Bower interview segment two

Flash Video
In this segment, Bower identifies some of the most important research on reading acquisition and talks about the pivotal role of professional development for teachers and administrators.

Part 1 | Part 3

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Bower interview segment three

Flash Video
In this final segment, Bower describes how effective, research-based practice coupled with new technology can ensure that every student will learn to read well.

Part 1 | Part 2

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School board’s eMail deletion violates open-records laws

School board members in Oshkosh, Wis., have admitted deleting eMail correspondence with stakeholders—an action the state’s attorney general says violates Wisconsin’s open-records laws.

The news comes less than a year after eSchool News reported on a similar controversy in nearby Madison, Wis., raising the question whether school officials nationwide understand the significance of electronic records in the digital era.

The Associated Press (AP) on Nov. 11 reported that every member of the Oshkosh School Board had deleted eMail messages sent to them by constituents.

The problem was revealed when the Oshkosh Northwestern, a regional newspaper, made an open-records request for all eMail messages between the board and its constituents regarding district boundary and consolidation plans. When the paper received only 470 messages, it asked the state attorney general’s office whether eMail correspondence should be regarded as a matter of public record.

According to the AP report, the response from Attorney General Jim Doyle was unequivocally, yes. Failure to save all of the messages violated open-records laws, he said. Several school board members told eSchool News they deleted correspondence without knowing its significance under the statute.

“Being a nine-year board member and the chair of our policy and governance committee, I had no idea that personal eMail was considered a public record,” said board member Mike Stratz.

Other school board members had similar explanations.

“I did not become aware of the fact that these eMails were public records until after the Oshkosh Northwestern requested we turn over all correspondence on the middle school consolidation plan to them,” said board member Teresa Thiel. “Several times our policy and governance committee had discussions regarding what school board members needed to keep and for how long, and there were no definitive answers because this is really an untested area of the law.”

Thiel, who said she received more than 200 messages on the consolidation plan alone, claims she did not intentionally delete any of the eMails. However, storage constraints imposed by her public eMail provider caused some of the messages to be erased inadvertently.

Since the open-records request was made, school board members say a system has been put in place for each board member to store messages concerning district-related affairs.

“The board has just set up an archive mailbox at the district office for each board member. [For] every piece of eMail regarding school district business we receive or send … we copy our archive mailbox before we delete it from our computers,” Stratz said.

The Oshkosh case resembles another controversy eSchool News reported on last year in the Madison Metropolitan School District. There, district officials came under fire after local Republican fund raiser Phillip Prange filed an open-records request for eMail correspondence between the school board and its constituents regarding the board’s decision to prohibit children from saying the Pledge of Allegiance in schools.

Upon making the request, Prange received only a few hundred messages and was told most of the correspondence had been deleted to free up space on the district’s information-laden computer system. Though officials attempted to retrieve the deleted eMails, additional correspondence was made available only in such instances where recovery efforts proved successful.

At the time, Dane County District Attorney Brian Blanchard—who investigated the matter—said eMail between school board members and constituents was protected under the state’s open-records laws, but the timing was critical in deciding whether or not the messages had been erased illegally. No charges were filed against the district in that case.

There is no statute in Wisconsin state law that specifically addresses eMail use by government officials. But as the two Wisconsin cases demonstrate, school officials should assume that eMail messages—and any other form of electronic correspondence, such as a bulletin-board forum on a school web site—are public records subject to the same open-records laws that apply to paper documents.

In Wisconsin, Thiel said some notices on committee hearings and other school-related business reportedly must be kept for seven years.

Although such statutes are state-specific, Edwin Darden, senior staff attorney for the National School Boards Association (NSBA), said there are a number of precautions school officials nationwide can take to avoid similar legal missteps.

For instance, Darden said the NSBA recommends that school systems write a discard policy for electronic correspondence.

“You cannot destroy things in anticipation of litigation or in anticipation of an open-records request,” he said. But if you have a pre-established policy stating that eMail records are to be deleted after a certain number of days or weeks, it becomes the requestor’s responsibility to file their petition before that time limit expires.

Darden called the internet “still new” and said many state governments are struggling to determine how records kept in cyberspace relate to legal jargon originally meant for paper documents stored in file cabinets.

“You’re going to have some stumbles along the way… as people decide how to operate in the cyber world,” Darden said.

To help educators sidestep some of the pitfalls, the NSBA last year published Legal Issues & Education Technology: A School Leader’s Guide. The book, now in its second edition, provides a number of suggestions for officials on how best to manage the use of electronic communication in schools.

Suggestions include:

  • Develop a successful use policy for technology that is reasonable and enforceable.
  • Understand that all electronic correspondence, including eMail, is subject to a Freedom of Information Act request from outside parties.
  • Instruct board members to keep personal communications separate from school-related business.
  • Set up an archival system for school-related eMail that is not unlike the process used for paper-based documents.
  • Use back-up discs or drives to store information for as long as your state requires under the law.

Links:

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

Oshkosh Northwestern
http://www.wisinfo.com

Oshkosh Area School District
http://www.wisinfo.com/northwestern/index.shtml

Madison Metropolitan School District
http://www.madison.k12.wi.us

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ED’s proposed web site scrubbing draws fire

A proposal to remove certain information from the U.S. Department of Education’s web site has drawn criticism from an alliance of organizations representing academics and researchers.

In a letter sent to Education Secretary Rod Paige in late October, representatives of 12 groups—including the American Library Association (ALA) and the American Educational Research Association (AERA)—questioned the political overtones of a directive announcing an overhaul of the department’s web site.

In the directive, issued May 31, the department said it wanted to make the site more accessible to the public while addressing “content that is either outdated or does not reflect the priorities, philosophies, or goals of the present administration.”

The goal of the scrubbing is to “update or remove outdated content,” the directive said.

Felice Levine, AERA’s executive director, said the organizations are troubled by the impact these revisions might have on academic research.

“We are essentially asking the secretary to open up a reflection and dialogue that all such information is protected from a political litmus test,” Levine said.

Education Department (ED) spokesman Daniel Langan called the letter the result of a “misunderstanding” over a proposal that is still in the “discussion stages.”

“There are no plans for a wholesale elimination of anything on the site. Everything will be archived and available to our customers,” he said.

However, archiving information that is removed might not adequately serve the needs of researchers accustomed to easy access to department data, said Patrice McDermott, assistant director of government relations in ALA’s Washington office.

“The problem is if they just put [information] on a server somewhere, it’s preserved, but it’s not permanently, publicly available,” she said. “There’s almost no way to find it unless it’s indexed—and there’s no guarantee it will be kept in a form that will be useable.”

Besides information left over from the previous administration, ED is considering the removal of digests written by the Educational Resources Information Center (ERIC), a clearinghouse for research on hot-button topics in education. This seems strange, researchers say, given the Bush administration’s emphasis on research-driven programs.

Bush’s presidency marks the first time a political administration has changed since ED created its web site in 1994. Government web sites are covered by the same laws that protect the public’s right to access other federal records—but in an era when many people get a majority of their information online, how this information is preserved is an important question that must be addressed.

Whatever archiving format ED officials decide to use should have a built-in search engine so its contents can be searched easily, McDermott said. Also, people will need to know where they can find this content.

“The big question is where. If it is going to be online, why isn’t it going to remain a part of [ED’s] web site?” she said, referring to information that is removed during the scrubbing.

Langan said Paige would respond to the groups’ letter. At press time, McDermott said she had not yet received a response.

Links:

American Educational Research Association
http://www.aera.net

American Library Association
http://www.ala.org

Text of the groups’ letter
http://www.ala.org/washoff/webscrubbing.pdf

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

The text of the letter follows:

October 25, 2002

The Honorable Rod Paige
Secretary of Education
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20202

Dear Secretary Paige:

We are writing to express the concerns of our organizations about the recently reported initiative within the U. S. Department of Education (ED) to remove from public access information that “does not reflect the priorities, philosophies, or goals of the present administration.” While the Department is aware of the problems such a move would create, the steps it has recently suggested to address these problems still fall short because archived material would clearly not be as accessible.

We recognize that the Department may reorganize its web site, and we applaud your attempts to improve the transparency of this site so that the public can find information more easily. However, the Department’s announced initiative to remove documents has raised significant concerns and questions among the library, educational research, and related social science communities, and we would value and appreciate a response.

One of our primary concerns centers on the fate of information scheduled to be removed from your publicly accessible web site. As you are aware, information created or collected by the government, whether in tangible or electronic form, is a federal record. Therefore, we would like to know what steps the Department is taking to preserve information and provide the easiest possible permanent public access to any materials that are removed? Because the internet has become by far the method of choice for disseminating information and research data widely and efficiently, we are concerned about efforts that would diminish access and use of these records.

Secondly, we are equally concerned with any actions that would remove from access research, data, and other digests of information that otherwise have been publicly available, irrespective of administrations, by the Department of Education. Such materials are essential to advancing scientifically-based research and need to remain accessible to the library, educational research, and related scholarly communities.

For example, we are uncertain about ongoing access to materials in the Educational Resources Information Center (ERIC) on the Department of Education web site. Will a link to the ERIC site be established and maintained on the Department’s site? Will it be visible to experienced and new researchers who can add knowledge and insights analyzing such information? Finally, we are concerned about the role of educational researchers, related social and behavioral scientists, librarians, those with expertise in data dissemination and preservation, and other public stakeholders in the development of any plan to access materials on the Department’s web site. Information available through the U. S. Department of Education web site is used by a wide variety of professionals, including educators, scholars, public decision makers, and the public more broadly, and they should be consulted throughout this process. We urge you to hold meetings with them and listen to their concerns and ideas.

Members of our associations appreciate your attention to this important matter. We, as well as the general public, need internet access to the research, data, reports, and other digests and information that may be removed from the Department’s web site. We would appreciate hearing what steps the Department intends to take to ensure ongoing access to documents scheduled to be removed.

Sincerely,

Emily D. Sheketoff
Executive Director
American Library Association Washington Office

Felice J. Levine
Executive Director
American Educational Research Association

James Kohlmoos
Executive Director
National Education Knowledge Industry Association

Corinne Anderson-Ketchmark
President
School Social Work Association of America

David G. Imig
President and CEO
American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education

Sally Hillsman
Executive Officer
American Sociological Association

Reg Weaver
President
National Education Association

Ronald F. Abler
Executive Director
Association of American Geographers

Kimberly Green
Executive Director
National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium

John J. Siegfried
Secretary-Treasurer
American Economic Association

Gerald N. Tirozzi
National Association of Secondary School Principals

Howard Silver
Executive Director
Consortium of Social Science Associations

Additional Organizations Signing On:

Society for Research in Child Development
National Association of Social Workers

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New web site provides free access to children’s books online

A new web site will make thousands of children’s books from 100 different cultures available for free to internet-savvy kids around the world.

When it’s completed in about five years, the International Children’s Digital Library will hold about 10,000 books targeted at children ages 3 to 13.

Designed by the University of Maryland’s Human-Computer Interaction Lab and the Internet Archive, a San Francisco-based nonprofit, the site’s goal is to expand children’s reading and learning skills while teaching them about other cultures.

“There are places in the world where you’re going to find a computer way before you find a library or a book store,” said project director Jane White.

A group of children played an important role in developing the web site, telling researchers what designs and icons appealed to them most. When some of the youngsters said they wanted to search for books based on how the stories make them feel, the designers responded, creating special indexes for funny or scary stories.

The site has colorful icons that allow even the youngest children to navigate without knowing what all the words mean. With the click of a mouse, kids can see the thumbnail-sized pages of a book unwind in a spiral or unfold like the panels of a comic book.

Seven-year-old Ben Hammer of Silver Spring, Md., one of the children who demonstrated the site at the Library of Congress, said he likes to look at the pictures of books even if he can’t read all the text yet.

“It’s more fun because you get to zoom through the books,” he said. “And I like doing stuff on the computer.”

Even more important for Jade Matthews, a nine-year-old from Bowie, Md., “the book is never checked out.”

The site officially debuted Nov. 20 with 200 titles from more than 27 cultures in more than 15 different languages. Many of the titles are classics, like “Alice in Wonderland” and “Robinson Crusoe,” that are no longer under copyright restriction. Some publishers—including Random House, Scholastic, and HarperCollins—have contributed a few newer works from their extensive collections.

“We’ve worked hard to ensure international cooperation,” said White, noting that non-U.S. participants include the Finnish Institute for Children’s Literature, National Library Board of Singapore, National Library of Croatia, Swiss Institute for Child and Youth Media, and Zimbabwe Book Council.

“Every book that is added to the International Children’s Digital Library will be accessible by hundreds of millions of people around the world,” said Brewster Kahle, digital librarian for the Internet Archive. “Universal access to all human knowledge and culture is within our grasp, and this library project is bringing publishers, librarians, and researchers together to make a system that works for children.”

Access to the library initially requires a direct internet connection, such as a cable modem or digital subscriber line (DSL). Those connecting by phone modems will be able to access the site in summer 2003.

Links:

International Children’s Digital Library
http://www.icdlbooks.org

Internet Archive
http://www.archive.org

University of Maryland’s Human-Computer Interaction Lab
http://www.cs.umd.edu/hcil

Library of Congress
http://www.loc.gov

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Model exemplary teaching practices with the “Digital Edge Learning Interchange”

In August 2001, eSchool News reported that the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, the International Society for Technology in Education, and Apple Computer—with funding from the AT&T Foundation—had launched a project to create an online library of videos showcasing best practices for teaching with technology. Based on two sets of nationally recognized standards, the videos are intended to help both current and aspiring teachers use technology in the classroom more effectively. Now, the fruits of this labor are ready for schools’ consumption. Teachers can turn to this site for access to online “exhibits” submitted by National Board Certified Teachers who have participated in the program. Each free exhibit contains a number of professional development resources and suggestions for teachers, including lesson plans, video clips, examples of student work, assessment tools, and teacher-student reflections, enabling teachers to learn from the best as they strive to integrate technology into their own curricula.

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WorldCom’s $6 million ‘miracle’ to save MarcoPolo

Telecommunications giant WorldCom Inc. has committed $6 million to save MarcoPolo—its popular, standards-based educational web site and teacher training initiative—despite filing for bankruptcy protection, laying off thousands of employees, and facing possible charges for fraudulent accounting.

Fearing the worst, MarcoPolo organizers have scrambled since July to find an estimated $7 million needed to save the program.

Officials hope to train 2.4 million educators by 2005.Earlier this year, “I thought we only had weeks and months left,” said Caleb M. Schutz, vice president at WorldCom Inc. “Then, we were saying we need the money or we’re going under. Now, there is no threat that we are going out of business.”

Schutz called it a “miracle” that WorldCom’s creditors, board of directors, and executives would approve funding for a program that isn’t mission-critical.

“In the midst of bankruptcy, I think it is historic that the banks would look at a function like MarcoPolo and decide that it’s to remain a function of the main business,” he said.

MarcoPolo provides teachers nationwide with free, high-quality online content in science, arts, economics, humanities, geography, and mathematics. The content is developed by well-known, respected organizations such as the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and the National Geographic Society. Its web site receives 450,000 unique visitors each month, Schutz said.

Despite the program’s financial uncertainty and the company’s Chapter 11 filing, determined educators have trained an additional 23,000 teachers since July, Schutz said, mostly by volunteering. To date, 160,000 teachers have received training through the MarcoPolo program. Officials hope to train 2.4 million educators by 2005.

Officials had planned to save MarcoPolo by launching a new foundation to run the program and securing new funding sources. Although the new MarcoPolo Education Foundation was, indeed, created, the search for financers has been largely unsuccessful. No one wanted to support a program that might go under, Schutz said.

“We were looking for a one-time big giver to save us, but that is hard to get,” he said. Before WorldCom’s $6 million pledge, only Washington Mutual had committed $100,000.

Schutz believes MarcoPolo will attract funding more easily now that its future is more secure.

In the meantime, WorldCom is providing the core funding to keep MarcoPolo afloat, and the program and its employees will operate under the auspices of WorldCom.

Schutz still intends to run MarcoPolo under the MarcoPolo Education Foundation as its own entity, but first he needs more funding and to establish a board of directors. The WorldCom Foundation is now defunct.

“Now with the MarcoPolo Education Foundation established, independent from WorldCom, we aim to exceed the company’s commitment with funding from business, government, and other foundations focused on education,” he said.

Educators across the country said they were pleased to hear that MarcoPolo has secured funding.

“Knowing that there is substantive funding to revive the momentum of this effective education resource is excellent news,” said Ted Stilwill, director of education for the Iowa Department of Education.

“MarcoPolo is such a valuable tool for teachers that I hated the thought of losing it; you can be sure I’ll be encouraging teachers to use it as much as possible,” said Carol Sherer, a media specialist for Jetmore High School in Jetmore, Kansas.

“I am thrilled that MarcoPolo has been saved,” said Catherine L. Metzger, technology specialist at Whitaker Elementary School in Cincinnati.

Links:

MarcoPolo
http://www.marcopolo-education.org

WorldCom Inc.
http://www.worldcom.com

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Congress approves kid-friendly web domain

Pending presidential approval, U.S. schoolchildren soon will have access to the first-ever internet domain designed specifically for kids. The initiative is yet one more attempt by Congress to shield children from accessing inappropriate material online—but observers caution that it’s not a panacea and will only be as effective as the adults who are in charge.

Congress on Nov. 15 approved the Dot-Kids Implementation and Efficiency Act of 2002, leaving it up to President Bush to sign the bill, which promises to carve out some child-friendly territory within America’s .us web domain, called .kids.us.

Built and policed by NeuStar Inc., a corporate manager of communications services, the new space will not allow web sites to provide hyperlinks to other sites existing outside the .kids.us territory—nor will it tolerate other sometimes risky communications services, such as chat rooms and instant-messaging services, unless content providers can guarantee their safety.

“This is our nation’s best chance to guarantee kids an online experience that is fun and age-appropriate,” said Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., who wrote the Senate’s version of the bill.

Proponents of the system hope it will provide such an experience by ensuring that only those sites promising the most appropriate content for children under the age of 13 be allowed to join the domain.

According to Barbara Blackwell, NeuStar’s manager of public relations, the company is in the process of soliciting children’s advocacy and online safety groups, as well as educators and parents, for suggestions about what qualities a site should demonstrate to be deemed acceptable.

So far, the company has proposed a number of potential standards. Some of the possible restrictions would include no sexual content of a normal or perverted kind, no lewd display of genitals or female breasts, a ban on any of the “seven dirty words” as identified by the Federal Communications Commission, no teenage and adult game sites, and no content that displays revealing attire, advocates the legal or illegal use of drugs, or promotes gambling, alcohol consumption, tobacco use, and violence or hate crimes.

Exceptions to these provisions would be made only if the suggested content is considered to have serious educational value to children, NeuStar said.

NeuStar also is looking at applying guidelines to internet and advertising safety that are similar to those proposed by the Children’s Online Protection Act (COPA) and the Children’s Advertising Review Unit, part of the Better Business Bureau.

Currently, the company is working through the comments it already has collected about its proposed guidelines. James Casey, director of policy and business development for NeuStar, said official specifications will be released in a matter of a few weeks.

“First and foremost, we want to build a space that kids will use and actually come to,” Blackwell said.

NeuStar is nearing the end of the first year of a four-year contract with the federal government to build and maintain the new sub-domain. According to Casey, the contract could be extended to as many as six years if the company shows progress and proves its methods are effective.

“It’s a big challenge,” Casey said. “But it’s one that I think we’re up to.”

Adding to the pressure, NeuStar has agreed to build the domain under a “zero-cost contract,” which means that any revenue the company receives must come directly from registration fees paid by web site owners to become part of the new domain.

That means NeuStar will risk a substantial financial loss if .kids.us is poorly received or proves ineffective at filtering out inappropriate content.

“All cost recovery will come from fees charged for the registration of a name,” Casey said. “It’s critical people join so that we can recover the costs … We can create the safest place in the world, but if nobody uses it, nobody is protected.”

To make it through Congress, the legislation had to undergo a number of significant changes since the concept was unveiled by Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., in the House last March.

According to Casey, major revisions included language regarding financial hardship, which would make it possible for the U.S. Department of Commerce—the agency overseeing the project—to terminate NeuStar’s contract if the domain fails to promote enough interest from content providers or is unable to provoke excitement among children and educators.

The provision provides a failsafe for NeuStar, which otherwise would stand to lose a significant amount of money if forced by contract to maintain and police a web domain that was going unused.

Casey said the final version of the bill also attempts to tone down some of the more ambitious goals proposed in the original concept. It strikes language that originally would have required participating web site operators to promise that no inappropriate content would appear on their sites, replacing that pledge with a softer clause that asks site owners to make a concerted effort to provide child-friendly, interactive content.

The latest version of the legislation also gives NeuStar a little more time to accomplish its goals and demonstrate progress, with two potential one-year extensions thrown in as bonus incentives for showing results.

“No one has ever done this before. We laid out a few things that we thought would take more time,” Blackwell said. “And they extended the contract.”

Originally there was talk of creating an international web domain for children, but discrepancies arose over how best to control and dictate the content in a cross-cultural environment.

According to Mary Hewitt, director of communications for the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN)—the nonprofit organization working with Commerce to regulate the national Domain Name System (DNS)—Congress scaled back efforts to make .kids an international domain along with .net, .org, and .gov when lawmakers were faced with the complication of dictating what appropriate content should be for children on a worldwide scale.

“It gets difficult to ascertain … what is appropriate for children around the world,” she said. “With over 244 countries that have access to the internet, it’s just too difficult.”

That’s because different countries have different cultural ideas about what is appropriate for children to view online, she said. “What’s seen as acceptable for a child in the United States might not be deemed acceptable in Iran,” she said.

While Hewitt said ICANN was pleased with the decision to go with a regional .kids.us sub-domain, she warned that designating a portion of the internet to children would not protect them fully against online predators and other inherent dangers.

In considering the use of a child-friendly internet domain such as .kids.us in schools, some educators say they, too, will approach the resource with cautious enthusiasm.

“Certainly, I think that some educators will make use of .kids, but I also think that parents will make use of it. A fundamental challenge will be for NeuStar to correctly interpret the guidelines set forth in the legislation by Congress. It cannot be said enough that the only true way to ensure student safety on the internet at school is for internet use to be curriculum-driven and age-appropriate, have adequate supervision by adults, and—most importantly—[give kids] the necessary internet and information skills to make them safe, effective users,” warned Bob Moore, executive director of information technology services for the Blue Valley Union School District in Kansas. “At some point, they will not be using .kids, and if they don’t have the necessary skills, they will be no more safe or effective.”

Marc Liebman, superintendent of the Marysville Joint Unified School District in California, voiced similar concerns.

“I would absolutely recommend that our schools use this domain, but also understand there will be sites that are useful outside of it,” he said. “Unless we limit access on the net to only that domain, it will not ensure that students won’t end up at the wrong site. As always, it will be as effective as the adults who supervise student use of the net.”

Links:

NeuStar Inc.
http://www.NeuStar.com

NeuStar’s .us Domain Page
http://www.NeuStar.us

Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D.
http://www.NeuStar.com

U.S. Department of Commerce
http://www.NeuStar.com

ICANN
http://www.icann.org

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New guidebook aids school leaders in technology assessment

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) has created a handbook that suggests a standard set of questions school leaders should ask to assess whether they are using technology effectively.

The handbook, “Technology in Schools: Suggestions, Tools and Guidelines for Assessing Technology in Elementary and Secondary Education,” was released Nov. 5. It’s the result of more than three years of consensus building by the Technology in Schools Task Force, a group of state education agency managers and school district technology coordinators created by the National Forum on Education Statistics.

School leaders can use the 175-page handbook to collect and assess information on how technology is being used in their schools to help with technology planning and decision-making.

“School districts need to be able to ask questions to see if they are using technology effectively. To get the right answers, you have to ask the right questions,” said Lee Hoffman, who works with the Common Core Data at NCES.

“We hope it saves schools time, helps schools ask more [targeted] questions, and gives schools more focused data points,” said John Bailey, director of technology for the U.S. Department of Education.

Because schools answer so many surveys and data requests each year, the handbook also aims to reduce the redundancy of data collection. “If you already have records that tell you how many computers you have or how many classrooms have internet connections, you can respond to an outside survey without having to go out and do a count again,” Hoffman said.

By standardizing the questions asked and the methods that should be used to answer those questions, the authors hope to reduce the diversity among the data collected and make the data more comparable from district to district and state to state.

“Since education groups of all kinds—from policy makers at various levels, to commercial interests, to professional associations, to education managers and planners—repeatedly ask nearly the same questions, coming to agreement on standard questions and answers can help reduce redundancy and improve comparability in the questions asked and the answers provided,” the guide says.

The task force hopes technology vendors, researchers, and government agencies also will use this handbook to craft their surveys.

The guide is organized into seven chapters on the following topics:

  • Technology planning and policies;
  • Finance;
  • Equipment and infrastructure;
  • Technology applications (software and systems);
  • Maintenance and support;
  • Professional development and training; and
  • Technology integration.

In total, the task force identified nearly three dozen key questions about technology’s use in education, as well as how such questions might be answered.

While some questions—such as “How many computers are there in this school district?”—might appear simple on the surface, they can raise all sorts of dilemmas. What is really meant by a computer? Does an old computer stored in a closet still count? What if a computer doesn’t work any longer? Are there records to show which computers were purchased, or does someone have to count how many computers there are?

The handbook does not order schools to answer all the questions. Instead, it’s meant as a guide for policy and planning purposes, its creators say.

Master List of Key Questions

Technology Planning and Policies:

  • Are there technology policies?
  • Is there a technology plan?
  • Is the plan being implemented?
  • Is the plan being evaluated?

Finance:

  • How does your school district compare in technology expenditures with others in your state?
  • How much was spent in the past academic year for instructional and administrative equipment purchases?
  • How much was spent for instructional and administrative applications and software?
  • How much was spent for maintenance and support?
  • How much was spent for instructional and administrative professional development?
  • How much was spent for connectivity and infrastructure?

Equipment and Infrastructure:

  • Is equipment present in instructional settings?
  • Is equipment available for use by students?
  • Is equipment available for use by teachers?
  • Is equipment available for use by administrators and support staff?
  • Does the infrastructure have the capacity to support the school’s technology needs?

Technology Applications:

  • Do the school’s or district’s instructional applications support teaching and learning standards across the curriculum?
  • Is there software support for technology tool skill development?
  • Does the school or district use technology applications to improve communication?
  • Does the school or district have appropriate software and systems to support primary administrative functions?
  • Are the applications in use evaluated for effectiveness?

Maintenance and Support:

  • Are resources and processes in place to maintain school technology?
  • Are personnel available to provide technical support?

Professional Development:

  • What technology-related training and/or professional development do staff members receive?
  • What are the goals, methods, incentives, and content of technology-related training and/or professional development for staff members?
  • How are training and/or professional development for staff members evaluated?
Technology Integration:
  • Are teachers proficient in the use of technology in the teaching and learning environment?
  • Are students proficient in the use of technology in the teaching and learning environment?
  • Are administrators and support staff proficient in the use of technology in support of school management?
  • Is technology integrated into the teaching and learning environment?
  • Are technology proficiencies and measures incorporated into teaching and learning standards?
  • Are technology proficiencies and measures incorporated into student assessment?
  • Is technology incorporated into administrative processes?
  • Is technology proficiency integrated into the evaluation of instructional and administrative staff?

Links:

“Technology in Schools: Suggestions, Tools and Guidelines for Assessing Technology in Elementary and Secondary Education”
http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2003/2003313.pdf

National Forum on Education Statistics
http://www.nces.ed.gov/forum

Technology in Schools Task Force
http://www.nces.ed.gov/forum/technology.asp

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GOP sweep heralds shift in school-tech funding

President Bush’s 2003 budget priorities will receive a big boost from the swing in the balance of power on Capitol Hill, experts told eSchool News in the days following the Nov. 5 elections. With Republicans set to control both houses of Congress (not to mention the White House and the U.S. Supreme Court), the shift in power could spell the end of several ed-tech programs that Democrats and some moderate Republicans in the Senate wanted to preserve.

The budget changes won’t be felt immediately. Thanks to a continuing resolution passed Nov. 14 by the U.S. House of Representatives, the fate of several 2003 spending measures now rests with a fresh, new majority of conservative lawmakers. The continuing resolution puts off debate on 11 remaining appropriations bills until the 108th Congress convenes Jan. 11—including the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education spending bill.

That’s not exactly good news for Democrats and some moderate Republicans who opposed the president’s 2003 budget, which proposes more than $1 billion less for K-12 education than the version passed by a Senate appropriations committee before the elections. According to some education advocates, the president’s budget would make it difficult for schools to meet the promises of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation.

Even so, the sums proposed in the President’s budget still would exceed the amounts actually allocated in 2002. Republican leaders claim the drop in tech-specific funding for education could be offset by greater flexibility in spending guidelines for general education allocations. In that case, however, the political fallout of a shift in funding from, say, teacher salaries to tech expenditures would be borne by superintendents and school boards. School tech advocates are skeptical about the prospects of such trade-offs.

Bush’s proposal would eliminate a few key ed-tech programs, including the Star Schools program, a $27.5 million initiative that promotes the development of telecommunications services and audiovisual equipment in underserved schools; Community Technology Centers, a $32.5 million program that funds the creation of computer centers in low-income environments; Preparing Tomorrow’s Teachers to Use Technology, a $62.5 million program that promotes partnerships between higher education and K-12 schools to acclimate new teachers to technology; and Ready to Teach, a $12 million effort to improve mathematics instruction through increased professional development.

The president’s budget also proposes $250 million less than Senate appropriators had agreed upon for Improving Teacher Quality grants, $12.5 million less for the Literacy Through School Libraries program, $12.5 million less for Mathematics and Science Partnerships grants, $450 million less for Title I grants, and $5 million less for the Special Education Technology and Media Services program, which supports the application of new technologies in providing special education and early intervention services.

Amid the tug and pull of party-line politics, education spending traditionally has been a rare gem of bipartisan cooperation—but increased GOP control of Congress will enable the Bush administration to play a stronger hand when it comes to lobbying for such appropriations, said Mary Kusler, a policy analyst for the American Association of School Administrators (AASA). “With the Republican majority [in the Senate], it really does change where things will fall,” she said. “While things will remain primarily bipartisan, I think you will see [more focus on] vouchers and other things that are generally conservative issues.”

Republican-led tax relief is another rumor of change that could impact funds for education, limiting the amount of money the federal government has on hand to allocate to education.

“Any time people want to put something in place that takes away from something else—especially at the expense of education—that is definitely problematic,” said Reg Weaver, president of the National Education Association (NEA). “We need to ask ourselves, what’s the purpose, who’s going to benefit by it, and who’s going to be hurt by it?”

Weaver said the NEA has its sights fixed on a number of issues this year, including proposed efforts to modernize schools and the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Act. Adequate funding for these measures is critical, he said: “We have to … do something that speaks to school districts about being able to offer funding for certain programs. We need to be more cognizant of the needs of states.”

A changing of the guard

Now that Republicans have won a majority in the Senate—albeit a slim one—and have extended their lead in the House, GOP lawmakers soon will be at the helm of every committee in Congress.

For President Bush, the turnover represents a changing of the guard, which puts the momentum in his administration’s favor heading into the 108th Congress. Democrats, meanwhile, are faced with the challenge of regrouping after a defeat that left the party leadership in disarray.

In the Senate, Republicans are now guaranteed to control at least 51 of 100 seats, leaving the Democrats with a minority stake in 47 or 48 seats depending on the outcome of a special election in Louisiana, where Democratic incumbent Mary Landrieu will enter into a run-off with Republican challenger Suzanne Terrell. Also, a mandatory recount in South Dakota has yet to seal a victory for Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson, who overcame Republican challenger John Thune by a 1-percent margin on Election Day.

In the House, Republicans delivered another blow. Where the Democrats had hoped to gain ground on the GOP majority, they fell even farther off the pace, conceding at least five more seats—putting the Republicans up 228 members to 204, with one independent member and two races still undecided.

For educators, the elections contributed to a shake-up in key Congressional leadership roles, which potentially could affect education and technology policy in the next two years.

For instance, Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., is set to become chairman of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, replacing Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. Gregg and Kennedy make up one half of a quartet of lawmakers who played an influential role in helping to draft NCLB. Also included in that group—often referred to by policy analysts as “the big four”—are Reps. John Boehner, R-Ohio, and George Miller, D-Calif., both of whom will remain.

Though leadership in the Senate has changed hands, AASA’s Kusler said she expects education committee members there to continue the largely bipartisan spirit for which they have become known.

Where appropriations are concerned, it’s likely that Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, will take over for Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.V., as head of that influential committee in the Senate. Leadership of the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education also will change hands, putting Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., in control of that key spending body and relieving Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, of his role there.

Overall leadership of the Senate will revert back to Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss. Lott, who controlled the Senate during the first few months of the Bush administration, will reclaim control from Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., who ascended to power following the conversion of erstwhile Republican Vermont Sen. James Jeffords to independent last year.

In the House, Boehner likely will remain chairman of the Committee on Education and the Workforce. He will be backed up by a number of Republican leaders who are quite bullish on education spending, including Rep. Mike Castle, R-Del., chairman of the Subcommittee on Education Reform.

Rep. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., will remain Speaker of the House, while Rep. Tom Delay, R-Texas, will step in for the retiring Rep. Richard Armey, R-Texas, as majority leader. Filling Delay’s shoes as Majority Whip will be Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., will become the minority’s lead voice, taking over for long-time leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., who after eight years as leader announced two days after the mid-term election he would not seek the post.

For the Democrats, lobbying for new education spending—especially in the Senate, where overcoming a slim majority will only take a few votes—might not be in vain, Kusler said.

According to her, there are still plenty of moderate Republicans in Congress who share a willingness to stray from the party line in efforts to increase education spending.

Still, “the person and the party that is spearheading the committees always has a degree of special influence,” Weaver said. “Hopefully, [Republicans] will take into consideration what they talked about when they ran a pro-public education campaign.”

Other tech-related issues

While the fate of ed-tech spending remains unclear, the effect of a Republican-led Congress on the technology sector in general is more likely to favor the desires of big business over concerns about consumer protections, said Leslie Harris of policy analysis firm Leslie Harris and Associates.

According to Harris, Congressional support for the technology industry as a whole is widespread. “Under either political party—Republican or Democrat—there is enormous support for the tech industry. Everyone wants to be seen as tech-friendly,” she said.

However, Republicans are more apt to avoid initiatives that champion the protection of consumer privacy and copyright, she said.

A significant change will occur in the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, where Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., will take over for Sen. Fritz Hollings, D-S.C., an advocate on issues of consumer privacy.

During the 107th Congress, Hollings supported and proposed a number of bills addressing these issues, including an internet privacy measure and a broadcast-flagging provision, which would have required electronics manufactures to equip certain audiovisual devices with copyright-protection technologies. Neither bill became law.

But with McCain as its point man, Harris said the committee likely will take a softer tack on such issues.

Still, given the increasing interest in homeland security, privacy stands to be a major concern for the next Congress. “Privacy will be all over the place,” Harris said. “Republicans are far less eager to embrace solutions for things like privacy.”

Links:

U.S. House of Representatives
http://www.house.gov

U.S. Senate
http://www.senate.gov

American Association of School Administrators
http://www.aasa.org

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

Leslie Harris & Associates
http://www.lharris.com

The White House
http://www.whitehouse.gov

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