Feds recruit schools in cyber security effort

With America on high alert for possible terrorist activity at the outset of war with Iraq, schools are being asked to do their part to help secure the nation’s critical computer infrastructure from cyber attacks that could cripple the country’s central nervous system.

Schools should perform security audits of their computer networks and should implement programs that teach students about the importance of cyber security, the federal government said. In addition, colleges and universities should establish information centers to deal with cyber attacks and vulnerabilities, as well as on-call points of contact to internet service providers (ISPs) and law enforcement officials in case their technology systems are used as launching points for attacks.

These recommendations are part of the Bush administration’s “National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace,” the final draft of which was released last month. The document provides a blueprint for responding to cyber attacks against America’s computer systems; reducing the nation’s vulnerability to such attacks; increasing awareness and training to prevent them from occurring; securing the government’s computer networks; and enlisting the cooperation of the international community.

Although the goals themselves appear to be logical ingredients for a more secure digital society, the path to achieving them depends on the ability of federal, state, and local governments to work in concert with private-sector businesses and public institutions—including K-12 schools, colleges, and universities—to address awareness, provide proper training, make technical improvements, protect infrastructures, and develop stronger recovery operations, according to the strategy.

“The cornerstone of America’s cyberspace security strategy is and will remain a public-private partnership,” said President Bush in a letter introducing the document. “The federal government invites the creation of, and participation in, public-private partnerships to implement this strategy. Only by working together can we build a more secure future in cyberspace.”

On the federal side, the majority of this responsibility will be shouldered by the newly created Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and its secretary, former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge.

Under the president’s strategy, DHS is charged with developing a comprehensive national plan for securing key United States infrastructures by managing the response to attacks on critical information systems; supplying technical assistance with respect to infrastructure failures and contingency plans; and coordinating with other federal agencies to provide more specific warnings about possible cyber attacks, including what protective measures should be applied to lessen their effects.

The department also will fund and oversee research that the Bush administration hopes will provide new scientific understanding and technologies in support of better cyber security, the report said.

Schools also have a role

But the federal government alone doesn’t have the ability to police computer systems nationwide, notes Mark Luker, vice president of EDUCAUSE, a nonprofit organization seeking reforms in higher education through the integration of technology.

“The government does not control most of the computer networks in the country,” Luker said, adding that the largest and most easily accessible computer networks are found on college campuses and in other such public institutions—which is why it’s critical for colleges and K-12 school districts to secure their own networks to keep them from being used to launch or spread an attack.

On March 7, for example, the Associated Press (AP) reported that more than 55,200 people had their Social Security numbers and other personal information stolen or compromised following a two-day computer breach at the University of Texas (UT) in February that left network technicians there searching for ways to safeguard student and faculty data more effectively.

According to the AP report, the attack also exposed eMail addresses, job titles, and telephone numbers of students, staff members, and several alumni. However, no academic information or health records were compromised, university officials said.

Authorities filed charges March 14 against 20-year-old Christopher Andrew Phillips, a computer science major at UT, in connection with the attack. The incident bore no relation to terrorism, but it underscores the vulnerability of many school networks to attacks.

On Feb. 28—the same day the UT cyber attacks reportedly ceased—Dave Ward, president of the American Council on Education, wrote a letter to college presidents nationwide calling on them to take a more proactive role in developing plans for increased cyber security on college campuses.

“Although maintaining cyber security is a complex problem, only a small part of the solution comes from hardware and software,” Ward wrote. “As with any major institutional initiative, success depends on education, resources, people, management, policies, and above all, leadership.”

The letter outlined several steps schools should take to ensure their networks are resistant to potential attacks. These include increasing awareness and accountability; designating a high-level administrator to take the lead on enacting and overseeing network security initiatives; completing periodic risk evaluations of existing infrastructures; and constantly updating cyber security plans in response to the evolution of new technologies, vulnerabilities, threats, and risks.

Ward’s letter echoes many of the same points in the president’s national strategy. Specifically, this strategy recommends that colleges in particular take these and other steps toward improved cyber security:

  • Develop Information Sharing and Analysis Centers (ISACs) to monitor for cyber attacks directed against their infrastructures. These centers will exist on college campuses to provide a means for universities and other institutions to share information about attack trends, vulnerabilities, and best practices, the report said.
  • Establish an on-call contact with the school’s ISP and law enforcement officials, who can be notified the moment a cyber attack does occur or is launched using a school’s network infrastructure.
  • Make cyber security a prime responsibility of the school’s chief information officer (CIO) or technology official.
  • Establish one or more sets of best practices related to network security and employ these tactics where possible.
  • Model user awareness programs for student, faculty, and other potential computer users where possible.

But higher-learning institutions aren’t the only schools that bear a responsibility in the cyber security effort.

“Every [K-12] school and school district has an inherent responsibility to protect its networks both from the inside and the outside,” said Charlie Reisinger, director of technology for the Penn Manor School District in Pennsylvania. “It’s very easy for schools to push network security out of the way.”

Reisinger said he supports the idea of commissioning government agencies and other public and private institutions—including schools and universities—to share information regarding network security.

The idea, he said, is a boon for smaller K-12 schools, because it opens new channels of communication between local schools and neighboring universities. “Any time schools can take advantage of information sharing on other networks, they should do it,” he said, adding that the exchange of best practices related to network security would be particularly helpful.

A K-12 school system isn’t going to traffic highly classified government documents across its networks, but it still is responsible for ensuring that the personal information of its students is secure and that its networks are running without interruption, Reisinger said. Even low-end attacks to school eMail servers potentially could wreak serious havoc with other systems nationwide, he added.

Other aspects of the plan

Luker said Bush’s plan does right to stress a need for American citizens to remain vigilant on issues of cyber security. For instance, he said, it’s important to make sure computer systems and networks are constantly updated with the latest security patches and virus protection measures.

In keeping with the spirit of public-private partnerships, the strategy also recommends that schools and businesses work in tandem to ensure that proper network protection updates occur. One recommendation: the creation of a “patch clearinghouse” where agencies—public and private—could turn to install the latest updates and safeguards.

The federal government said it would take the lead on this effort by employing the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) and DHS to create a similar clearinghouse for use by federal agencies. Although it isn’t likely that non-government institutions would have access to the tool, the federal clearinghouse could serve as a blueprint for private-sector firms and schools to work from.

The president’s plan also makes it a priority for more colleges to train students for future positions in network security and protection agencies, and it gives more resources to institutions of higher education for increased research efforts related to securing the nation’s cyber networks.

According to the document, DHS will work closely with the U.S. Department of Education (ED) to support state, local, and private organizations in the development of cyber security programs and guidelines for primary and secondary school students. This includes additional contributions to such awareness initiatives as the national StaySafeOnline program to protect home, school, and business computers against future attacks.

Luker anchored his support of Bush’s strategy on what he referred to as a “gradual shift” in national culture—the result of what he said was a general decline in public trust. “It’s like back in the day when no one used to lock their car doors,” he said. “You simply can’t do that anymore.”

Still, the national strategy is not a piece of legislation. Although it recommends the creation and implementation of certain safeguards, the inclusion of such measures into law requires an act of Congress, the report said. Without support from lawmakers, the recommendations—although insightful—will be implemented only in those rare instances where room is left to maneuver under local, state, and federal budget caps, the strategy warned.

So far, a few bills already have been proposed to fortify America’s network infrastructures against cyber criminals. The Cyber Security Enhancement Act of 2002 (H.R. 3482), originally introduced during the 107th Congress in December 2001 by Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, conveyed a vision not unlike the president’s strategy.

That bill, which eSchool News reported on in April 2002 (see “New computer-crimes bill could boost school security,” http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/showStory.cfm?ArticleID=3599), would shield ISPs from potential lawsuits if they shared information exchanged across their servers pertaining to possible life-threatening situations with school officials or government authorities. The bill also would impose more stringent penalties for cyber hackers.

But the bill, which jumped from the House to the Senate in July 2002, has yet to emerge from review by the Senate Judiciary Committee, where it has remained tied up since the 108th Congress convened in January.

The national strategy won’t force schools and other institutions into action, but the least its many recommendations might do is raise awareness of the issue, Luker said: “At least now, everyone is moving in the same direction. This is the right approach.”

Links:

National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace
http://www.whitehouse.gov/pcipb/cyberspace_strategy.pdf

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

EDUCAUSE
http://www.educause.edu

American Council on Education
http://www.acenet.edu

Letter to College Presidents Regarding Cybersecurity
http://www.acenet.edu/washington/letters/2003/03march/cyber.cfm

Penn Manor School District
http://www.pennmanor.net

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Best Practice: Kaplan test-taking strategies help raise API and test scores

California’s Yamato Colony Elementary School faces steep obstacles to ensuring that all students succeed. Ninety percent of the school’s 500-plus students begin school as non-English speakers or with extremely limited English skills. Seventy-two percent are Hispanic, and 89 percent qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. Yet, despite these challenges, the school has made substantial gains in student achievement, thanks in part to test preparation programs from Kaplan K12 Learning Services Inc.

Upon the establishment of California standards and the Academic Performance Index (API), Yamato Colony educators researched other districts’ standards-based materials to design a successful program to increase students’ scores on the SAT9. School officials also used Kaplan test preparation programs from 1999 through 2001 to help target their instruction to the skills and strategies necessary for SAT9 success.

Yamato Colony implemented Kaplan’s Test-Taking Strategies (now Kaplan’s Advantage product line) in English Language Arts and Mathematics for all students in grades 2-5. All teachers who used the program received professional development from Kaplan through two- to three-hour training sessions for each subject, as well as mid-program follow-up.

Kaplan’s Test-Taking Strategies helps students maximize performance on the SAT9 through step-by-step, strategic approaches to specific structural and content challenges presented by the test. Instructional units focus on performance tasks while providing students with brief, relevant content review; step-by-step strategic approaches to increase confidence levels; and methods to optimize test success.

The Central Valley Educational Research Consortium (CVERC) conducted a research project on API, titled What Works: Characteristics of High-Performing Schools in the Central Valley. The study analyzed 225 schools in multicultural and diverse socio-economic geographic areas. Researchers from CVERC compiled data from 100 schools that participated in telephone surveys addressing the programs they implemented to improve public student achievement. Based on results, CVERC selected five schools (including Yamato Colony) with significant API and SAT9 increases for on-site visits.

Over the past three years, Yamato County’s API rose from a similar school ranking of 1 to a ranking of 7. In addition, its API began at 437 in 1999, rose to 481 in 2000, and increased again by 107 points—to 588—in 2001. Students also showed tremendous gains on the SAT9 in reading, math, language, and spelling (see graphic).

Kaplan’s program, professional development, and administration leadership were some of the features that helped Yamato County meet its API Growth and Subgroups Target and qualify for receiving the Governor’s Performance Award—a reward to schools that show high achievement. For more information about Kaplan programs, call toll-free (888) KAPLAN-8 or visit http://www.kaplank12.com.

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Study: Spell-check function can make students’ writing worse

A study by four University of Pittsburgh researchers suggests that students who use the grammar and spell-check functions of word processors tend to place too much trust in the software’s ability to catch mistakes, resulting in more errors than if they’d used their own judgment.

In the study—which underscores the danger of relying too heavily on technology—33 undergraduates were asked to proofread a one-page business letter, half of them using Microsoft Word with its squiggly red and green lines underlining potential errors.

The other half did it the old-fashioned way, using only their heads.

Without grammar or spelling software, students with higher SAT verbal scores made, on average, five errors, compared with 12.3 errors for students with lower scores.

Using the software, however, students with higher verbal scores reading the same page made, on average, 16 errors, compared with 17 errors for students with lower scores.

Dennis Galletta, a professor of information systems at the university’s Katz Business School, said spell-checking software is so sophisticated that many students have come to trust it too thoroughly.

“It’s not a software problem, it’s a behavior problem,” he said.

Galletta and his team of researchers—which included teaching fellow Alexandra Durcikova and graduate student assistants Andrea Everard and Brian Jones—approached the experiment expecting to discover that students who demonstrated a strong command of English would use spell-check and grammar correction software to better effect than students who were less proficient in English. But that wasn’t the case.

When using the software, Galletta said, “everyone got worse”— especially students with superior verbal skills, which he acknowledged was surprising.

“Our speculation is that experts tend to be less careful when the [software] is on and assume that their text has been checked carefully for them,” the researchers wrote. “Users of the [software] seem to attribute greater power [to it] than it really has; they are lulled into a false sense of security.”

Although Galletta admits the sample size for the experiment was relatively small, he said the results were so telling—and in many ways, unsettling—that a larger sample size wasn’t needed.

The study found the software helped students find and correct errors in the letter, but in several cases they also changed phrases or sentences flagged by the software as grammatically suspicious, even though they were correct.

For instance, the letter included a passage that said, “Michael Bales would be the best candidate. Bales has proven himself in similar rolls.”

The software—picking up on the last “s” in “Bales”— suggested changing the verb from “has” to “have,” as if the subject were plural. Meanwhile, the spell-check feature ignored the word “rolls,” which should have been “roles.”

Microsoft Corp. technical specialist Tim Pash said grammar and spelling technology is meant to help writers and editors, not solve all their problems.

Richard Stern, a computer and electrical engineer at Carnegie Mellon University specializing in speech-recognition technology, said grammar and spelling software will never approach the complexity of the human mind.

“Computers can decide the likelihood of correct speech, but it’s a percentage game,” he said.

Links:

University of Pittsburgh
http://www.pitt.edu

Katz Business School
http://www.katz.pitt.edu

Dennis Galletta’s home page
http://www.pitt.edu/~galletta

Microsoft Corp.
http://www.microsoft.com

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Best Practice: Kaplan program improves students’ pass rate on state math exam

Like most high-stakes tests across the country, the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE) poses a significant challenge for schools and their students. But East Side Union High School District in San Jose achieved outstanding pass-rate gains on the math portion of the exam last summer, with help from Kaplan K12 Learning Services Inc.

East Side UHSD includes 10 high schools with a total population of more than 23,000 students. Forty percent of the student population is Hispanic, 22 percent qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, and 19 percent are English language learners.

Kaplan K12 has been partnering with East Side UHSD for a number of years, providing SAT services through its College Preparation Partnership Program. With the implementation of the CAHSEE and the new requirements for graduation, East Side UHSD expanded its partnership with Kaplan to include state test preparation.

In particular, East Side tapped Kaplan K12 to provide juniors who failed the spring administration of the CAHSEE with summer school remediation just prior to the summer CAHSEE retest. Independence, James Lick, Overfelt, and Yuerba Buena High School juniors used Kaplan K12’s CASHEE Success program to build core academic skills needed for graduation.

Kaplan K12 teachers worked with more than 100 juniors to help them prepare for the July mathematics CAHSEE retest. Using CAHSEE Success, Kaplan instructors provided approximately 20 days of instruction in each of the six sites throughout June and early July. During two-hour sessions that ran Monday through Friday, Kaplan teachers worked with average class sizes of 20 students.

Kaplan’s CAHSEE Success combines both skills and strategies to provide students with essential information they need to know to perform their best on the exam. Targeted, skill-building exercises support student learning through guided and independent practice. Step-by-step methods and hints emphasize critical thinking and demonstrate how to break down the problem-solving process. Each course includes practice exams on question types similar to the test items that appear on the CAHSEE.

Results speak for themselves

Of the 676 East Side juniors who participated in summer school, 101 of them were Kaplan students. These Kaplan students passed at an average rate of 46.5 percent, whereas an average of only 19.5 percent of the non-Kaplan students passed the CAHSEE retest. This difference of 27 percentage points accounts for the overwhelming 19.13 average point improvement made by Kaplan students on the exam.

Kaplan students passed at a rate of 42.9 percent at Independence, 41.7 percent at James Lick, 57.1 percent at Overfelt, and 42.6 percent at Yuerba Buena. A total of 286 non-Kaplan students only passed at a rate of 18.4 percent, 16.4 percent, 17.74 percent, and 22.6 percent, respectively (see graphic).

Through Kaplan’s scaffolded instructional design, targeted professional development, and ongoing support, teachers can help their students apply strategic approaches to improved performance on the CAHSEE and other state exams. A Kaplan K12 consultant is available to tailor an implementation plan for regular school year instruction, after-school programs, tutoring programs, or turnkey Kaplan-taught programs. For more information, call toll-free (888) KAPLAN-8 or visit http://www.kaplank12.com.

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Tap into this CoSN toolkit for “Promoting Online Safety”

The Consortium for School Networking has released new resources to help guide school leaders when they talk to parents and other community members about online safety issues. Sponsored by the BellSouth Foundation, the AOL Time Warner Foundation, Microsoft Corp., and Sprint Corp., the “Promoting Online Safety” toolkit was created with the understanding that schools need to be proactive in communicating with parents and other community members about their online safety strategies—and parents need to understand the steps they can take to make sure their children use their home computer in a safe and appropriate manner. The toolkit components include a handbook, called “Promoting Online Safety: The Home-School Partnership,” designed to help school leaders develop the message they want to convey to parents and community members, based on their local circumstances; a 10-minute video that highlights the experiences of two school districts, one in Pennsylvania and one in Kansas, as they worked through questions surrounding the best ways to protect students when they go online; and a presentation to help school leaders explain to parents and community leaders the steps their schools are taking to protect children online. School leaders can download the handbook and presentation at no charge from the project’s web site.

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Lawmakers query FCC about ‘troubling’ eRate abuse

Two Republican lawmakers have asked the nation’s top communications regulator to explain what his agency is doing to prevent fraud in a $2.25 billion program that helps connect schools and libraries to the internet—and at least five other GOP lawmakers have signed onto a bill that would eliminate the program altogether.

Reps. Billy Tauzin, R-La., and James Greenwood, R-Pa., want the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to turn over documents on the operation and oversight of the federal eRate program. Tauzin is chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Greenwood heads that committee’s oversight and investigations subcommittee.

“We write because of the potential size of waste, fraud, and abuse in this program,” the lawmakers said in a March 13 letter to FCC Chairman Michael Powell. A copy of the letter also was sent to Cheryl Parrino, chief executive officer of the Universal Service Administrative Co. (USAC), which oversees administration of the program under the FCC’s guidance.

FCC spokesman Michael Balmoris said his agency had no immediate comment on the letter.

The eRate is part of a government effort to underwrite communications services for rural areas and the poor by charging phone companies. Most carriers recover these costs by billing customers a line-item charge for “universal service” on monthly statements.

Up to $2.25 billion is available from the fund each year to provide schools and libraries with discounts for telecommunications services, internet access, and the internal connections required to deliver internet access into classrooms.

Tauzin and Greenwood said there are at least 30 federal and state investigations involving the questionable use of some $200 million in eRate funds. They said congressional auditors and the FCC’s own internal investigations have raised concerns that there is not enough oversight of the program.

“The emerging evidence of fraud and abuse around the country may be just the tip of the iceberg,” the lawmakers said.

In a September 2002 report from the FCC’s inspector general, investigators said that because of a lack of funding to watch over the program they were unable to give “any level of assurance that the program is protected from fraud, waste, and abuse.”

In January, these suspected abuses received further attention when the Center for Public Integrity (CPI) released a report based on the FCC’s investigations. The CPI report called the eRate “honeycombed with fraud and financial shenanigans.”

It was in response to these reports that Tauzin first expressed interest in launching a congressional investigation of the program (see “Old foes target eRate,” http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/showStory.cfm?ArticleID=4260).

Tauzin’s and Greenwood’s letter comes just three days after the Schools and Libraries Division (SLD) of USAC denied nearly $590 million in 2002 applications because of alleged competitive-bidding violations. About $470 million of these applications reportedly listed IBM Corp. as the primary service provider. (See “SLD denies $590 million in 2002 eRate requests,” http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/showStory.cfm?ArticleID=4301.)

The letter asks Powell to hand over all records pertaining to which products and services are eligible for eRate funding; the number of bankruptcy cases that involve eRate funds; all decisions the FCC has issued on appeals; and all changes the agency has made in eRate administration, policy, and eligibility of services. In addition, the letter asks Powell how the FCC plans to increase oversight of the eRate in 2003.

The full text of the lawmakers’ letter appears below.

More bad news

The letter also comes just one day after Rep. Thomas Tancredo, a Colorado Republican, reintroduced a bill (H.R. 1252) to kill the eRate. Tancredo originally introduced the same bill—dubbed the “eRate Termination Act”—in 1999 during the 106th Congress, but it never went anywhere.

Tancredo was motivated to reintroduce his bill in light of the recent eRate investigations into waste, fraud, and abuse, as well as the war in Iraq and the lagging economy.

“Given declining revenues and the increasing fiscal demands presented by the impending war in Iraq, eliminating this punitive tax on consumers is a revenue-neutral way to put more money in the pockets of taxpayers,” Tancredo said in a statement March 21.

He added: “If states and telecommunications companies believe that a program to subsidize internet capabilities is still necessary, they should fund it themselves rather than passing the cost along to hard-working, over-taxed Americans.”

The bill, which has been referred to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, currently has four cosponsors: Rep. John T. Doolittle, R-Calif., Rep. Marilyn N. Musgrave, R-Colo., Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, and Rep. Charles H. Taylor, R-N.C.

The bill would simply strike any reference to schools or libraries from the section of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 that currently authorizes the program.

In view of these lawmakers’ actions, school leaders should make sure their representatives in Congress understand what the eRate program has helped them accomplish in the past and why they continue to need it in the future, especially considering how tight federal, state, and local budgets are, said Sara Fitzgerald, vice president of communications for the eRate consulting firm Funds for Learning LLC.

“Unfortunately, wherever there is a substantial pot of federal money, there is a danger that bad actors will follow,” Fitzgerald said. “However, the fact that criminal investigations are under way, that vendors are getting arrested, and that some applications are getting rejected tells me that the system is working: the [SLD] is enforcing the rules.”

She added, “If Congress decides that it is not satisfied with the job that the SLD is doing, then it should let the SLD devote more resources to administering the complex rules that were put in place.”

Links:

Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La.
http://www.house.gov/tauzin

Rep. James Greenwood, R-Pa.
http://www.house.gov/greenwood

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

Schools and Libraries Division
http://www.sl.universalservice.org

March 13, 2003
The Honorable Michael K. Powell, Chairman
Federal Communications Commission
445 Twelfth Street, SW
Washington, DC 20554

Dear Chairman Powell:

The Energy and Commerce Committee is investigating the potential for and troubling reports of waste, fraud and abuse in the Schools and Libraries universal service support mechanism of the Universal Service Fund (USF), otherwise known as the eRate program. We write because of the potential size of waste, fraud, and abuse in this program and concerns we have that oversight of what is now a $2.25 billion annual funding program may not be adequate to curb improper and illegal activity.

As you know, problems of waste, fraud, and abuse have trailed eRate throughout its first five years of funding. Targeted audits of funding beneficiaries over the first two years identified more than $10 million in inappropriate funding disbursements. Recently, we learned there are at least 30 active federal and state investigations of either vendors or recipients of eRate funds around the United States—involving, in aggregate, more than $200 million of questionable funding.

Moreover, we are aware of ongoing and ensuing work by the Federal Communications Commission’s Inspector General (IG) and concerns raised by both the IG and U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) concerning what appears to be an inadequate system of oversight of the eRate program. The IG estimates that the eRate program, given the size of its funding levels, may face up to $180 million in improper and fraudulent disbursements annually, based on GAO analysis of similar sized programs. This also suggests that the emerging evidence of fraud and abuse around the country may be just the tip of the iceberg.

Although the FCC and the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC), which administers the USF under FCC’s direction, appear to have been taking positive steps to improve program oversight and auditing of fund disbursements, we are concerned that such efforts may not address the full extent of any problems. We come to this conclusion because we have learned that, to date, there has not been a systematic audit of the full program since its inception six years ago.

Accordingly, we seek additional information from the FCC regarding USAC management and oversight of the Schools and Library mechanism of the USF, as well as information related to waste, fraud, and abuse of program funds.

Pursuant to Rules X and XI of the U.S. House of Representatives, please provide the following documents and answers to questions detailed below on or before Friday, April 4, 2003:

1. Documents and public commentary relating to the FCC’s current review of rules governing the schools and library universal service support mechanism (eRate), as detailed in the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking released on January 25, 2002.

2. All records relating to determination of what products and services are eligible for eRate funding, including, but not limited to, wide area networks, wireless service, and voice mail.

3. All records relating to purchase of equipment or services eligible for funding by one school in a district and then transferred to another school that would not have been eligible for the funding.

4. All records relating to, and a detailed explanation of, the genesis of USAC as the administrator of USF.

5. All records relating to FCC’s review of adequacy of USAC operations and procedures, including, but not limited to, procedures to address waste, fraud, and abuse related to disbursement of eRate funds.

6. All records relating to analysis of USAC administrative budgets and funding.

7. Identify the number of bankruptcy cases that involve eRate funds, the size of the funds, and the entities undergoing bankruptcy proceedings.

8. Explain how the FCC sets the quarterly USF contribution amount based on “projected USF expenditures,” including, but not limited to, description of how these projections are made, and a detailed explanation of the disbursement of funds among the High Cost, Low Income, Rural Health Care, and Schools and Libraries support mechanisms.

9. All FCC decisions on all beneficiary appeals of USAC funding-request rejections.

10. All FCC orders concerning changes in eRate program administration, policy, and eligibility of services.

11. Explain how FCC plans to increase oversight of the USF and eRate in 2003.

12. The FCC’s FY 2004 budget estimate to Congress includes $3 million “to support the agency efforts to prevent waste, fraud, and abuse within Commission programs.” With regard to this request, explain how much of this increased funding will be applied to oversight of USF and eRate, and how the money will be utilized.

13. Identify all agreements with other government agencies relating to assistance with oversight and audits of the USF and eRate, including any schedule of anticipated reviews.

Please note that, for the purpose of responding to this request, the applicable time period is 1997 to present. The terms “records” and “relating” should be interpreted in accordance with the attachment to this letter.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this request. If you have any questions, please contact Michael Geffroy, Majority Counsel, at (202) 226-2424.

Sincerely,
W.J. “Billy” Tauzin
Chairman
James C. Greenwood, Chairman
Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations

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Become a NASA Educator Astronaut

NASA is recruiting individuals with specific experience and expertise in K-12 education to become Educator Astronauts who will help the Agency develop new ways to connect space exploration with the classroom. Selected Educator Astronaut applicants will be designated astronaut candidates and assigned to the Astronaut Office at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Educator Astronaut candidates must successfully complete a one-to-two year training and evaluation program prior to receiving a space flight assignment. Educator Astronaut candidates who successfully complete their training will be eligible for multiple flights aboard the Space Shuttle and, possibly, the International Space Station.

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New online teacher college touted as NCLB solution

As an alternative to traditional, brick-and-mortar teacher colleges, Western Governors University (WGU)—an online institution based in Salt Lake City—has created a completely online, accredited, degree-granting teacher college.

WGU will streamline teacher preparation by giving credit for demonstrated competency, not just university seat time. Federal education officials are touting the program as a convenient way for current teachers who are not certified to earn the credentials they need under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

The college will provide teacher certification and degrees in reading, math, science, technology, and English as a second language.

From now on, according to the Improving Teacher Quality component of NCLB, school districts that receive Title I funds must hire only “highly qualified” teachers—meaning those who are certified in the subjects they’re teaching. By the end of 2005-06 school year, all teachers will have to meet the same requirement.

Although educators applaud the federal government’s effort to improve teacher quality, they say meeting these requirements puts an extra burden on school systems already plagued by a shortage of teachers, particularly in science and math.

Unqualified and emergency-credentialed teachers fill classrooms nationwide. One in four high school instructors teaches out of his or her area of expertise, according to U.S. Department of Education (ED) data. This average increases to 34 percent if only high-poverty schools are counted.

The new WGU program aims to address this situation.

“The Teachers College will be a boon to states seeking training for current teachers and paraprofessionals to help them meet education requirements under NCLB and speed their licensure. The program will also aid recruiting second-career professionals,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige, who announced the college’s formal launch March 10 with Utah Gov. Michael O. Leavitt and WGU President Bob Mendenhall.

Mendenhall said the college—which is ideal for training paraprofessionals, teacher’s aides, uncertified teachers, and second-career professionals—is different from other teacher colleges because it is based on competency rather than hours served.

Prospective teachers are tested to determine their competency in critical knowledge and skills instead of the number of hours they’ve spent in college.

“It maintains very rigorous standards for teachers and ensures that they demonstrate their true competency—not just that they’ve sat through a number of required courses,” Paige said of the program.

He added that the college harnesses the power of the internet to provide innovative options to those who might be turned off by the hoops and hurdles of traditional teacher preparation and certification programs.

“Think of the implications,” Paige said. “Right now, a soldier stationed in Kuwait but nearing retirement can go online to Western Governors University and take the courses to become a teacher. Once he or she is stateside again, he could hook up with Troops to Teachers, another [ED] program, to find a high-need school where he can serve again.”

The program also will empower paraprofessionals in rural school districts—where access to local universities often is limited—to become highly qualified, he said.

WGU began creating the college in 2001 with a $10 million, five-year Star Schools grant from ED. The grant money was used to acquire the course materials and to operate the technology needed to maintain the virtual college.

In addition to the Star Schools grant, funding from foundations, corporate partners, and federal teacher education grants help support the program.

The college offers three program tracks. The first allows paraprofessionals already in schools to earn an associate’s degree, then a bachelor’s degree and teacher licensure. The second enables uncertified teachers and second-career professionals to apply their existing competencies to become certified as teachers and—if they wish—earn a master’s degree. The third program lets existing teachers upgrade their skills.

WGU’s Teachers College is accredited by four of the nation’s six regional accreditation commissions. The college also is in the process of seeking individual state approvals and already has received approval from Arizona, Nevada, and Texas. Through reciprocity agreements with these three states, the program’s teacher licensure is accepted in a total of 46 states.

WGU has offered a master’s degree in learning and technology for the past two years and has a current enrollment of more than 250 students.

Students who wish to enroll at WGU’s Teachers College can use federal financial aid to pay for their tuition. Also, the Western Governors Foundation has committed to raise 1,000 scholarships for teachers in the western United States to attend the online college. WGU also has a national scholarship fund and has received federal grants to provide additional scholarships.

Educators polled by eSchool News had mixed views of the idea of a completely online, degree-granting teacher college.

“They are missing the point of education being a human process,” said Ken Eastwood, superintendent of the Oswego City School District in New York. “Fish-wrapped degrees are not viewed positively—especially in these types of areas.”

“Nursing a great suspicion of the curriculum of most colleges of education, I would normally greet this news with great eagerness. Given that the individuals seeking online degrees in this instance are already subject matter experts, however, what they need most is training in how to teach and manage the classroom environment. While online resources would supplement [this instruction] greatly, it would be difficult for me to imagine good pedagogy for teacher training in something completely digital,” said Rick Bauer, chief information officer for The Hill School in Pottstown, Pa.

Links:

Western Governors University Teachers College
http://www.wgu.edu/tc

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