL’s SafetyClicks.com, where kids can play a trivia game and watch a video featuring characters from the Cartoon Network, a unit of AOL Time Warner. People who don’t use AOL’s instant-messaging software can also find the SafetyBot buddy on the SafetyClicks site.

Automated instant-messaging buddies, or bots, are not new, but past ones have been mostly devoted to marketing and promotions. Internet safety resources also exist elsewhere as web sites, among them Disney’s SurfSwellIsland.com.

AOL said it created SafetyBot to bring safety resources to a forum with which kids are already familiar. The company’s instant-messaging software is the most popular on the internet, with more than 150 million registered users.

According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, more than 40 percent of teenagers on the internet use instant messaging on a given day, compared with 11 percent for online adults.

“Instant messaging clearly is a form of communications that they enjoy, so there was a natural predisposition to using a bot,” said Tatiana Gau, AOL’s senior vice president for integrity assurance.

According to a 2000 study by Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, one in five youths aged 10 to 17 received unwanted sexual solicitations over the internet within the year. Only a quarter of them told a parent.

Will kids use the bot instead of asking parents for advice? Will parents depend on the bot to supervise their kids?

Gau said the bot is not meant for that or as a substitute for other safety resources.

“Obviously as a bot, it has intelligence and the ability to answer and handle certain questions,” she said. But “they have certain limitations, as all bots do.”

Many of the answers emphasize telling parents if, say, an online acquaintance asks for a meeting or personal information.

Parry Aftab, a leading internet safety expert, applauded efforts to make learning about safety fun.

“The kids will play with it, and if they play with it, maybe they will learn something,” she said. But she cautioned that correct answers might depend on age and other factors—for instance, some parents might want to handle meeting strangers differently.

The AOL bot offers only generic responses. And even safety experts disagree on the proper approach. Aftab said she used to recommend that kids give strangers a false name—until someone pointed out that kids might then consider lying permissible behavior.

“There is not always one clear answer,” she said. The AOL bot, made available to eSchool News’ wire service for testing, was good about giving relevant answers on general safety issues, such as sending photos to strangers, protecting passwords, and confronting bad language. But it did not always answer questions head-on. For example, the question “Could you meet me at Kmart?” returned a warning never to meet online friends in person without a parent. The question “Could you come to Kmart with me?” returned a generic message introducing the bot. Off-topic questions occasionally yielded humorous answers.

What are your hobbies? “I like to dance. (The “electric slide” is my favorite.) I also like to read and surf the internet.”

Why are you annoying? “Well, I am a bot.” Other times, even on questions related to internet safety, the bot said it couldn’t understand and directed the user to ask again, visit a menu of safety tips, or ask a parent.

AOL officials say the bot, which only responds when addressed, was programmed to make such replies rather than guess and potentially give a wrong answer. More questions and answers will be added over time.

Links:

AOL safety site
http://www.safetyclicks.com

Parry Aftab’s site
http://www.wiredkids.org

Disney safety site
http://www.surfswellisland.com

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FBI looks for source of massive internet attack

As schools increasingly rely on the internet for their mission-critical operations, the concern among educators for potential service disruptions increases, too. This week, tech-savvy educators were following with keen interest the ongoing investigation into one of the most serious attacks on the internet yet.

The White House on Oct. 23 sought to allay concerns about an unusual attack against the 13 computer servers that manage global internet traffic, stressing that disruption was minimal and that the Federal Bureau of Investigation is working to trace the attackers.

Most internet users didn’t notice any effects from the Oct. 21 attack, because it lasted only one hour and because the internet’s architecture was designed to tolerate such short-term disruptions, experts said.

The White House said it was unclear where the attack originated, who might be responsible, or whether the attack could be considered cyber-terrorism.

“We don’t know. We’ll take a look to see if there are any signs of who it may or may not be,” spokesman Ari Fleischer said. “I’m not aware there’s anything that would lead anybody in that direction. History has shown that many of these attacks actually come from the hacker community.

But that’s why an investigation is under way.” The FBI’s National Infrastructure Protection Center and agents from its cyber-crime division were investigating, FBI spokesman Steven Berry said.

Civilian technical experts assisting with the investigation, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the FBI was reviewing electronic logs of computers used in the attack to determine the origin of those responsible.

“It’s the nature of these things that they’re never easy to untangle, and yet sometimes there are clues left behind,” said Steve Crocker, chairman of an advisory committee on the security and stability of these servers for the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.

Another expert, Paul Mockapetris, the chief scientist at Nominum Inc., said those responsible appeared to use generic “ping flood” attack software that had been installed on computers across the globe using many different internet providers. His company provides consulting advice to some of the organizations operating the servers.

“It was a fairly large attack, but it doesn’t look to be an attack designed to do maximum damage,” said Richard Probst, a vice president at Nominum. “Either it was a wake-up call, or a publicity stunt, or a probe to understand how the system works.”

In so-called “denial of service” attacks, hackers traditionally seize control of third-party computers owned by schools, corporations, and even home users and direct them to send floods of data at pre-selected targets.

The Oct. 23 attack was notable because it crippled nine of the 13 servers around the globe that manage internet traffic. Seven failed to respond to legitimate network traffic and two others failed intermittently during the attack, officials confirmed.

Service was restored after experts enacted defensive measures and the attack suddenly stopped.

“There was some degradation of service; however, nothing failed and providers were able to mitigate the attacks pretty quickly,” Fleischer said.

A spokesman for the Office of Homeland Security, Gordon Johndroe, disputed experts who characterized the attack as the most sophisticated and large-scale assault against these crucial computers in the history of the internet. He said the attack did not use any special techniques and was not particularly sophisticated.

“There were minor degradations, but no failures,” Johndroe said.

Computer experts who manage some of the affected computers, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the attack effectively shut down seven of the 13 computers by saturating their network connections and partially saturating the connections for two others. Although the servers continued operating, they were unable to respond to legitimate internet requests.

The 13 computers are spread geographically across the globe as a precaution against physical disasters and are operated by U.S. government agencies, universities, corporations, and private organizations.

“The public harm in this attack was low,” agreed Marc Zwillinger, a former Justice Department lawyer who investigated similar attacks against eCommerce web sites in 2000. “What it demonstrates is the potential for further harm.” The attack wasn’t more disruptive because many internet service providers and large corporations temporarily store, or “cache,” popular web directory information for better performance.

Although the internet theoretically can operate with only a single root server, its performance would slow if more than four root servers failed for any appreciable length of time.

Links:

National Infrastructure Protection Center
http://www.nipc.gov

Nominum Inc.
http://www.nominum.com

Office of Homeland Security
http://www.whitehouse.gov/homeland

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The Arts@Work grant program, from the National Education (NEA) Foundation, encourages public secondary school arts specialists to collaborate with tech-savvy educators and the business community to develop examples of technology-integrated arts curricula that meet high standards for student achievement. The NEA Foundation will award up to 12 grants of $5,000 each through this program, which is supported in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

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New Jersey school district to test iris recognition system

A unique security system that features iris-recognition technology soon will be tested in one New Jersey school district as part of an $293,000 experiment funded by the U.S. Department of Justice.

The technology, called IrisAccess, will provide positive identification of teachers and some parents using a scanner to match the unique shades and patterns found in the colored part of human pupils with coded images stored in the school system’s databank.

Iridian IrisAccessNot to be confused with retinal scanning—a laser-based system that scans the area behind the eye for blood vessels and other intricacies—iris recognition is an image-based approach that captures patterns located on the eye itself, said Tarvinder Sembhi, director of product management for Iridian Technologies Inc., the Moorestown, N.J., company that manufactures the device.

Already the technology has been used to provide tighter security measures across parts of the Canadian border, in prisons, and a number of national airports, but this marks the first time the system will be tested in a school environment, the company said.

The Plumsted, N.J., Board of Education agreed Oct. 21 to test the system for six months, starting in January, and then decide whether it should be made permanent.

According to Phil Meara, the district’s assistant superintendent, select parents and all staff members throughout the district will be given the option to participate in the program, which will place IrisAccess scanners at critical entry and exit points throughout the district’s schools.

For teachers, the high-tech machines will replace a districtwide swipe-card system, which Meara said was insufficient and proved difficult to manage.

Under the new arrangement, teachers who wish to gain access to a locked door must stand in front of the reader, wait a few seconds for the system to match their iris to the images stored in the database, then—if approved—gain entry.

The school district also will test a similar approach on parents at the elementary level. According to Meara, the district will ask for parent volunteers to participate in a trial run of the “Teacher-Parent Authorization Security System,” or T-PASS. This approach will require parents or guardians to prove their identity by way of an IrisAccess scanner before being allowed to sign their children out of school early for dentist appointments and other commitments.

The district’s previous parental identification process consisted of a signature and photo ID, measures Meara said were anything but foolproof. “The parents want a sure thing. They want to know that their children are only being released to the right people,” he said.

If it’s imposters parents are worried about, Iridian officials say schools would be hard-pressed to find a more efficient identification system anywhere. According to Lina Page, who heads up the company’s marketing efforts, there are approximately 247 unique data points that can be used for identification within the human iris, compared with only 80 data points used for a fingerprint analysis.

But a high-tech identification system so accurate it makes fingerprinting look passe is sure to raise concerns among privacy advocates. To calm such fears, Meara said IrisAccess scanners will not be the only way to access any of the district’s schools. Parents and teachers who do not wish to have their irises coded and stored in the school system’s databank will have the option of being buzzed into the building by security or front-office personnel, he said.

So far, Meara said the district has no plans to require students to use the security measure. In fact, the technology won’t even be turned on until children have arrived for the day, he said. But the school system will be working with a group of software programmers throughout the course of its six-month trial to determine how else the technology might be deployed.

“As an administrator, there always is this altruistic side of you that sees the possibility to make things better,” he said. “You just want things to be as safe as possible.”

Of course, while safety is the key issue, cost is another a major concern. While the Justice Department has said it will foot the bill for schools in Plumsted, it has not made the same promise to other school districts nationwide.

And the scanners aren’t exactly cheap. Iridian says the systems vary in price from a couple hundred dollars to more than $2,000 a piece. The wall-mounted units to be used in Plumsted, for example, would cost upwards of $2,000, Sembhi estimated.

According to Meara, Plumsted plans to use the six-moth trial to determine whether the technology is even worth installing within schools at all. He said the evaluation will focus primarily on four points: effectiveness, feasibility, cost, and convenience.

“This will continue to ensure the safety of our children, and we will contribute to a body of knowledge that currently doesn’t exist,” Meara told The Times of Trenton.

School officials said the data collected through the system would be kept confidential and will be destroyed if the board decides to discontinue the program.

Links:

Plumsted Township School District
http://www.newegypt.k12.nj.us

Iridian Technologies
http://www.iridiantech.com

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Sponsored: SpectraLink’s Wireless Telephones Break Down School Walls

SpectraLink offers two solutions for the differing technological needs of school districts. The Link Wireless Telephone System (Link WTS) ties to a school’s existing PBX. The system works through a series of Base Stations that are installed throughout the campus to ensure coverage anywhere a user might be including hallways, parking lots, and athletic fields. For schools with a more aggressive technology outlook, SpectraLink’s NetLink Wireless Telephones are the perfect choice. These devices tie into an 802.11b wireless LAN, enabling voice transmissions to operate over the same wireless network as data. This is a powerful configuration to leverage additional value out of a newer technology investment.

All SpectraLink Wireless Telephone Systems offer the same rich features as a standard desk phone, such as hold, transferring, and speed dial as well as vibrate mode and text messaging to avoid disrupting the class environment.

Improving communications in a school benefits a host of critical day-to-day educational issues, such as parent-teacher communication and teacher satisfaction. Perhaps even more importantly, by enabling safer and more secure schools, SpectraLink Wireless Telephone Systems help students achieve, give school staff the tools to perform better, and provide parents with peace of mind.

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WebTarget

One of the major drawbacks for schools using hand-held PDA’s is their extremely limited range of about 3 feet when communicating via infrared technology. TriBeam’s WebTarget access point eliminates this problem.

Through the use of its patent pending Extended Range Infrared Communications (ERIC), WebTarget is the only technology of its kind to feature two-way communication for multiple users. What this means for schools is high-speed internet access for hand-held PDA users with only a minor investment in hardware.

For each WebTarget access point, with an access zone of 4000 square feet, an entire classroom of students and teachers can gain high-speed internet access. Installing the software on handheld computers can be done on the existing hardware; the standard infrared port on most PDA’s can easily be enabled with the WebTarget software, further minimizing costs for schools.

TriBeam also has plans to add support for Bluetooth Radio Frequency devices as well as Windows CE andPalm OS PDAs.

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LanSchool 6.1

Teachers who are concerned with eliminating student distractions on the internet in computer enabled labs and classrooms have a new tool at their disposal. LanSchool’s version 6.1 software gives teachers an impressive degree of control over student workstations in a computer-based learning environment, all from the teacher’s machine in the classroom.

New features to the LanSchool software include letting teachers monitor up to 140 student screens at once or focusing in on a single student. Teachers who want to use a student’s work, or their own, as an example for the rest of the class can lock the keyboards for the entire classroom and display the example on each individual screen. In addition, teachers can use the new screen annotation feature to make draw and make notes directly on any student’s screen without having to leave their seat. Teachers can also turn off student screens to help minimize distractions during discussion sessions.

Pricing is based upon the number of classrooms and ranges from $450 – $795 per classroom

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