2003 AASA conference focuses on how to do more with less

Despite the commencement of Mardi Gras festivities just a few blocks down the road—or maybe owing to these festivities?—school superintendents by and large didn’t appear too jazzed for the 2003 American Association of School Administrators (AASA) conference in New Orleans Feb. 20-23, judging by the relatively poor attendance (reportedly 3,400 paid registrants, only 100 more than last year’s post-Sept. 11 turnout) and sparse traffic in the exhibit hall.

Still, those who did attend the conference were treated to several solutions designed to save schools money and make the job of senior school executives easier.

Though the official conference theme was “Leadership in Changing Times,” the unofficial theme was how to do more with less—a reaction to the increased accountability in K-12 public education spurred on by the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and also the serious budget shortfalls affecting states from coast to coast.

In the opening general session, AASA Executive Director Paul Houston compared the situation faced by public school superintendents today with that of the fishing vessel Andrea Gail in the movie The Perfect Storm: As in the movie, a confluence of events—each challenging in its own right, but abundantly more taxing when experienced together—threatens to capsize the best efforts of school leaders today.

Nevertheless, school leaders cannot use a lack of resources as an excuse for failing to meet the rigorous demands of NCLB in ensuring that all students succeed, regardless of their circumstances, conference speakers repeatedly intoned.

This idea was epitomized by 2003 Superintendent of the Year Award winner Kenneth Dragseth of the Edina School District in Minnesota, who quoted from Teddy Roosevelt’s 1910 “Citizenship in a Republic” speech in accepting his award: “‘It is not the critic who counts, not the one who points out how the strong man stumbled or how the doer of deeds might have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred with sweat and dust and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who, if he wins, knows the triumph of high achievement; and who, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat.'”

Reaching ‘universal proficiency’

Stressing that the goals of NCLB were embraced by school leaders long before there was any legislation to mandate them, AASA President John R. Lawrence introduced a new term for “adequate yearly progress,” the benchmark for meeting the law’s tough new requirements: “universal proficiency.”

Shortly thereafter, keynote speaker Samuel Betances, a sociology professor at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago, expressed in practical terms why it’s more important than ever to ensure that all students achieve universal proficiency.

By 2005, Betances said, we’ll have an estimated 158 million people in the work force in the United States—but this figure is about 10 million shy of how many people actually will be needed then. One reason for this projected shortfall is that America is “getting older,” he said: In the 1950s, there were 17 working people for every retiree; today, there are only three people working for every retiree.

To make up the difference, he argued, schools will need to do a better job of preparing traditionally underserved poor and minority students to become skilled workers and productive members of society—despite the fact that many of these students are at a distinct disadvantage.

“For the first time, schools have to be successful with those who are learning-ready and those who are not,” he said.

One way to help close this gap is by creating “community homework centers” that are open after school and in the evenings, where students can get the extra help they need from skilled tutors. Another idea is to hire the best and brightest students to help tutor those who are struggling.

Technology can help school leaders ensure universal proficiency, too—and some of the companies exhibiting at the conference demonstrated software designed to help educators pinpoint students’ precise skill levels and identify those children in need of extra assistance.

The National Study of School Evaluation (NSSE), a nonprofit research and development organization based in Schaumburg, Ill., introduced DataPoint, a set of web-based software tools aimed at helping school leaders make more informed instructional decisions using student achievement information.

Anchored in a research-based school improvement process endorsed by the regional school accreditation commissions, DataPoint provides a customizable, easy-to-use platform for disaggregating student information. Educators can use the program to import, access, and manage data for individual students or groups of students; conduct point-and-click queries based on specific criteria they define; quickly analyze data and calculate statistical comparisons; and generate reports and graphs. Another conference exhibitor, Levings Learning of Oklahoma City, Okla., demonstrated its web-based assessments in math, English, science, social studies, and fine arts for students in grades 3-12. Levings has designed its assessments to align with each state’s standards of learning. With the company’s PASS Plan, educators can find out how students are progressing at any time during the year by testing students online and getting instant feedback.

Of course, simply identifying students who need extra help is only half the battle. Several exhibitors displayed software designed to bring struggling students up to speed with their classmates. Among these was Building Reading Skills, a brand-new remedial reading program created through a partnership between Albert H. Brigance and Failure Free Reading of Concord, N.C., that targets at-risk and special-needs students in grades four and up.

Building Reading Skills is an interactive program that delivers instruction in reading vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension through a series of short, well-sequenced lessons. The software incorporates the voice of a human instructor and is designed to appeal to even the most reluctant readers by connecting reading to students’ real-life experiences.

Creating successful partnerships

One key to doing more with less is for superintendents and other school leaders to foster partnerships with members of the business community that can bolster the core mission of their respective institutions.

In a session titled “Maximizing the Benefits of Business and School Partnerships,” former U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley and Carlton Curtis, vice president of external relations for Coca-Cola Co., presented a set of eight “Guiding Principles” to help school leaders form successful alliances with private-sector companies. Both are members of the Council for Corporate and School Partnerships, a nonprofit organization established in 2001 to forge stronger ties between the business and school communities.

The group’s eight Guiding Principles are:

  • School-business partnerships must be built on shared values and philosophies.
  • Partnerships should be defined by mutually beneficial goals and objectives.
  • Partnership activities should be integrated into the school and business cultures.
  • Partnerships should be driven by a clear management process and structure.
  • They should define specific, measurable outcomes.
  • They should have support at the highest level within the business and school and concurrence at all levels.
  • They should include detailed internal and external communication plans that clearly illustrate the expectations of all parties.
  • They should be developed with clear definitions of success for all partners.

Over in the exhibit hall, several companies were showcasing programs that exemplify the spirit of school-business collaboration.

Dell Computer of Round Rock, Texas, announced that Canadian software firm Corel Corp. has joined as a partner in Dell’s TechKnow program, a nationwide initiative that provides computers, software, and training to disadvantaged middle school students. Corel is providing 1,000 copies of its CorelDRAW Graphics Suite software to participating districts, giving TechKnow students access to standards-based software for graphic design, page layout, image editing, and vector animation. Corel also will help develop the program’s curriculum, Dell said.

Dell’s TechKnow program, launched in 2001, uses technology training and the promise of a student-built computer to keep middle school students in school and focused on their grades. Students take apart, put together, and take home a refurbished computer from Dell. Upon completion of the 40-hour curriculum, students understand the inner workings of a computer and are able to load software, upgrade hardware, identify and correct basic hardware problems, and gain a working knowledge of the internet. (See “Students build, keep computers in Dell’s TechKnow program,” http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/showStory.cfm?ArticleID=4172.)

Global communications company Sprint Corp., with world headquarters in Overland Park, Kan., highlighted its Empowered Education initiative, another example of school-business partnership. Through this program, Sprint is working with schools to create customized internet “interfaces,” or gateways for delivering a wide range of educational services to teachers, parents, students, and other community members, using the power of the internet to empower stakeholders in the educational process.

Sprint relies upon its technical expertise to develop the infrastructure for these web interfaces and has teamed up with LearningStation of Charlotte, N.C., to provide the content. The company currently offers its Empowered Education program to schools in 18 states and expects the program to be in all 50 states soon.

Document services company Xerox Corp. was at the conference to publicize a little-known program called FreeColorPrinters, which is designed to remove the cost barriers associated with high-speed color printing. Since 1999, the program has given away Xerox Phaser networked color printers to school and nonprofit organizations at no up-front cost.

Participating schools receive a free printer (delivery included), a three-year service agreement, eMail and telephone support, and access to a members-only web site that includes ideas for using the printer in classroom projects—a $4,500 value. In return, they must provide monthly usage reports and purchase ink and maintenance kits from the program’s web site. The company hopes that once participants see the value of the printers, they’ll order more at the regular price.

As a special conference offer, schools that apply by April 30 and enter the “AASA” program code on their application will receive a Bonus Media Kit that includes one ream of printing paper, one ream of photo paper, and a ream of cover paper at no extra charge.

Another exhibitor, CDI Computers of Ontario, gives schools the opportunity to save as much as two-thirds of the cost of new computers. CDI supplies refurbished Tier I computers to schools at a fraction of the cost of brand-new machines. Most of the company’s computers—which include brands from manufacturers such as Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Gateway, Sony, IBM, and NEC—are returns from two-year lease agreements, and all are subjected to rigorous quality checks and are backed by three-year warranties.

International control-technology company Honeywell, based in Morris Township, N.J., promoted its Energy Savings Performance Contract, an innovative business model through which Honeywell will upgrade a school’s or district’s energy management systems. In return, schools pay for these improvements with the savings they realize in energy and operating costs, which are guaranteed to meet or exceed project payments.

The Madison, Wis., Metropolitan School District used Honeywell to replace more than 40 rooftop HVAC units, upgrade numerous temperature control systems, install a district-wide facility automation system, and upgrade water, electrical, and lighting systems. Honeywell’s $10 million performance contract is helping Madison schools save an additional $1 million in energy and operational costs each year, the company said.

Links:

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

2003 AASA Annual Conference & Exposition
http://www.aasa.org/nce_2003/index.asp

National Study of School Evaluation
http://www.nsse.org

Levings Learning
http://www.levingslearning.com

Failure Free Reading
http://www.failurefree.com

Dell Computer Corp.
http://www.dell.com

Corel Corp.
http://www.corel.com

Sprint Corp.
http://www.sprint.com/education

LearningStation
http://www.learningstation.com

Xerox’s FreeColorPrinters program
http://www.freecolorprinters.com

CDI Computers Inc.
http://www.cdicomputers.com

Honeywell International
http://www.honeywell.com

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New FCC phone, web rules send mixed messages for schools

The Federal Communications Commission’s latest attempt to overhaul rules governing competition for telephone and internet services was supposed to herald a new era of clarity in the turbulent telecommunications industry. Instead, analysts say, the FCC’s Feb. 20 decisions reveal discord within the agency itself and spell even more uncertainty for schools and other consumers.

The nation’s four regional Bell companies—BellSouth Corp., SBC Communications, Verizon Communications, and Qwest Communications—complained that the FCC failed to drop outdated rules that let competitors use local Bell networks at discounted prices. Consumer groups praised the decision because it preserves the ability of long-distance carriers such as AT&T Corp. and WorldCom Inc. to offer local telephone service.

But consumer groups also complained that the Bells won dangerous power over the future of broadband internet access, closing out smaller providers and guaranteeing higher prices and fewer choices for residential users.

For now, all that is certain is that the future of communications in America will be played out, once again, in the courts. Congress could step in, but many observers say that appears unlikely anytime soon with so many other issues dominating Washington these days.

“The surprise is not so much that we did not achieve what we hoped to on so many issues,” said Thomas Tauke, top lobbyist at Verizon Communications, the nation’s largest phone company. “The surprise is the disarray within the FCC and the resulting lack of a coherent legal and policy philosophy.”

Competition for local phone service

The FCC was faced with an extraordinarily complex task: to reconsider, by a court-ordered deadline, its enforcement of the 1996 Telecommunications Act. Two earlier sets of rules had been rejected by federal judges.

One major ruling Feb. 20 was that state regulators will decide where, and at what price, Bells must make parts of their networks available to rivals to ensure local telephone competition. In its 3-2 decision, the FCC rejected arguments from the Bells that existing federal competition rules should be eliminated altogether.

Behind the commission’s divided ruling is a requirement that the Bells lease parts of their local networks to competitors such as AT&T and WorldCom at discount rates. The policy was adopted seven years ago to encourage companies to compete in the Bells’ markets while giving the Bells the chance to offer long-distance service in their regions.

Consumers could benefit from the decision to shift authority to states because local regulators tend to focus more than the FCC on keeping phone bills low, said Kathie Hackler, an analyst with Gartner Dataquest.

“States have more of a capability to deal directly with consumer issues,” she said.

The Bells say the leasing rules allow competitors to use their networks at artificially low prices.

James C. Smith, an SBC senior vice president, called the decision “a pipe dream of people who have spent no time working in the real world.” Smith and officials from other phone companies said they would increase lobbying of Congress and state regulators and appeal the FCC decision in the courts.

The vote marked an unusual defeat for FCC Chairman Michael Powell, who advocated eliminating the network-sharing requirements altogether. Powell agrees with the Bells that competition for local phone service is vibrant in many forms, including wireless phones, eMail, and cable and internet technologies. But Republican Kevin Martin, a former campaign aide to President Bush, sided with the commission’s two Democrats for a 3-2 majority.

Telecom analyst Phil Jacobson of Network Conceptions LLC said he was surprised that Powell, son of Secretary of State Colin Powell, wouldn’t compromise on a position that probably was politically untenable, considering that the existing rules let Bell rivals provide local service on 10 million phone lines.

“It hurts his credibility for really being able to accomplish much,” Jacobson said. “It shows that he doesn’t just have a self-righteous attitude—he has a self-righteous attitude even when he’s not right.”

Other observers called Martin’s approach a cop-out.

“We’re going to have this hodgepodge of 50 different regulatory fiefdoms, unless the courts strike this all down,” said Adam Thierer, director of telecommunications studies at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank.

Martin acknowledged Feb. 21 that the process had been difficult for the FCC and himself personally. He said no matter how the FCC had voted, it would have been challenged in court.

“If everyone is mad at you, maybe you got it right,” he told a Georgetown University conference. “That definitely feels like that’s true today.”

Future of broadband services in question

In another split 3-2 decision, the FCC did free the Bells from having to make new high-speed fiber-optic lines available to competitors at regulated prices. The Bells had long sought this bit of deregulation, saying it was vital for them to compete better with cable modems and get broadband internet access to more homes. They also said they would have no incentive to invest in costly new networks if competitors were to profit from them.

“Their bluff was called,” said Joan Marsh, AT&T’s director of federal government affairs. “It’s time for them to put their money where their mouth has been for a number of years.”

Bell executives countered that because the FCC didn’t do enough to keep their basic landline phone business from shrinking, they won’t have the money to invest in new fiber networks.

Chairman Powell reacted sharply to those statements from the Bells, saying, “Here is a lot of crying crybaby reaction to the decision.” The Bell’s announcements were more like “public affairs reactions” than like reasoned management decisions, Powell said, adding that he was getting tired of the “passion play between billion-dollar self-interested actors.”

Some analysts said the Bells were given an enormous opportunity to confirm their lock on the “last mile” of wiring to individual homes and schools. Indeed, Covad Communications Co., which leases Bell lines to provide digital subscriber line (DSL) high-speed internet access, said it might abandon selling to consumers and concentrate only on businesses.

Although emerging wireless technologies can get around the last-mile bottleneck, those have nowhere near the power of fiber-optic lines.

“If the [phone companies] were to play their cards right, we’d get a lot of new services but we’d have to pay through the nose,” said independent telecom consultant David Isenberg. “It would become a robber baron-type scenario.”

Links:

Federal Communications Commission
http://www.fcc.gov

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Congress tries again to crack down on child pornography

The U.S. Senate on Feb. 24 approved a bill that would give prosecutors powerful new tools to fight child pornographers. The bill aims to help authorities track down internet pedophiles while avoiding free-speech concerns that toppled a similar law last year.

The measure makes it harder for producers of computer-generated child pornography to evade prosecution, creates new crimes aimed at those who would entice minors into sexual activity, and requires greater proof from pornographers that they are not using children.

“We have a compelling interest in protecting our children from harm,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who sponsored the bill along with the panel’s top Democrat, Patrick Leahy of Vermont. “The ‘Protect Act’ strikes a necessary balance between this goal and the First Amendment.”

The Senate bill, which passed on an 84-0 vote, grew out of a Supreme Court ruling last April that struck down most of a 1996 law to ban “virtual,” or computer-generated, child pornography. The court, in its 6-3 decision, said the law was unconstitutionally vague and overreaching because it prohibited images that only appeared to, but did not actually, depict children engaged in sex.

The Hatch-Leahy bill was written with that decision in mind, and the Bush administration said it strongly supports the revisions. Passage “would be an important step in protecting children from abuse by ensuring effective child pornography prosecutions,” a White House statement said.

There was no indication how quickly the measure would be taken up in the House.

Child pornography has become more widely available in recent years as pedophiles worldwide sign up for internet chat groups and visit web sites featuring child porn.

Specifically, the bill prohibits the pandering or solicitation of anything represented to be obscene child pornography. Responding to the court ruling, it requires the government to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person intended others to believe the material was obscene child pornography.

The bill also plugs a loophole where pornographers could avoid prosecution by claiming that their sexually explicit material was computer-generated and involved no real children. Under an “affirmative defense” provision, the defendant would be required to prove that real children were not a part of the production.

The bill narrows the definition of “sexually explicit conduct” for prosecutions of computer-created child pornography and requires people who produce sexually explicit material to keep more extensive records so that they can prove that minors were not used in making it.

It also creates a new crime—the use of child pornography by sexual predators to entice minors to engage in sexual activity or the production of new child pornography—and increases penalties for child pornographers.

Still, Leahy said he was worried that some provisions of the bill would be challenged in court. “The last thing we want to do is to create years of legal limbo for our nation’s children,” he said.

Leahy mentioned language that would allow prosecution of anyone who “presented” a movie intended to cause another person to believe that a minor was engaging in sexually explicit conduct. By that definition, he said, a movie theater presenting the movies Romeo and Juliet or American Beauty would be guilty of a felony.

Youthful sexuality is a venerable theme in art, from Shakespeare to Academy Award-winning movies, the Supreme Court ruled in striking down key provisions of the 1996 law. That law would call into question legitimate educational, scientific, or artistic depictions of youthful sex, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion.

Another section of the 1996 law was not challenged and remains in effect. It bans prurient computer alteration of innocent images of children, such as the grafting of a child’s school picture onto a naked body.

Bill Lyon of the Free Speech Coalition, an adult entertainment trade group that challenged the 1996 law, said the Hatch-Leahy bill appeared “much more confined to the specific area of child pornography.” The original bill, he said, “went way beyond protecting kids and was really a covert attempt to destroy the entire adult entertainment industry.”

The Senate bill is S. 151.

Links:

Sen. Orrin Hatch
http://hatch.senate.gov

Sen. Patrick Leahy
http://Leahy.senate.gov

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Deficits hit ed-tech programs in two big states

As financial constrictions squeeze education budgets from coast to coast, the cuts and shake-ups in education-technology programs in California and Texas are emblematic of changes under way throughout the nation.

In their 2003 budget proposals, Calif. Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, outlined plans to scale back or restructure funding for statewide education technology initiatives – programs educators say brought millions of dollars worth of computer equipment and infrastructure upgrades into California and Texas schools in recent years.

In California, as part of a $21 billion plan to decrease state spending, Davis has proposed cutting an additional $1.1 million from the Digital California Project (DCP), a statewide initiative to bring high-speed internet access to public schools via the Internet2 program. DCP already has sustained an $11 million reduction in funding.

The move is part of wholesale budget reductions proposed to offset impending deficits. California, which appropriates nearly half of its yearly discretionary funds for public education, estimates the deficit in 2003 could balloon to $35 billion. California’s financial crisis threatens to become the nation’s worst.

If Davis’ 2003-04 budget eventually is approved by the legislature the $1.1 million reduction to DCP funds would be part of a historic $5.2 billion decrease in statewide education spending over the next year and a half, including possible teacher layoffs and reduced educator training programs.

Originally funded at $32 million, the DCP already has seen its budget slashed to $21 million, said Stephanie Couch, director of communications for the project. The program is intended to foster greater collaboration via the high-speed internet between K-12 schools and institutions of higher education across the state. Efforts to connect all 58 California counties to Internet2 would be compromised if the budget cuts run any deeper, she said.

Currently, the project provides Internet2 access in 55 of the 58 counties across the state. Despite the governor’s proposed cuts, Couch said the DCP expects to have 70 percent of schools and students connected to the network by June of this year.

The project has been able to continue in light of significantly reduced state funding thanks to lower than expected networking costs, streamlined purchasing procedures, and additional eRate funding. “As a result, on the networking front, the project is holding its own,” Couch said. But, she added, the funding decrease “really limits what we can do on the content aspect of the network.”

Throughout the state, the DCP already has become an extremely popular resource among educators, touted for its video-teleconferencing services and online certification programs provided by accredited state universities. “It’s opening up new doors of collaboration that we’ve just never seen before,” Couch said. “It really expands access to critical information to bring resources back to local communities.”

Nevertheless, it will be difficult to continue to build on the services made possible by statewide Internet2 access unless more funding is made available for content improvements. “Having a big pipe with nothing in it really doesn’t [use] the full potential of the network,” Couch observed.

Still, some California educators say they’d rather see cuts in funding for technology infrastructure than for classroom programs, staffing, or salaries.

“We are in favor of keeping any budget cuts as far away from the classroom as possible,” said Dale Martin, a spokeswoman for the California Teachers Association (CTA). “Right now, the budget is a moving target.”

According to Martin, the CTA would be willing to give up some money for technology infrastructure if it meant holding onto funding for special education, low-performing schools, class-size reduction (K-3 classes under 20 students), and base reimbursement levels for main operating funds.

Marc Liebman, superintendent of the Marysville Joint Unified School District in Calif., expressed a similar view.

“I do believe that as states like California feel the budget crunch and if the federal funding for education continues to change, technology will be one of the first things to be cut,” he said. “While I am anything but happy about the reductions, there are some basic tenets of education that come into play that leave technology below the first cut of priorities.”

The need for technology improvements in California does not supercede the need for adequately compensating high-quality teachers, nor does it make up for cuts that already have been applied to critical, and often overlooked programs, such as maintenance, grounds crews, and custodial staffs, he said. That doesn’t leave much room for additional cuts in discretionary funds.

“This is the pot from which technology comes. As a result, funds and grants that support technology become a very large target when put in competition with everyday supplies, books, et cetera,” Liebman said.

In Texas, the looming budget shortfall is estimated at $10 billion. Among the proposals suggested by Gov. Perry is a restructuring of the state’s Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund (TIF) – a $1.5 billion initiative that has helped equip hundreds of Texas schools, hospitals, and libraries with technology.

The TIF program began in 1995 and was slated to run until 2005, or until it reached a $1.5 billion spending cap, whichever came first.

Currently, the program has an estimated $500 million in funding remaining. But instead of continuing to issue those funds in the form of competitive grants – where schools apply for money and then receive funds based on the size and scope of the projects – Perry’s 2003 budget would take the remaining funds and use them to increase individual technology allotments for every student in the state by $5 a student from $30 to $35.

Proponents of the governor’s plan say TIF has accomplished its purpose, but some educators expressed hope the grants would continue and even be extended.

Lisa Pearson, technology director for the Abernathy Independent School District said her schools have received at least five TIF grants in the past. So far, the district has used those funds to connect schools to the internet and get its libraries online. “Without the TIF grants we would not have nearly the technology that we do,” she said.

Pearson said she would be sad to see the program come to an end. “It would hurt the schools a lot because they won’t have the funding to do the things the state wants them to do,” she cautioned.

Steve Wentz, director of computer information services for the Alvin Independent School District expressed similar concerns. “The TIF grants probably are the only reason we have been at all able to do some of the things we’ve done,” he said.

According to Wentz, schools in Alvin have used TIF grants to build up infrastructure and, most recently, to fund state-of-the-art wireless laptop computer labs. “We’d like to see the TIF grants continue on as they are and maybe even be expanded,” Wentz said.

But having given grants to nearly 480 public libraries, 1,000 school districts, and more than 1,221 medical facilities statewide, Kathy Walt, a spokeswoman for Gov. Perry, said the program has run its course.

“It’s like the parents buying their teenager a new car and then having the kids ask: ‘Where’s the gas money,'” she said. “The program was never intended as an ongoing entitlement program.”

While revamping how funds from the TIF will be distributed requires a change in state law, Walt said the governor has the best interests of schools in mind.

“The governor thinks this is the highest and best use of the remaining money in the TIF balance,” she said. “It frees up technology allotment money for schools to use as best needed.”

But proponents for the survival of TIF grants are skeptical.

Considering that most schools in Texas enroll less than 500 students, said Ron Cravey, executive director of the Texas Computer Education Association (TCEA), tacking on an additional $5 for every student will at best provide an additional $2,500 to spend on technology in every school. “You can’t buy a whole lot of technology with that,” he said.

According to Cravey, TIF was formed to aid schools serving low-income populations. “The idea was not to give the same amount of money to everybody,” he argued. In fact, some Texas educators wonder if Perry’s real goal is to quietly cut approximately $182 million from the state’s 2003-04 budget.

According to a document posted Feb. 19 to the TCEA web site, Perry’s budget proposal will decrease the amount of funding given to public schools by $182 million because $224 million of the TIF money already targeted to schools for 2003 will not be allocated, and will be used instead to replace technology allotment funds currently coming from the state’s general fund.

Perry’s office disputes those allegations, claiming that all $500 million will be distributed to schools across the state.

Perry’s plans to reorganize TIF funding also could neutralize two bills pending in the state legislature that would extend the duration of TIF to 2009. But the governor’s representative said restructuring the current program will have no impact on extending it. “Whether [Texas lawmakers] want to continue the program is still up for the state legislature to decide,” she said.

California and Texas aren’t the only states contemplating changes in education funding as a way to meet increasing budget deficits. Fourteen states have exempted K-12 spending from cuts in 2003, according to groups representing governors and state budget officials. But in the other 36 states, the outlook for 2003 is a deepening of last year’s cuts.

In 2002, 37 states cut their budgets by more than $12.8 billion. For 2003, 24 states already have announced plans to reduce their budgets by more than $18.5 billion. “Percentage-based cuts in education are affecting both public and private schools nationwide. We have to rethink and reprioritize in light of new fiscal realities and expectations,” said Rick Bauer, chief information officer for the Hill School in Pennsylvania. “School technology managers have to explain and support the educational case for technology use as never before, which is a good thing.”

Links:

Gov. Rick Perry
http://www.governor.state.tx.us/

Gov. Gray Davis
http://www.governor.ca.gov/state/govsite/gov_homepage.jsp

Digital California Project
http://www.cenic.org/DCP.html

Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund
http://www.tifb.state.tx.us/

Article: “Technology Funding Might Lose $182 million”
http://www.tcea.org/News.asp?ArticleID=43

Texas Computer Education Association
http://www.tcea.org

The National Governor’s Association
http://www.nga.org/

The National Association of School Budget Officers
http://www.nasbo.org/

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$1.1 million NSF grant will evaluate technology’s impact in math and science

With a three-year, $1.1 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), leading research groups plan to create a standard for evaluating how desktop, laptop, and handheld computers are currently used in mathematics and science education—with the ultimate goal of advancing the idea of ubiquitous (one-to-one) computing.

“What are teachers doing with laptops and handhelds in math and science classes? It’s a very simple question, but no one knows,” said Andy Zucker, principal investigator for the Ubiquitous Computing Evaluation Consortium and associate director at SRI International’s Center for Education Policy.

As more schools integrate one-to-one computing into the classroom, it becomes increasingly important to determine how the devices are being used, how ubiquitous computing changes the learning experience, and how teachers best can integrate available technology into their curricula, Zucker said.

Creating a standard framework for research enables evaluators, policy makers, and educators to compare and tally the outcome of various studies more easily and accurately.

“By pooling our resources and sharing research findings with the six other institutions in the consortium, we’ll be able to develop the comprehensive framework and the knowledge [that] policy makers need to understand and guide the widespread adoption of computers in math and science classrooms,” Zucker said. “We will be able to make quicker headway.”

Within a few months, the consortium will post the first draft of its framework for evaluating ubiquitous computing on the project’s web site and invite the public to comment on it.

SRI International, an independent not-for-profit research and development organization, is coordinating the effort. So far, the consortium includes several well-known institutions in the ed-tech field, including the University of Virginia, the University of Minnesota, the Metiri Group, Kent State University, Rockman et al, and the Education Development Center’s Center for Children and Technology.

In addition to collaborating on a national level, each organization is working separately to evaluate a number of ubiquitous computing initiatives in several states.

“Each of us will be doing one-to-one computing evaluations at different sites. That means there will be at least seven studies underway,” Zucker said. These studies are not funded under the NSF grant, but will adhere to the guidelines established by the consortium, and their findings will be published on the project’s web site.

In addition, the site will feature other tools and resources designed to promote ubiquitous computing in schools.

The consortium is developing a teacher survey for school officials to use. “Once we have a teacher survey we think is good, we will put it up on the web site and anyone [will be] free to use it,” Zucker said.

The Metiri Group is conducting a policy study to determine what policy makers need to know about ubiquitous computing. The group will interview dozens of policy makers, including staff from governor’s offices, school superintendents, and others.

The site also will house an annotated bibliography of ubiquitous computing resources and research. Where possible, this bibliography will provide web links as well.

The draft of the framework, the policy study, and annotated bibliography will be ready by this summer, Zucker said.

Why focus on ubiquitous computing only in mathematics and science education?

“It’s important to focus on specific content areas. That’s what people do in schools; they study particular subjects,” Zucker said. “When the president and others say they want to raise math scores, they refer to a particular thing.” He added that NSF’s participation in funding the project also is a consideration.

Links:

Ubiquitous Computing Evaluation Consortium
http://ubiqcomputing.org

SRI International
http://www.sri.com

Metiri Group
http://www.metiri.com

Center for Children and Technology
http://www2.edc.org/CCT

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“Leave No Child Behind” leaves no rule unexplored

No one said meeting the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act would be easy. To help schools, districts, and state departments of education overcome the challenges of the law, the National Network of Partnership Schools at Johns Hopkins University has designed this web site, a combination of manuals, research reports, professional suggestions, and ideas about how best to implement the legislation in schools nationwide. Educators and parents will find everything from simplified explanations of the law’s provisions—including school choice, supplemental services, and parents’ right to know—to educator-provided suggestions for a smoother implementation. The information on the site is broken down and simplified with charts and bullet points so stakeholders can get quick and immediate answers to questions without wading through the legal jargon contained in the bill itself.

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MMPWest is a great opportunity for teen groups to become a part of a regional YMCA Earth Service Corp project to help the Monarch butterfly. MMPWest is looking for groups to submit their idea to receive up to $1000 in funding per group. Projects can range from restoring milkweed into it’s range, developing an educational program, or participating in a pre-established Monarch monitoring program.

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New student tracking system launched, despite concerns

After a two-week delay, a federal computer system designed to track international students in the United States went online Feb. 15, despite lingering concerns.

Reaction among foreign students has been mixed, and some critics have complained the program is too intrusive. Even the program’s supporters say the electronic tracking system has loopholes that could allow foreign students to escape detection.

The internet-based system—called the Student Exchange Visitor Information System, or SEVIS—was announced in May 2002 by U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft.

The system links U.S. consulates with every immigration port of entry and all 74,000 educational institutions eligible to host foreign students.

SEVIS is meant to be a faster-moving version of long-standing procedures that require colleges to monitor the academic status and addresses of foreign students. Elementary and secondary schools do not participate in the program.

Instead of maintaining the files on campus, SEVIS requires colleges to forward this information to a national computer database. The program actually was authorized in 1996, but implementation gained momentum in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Some of the terrorists entered the country on student visas.

Chris Bentley, a spokesman for the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), said 3,907 colleges and universities were ready to participate when SEVIS went live, and 1,941 more have applications pending. Originally scheduled to be operational on Jan. 30, INS delayed the rollout to resolve last-minute problems with the system and to allow the participation of more schools.

Colleges lacking INS approval to participate in the system will be prohibited from enrolling new foreign students.

Schools must notify the INS if an international student fails to enroll or is arrested. Students are responsible for reporting status changes—such as a new address—to their respective schools. The INS may share its data with the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, and the Central Intelligence Agency.

“If it works seamlessly, the foreign students shouldn’t know it even exists, unless a fee is imposed to finance SEVIS,” said Victor Johnson, the executive director of the National Association of Foreign Student Advisers.

“It’s information they’ve already supplied to international offices anyway,” he said.

Bentley said foreign students will not be penalized for system glitches or reporting delays from colleges.

“As for individuals who do something to jeopardize their immigration status, yes, they could be held accountable for that,” he said. Penalties include deportation.

Michael Ivy, the director of International Programs Information Technology at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., said the school’s 5,015 international students participated in the SEVIS program without hesitation.

“We have had some curiosity, but we’ve assured them that we’ve done everything we could to protect their privacy,” Ivy said.

Jun Yoshizaki, a doctoral student and president of the Japanese Scholar and Student Association at North Carolina State University, said foreign students have accepted SEVIS as a condition for attending college in the United States.

“The people in this country are more sensitive about those things,” said Yoshizaki.

But Rebecca Thornton of the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights said SEVIS is “just another instance of the government collecting massive information, trying to get leads for terrorism suspects by really casting a broader net than is effective.”

Although the system tightens the restrictions on who gets student visas, some educators say it has loopholes that could allow foreign students to escape detection.

If they wanted to, foreign students could enroll in classes at the beginning of the semester, drop out, and—most of the time—they would go unnoticed until the end of a semester, some SEVIS proponents say.

Participating institutions have systems in place to monitor excessive absences by students; however, the integrity of the program depends on the faculty’s diligence in reporting absences.

At the University of Oklahoma, the amount of time it would take to report a foreign student with excessive consecutive absences to the school’s SEVIS coordinator is yet to be determined, said Joanna Snyder, the university’s assistant director of international student services.

“Because we have not had to practice this yet, I don’t know the exact time line,” Snyder said. “But we have a system in place.”

The university reports an enrollment of about 1,730 international students from 110 countries.

Keeping track of student address changes is also a challenge in the system.

Under SEVIS guidelines, a foreign student is expected to contact the school or INS when he or she moves, said Margaret Lee, director of counseling and testing at Tulsa Community College’s Northeast Campus.

That means that a student could move without notifying the school or immigration authorities.

The next deadline for schools is Aug. 1, when they will have to re-enter detailed information for existing foreign students enrolled before Sept. 11, 2001, said Tim Huff, manager of international students at Oklahoma State University.

OSU has 2,177 foreign students and must re-enter detailed information for an estimated 1,900 students.

When the system is fully implemented, INS and the Justice Department will be able to monitor a student’s enrollment status, residential information, and country of origin.

Students must be enrolled in 12 hours of classes to remain eligible. Graduate students must be enrolled in nine credit hours.

Links:

Immigration and Naturalization Service
http://www.ins.gov

Department of Homeland Security
http://www.dhs.gov/dhspublic

National Association of Foreign Student Advisers
http://www.nafsa.org

Lawyers Committee for Human Rights
http://www.lchr.org

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Final 2003 education budget friendly to schools, technology

Ending months of political wrangling, Congress on Feb. 13 finally approved an education budget for fiscal year 2003 that preserves roughly $147 million in educational technology programs that President Bush would have preferred to cut, while increasing funding for Title I and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) by some $1.4 billion over 2002 spending levels.

The legislature’s version of the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education spending bill asks Bush to approve nearly $2.8 billion more for education spending than was allotted for in his 2003 budget request, bringing the total funding for education to $53.1 billion. Although that’s nearly $3.1 billion more than was spent on education in all of 2002, it draws just about even with what the president already has proposed for 2004.

The funding increases come as a relief to several education stakeholders, many of whom worried that a shift in the balance of power on Capitol Hill—combined with the ongoing war on terror and a possible confrontation with Iraq—might spell the end of several ed-tech programs in schools.

But in an early showing of independence, the Republican-controlled 108th Congress ignored Bush’s request to eliminate several major initiatives, including the Star Schools program, a $27.5 million project 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 (PT3), a $62.5 million program that promotes partnerships between higher education and K-12 schools to help new teachers integrate technology into their instruction; and the Regional Technology in Education Consortia, a $10 million program for providing technical support and services to schools.

The appropriations bill also places an emphasis on delivering educational assistance to needy and disadvantaged students, increasing spending for both Title I and IDEA by more than $400 million apiece compared with the president’s 2003 request. All told, both programs are slated to increase by more than $1.4 billion compared with fiscal year 2002.

Total discretionary funding for the 2003 Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education spending bill is $397.4 billion. That includes an across-the-board reduction of an estimated 0.65 percent to offset additional discretionary funds in the bill, the committee said. While the bill—which is expected to be signed by President Bush soon—asks for significant increases in Title I and IDEA, more nominal increases are requested in several areas to counteract the effects of those sweeping reductions.

The emergence of the 2003 spending bill from a joint House-Senate negotiating committee ends a five-month impasse over current-year spending figures, owing in part to staunch opposition from several Democrats and a number of moderate Republicans who argued that cutting federal education dollars was no way to meet the increased demands of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

Despite speculation that a Republican-led majority in both houses of Congress would make it easier for the Bush administration to rally support for cutting certain ed-tech programs, Mary Kusler, legislative specialist for the American Association of School Administrators (AASA), said education spending generally enjoys bipartisan support.

“It’s really a pro-education issue, not an issue of [whether you’re] Republican or Democrat,” Kusler said.

After a series of continuing resolutions failed to produce a budget late last year, Congress eventually recessed, maintaining spending at 2002 levels while vowing to make passage of a 2003 appropriations package a top priority for the new year.

But as the stalemate continued into January, the job eventually was handed to a joint House-Senate conference committee, whose responsibility it was to hammer out a compromise that could be sent to the president.

“This got so absurd with [the final budget] being this late in the year that [supporters of the president’s proposed cuts] just gave in,” said Norris Dickard, director of public policy for the Benton Foundation. “It was almost embarrassing.”

Although 2003 funding was supposed to have been decided last October, AASA’s Kusler said the recent hold-up produced some very education-friendly results. “In terms of the appropriations, we are really very happy,” Kusler said. “There have been significant contributions made to many major programs.”

Don Knezick, chief executive officer of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), said he was especially pleased that Congress chose to uphold its commitment to financial aid for disadvantaged students.

“Certainly with the tough budget times, I’m pleased to see we’ve maintained the state block grants at a level that makes sense,” Knezick said.

ISTE’s chief executive also pointed to the continuance of the $62.5 million PT3 initiative as a testament to the need for stronger, more technology-driven professional development programs. “The PT3 program reflects a recognition by Congress that [technology professional development] is a priority in this country,” he said. “The definition of highly qualified and competent teachers needs to include the ability to work in technology-rich environments.”

Links:

2003 Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education spending figures
http://www.house.gov/appropriations/info/lhhs_03conf_detail.pdf

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

Benton Foundation
http://www.benton.org

International Society for Technology in Education
http://www.iste.org

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Master key copying technique gives school leaders cause for alarm

School buildings in which every locked room is accessible through the use of a single master key are vulnerable to serious security breaches, owing in part to the simplicity of a little-known lock-picking technique that allows master copies to be made in minutes.

Law enforcement agencies are being warned the technique could be used to defeat locks in most schools, dormitories, offices, and apartment buildings, which raises the question: Should school leaders consider alternative locking systems, such as computerized locks and swipe cards, that use technology to secure their students and their valuables?

A cryptographer working for AT&T stumbled upon the secret, which primarily had been known only by locksmiths and a handful of criminals: Anybody with a key to a building whose locks have a master key can create their own master copy.

“Creating such a key requires no special skill, leaves behind no evidence, and does not require engaging in recognizably suspicious behavior. The only materials required are a metal file and a small number of blank keys, which are often easy to obtain,” said the researcher, Matt Blaze of AT&T Labs.

Security experts say the vulnerability should prompt school building managers to consider switching to “control key” systems, which use blanks that are not sold to the public, or adding alarms or video surveillance.

“We have to realize that the term ‘key control’ in many schools is an oxymoron,” said Kenneth Trump, president and chief executive of Cleveland-based consulting firm National School Safety and Security Services. “There is very limited control of keys.”

According to Trump, the threat that master keys might be forged often is compounded by the reckless disregard with which school administrators often treat their security systems. Many officials, he said, are too willing to lend their keys to volunteers. Others don’t move quickly enough to replace locks when keys are reported lost or employees turn over. With so many potential security breaches, Trump warned, imposters likely could target schools with relative ease.

Some school leaders already were turning to technology to tighten their building security, even before Blaze’s findings became public. Several companies—such as Locknetics, a Connecticut-based division of Ingersoll-Rand—now manufacture electronic key and security systems designed specifically with the needs of schools in mind.

Little Falls Community Middle School in Minnesota, for instance, currently uses one of Locknetics’ magnetic swipe-card locks to control access at its main entrance. Principal Bill Turk said officials settled on the computerized locking system after realizing the number of building keys in circulation presented a security risk.

“The building is 40 years old,” he said. “Obviously there are a lot of those keys out there.”

Currently, Little Falls employs the electronic system only to control traffic at its main entrance. But Turk said officials are considering outfitting all of its locks with similar devices.

“The [computerized] system keeps track of who goes in and who comes out, and at what time,” he said. “If a card is lost, all you have to do is change the code. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s better than a key system.”

The locks, which can be activated by push-button keypad or magnetic swipe card, can cost more than $1,000 a piece, according to Locknetics’ catalog. Turk said Little Falls paid approximately $800 for its single-entrance swipe-card system.

At those prices, security expert Trump said a transition would be out of the question for most schools.

“In an ideal world, we would turn to technology to address the problems associated with key control,” he said. But as schools nationwide continue to suffer from shrinking budgets, funding for massive security overhauls is virtually nonexistent.

For that reason, Blaze’s findings probably will have only a modest impact on the lock industry.

“There’s been an ongoing trend toward key control. He’s moved the ball forward a little bit,” said Lloyd Seller, senior training manager for Schlage Lock Co. of Security, Colo.

Each year, about 20,000 people learn of the technique to defeat master key locks in locksmith training provided by private companies, the military, and law enforcement, Seller estimated.

Blaze, 40, usually works on codes to protect computers and other systems, and on finding weaknesses that hackers exploit to break into networks.

Last year, he examined whether codes can protect other things and turned first to locks. After months of reading, he found the vulnerability, he said in an interview with the Associated Press.

“This technique has been discovered and rediscovered over the years by locksmiths, and probably criminals,” Blaze said. “I may be the first to work out all the details.”

Among them: It usually takes less than 50 “probes” of a lock to gain enough information about the master key to create a copy.

The vulnerability stems from the design of basic master key systems. Pins in the lock cylinder, which are pushed to different positions by the teeth of the key, have two positions that allow the lock to open—one for its individual key, the other from the master key.

“Since this research was completed last fall, we have been quietly circulating details of the vulnerability to the lock, law enforcement, and security communities,” Blaze wrote in a summary of his findings on the internet. “However, there is some evidence that the details are now circulating in the underground world.”

He added: “We believe that it is no longer possible to keep the vulnerability secret and that more good than harm would now be done by warning the wider community.”

Marc Webber Tibias, a former prosecutor and author of “Locks, Safes, and Security,” agreed that few people would change their locks after learning of the vulnerability.

“The majority won’t, because they’ll say they haven’t had any problems to date,” said Tibias, of Sioux Falls, S.D.

He said he tested Blaze’s technique by providing a 15-year-old boy with the instructions, a file, and blank keys. The teen crafted a master key in 15 minutes.

Blaze’s paper “certainly does raise an ongoing question with respect to security in schools,” said Sandra Becker, director of technology for the Governor Mifflin School District in Pennsylvania. “As in network security, the biggest risks are internal. Responsibility and loyalty are key.”

Links:

National School Safety and Security Services
http://www.schoolsecurity.org

Locknetics
http://www.locknetics.com

Blaze’s summary
http://www.crypto.com/masterkey.html

Blaze’s paper
http://www.crypto.com/papers/mk.pdf

Associated Locksmiths of America
http://www.aloa.org

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