Court again strikes down law intended to keep kids from online porn

For the second time, a federal appeals court has ruled that a law meant to keep internet pornography away from children is unconstitutional.

In a 59-page opinion issued March 6, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia said the Child Online Protection Act (COPA), which barred web page operators from posting information inappropriate for minors unless they restricted their sites to adults only, improperly restricted free speech.

The court said that in practice, the law made it too difficult for adults to view material protected by the First Amendment, including many nonpornographic sites.

The 3rd Circuit had previously ruled the law unconstitutional on grounds that it allowed the legality of internet content to be judged by “contemporary community standards.”

On appeal, the U.S. Supreme Court said that evaluation standard alone did not make the law unconstitutional, and sent the case back to the 3rd Circuit for further evaluation.

The new ruling, which upheld an injunction barring the government from enforcing the law, was praised by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which initiated the legal challenge.

“It’s clear that the law would make it a crime to communicate a whole range of information to adults,” said ACLU associate legal director Ann Beeson.

Calls to the Justice Department, which had argued the case for the government, were not immediately returned. The government may either ask the 3rd Circuit to rehear the case, or appeal again to the Supreme Court.

The law, signed by President Clinton and endorsed by President Bush, is one of several relating to internet decency that have been struck down by the courts.

A similar-sounding law, the Children’s Internet Protection Act, requires schools and libraries that receive federal funding to install filters to shield kids from online porn. That law is before the Supreme Court now, which heard arguments March 5 as it decides whether the portion of the law relating to public libraries is unconstitutional.

In the 3rd Circuit Court’s COPA opinion, posted on a court web site March 6, a three-judge panel said the law remains riddled with problems that make it “constitutionally infirm.”

Among the problems, the court said, is that in seeking to define material harmful to minors, the law made no distinction between things inappropriate for a 5-year-old to view and things harmful to someone in their early teens.

“Even if the statutory meaning of ‘minor’ were limited to minors between the ages of thirteen and seventeen, web publishers would still face too much uncertitude as to the nature of material that COPA proscribes,” the judges wrote.

The judges said that while the law sought to get around free-speech arguments to some degree by making the restrictions apply only to web operators who posted material for “commercial purposes,” it didn’t address exactly what level of profitability was required before a group would fall into that category.

Finally, the court said the screening methods suggested by the government, including requiring web-page viewers to give a credit card number, would unfairly require adults to identify themselves before viewing constitutionally protected material such as medical sites offering sex advice columns.

Asking people to submit credit card information before accessing such a page, the court said, would “drive this protected speech from the marketplace of ideas on the internet.”

“Many web users are simply unwilling to provide identification information in order to gain access to content, especially where the information they wish to access is sensitive or controversial,” the court said.

If it is eventually upheld, the law could mean six months in jail and $50,000 in fines for first-time violators and additional fines for repeat offenders. It has never been enforced.

Links:

3rd U.S. Court of Appeals
http://www.ca3.uscourts.gov

United States Supreme Court
http://www.supremecourtus.gov

tags

SLD denies $590 million in 2002 eRate requests

The Schools and Libraries Division (SLD) of the Universal Service Administrative Co., the agency that administers the eRate, denied nearly $590 million worth of 2002 applications in its March 10 wave of funding decision letters because they allegedly violated the program’s competitive-bidding requirements. About $470 million of these applications reportedly listed IBM Corp. as the primary service provider.

The SLD had announced in early December that it had identified a “pattern” of competitive-bidding violations and had warned eRate applicants not to list vendors guilty of the same practices on their 2003 applications.

At the time of its warning, the agency confirmed that IBM—which is listed on applications requesting more than $1 billion in 2002 eRate funding—was the chief service provider involved in this alleged pattern. The SLD had denied only one application listing IBM as a vendor at the time, but a precursory review of other applications listing IBM as a service provider indicated that a larger pattern of violations likely existed, the agency said.

This week, the SLD rejected an additional $470.2 million in applications involving IBM, according to figures from eRate consulting firm Funds for Learning LLC, which calculated the data using the SLD’s Data Retrieval Tool.

“IBM has $1 billion worth of [2002] applications and … half of them got shot down today,” confirmed Greg Weisiger, state eRate coordinator for the Virginia Department of Education, who also calculated this information using the SLD’s Data Retrieval Tool. “IBM has $312 million worth of denials in Texas alone.”

In most cases, the agency denied funding because applicants incorrectly selected their vendors with a request for proposals (RFP) and not with a Form 470. In addition, the price of services was set after the vendor was selected, in direct violation of the program’s competitive-bidding requirements.

IBM spokesman Andy Kendzie told eSchool News that the company has seen information on the SLD web site pertaining to the rejections, but IBM has not heard anything directly from the agency itself.

“We’re going to assess it at that point,” Kendzie said. “We really need to look at the reasons behind each of the denials.”

IBM already has appealed to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to overturn the SLD’s decision to deny funds to the Ysleta Independent School District in Texas, the first IBM customer to be denied funding on the basis of alleged competitive-bidding violations. IBM has asked the FCC for an expedited ruling in this case.

Besides IBM, 13 other vendors had at least $1 million in funding requests rejected March 10, according to Funds for Learning. These include Ameritech Advanced Data Services Inc. ($27.9 million), BellSouth Communications Systems ($16.7 million), Multimedia Communications Services Corp. ($16.3 million), and Atlanta Datacom Inc. ($11.9 million).

More denial notices are expected in the next few weeks, as the SLD has awarded only $1.83 billion of the $2.25 billion in funding available for the 2002 program year. March 10 was the SLD’s goal for completing its review of all remaining 2002 applications, but the close scrutiny required of a number of applications for possible program violations has prolonged the review process even further.

So far, the SLD has reviewed more than 28,550 applications for the 2002 program year, which began last July 1 and ends this June 30.

The agency has made “a significant amount of progress, but a significant amount of people aren’t happy that more applications [have not yet been] approved,” said Sara Fitzgerald of Funds for Learning.

Some applicants are in a bind because the 2002 and 2003 program years are now overlapping. The deadline for 2003 applications was Feb. 6—but many applicants had not received notification of their 2002 funding by that date, which made it difficult to plan for the 2003 program year.

Applicants who receive notification of their 2002 funding after March 1 have until Sept. 30 2004—an extra twelve months—to use their funds for non-recurring expenses, such as internal wiring projects.

“The thing that has caused some schools pain is that the rule does not apply to recurring expenses,” said Fitzgerald, who noted that schools have been forced to pay in full for recurring expenses—such as monthly telephone and internet service bills—since last July 1 without knowing whether they’d be funded.

Links:

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

IBM Corp.
http://www.ibm.com

Funds for Learning LLC
http://www.fundsforlearning.com

tags

‘Internet nurses’ serve rural schools’ health needs

High-resolution cameras and speedy internet connections to a doctor’s clinic in Norfolk, Neb., are helping some cash-strapped schools provide nursing services they might not otherwise be able to afford.

“It is a good way to level the playing field for rural areas in getting good health care,” Dr. Keith Vrbicky said of his American Educational Telecommunications LLC.

Through internet broadcasts to schools, Vrbicky’s company provides advice from nurses—and doctors, if necessary—on hard-to-diagnose cases. It also offers information on asthma, diabetes, adolescent development, and other topics.

Vrbicky, an obstetrician-gynecologist, started the company in 1997 to focus on international telemedicine and distance education. He opened an office in Egypt, but business slowed after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

So, he turned to helping schools in his own state, providing internet nursing services for free last year to schools in Leigh, West Point, and Pleasanton, Neb. He now charges for the service and is starting a pilot program for businesses.

“It’s very beneficial to schools that don’t have a nurse, and our experiences with them were very good,” said Larry Ferguson, superintendent of Leigh Community Schools.

Vrbicky hopes to help alleviate problems caused by a nationwide nursing shortage and school budget cuts.

His company may be the only one providing this kind of service to schools, although some universities and medical colleges have undertaken similar projects, said Jonathan Linkous, executive director of the American Telemedicine Association.

Vrbicky declined to release his company’s financial details, but said he hoped to turn a profit this year.

Westside Community Schools in Omaha signed up its 10 elementary schools this school year after Douglas County cut funding for a visiting nurses program that the district had relied on.

At Westside’s Swanson Elementary School, health assistant Nancy Yount can activate a videoconference in less than a minute when she links with Vrbicky’s clinic 90 miles away.

Yount’s computer screen fills with a hallway and doors in Vrbicky’s office, and shortly afterward a nurse enters the picture.

In the right hand corner is a smaller square, showing Yount in her own office, together with a student at her side cooperating with a demonstration.

Yount picks up a high-resolution video camera connected to the computer and trains it on the student’s injury. A nurse on the other end gets a close look while talking through the computer to Yount and the student.

“It’s a nice tool to have,” said Yount, who has used it several times this school year, including to help verify that a student had shingles and the best course of action for dealing with it.

Outside Nebraska, 21 schools in southeast Kansas are getting the service, and Vrbicky’s company recently signed a contract with the Universidad Autonoma de Guardalajara’s School of Medicine in Guadalajara, Mexico. The university will use the network to help provide clinical care in Mexico and elsewhere.

Vrbicky’s company has faced challenges in hooking schools up to its services. It found Macintosh computers that lacked the software to support American Educational’s platform were widely used at Westside and the Kansas schools. The company has provided computers while it works on the problem.

The schools’ costs for the program are based on the number of students served and other factors. Westside is paying $60,000 for the 2,800 students in its elementary schools.

Putting nurses into each of Westside’s 10 elementary schools was not feasible at $25,000 to $40,000 a position, and Vrbicky’s company was a viable alternative, said Ken Baldwin, director of building services at Westside.

American Educational also is compiling medical records for all the schools’ students and is sending three to five nurses to Westside schools when necessary to help with health exams.

The Southeast Kansas Education Service Center, known as Greenbush, used a grant this year to have American Educational put cameras in 21 rural school buildings.

Some of the schools had been doing without a nurse, while others shared a nurse among six buildings, said the service center’s Kristy McKechnie.

The service is better than a telephone consultation, and it can be applied to special-needs students who might require daily monitoring, medication, or other consistent medical help, McKechnie said.

“The benefit is the nurse actually seeing the child,” she said. “If there is a cut or an abrasion, the nurse can see the problem. Or if the student is having trouble breathing, the nurse can watch the chest and hear the wheezing.”

It’s also more personal, McKechnie said.

“If I’m a child, I can actually see an adult who is looking at me,” she said.

The service center paid $52,986 for its services this year. The contract will run through next year because some schools had technical difficulties that delayed hooking up to the system, McKechnie said.

Westside has not decided whether to renew its one-year contract with the company. Baldwin said the district’s other options include hiring two nurses to serve the 10 schools or contracting with another health group.

American Educational is based in St. Louis to take advantage of that city’s internet infrastructure. The company also includes Vrbicky’s Norfolk clinic—Midwest Health Partners—and telecommunications facilities in Omaha and Cairo, Egypt.

Expansion could include hooking up more than the four computers in Norfolk to answer calls and contracting with nurses in other states to provide services, Vrbicky said.

McKechnie believes the concept has promise.

“It is going to be something that school districts will look at,” she said.

Links:

American Educational Telecommunications
http://www.aetmedical.com

Southeast Kansas Education Service Center
http://www.greenbush.org

American Telemedicine Association
http://www.americantelemed.org

National nursing survey
http://bhpr.hrsa.gov/healthworkforce/rnsurvey

tags

Browse the “National Science Digital Library”


More than 100 teams of educators nationwide are working with the National Science Foundation (NSF) to develop what they hope will be the nation’s most comprehensive digital library for the sciences. The National Science Digital Library is an ongoing initiative spearheaded by NSF to create a fully online resource dedicated to the teaching of technology, science, engineering, and mathematics skills. The growing library contains supplemental materials geared to support lessons across the K-12 spectrum and gives educators a central location where they can find reliable content for use in their classrooms. What’s more, through a tool called CreateStudio, educators who visit the library can assemble resources related to their lessons into movies, simulations, and digital presentations to be used in the classroom as interactive student exercises. Currently, several colleges and universities are working on more than 100 projects to improve the library, including adding new portals, incorporating other digital libraries, increasing the accessibility of information, and building new interactive learning environments. Each project is funded for two years, and NSF plans to continue building this resource for as long as funding continues.

tags

Feds launch $30M emergency-planning program for schools

The national heads of education and homeland security have announced a new web site and $30 million to help school officials prepare for emergencies such as natural disasters, violent crimes, and terrorist acts.

U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige and U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge made the announcements March 7 at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Md.

“The midst of a crisis is not the time to start figuring out who ought to do what. At that moment, everyone involved—from top to bottom—should know the drill and know each other,” Paige said.

The web site, an addition to U.S. Department of Education’s (ED’s) site, is intended to serve as one-stop shop for information and federal guidance on handling emergencies.

Many schools already had emergency plans before the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States—but in the wake of the attacks, school safety experts have urged schools to revisit their plans to account for new threats such as chemical or biological weapons. The federal No Child Left Behind Act also requires schools to have comprehensive crisis response plans in place.

“The tide of events since September 11, 2001 demands that schools be better prepared. We’re here to help—to provide more information and resources and to highlight programs we know work,” Paige said.

The site includes links to online resources, as well as examples of emergency-response plans from the Montgomery County, Md., and Fairfax County, Va., school systems and North Carolina public schools.

This spring, school districts can begin applying for their share of the additional $30 million available to help them improve their emergency plans. Schools can use the funds to train school staff, parents, and students how to respond to a crisis; coordinate their response with local fire and police stations; purchase necessary equipment; and match up with organizations responsible for disaster recovery issues.

Besides working with the Department of Homeland Security and other federal agencies on school preparedness, ED has consulted experts from around the country to develop a model emergency response and crisis management plan, which will be released later this month.

ED’s model plan will include the following tips:

  • If your school doesn’t have a crisis plan that was created in partnership with public safety, police, fire, health, mental health, and local emergency-preparedness agencies, consult with these agencies to develop one. Make sure it addresses crises such as fires, school shootings, and accidents, as well as biological, radiological, chemical, and other terrorist activities.
  • If you do have a crisis plan, review it. Ensure that it addresses issues related to terrorism, such as biological, radiological, and chemical attacks.
  • Train, practice, and drill.

Each school crisis plan should address four major areas: prevention and mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery. Here are the steps each school should include in these four areas:

Prevention and mitigation

  • Assess each school building for factors that put the building, students, and staff at greater risk, such as proximity to railroad tracks that regularly transport hazardous materials or facilities that produce highly toxic material or propane gas tanks. Develop a plan for reducing the risk, including plans to evacuate students from these areas in times of crisis or repositioning propane tanks or other hazardous materials away from school buildings.
  • Work with businesses and factories near the school to ensure that the school’s crisis plan is coordinated with their crisis plans.
  • Put a process in place for controlling school access and egress. Require all persons who do not have authority to be in the school to sign in.
  • Review traffic patterns, and—where possible—keep cars, buses, and trucks away from school buildings.
  • buildings are not obscured by overgrowth of bushes or shrubs where contraband can be placed or persons can hide.

Preparedness

  • Make site plans for each school facility readily available to emergency response units. Make sure they are shared with first responders and agencies responsible for emergency preparedness.
  • Ensure there are multiple evacuation routes and rallying points in case first or second choices are blocked or unavailable at the time of the crisis.
  • Practice responding to crises on a regular basis.
  • Established a communication process to use during a crisis.
  • Inspect equipment to ensure it operates during crisis situations.
  • Have a plan for discharging students. Remember that during a crisis, many parents and guardians may not be able to get to the school to pick up their children. Make sure every student has a secondary contact person. Make contact information readily available.
  • Have a plan for communicating information to parents and for quelling rumors. Cultivate relationships with the news media ahead of time, and identify a public information officer to communicate with the news media and the community during a crisis.
  • Work with law enforcement officials and emergency-preparedness agencies on a strategy for sharing key parts of your school crisis plans.

Response

  • Develop a command structure for responding to a crisis that includes the roles and responsibilities for educators, law enforcement and fire officials, and other first responders in responding to different types of crises.

Recovery

  • Return to the business of teaching and learning as soon as possible.
  • Identify and approve a team of credentialed mental health workers to provide mental health services to faculty and students after a crisis. Understand that recovery takes place over time and that the services of this team may be needed over an extended period.
  • Ensure the team is adequately trained.
  • Notify parents of actions you intend to take to help students recover from the crisis.

Links:

ED’s Emergency Planning web site
http://www.ed.gov/emergencyplan

U.S. Department of Homeland Security
http://www.dhs.gov

Ready Campaign
http://www.ready.gov

tags

States edge toward sales tax on internet purchases

With his state staring at a budget deficit that could hit $35 billion, California Gov. Gray Davis is rethinking his longstanding objection to imposing sales taxes on internet commerce—a move some analysts say could ignite similar steps around the nation.

States around the country face a collective $50 billion budget gap this year and $70 billion next year, so lawmakers are increasingly eyeing online revenues to plug their shortfalls.

The issue could cut two ways for schools, which increasingly rely on online purchasing for their technology equipment and other supplies. Collecting and processing sales taxes from businesses and consumers would result in increased expenses for online merchants. And even though most schools don’t pay sales tax, these operating increases ultimately would be passed on to schools and other customers in the form of higher prices. On the other hand, internet sales taxes also would provide some welcome relief for cash-strapped states, many of which are being forced to dip into their education budgets to offset soaring deficits.

Last year, internet sales ballooned to $79 billion, or about 3 percent of all retail sales, according to Forrester Research. California alone may be losing $1.7 billion this year by not taking a deeper cut of internet sales, which is why two bills to tax internet sales have been filed in the state Legislature. If either were to pass, the movement to tax internet sales would gain serious clout, said Utah Tax Commissioner R. Bruce Johnson, a leader of the push.

“It’s difficult to overstate the importance of California’s participation in this project,” he said.

A U.S. Supreme Court decision says states cannot force businesses to collect their sales taxes unless the company has a physical presence in that state.

Although California-based stores with online sites faithfully collect sales taxes for the state, most online sellers—such as Seattle-based Amazon.com—say it’s impossible to collect sales taxes for an estimated 7,500 taxing districts nationally.

But 34 states and the District of Columbia are trying to come up with a simple standard from a hodgepodge of sales-tax definitions in an effort to persuade Congress to lift a national moratorium against internet sales taxes. Also, a group of major online retailers—including Amazon.com, Target, Office Depot, and Wal-Mart—have agreed on a way to collect internet sales taxes in 37 states.

So far, however, California and other states with sizable high-tech and investment sectors—including New York, Colorado, Massachusetts, and Georgia—have largely watched from the sidelines.

New York Gov. George Pataki, a Republican, remains opposed to taxing internet shopping. But Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, also a Republican, has expressed a willingness to examine the issue. The Massachusetts Legislature sent Romney a bill Feb. 25 that would move Massachusetts into the growing group of states working on the issue nationally.

It’s unclear whether other online commerce sites, such as auction house eBay, could be included in sales-tax initiatives. eBay spokesman Kevin Pursglove notes that some sellers on the site already collect sales tax, and he says the company is closely monitoring the developments.

In 2000, just months after the internet bubble burst and tech stocks tumbled, Davis vetoed a bill passed by the California Legislature to require online merchants to collect sales taxes. Davis said it would send the “wrong signal” to a California-based industry transforming the world.

But now, officials such as California Controller Steve Westly, a former eBay executive, say it’s time the state reaps sales taxes from the internet. Westly says Davis is rethinking the issue and has asked him for suggestions that could lead to bills Westly hopes will pass this year.

For weeks, Davis spokeswoman Hilary McLean has been saying Davis is open to internet sales taxes, considering how California’s economy and budget have turned for the worse. She also notes that Davis’s 2000 veto message said the state should revisit the issue in three to five years.

Despite growing support for internet sales taxes among the states, two federal lawmakers are working to ban such taxes permanently. Republican Rep. Chris Cox of California and Democratic Rep. Ron Wyden of Oregon have introduced a bill that would turn the current moratorium on internet-specific taxes into an outright ban. The two lawmakers were instrumental in creating the first such moratorium in 1998, which Congress extended in 2001. That moratorium is set to expire in November.

Links:

California’s internet sales tax bills, SB157 and SB103
http://www.senate.ca.gov

States’ efforts to simplify the sales tax system
http://www.geocities.com/streamlined2000

University of Tennessee study on the issue
http://www.statestudies.org

tags

Microsoft’s purchase of Connectix raises platform interoperability concerns

Software giant Microsoft Corp. has acquired the assets of Connectix Corp., a maker of software that allows users of Apple Computer’s Macintosh platform to run Windows-based applications. Some educators say they fear the move could hinder their ability to support a cross-platform computing environment in their schools.

Microsoft purchased the technology of the privately held company for an undisclosed amount on Feb. 19, citing its potential to help current Microsoft customers easily migrate to new operating system platforms while continuing to leverage investments in their existing applications.

The move could harbor serious implications for schools nationwide, however, because it calls into question the future of Connectix’s Virtual PC for Mac product—a popular tool among school customers that enables Macintosh users to run Windows-based applications, access PC networks, exploit certain Windows-based internet features, and share files with PC users seamlessly.

The software is particularly useful in schools, which often contain a mix of Windows and Macintosh computers, as a way to ensure that users of different platforms can swap files easily and use the same applications.

According to Microsoft, the more than 1 million schools and businesses that depend on Connectix’s Virtual PC for Mac to provide interoperability between various PC and Mac computers have little to fear.

“Microsoft is committed to the continued development and sales of Connectix Virtual PC products,” said Tim McDonough, director of marketing and business development for Microsoft’s Macintosh Business Unit. “[Our] goal is to provide the best Office software for the Mac platform, making it seamless for teachers and students to communicate with their Windows counterparts.”

Still, some educators question whether Microsoft is sincere in its pledge to develop and support a product that essentially enables customers to make better use of a chief competitor’s operating system.

“As a user of Virtual PC in my school to run a Windows-only program on Macintosh [computers], I am concerned that this product might not be supported under Microsoft ownership,” said Christine McIntosh, a library media specialist and school technology coordinator for Bernheim Middle School in Shepherdsville, Ky.

“The program has allowed my school, which is cross-platform, to run a program that is state-mandated. While our state technology master plan called for all state-adopted programs to exist on both Macintosh and Windows platforms, the solution for running this program on all computers was the use of Virtual PC on the Macintosh side.”

Microsoft insists the move is in no way intended as a first step toward phasing out Virtual PC for Mac. The deal, it said, was intended to fulfill the growing demands of its customers.

“The purchase of Connectix products and technologies helps deliver a new suite of solutions that enable Microsoft customers to reduce costs, simplify operations, and improve IT service delivery,” McDonough said. “[Virtual machine] technology and products enable customers to reduce total cost of ownership and decrease operational expenditures. Microsoft is committed to improving customer return on investment, and this purchase helps Microsoft achieve this business goal.”

Through the acquisition, the Redmond, Wash.-based software company also acquired rights to several other Connectix brands, including its Virtual PC for Windows software and its not-yet-released virtual server product unit.

Virtual PC for Windows gives current Windows customers a tool to migrate to Windows XP or Windows 2000 Professional operating systems more easily, Microsoft said. The product also supports legacy applications and provides a slew of other resources, including technical support, increased call-center access, and education and training programs.

On the virtual server front, Microsoft said it also plans to continue developing this product. In beta-testing before the acquisition, Connectix’s virtual server technology was found to consolidate multiple Windows NT 4.0 servers and their applications onto a single server system, Microsoft said, thus driving down costs and increasing efficiency. The product is scheduled for release before the end of 2003, Microsoft said.

As for the 100 employees at Connectix, the future is uncertain. In the short term, the company will continue to build and support its virtual machine technology, said Maryann McGregor, vice president of marketing and communications for Connectix. However, Microsoft will assume full control over Connectix when a transition period ends Aug. 15.

Microsoft has said it will bring in a number of software engineers to fill several technical positions at Connectix, but it has not yet announced the fate of the remaining employees. According to McGregor, some employees will be transferred to Microsoft’s home offices in Redmond, while others will travel to Mountain View, Calif., where a large percentage of Microsoft’s Macintosh Business Unit is based. McGregor did not know whether any positions would be eliminated during the transition.

Regardless of impending shakeups, McGregor said she sees no immediate indication that Microsoft will alter any of the products Connectix offers to schools. “Microsoft said it is committed to ongoing support of our products,” she said. “We feel confident that [Microsoft] will continue to add to the depth of [its] Macintosh Business Unit.” Microsoft has been “very supportive” and has an “aggressive plan,” she added.

Even the folks at Apple seemed to take the deal in stride.

“Adding Virtual PC to its product portfolio is yet another example of Microsoft’s continued commitment to the Mac platform,” said Ron Okamoto, vice president of worldwide developer relations at Apple. “For years, Virtual PC has helped people who want to own a Mac but need to run legacy PC applications. We’re glad to see Virtual PC go into such good hands.”

Links:

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

Connectix Corp.
http://www.connectix.com

Apple Computer Inc.
http://www.apple.com

tags

CoSN launches programs on TCO, data-driven decision making, and more

The Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) annual conference, held Feb. 26 to 28 in Crystal City, Va., served as a springboard for several new initiatives the group is undertaking on issues such as data-driven decision making, total cost of ownership (TCO), ed-tech advocacy, and emerging technologies. Approximately 600 school leaders, educators, and technology directors attended CoSN’s 8th Annual K-12 School Networking Conference. This year’s theme was “Achievement, Assessment, and Accountability.”

During the conference, CoSN, technology analyst firm Gartner Inc., and others unveiled a free, web-based application—called the CoSN/Gartner Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) Tool—that K-12 school leaders can use to assess their technology investments.

The TCO Tool is the latest development in CoSN’s four-year-old “Taking TCO to the Classroom” initiative, which has helped school officials understand the long-term costs involved in building and operating a network of computers.

“This is kind of the next step,” said Sara Fitzgerald, project director of CoSN’s Safeguarding the Wired Schoolhouse and Taking TCO to the Classroom initiatives. “We always wanted to create a tool for schools to assess their TCO. And, thanks to a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, we were able to do that.”

Gartner created the tool by refining the TCO model used in the business world from 1,800 questions to 100. To help this process, the company used data from four school districts of varying sizes in California, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, and Utah. The results of these case studies are available on the Taking TCO to the Classroom web site. The new tool won’t be available for use until April 1, but school technology leaders can start collecting their data now.

When using the TCO Tool, school leaders enter data about their networks, computing devices, software, personnel, and other direct and indirect costs. Based on this information, they’ll be able to compare their own numbers against the range of figures that Gartner calculated in its work with the four pilot districts.

“School districts can’t plan where to go with their technology investments unless they know where they are [now],” said John Bailey, director of educational technology for the U.S. Department of Education (ED). “We believe that this tool will help districts review whether they are supporting technology adequately to meet the academic goals they have defined for themselves.”

Data-driven decision making

To help school leaders make sound decisions with the data they collect, CoSN—in partnership with IBM, SAS Institute, and Educational Testing Service—is undertaking a new leadership initiative called 3D: The Vision to Know and Do.

CoSN launched the web site for 3D, which stands for “data-driven decision making,” as a response to the challenges teachers and administrators at the school, district, and state levels face in understanding how to use data appropriately as a tool to improve student learning. The web site will serve as a rich depository of information on the topic.

“Educators are increasingly being asked to collect, analyze, and report data to demonstrate that their efforts are resulting in increased student learning,” said Irene Spero, 3D project director. “With the passage of No Child Left Behind [NCLB], data collection, analysis, and reporting have become even more imperative.”

ED’s Susan Patrick said the name “3D” is suitable for this initiative because a three-dimensional picture denotes depth. “We want to create a picture of what happens with student learning over time,” she said.

Herman Gaither, superintendent of the Beaufort County Schools in South Carolina and a speaker during a plenary session titled “What is Data-driven Decision Making?,” made the point that data-driven decision making creates a huge need for staff development. “Teachers are not data managers. Nowhere did teachers go along and learn how to process data,” he said.

Ed-tech advocacy

CoSN is continuing its lobbying efforts to have ed-tech language written into upcoming bills that are being reauthorized this year, as it did with NCLB and the restructuring of ED’s Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI).

The current Congress faces “an extraordinary list of bills that relate to education in some way,” including the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the Perkins Act, Head Start, and the Higher Education Act, Leslie Harris, CoSN’s legislative consultant, told attendees of CoSN’s private sector meeting Feb. 25 in Washington, D.C.

Harris said lobbying for educational technology needs to be more aggressive than it was five years ago, because national priorities have changed so much. The country is facing a ballooning deficit and possible war with Iraq.

That is why CoSN arranged a lobbying day Feb. 25, where conference attendees went to Capitol Hill and met with congressional staffers to share their stories and best practices.

Bailey agreed that lobbying for ed tech requires a different approach. Many ed-tech programs were created in times of budget surpluses, he said, but those surpluses are disappearing—and so are ed-tech programs. “It’s a changing environment, and we have to change as well,” Bailey said.

When speaking with members of Congress and their staffers, he advised, “leave the techno-Latin behind.”

The federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is relying more on scientific data to make budget decisions, Bailey said. This was demonstrated with the president’s budget request for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program for fiscal year 2004, he asserted. A study released recently found that, in its first year, the program had little impact on students. The Bush administration cited this preliminary research when it called for a $400 million, 40 percent cut in the program’s funding.

“I think you are going to see a lot more reliance on studies like this from the OMB. This budget cut didn’t come from [ED] necessarily. The OMB did that on [its] own,” Bailey said.

To safeguard funding, Bailey recommended that school leaders conduct scientific evaluations of their ed-tech programs. “The best way to advocate for the long term is to keep showing evidence that [educational technology] is working for students,” he said.

Bailey said educators at the state and local levels need lots of support, because the majority of funding for ed tech comes from these levels. There’s also huge turnover in the states right now as new governors and their staffs come in and face NCLB requirements for the first time. “There’s a huge transition going on right now,” he said.

Funding

Funding for ed-tech programs such as Community Technology Centers, Preparing Tomorrow’s Teachers to Use Technology, and Star Schools was maintained in 2003, although it’s on the chopping block again for 2004, Harris noted.

The eRate faces increased scrutiny because of recent scandals, but the House Commerce Committee is “not jumping all over it,” she said. What does potentially threaten the eRate is the possibility of restructuring the way the Universal Service program is funded. The telecommunications marketplace has changed dramatically, Harris said, and there is less revenue lately, as well as lingering questions about who should pay into the fund.

“Financially and politically, we can’t sustain and fund the eRate program if the Universal Service Fund is not sustained,” she said.

Besides the eRate and the state ed-tech grant program, Sara Fitzgerald reminded attendees of additional federal programs that fund educational technology, including the Treasury Department’s Qualified Zone Academy Bonds, the Justice Department’s School Safety Technology Solicitation, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service grants.

Jenelle Leonard, program manager for ED’s State Technology Grants program, said school officials have to be creative and come up with new solutions to fund ed-tech programs under NCLB.

By doing a keyword search, Leonard said, she found the word “technology” appeared 22 times in NCLB. But what about words and phrases such as “electronic networks,” “distance learning,” and “internet?”

“Think beyond just the [technology-specific] programs,” she advised. Instead of appearing merely within categorical programs, she said, technology-related programs and applications are integrated throughout NCLB’s initiatives.

Emerging technologies

Steve Rappaport, chairman of CoSN’s newly created Emerging Technology committee, said this voluntary panel was created to educate CoSN’s members about upcoming and innovate technologies that have the potential to enhance K-12 teaching and learning.

The committee members will scout the marketplace for emerging technologies and produce vendor-neutral reports three times a year. The first report will be on wireless technologies, he said.

International delegation

Representatives from top education agencies in Australia, Canada, Germany, and the United States met during the CoSN conference to discuss connectivity, teacher training, and other challenges.

“To no big surprise, the problems facing policy members in the states and elsewhere are the same,” said William Gilcher of the Goethe Institute, a Washington-based German cultural center. “Sharing best practices and struggles is helpful.”

The delegates also stopped by the White House for meetings at the federal Office of Science and Policy.

Evening forum

In an evening forum held Feb. 26, ED’s Bailey and others discussed the future of educational technology and its place in schools.

One of the biggest ed-tech challenges, Bailey said, is to avoid simply putting technology on top of old ways of doing things. Instead, he said, when adding technology, schools should rethink and restructure their practices and processes.

Terence Rogers, president of Advanced Network and Services Inc., said schools should shift to individualized learning with the aid of technology within five years. “We should all dedicate ourselves to that, if you ask me,” he said. “It makes no sense to assume that all kids coming into a school are the same.”

But change and innovation don’t come easily. When Bailey served as the state ed-tech director for Pennsylvania, the state ran a competition to award $2 million to two school districts that proposed the most innovative plans for reengineering their districts. “It was incredible how inside the box [most applicants’] thinking was,” Bailey said.

Stefanie Sanford, senior policy officer for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, said everyone is familiar with the phrase “think outside the box,” but maybe it’s time to “get a new box.”

Bailey said school leaders must involve students more in the technology planning process. Some innovative school districts even have a student on their ed-tech advisory board, he said.

“Funding is a barrier, but it’s not the primary barrier,” Sanford said. “I can say that because I’ve seen schools do a whole lot with not much.”

Links:

Consortium for School Networking
http://www.cosn.org

Data Driven Decision Making Initiative
http://www.3d2know.org

TCO Tool
http://www.classroomtco.org

Related eSN reports:

Bush administration: Study justifies cutting after-school programs by $400 million
http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/showStoryts.cfm?ArticleID=4292

Final 2003 education budget friendly to schools, technology
http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/showStory.cfm?ArticleID=4253

Bush’s 2004 budget calls for $145M in ed-tech cuts
http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/showstory.cfm?ArticleID=4262

Bush 2003 budget would cut school technology funding
http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/showStory.cfm?ArticleID=2600

tags

QuickMind launches a new instructional web portal

Sunburst Technology and QuickMind Inc., a new ed-tech firm with offices in the United States and Russia, has developed a subscription-based web portal that offers schools a wealth of standards-based content for K-12 instruction, as well as interactive software tools for generating projects that teachers and students can access at school or home.

Called QuickMind.net, the product features curriculum materials, interactive homework assignments, project templates, lesson plans, reference materials, and online professional development activities, all accessible through a password-protected web site.

Using the Project Generators tool, teachers easily can create activities and lesson plans with their own content or choose from hundreds of existing ones. This tool also helps teachers create tests, quizzes, work sheets, web projects, multimedia presentations, word searches, or crossword puzzles in a few simple steps. As students complete their assignments, their scores and time on task is recorded and automatically reported to the teacher.

The site’s Reference Center contains pre-screened web resources, such as the World Book Encyclopedia, maps, and news sites, that can be integrated into lessons. In addition, QuickMind.net provides an online word processor and presentation software (complete with thousands of curriculum-related clip art pieces, fonts, and templates), as well as animated, interactive lessons—available in English and Spanish—that reinforce key math, language arts, and science concepts. During these interactive lessons, teachers can monitor their students’ progress in real time and send instant messages, even if the student is logged on from home.

QuickMind.net is available through an annual subscription that allows teachers and students to access the site from school or home computers as much as they want. Licenses are based on a classroom, school building, or district. A license for one to three classrooms costs $1,200 per year, and an entire building license costs $5,500.

tags

Taking pictures of microscope slides is a snap with this digital camera

The M*Eye digital camera, from Ken-A-Vision, is a digital camera that can be used on or off a microscope. Students can use the device to document their experiment in progress or to capture the intricate details of microscopic slides to use in their science reports.

The camera can hold between 20 and 220 photos at a time and connects to a computer through a USB port. It can take pictures ranging from basic, JPEG-sized images to photo-quality, 1.3-megapixel images.

For $549, the M*Eye comes with a 28-millimeter microscope adapter, a USB cable, a CD ROM with software for sharing and editing photos, a carrying case, and four AAA batteries. When connected to a computer, the camera uses power from the computer. Optional accessories include a 34-millimeter eyepiece adapter, a USB-integrated flexible stand for hands-free operation, and a USB extension cable.

tags