Earn points toward free handhelds with the purchase of TI products

By taking advantage of Texas Instruments’ Volume Purchase Program, educators can get free technology and classroom activities when they purchase qualifying TI educational handhelds. Under the program, K-12 educators collect proofs of purchase and earn points toward free TI handheld technology, and they can earn double points when they purchase the TI-83 Plus Silver Edition. For additional details, check the company’s web site. Contact: (866) 848-7722 or ti-educators@ti.com

tags

eSN Analysis: GSA proposal would open options on tech purchasing for schools

The General Services Administration (GSA) is considering giving public schools and universities unprecedented access to a pre-negotiated list of deeply discounted technology tools and services once reserved solely for federal government agencies. Officials say the plan potentially could spare schools millions of dollars in technology-related costs each year.

But the proposal has its hitches, some observers say. For one, vendors that do business with the federal government would have the option of declining to accept orders from schools. For another, state and local procurement laws might preclude some entities from taking advantage of potential price breaks.

GSA is in the process of reviewing public comments regarding its proposed amendment to the General Services Administration Acquisition Regulation (GSAR) to implement Section 211 of the eGovernment Act of 2002. The amendment would allow state and local government entities—including schools—to purchase “automated data processing equipment” from GSA’s Federal Supply Schedule (FSS). This includes all firmware, software, supplies, support equipment, and services contained in Schedule 70 of the federal supply classification code for information technology (IT).

The types of products and services provided under Schedule 70 include leasing agreements for IT equipment and short-term IT equipment rental services, as well as the purchase of computer, telephone, and radio equipment.

The schedule also includes a list of vendors specializing in equipment maintenance, classroom training services, electronic commerce, telecommunications services, financial management software, assistive technology for the physically challenged, and seat management programs.

According to the proposal, the GSAR amendment would include a series of clauses to address supply-schedule purchasing by eligible non-federal parties as it relates to scope, usage, payment, and the handling of disputes. Importantly, the amendment also likely would provide a “voluntary-use clause” that would enable suppliers to deny purchase orders from state and local entities on a case-by-case basis.

Though specific grounds for these denials were not available at press time, the clause harbors a potential problem for schools and universities that must decide whether the time and money required to apply for federally discounted services is worth the risk of denial.

Elvis Eaglin, senior procurement team leader for the Houston Independent School District—the nation’s seventh largest school system—contends the proposed rule change would do little for larger school districts, because bigger operations generally have enough buying power to negotiate better bargains on their own terms.

“With over 300 schools, I normally can go out and negotiate and get my own deal,” he said. Sometimes large school districts can meet or beat any co-op’s price.

Smaller districts, however, have the most to gain from the plan, Eaglin said. Provided that purchase orders are met and not denied by vendors, the rule change represents a potential windfall for smaller school districts, primarily because they lack the full-scale bargaining power of the nation’s larger operations.

What it really comes down to, Eaglin said, is whether or not schools are capable of securing better deals elsewhere.

For instance, Texas already offers a wholesale technology procurement service called the BuyBoard to its schools, where institutions are allowed to log on and take advantage of a slew of discounts quoted specifically for state agencies.

While Eaglin admitted he was unsure whether access to the GSAR’s pricing schedule would enable large school districts, including Houston, to save extra money on technology purchases, he did say the statewide co-op has proven to be beneficial, especially in those instances where time was a factor.

Sometimes, he said, schools are not in a position to seek out the lowest bidder. When time is of the essence, purchasing officials need a fallback that guarantees good pricing at a moment’s notice. That’s where co-ops such as the one proposed by the GSAR come in.

Unfortunately, for some schools, tapping into federal pricing lists might be easier said than done, even if such an amendment is passed. That’s because every supply-schedule purchase made by eligible non-federal agencies would be required to follow the exact terms of the GSAR’s Schedule 70 contract, without making the necessary modifications to appease state and local laws.

For instance, in the state of Texas, purchasing contracts are required by law to employ specific language designed to govern how state agencies expend public funds. If this language is not included in the contract, then the contract is void, according to an attorney with the state’s Department of Information Resources (DIR), the agency responsible for procuring “information resources technologies” for government entities across the state.

“Each state and local government has its own policies related to expenditure of its funds—prohibiting any changes to Schedule 70 contracts will thwart the participation of state and local government instead of enhancing it,” wrote DIR attorney Cynthia Hill in comments submitted to GSA about its proposed rule change.

Whether schools tap into the FSS or not, some educators contend it’s comforting just to know the option is out there.

“It appears to me that this will simply give state and local education agencies one more choice in purchasing. Unless this is an ‘all or nothing’ proposition in which the agency must make a single choice for all purchases throughout the year, the flexibility still remains with the agency rather than the vendor,” said Raymond Yeagley, superintendent of schools in Rochester, N.H.

“It doesn’t appear that the agency would be forced to purchase through the GSAR plan if it could find a lower price through competitive bid, a state contract, a purchasing consortium, or another means,” Yeagley continued. “Further, if a local vendor declined to give the FSS prices, the agency could certainly seek another vendor that would honor the federal pricing schedule.”

Low-income districts, in particular, might want to look into that possibility, he suggested. “We see no downside to having one more strategy available when we look at technology purchases,” he said. “If the GSAR allows us to take advantage of federal pricing, we will look at that option, along with all the others, and select the method that works best for each particular situation.”

GSA officials declined to speculate how long it would take to review comments regarding the proposed rule change and would not project when the amendment would be finalized.

Links:

General Services Administration
http://www.gsa.gov

Schedule 70 Information Technology Products and Services
http://www.gsa.gov/Portal/content/offerings_content.jsp?contentOID=116942&contentype=1004

tags

Students sued for alleged digital copyright violations

The recording industry is expanding its fight against illegal swapping of internet content by suing four college students for allegedly offering more than 1 million copies of popular music online.

In lawsuits filed April 3 in federal courts in New York, New Jersey, and Michigan, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIIA) asked that the sites be shut down and that it be paid maximum damages of $150,000 per song.

The RIAA said the file-sharing systems were being run by students at Princeton University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and Michigan Technological University. The schools themselves were not named as defendants—but legal experts say it might only be a matter of time before schools are sued for allowing illegal file sharing over their networks.

The RIAA said the offenses were akin to those committed by Napster, which was ordered shut down last year after the courts found it violated musical copyrights.

“These systems are just as illegal and operate in the same manner,” RIAA President Cary Sherman said in a statement.

The action reflects a recent trend in which the entertainment industry has become more aggressive in pursuing copyright infringers.

Four entertainment industry groups sent a letter to 2,300 university presidents last fall urging a tough stand on copyright infringement, and in January a federal judge in Washington, D.C., ruled that Verizon Communications Inc. must identify an internet subscriber suspected of illegally offering more than 600 songs from well-known artists. The RIAA had sought the user’s identity with a subpoena approved under the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

In February, the RIAA joined with the Motion Picture Association of America in sending a six-page brochure to Fortune 1000 corporations that suggested corporate policies and offered a sample memo to employees warning against using company computers to download content from the web.

The suits allege that the four students stored thousands of songs on a central server and made them available to students, staff, administrators, and others with access to their schools’ high-speed internet networks. The songs could be downloaded using standard web browsers.

The universities said they were investigating the claims. All the schools have policies prohibiting the use of their computer networks for copyright infringement.

Princeton spokeswoman Lauren Robinson-Brown said the school is unable to monitor its network constantly but does take swift action when told of copyright infringement. The school removed the site within 24 hours of being notified, she said.

The legal action irritated Michigan Technological University President Curtis Tompkins, who said he wished the music industry had contacted the school, as he said it had done in the past when copyright infringements were discovered.

“Had you followed the previous methods established in notification of a violation, we would have shut off the student and not allowed the problem to grow to the size and scope that it is today,” Tompkins wrote April 3 in a letter to the RIAA’s Sherman.

The RIAA said the massive nature of the alleged offenses required a strong response.

“This is not an instance of an individual student simply offering up some sound recordings on a web site,” said Matthew Oppenheim, senior vice president of business and legal affairs for the association.

In the Michigan case, Oppenheim said, the student ran a network offering more than 650,000 music files for downloading, in addition to 1,866 songs from his own personal collection.

“It would be our hope that universities are aware of what is happening on their networks,” he said. “The onus shouldn’t rest on any given copyright holder to provide a warning to an individual when something of this size and scope is happening.”

Links:

Recording Industry Association of America
http://www.riaa.org

tags

Use this site to track the development of the atomic bomb

On Dec. 6, 1941, the U.S. government pledged $2 million to the Manhattan Project, charging scientists with the task of developing the world’s first atomic bomb. Four and a half years later, President Harry S. Truman ordered the deployment of two such bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing more than 170,000 Japanese civilians. While the bombings are credited with bringing a quick and decisive end to World War II, they remain two of the most horrific and deadliest attacks ever committed in modern warfare. Now, thanks to this web site created by Doug Prouty of California’s Costa County Office of Education, students can follow the historic development of the U.S. atomic weapons program from Einstein’s Theory of Relativity to those two fateful days in August 1945 when so many lives were lost. The site provides students with a timeline following the gradual development of the bomb, as well as information about the physics of atomic energy. There are also resources to conduct follow-up research assignments, complementary lesson plans, and historical biographies profiling some of the major players of the atomic era.

tags

SLD: eRate demand drops $1 billion in 2003

Requests for 2003 eRate discounts will total about $1 billion less than last year, the Schools and Libraries Division (SLD) of the Universal Service Administrative Co. announced April 3. The group, which administers the program, attributes this decline to its increased vigilance and warnings concerning waste, fraud, and abuse. “Our enforcement actions are starting to pay off,” SLD spokesman Mel Blackwell said.

Throughout the filing window for 2003, SLD warned applicants to make sure they adhered to the program’s rules, because it had identified a pattern among 2002 applications that violated the eRate’s competitive-bidding requirements. Many of these 2002 applications came from small schools and districts requesting internal connections at the 90-percent discount level.

Perhaps not coincidentally, the largest drop in 2003 applications occurred in requests for internal connections at the 90-percent discount level. Requests for these Priority Two services declined by $500 million (19 percent) compared with last year’s requests. Demand for telecommunications services shrank by $100 million (7 percent). The rest of the decline—about $445 million—occurred in applications requesting internal connections at discount levels of 89 percent or below.

In contrast to the overall trend, demand for internet access increased by $27 million (6 percent).

“Maybe people are looking at what you can apply for and heeding some of our warnings,” Blackwell said.

He added, “This is going into our sixth year, so applicants are getting smarter. They know better what will and won’t get denied.”

In total, applicants requested an estimated $4.718 billion, down 18 percent from the $5.736 billion requested in 2002. This estimate is based on the dollars requested in the 41,146 applications received or postmarked by Feb. 6, 2003, the close of the Form 471 filing window.

Despite the billion-dollar decrease, demand for eRate discounts is still high. For the third year in a row, applicants have requested more than double the $2.25 billion available. “It’s still more than we have [to give],” Blackwell said.

Applicants requested an estimated $1.745 billion for telecommunications services and internet access. Demand for internal connections at the 90-percent level is an estimated $2.116 billion. The SLD expects these figures to decrease slightly once it has weeded out duplicate, incomplete, and ineligible applications.

Although the dollar amount requested for 2003 is less than last year, the SLD received 14 percent more applications. “There were more applications sent in than last year because we asked people to break up their applications,” Blackwell said.

The SLD asked applicants to submit their funding requests for internal connections (Priority Two services) and telecommunications services and internet access (Priority One services) separately. The agency has not yet calculated how many unique entities applied. The number of applicants who filed online rose slightly. For funding year 2003, 92.2 percent of applicants filed online, compared with 85.7 percent in 2002.

Budget deficits, in addition to the SLD’s attempts to “weed out the bad guys,” might have contributed to the decline in 2003 requests, according to Sara Fitzgerald, vice president of communications for the eRate consulting firm Funds for Learning LLC.

“I was not necessarily surprised that [eRate demand] had decreased for 2003,” Fitzgerald said. “To be able to use eRate discounts you have to use some of your own money, and it may reflect that schools’ budgets are pretty tight.”

Also, in working with applicants, Fitzgerald said, she often hears them say they are not poor enough to qualify—so why bother. “It seems people have sort of given up, given the way the program has gone in the last few years, [just assuming] that they won’t be funded,” she said.

But that attitude sometimes can be costly. With its most recent wave of funding commitments for the 2002 program year, issued March 31, the SLD began fulfilling requests for internal connections down to the 81-percent discount level.

“Now that they’ve taken it down to the 81-percent level, so many school [officials] are saying, ‘Oh my God, why didn’t I apply?'” said Gary Rawson, infrastructure planning and eRate coordinator for Mississippi’s Information Technology Services department. Rawson is also chairman of the State eRate Coordinator Group, which is sponsored by the Council of Chief State School Officers.

eRate Task Force

In other eRate news, the SLD announced that it has created an eRate Task Force to identify areas where improvements can be made to combat potential waste, fraud, and abuse by both service providers and applicants.

The task force is a response to renewed criticisms of the eRate in light of recent evidence that some applicants and service providers having been stretching the program’s rules (see “Lawmakers query FCC about ‘troubling’ eRate abuse,” http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/showStory.cfm?ArticleID=4304).

“The eRate Task Force is one of the highlights going forward,” Blackwell said. “It won’t have an impact on 2003 because we’ll be working through the summer, and then we’ll have to report to the [Federal Communications Commission, which oversees the eRate] before any policies can be made.”

The task force will consist of 14 members representing schools, libraries, and vendors. Members of the task force will meet to review every aspect of the eRate program where waste, fraud, and abuse can occur—including the application process, application review and funding commitment procedures, and invoicing. They also will review publicly available documents to determine what changes could be made to help prevent waste, fraud, and abuse.

The task force will produce a final report of its recommendations this summer.

“I think it’s a good, positive step,” Fitzgerald said. “Hopefully some good recommendations will come out of it.”

The SLD created a similar task force a few years ago to find ways to streamline the application process.

Besides starting a new task force, the SLD said it would continue educating applicants, issuing warnings, and streamlining the application process. “It’s always a goal that we [make the program] easier,” Blackwell said.

Links:

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

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

Council of Chief State School Officers
http://www.ccsso.org

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

tags

Follow up: Novell challenges SCO in Linux fight

Novell Inc. has announced that it—not SCO Group—owns the Unix copyrights and patents that form the basis of SCO’s $1 billion lawsuit against IBM. SCO claims Big Blue unlawfully allowed proprietary Unix computer code to be copied into the open-source operating system Linux. The controversy is important to ed tech because the outcome could affect the future of Linux, which has been growing in popularity for servers in schools, colleges, and government agencies.

The stakes in this increasingly baroque dispute could rise still higher. Linux has traditionally been viewed as an operating system strictly for servers. Now, however, Linux has begun migrating to personal computers as well, a setting where Microsoft long has held sway virtually unchallenged.

When Hewlett-Packard introduced a Linux-powered laptop in Thailand not long ago, for instance, demand was so great, according to the daily newspaper Bangkok Post, that the Thai ministry of technology began talks to bring in other manufacturers if HP failed to keep up with orders. Serious Linux competition for Windows on personal computers could pose a major headache for Microsoft.

Some open-source advocates claim the lawsuit by SCO is intended to slow or stop the momentum of Linux. Others maintain the suit is an effort by SCO to make itself desirable as an acquisition target for IBM, Microsoft, or other giant technology companies. SCO contends it is merely protecting its proprietary rights to Unix computer code and seeking fair compensation from those who use it.

Shortly after filing the IBM suit, SCO sent letters to 1,500 Linux customers claiming that Linux contains “unauthorized derivatives” of Unix and warning that Linux users might be subject to legal liability unless they pay fees to SCO. (See “SCO throws legal scare at Linux users,” http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/showStory.cfm?ArticleID=4415.)

Microsoft quickly agreed to license SCO’s Unix code. Critics claimed the move was designed to provide funding for SCO’s Linux fight and lend credibility to SCO’s infringement claims.

But Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith is quoted by CNet News as saying that acquiring the license from SCO “is representative of Microsoft’s ongoing commitment to respecting intellectual property and the IT community’s healthy exchange of IP through licensing. This helps to ensure IP compliance across Microsoft solutions and supports our efforts around existing products, like services for Unix that further Unix interoperability.”

Unix was initially developed more than 30 years ago by AT&T. Then AT&T sold Unix to Novell. Novell, in turn, sold the operating system to SCO in 1995, but—according to Novell boss Jack L. Messman—never conveyed to SCO ownership of the Unix copyrights.

In a letter to SCO President and CEO Darl McBride, Messman spelled out the Novell position in no uncertain terms: “SCO is not the owner of the Unix copyrights. Not only would a quick check of U.S. Copyright Office records reveal this fact, but a review of the asset transfer agreement between Novell and SCO confirms it. To Novell’s knowledge, the 1995 agreement governing SCO’s purchase of Unix from Novell does not convey to SCO the associated copyrights.”

McBride replied that Novell’s assertion derives from what he called a “contradiction” in the 1995 contract with SCO: One part of the contract “said Novell had some rights to copyrights and patents,” McBride acknowledged. But much more of the contract describes in detail copyrights and patents that were to be transferred to SCO, McBride said.

McBride added that his company has checked with attorneys and top executives who were involved in the 1995 transaction. All agreed that the contract’s intent was to give SCO “the entire rights to the Unix business,” including copyrights and patents, McBride contended.

Messman’s letter to McBride went on to warn that SCO itself could be subject to liability: “SCO’s actions are disrupting business relations that might otherwise form at a critical time among partners around Linux technologies, and are depriving these partners of important economic opportunities.

“We hope you understand the potential significant legal liability SCO faces for the possible harm it is causing to countless customers, developers, and other Linux community members. SCO’s actions, if carried forward, will lead to the loss of sales and jobs, delayed projects, canceled financing, and a balkanized Linux community.” Novell’s boss also directed key questions to SCO: “What specific code was copied from Unix System V? Where can we find this code in Linux? Who copied this code? Why does this alleged copying infringe SCO’s intellectual property? By failing to address these important questions, SCO has failed to put us on meaningful notice of any allegedly infringing Linux code, and thus has withheld from us the ability—and removed any corresponding obligation—to address your allegation.”

In recent days, SCO has offered to show examples of the allegedly pilfered code, but only if those scheduled to view it consent to signing a non-disclosure agreement. Signing such an agreement would negate the value of seeing the code, Novell and others have responded.

Will all this sound and fury hurt the Linux movement in education and elsewhere? Novell clearly thinks so, but a spokesman for SuSE, one of the firms circulating Linux, said his company hasn’t heard of a single prospective user who has altered course because of the controversy.

Leading market research firms are split on the likely impact of the controversy on Linux. The firms also are divided on what Linux users and prospective users should do now.

In May, analyst firm Gartner Inc. told customers they should minimize their use of Linux on important systems because of SCO Group’s warnings about legal liability.

“Although Gartner has reservations on the merits of [SCO’s claims], don’t take them lightly,” advised Gartner analyst George Weiss. “Minimize Linux in complex, mission-critical systems until the merits of SCO’s claims or any resulting judgments become clear.”

But Forrester Research, another prestigious firm, had this advice for clients: “Enterprises should not stop their Linux rollouts. Why not? Three reasons based on a risk/benefit analysis: (1) The cost-benefit of migrating high-priced Unix on RISC servers to low-cost Linux on Intel servers is highly positive, (2) the risk that tiny SCO can muster the resources to effectively litigate against even one or two of the 1,500 companies it has threatened is low, and (3) IBM will further dilute that risk by intervening to eliminate the threat of legal action.”

Links:

Novell on SCO and Linux (with text of letter from Messman to McBride)
http://www.novell.com/news/press/archive/2003/05/pr03033.html

SCO Group
http://www.sco.com

tags

This U.S. Department of Education (ED) program supports activities under two categories. The first supports public and private efforts in which funds are matched by private organizations to assist states, school districts, and schools in making informed decisions regarding approving or selecting providers of comprehensive school reform, consistent with the requirements of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The second category foster the development of comprehensive school reform models, and provides effective capacity building for comprehensive school reform providers to expand their work in more schools, assure quality, and promote financial stability. Approximately $7 million of fiscal year 2002 funds are available for this grant competition. ED expects to award approximately $2 million for technical assistance in making informed decisions and approximately $5 million to support model development and capacity building. ED anticipates making one to two awards under each category.

tags

This program aims to enhance the school readiness of young children, particularly disadvantaged young children, and to prevent them from encountering difficulties once they enter school. Projects funded under will provide high-quality, sustained, and intensive professional development for these early childhood educators in how to provide developmentally appropriate school-readiness services for preschool-age children that are based on the best available research on early childhood pedagogy and on child development and learning, including the age-appropriate development of oral language, phonological awareness, print awareness, alphabet knowledge, and numeracy skills. Eligible applicants will consist of a partnership between higher education and local or state schools districts, Head Start, or other eligible groups. An estimated $14.9 million is available through this program. Between five and 12 awards will be made, ranging between $1.2 million and $2.8 million.

tags

Educational Pictures Inc. is awarding $15,000 in classroom scholarship subscriptions to one hundred schools worldwide. The schools will receive access to Educational Pictures’ features a standards aligned image database with a simple interface and image messaging system. To receive a scholarship subscription for one classroom in your school, principals, librarians or teachers can submit a written request to mfisher@gotoep.com with scholarship in the subject field and a short paragraph about how standards aligned images are good for education. The first one hundred schools to eMail starting March 27, 2003 will be awarded a scholarship and passwords good from September 2003 through June 2004. One scholarship is available per school.

tags

The purpose of this U.S. Department of Education program is to support academic achievement through awarding competitive grants to local school districts applying on behalf of large public high schools for the planning and implementation or expansion of small, safe, and successful learning environments in large public high schools. There is $135 million available for fiscal year 2003 and awards will range between $25,000 and $250,000 depending on the number of schools involved. Both planning and implementation grants will be awarded under this competition. Applicants are advised that school districts may submit only one implementation grant application and one planning grant application.

tags