$1,000 to buy classroom technologies

Initiated in January 2004, the Classroom Technology Grant program supports the integration of media technologies throughout the K-12 school curriculum by giving the recipients funds to buy media technologies used for teaching. The grant amount is $1,000 and may be supplemented by in-kind equipment donations. More than one grant recipient may be announced.


“Project Vote Smart” is a clear choice for 2004 campaign information

With another presidential campaign season kicking off in earnest with the first state primaries this month, teachers no doubt will be looking for resources to help their students follow the events. Calling itself “a citizen’s organization dedicated to serving all Americans with accurate and unbiased information for electoral decision-making,” Project Vote Smart (PVS) contains information about thousands of candidates and elected officials, including biographies, issue positions, voting records, campaign finances, and performance evaluations. Students and teachers can look up information about candidates and use these findings for school projects or to help them make well-informed voting decisions. PVS also contains a feature called CongressTrack, which monitors recent federal legislation and even supplies a calendar for the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. In addition, users have access to voter registration forms for each state; contact information for state and county election offices; ballot measure descriptions for each state (where applicable); and links to federal and state government agencies, political parties, and organizations.


District’s IT outsourcing could save $1 million per year

A Florida school district has announced plans to outsource its entire information technology (IT) department to a third-party communications firm–a move district officials say could save the school system more than $1 million a year for the next 10 years.

The Okaloosa County School District will pay Titan Corp.–a company that provides communications systems and solutions to such federal agencies as the U.S. Department of Defense–between $25 million and $35 million over the next five years in exchange for a full range of technology services, from network maintenance and wireless internet access to IT support and computer refreshes. The contract includes a renewal clause that could extend the deal to the 2013-14 school year, officials said.

The 30,000-student district is the latest school system to outsource its entire technology department–a trend that already has caught on in Detroit and Cobb County, Ga., in metropolitan Atlanta, where school leaders have been able to increase efficiencies in light of shrinking budgets, while still maintaining their commitment to technology in schools.

Titan will furnish Okaloosa County’s 43 facilities with desktop and laptop computers, network servers, and support services, including help-desk support, remote-desktop management, asset management, and local- and wide-area-network support and management. The company also will provide technology retrofits, web-site development and maintenance, and commercial software applications.

District Chief Information Officer J.C. Connor said the contract would ensure that every student and faculty member throughout the district enjoys the same access to technology no matter what building they’re in. He also believes the service portion of the agreement will free up busy educators, who often spend too much time worrying about technology, to do what they do best: teach students.

Besides freeing up more time for classroom instruction, officials say the deal will save money while helping them keep better track of technology spending. It also will eliminate the need for full-time technology staff and bring the responsibilities for planning and resource allocation together under one roof, they say.

“We now have a coordinated effort throughout the district, as opposed to a bunch of ad-hoc plans,” Connor said.

In deciding to outsource, he said, the district gave considerable thought to the fate of current technology staff members and determined it could make the transition with “little impact.”

Of the 32 positions that were eliminated, Connor said about half these employees had served in instructional positions or as librarians before and would be allowed to return to their original posts. Some staff members were offered new positions as instructional technology directors responsible for training teachers in how to integrate technology into the classroom more effectively. Others, he said, were offered jobs with Titan. Six employees who declined the offer were granted assistance in finding new jobs elsewhere.

Under its agreement with Titan, every school in the district is slated to operate on a 5 to 1 student-to-computer ratio. The contract also adheres to a strict refresh cycle, ensuring that none of the 13,000 desktop computers and more than 500 laptops used by faculty and students is more than five years old.

Instead of buying machines outright, the contract calls for the district to lease its equipment through Titan, giving the company the power to replace computers and equipment in accordance with a set schedule.

Before the outsourcing deal, Connor said, the district had shortchanged itself in trying to make do with machines that had outlived their usefulness. “We were spending a lot of our resources on obsolete machines,” he said. “And obsolete machines cost more than new machines to maintain.”

The contract takes care of another potential headache for schools: computer disposal. Just as Titan will be responsible for cycling in the new technology, it also is responsible for cycling out the old–a chore Connor contends is often difficult for schools to afford on their own. “This is no longer our problem,” he said.

Okaloosa isn’t the only district to outsource its entire IT service. In 2001, the Detroit Public Schools became the first high-profile school system in the nation to experiment with full-service IT outsourcing when it entered into a $75 million deal with local technology services provider Compuware Corp.

Upon signing on with Compuware, Detroit–the nation’s tenth largest school system–underwent a host of technical renovations, such as the addition of a district-wide, web-enabled eMail system; the replacement and upgrade of network components, including hardware and communications lines; the installation of T-1 data connections at all remote locations; the replacement of outdated hardware with high-speed servers; upgraded software for payroll and human resources management; an improved IT help desk; and an expanded student information system. In June, Detroit officials said the deal had paid off to the tune of $3 million in savings per year.

The movement to outsource is experiencing similar traction in Cobb County, Ga., where Titan recently struck another full-scale outsourcing deal to provide hardware, support, and services to students and faculty in the nation’s 25th largest school system.

Kevin Smith, vice president and general manager of Titan’s Enterprise Support Solutions, who heads up both the Okaloosa and Cobb County contracts, said the Georgia deal is unique because it is based on performance. Titan receives incentives depending on its ability to demonstrate increased efficiencies and fulfill service requests in a timely fashion.

At certain times during the year, school district officials perform evaluations of Titan’s service and support system and then decide based on those surveys whether the district must pay additional incentives to the company. “It’s the big stick Cobb County has, so to speak,” Smith said.

While all three contracts are expected to translate into significant savings for their respective school systems, Smith cautions it would be misguided to outsource IT for the sole purpose of saving money.

What companies such as Titan do best, he says, is provide experience and best practices to help schools and other public-sector organizations make the most efficient use of their resources. “Improved services should be the true focus of outsourcing,” he said. And increased efficiencies can translate into savings in other areas, such as giving teachers more time in the classroom or streamlining the communication of increasingly vital student achievement data throughout the district.

In terms of staffing, large companies such as Titan have the ability to bring on staff temporarily to handle routine surges in the need for technology service and support. Schools, for example, tend to experience the greatest need for technology support during the beginning of the year, when educators and students still are working out the kinks in their respective systems and getting used to the infrastructure. In many of these instances, outsourcers are able to bring in experts from other areas of their business, reallocating them as needed. A school, on the other hand, might be forced to contract for new employees to meet that need, Smith said.

According to Connor, Okaloosa entertained competitive bids from at least 17 different vendors before deciding on Titan. The company has been providing partial IT services to the district since 1999.

Despite enthusiasm in places like Detroit and Cobb County, outsourcing isn’t the right approach for all districts. Experts recommend that you evaluate whether to outsource your technology systems and support on a case-by-case basis, looking at factors such as the cost of providing the service, how critical it is to your day-to-day operations, and how comfortable you are with having an outside company do the job.


Titan Corp.

Okaloosa County School District

eSN Special Report: Outsourcing IT


Former IT director charged in alleged kickback scheme

The leader of a startup technology company and a former Harrisburg, Pa., School District official were charged last month with participating in a nearly $2 million kickback scheme in connection with a federally funded technology contract for the district, authorities say.

Ronald R. Morrett, president of Wormleyburg, Pa.-based EMO Communications, and John Henry Weaver, the district’s former information technology director, have agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy charges, make restitution, and cooperate in an ongoing investigation of the case, U.S. Attorney Thomas A. Marino said Dec. 8. They are expected to appear in court at a future date.

The two men allegedly agreed that Morrett, whose company was awarded a $6.9 million contract in 2000 to develop and install an information technology system for the school district, would make the payments to Weaver over a 13-month period, from April 2002 to May 2003.

Nearly 90 percent of the contract was funded directly through the eRate, the $2.25 billion-a-year federal program that provides discounts on telecommunications services to eligible schools and libraries.

According to court documents filed in the case, the two men and “other individuals” who were not named agreed that the payments would be funneled to Weaver, who was responsible for certifying that Morrett’s company completed the work, through third-party bank accounts.

The money for the kickbacks would have come through “any number” of sources contributing to Morrett’s income, including the federal eRate money, Assistant U.S. Attorney Martin Carlson said.

The investigation was prompted when school officials discovered in June that 1,000 laptop computers that had been ordered as part of the project were never delivered, said Mayor Stephen Reed, who was given control over the academically and financially troubled district in late 2000.

Weaver and the vendor responded to inquiries about the missing laptops with answers that were “incomplete and extremely evasive,” Reed said.

Weaver, who had been employed with the district for 17 years, was initially suspended earlier this year and resigned soon afterward, Reed said.

School Superintendent Gerald Kohn said the administration “was and is very angry.”

“The scale of this is mind-boggling and upsetting,” Kohn said. “It means the children will have fewer computers than they were entitled to.”

Morrett and Weaver each face up to five years in prison. Federal authorities also are seeking the forfeiture of the kickbacks Weaver allegedly received, including the seizure of substitute assets such as two sport utility vehicles, a station wagon, a motorboat, seven real estate parcels, and an interest in a bar and cafe in Ocean City, Md.

Morrett’s attorney, Brian Perry, said that although Morrett accepted responsibility for his part in the alleged scheme, he also believed he was manipulated by Weaver.

“This is a classic example of somebody who makes a bad decision, and it snowballs,” Perry said. “Ron was in a startup company, and he thought this would be a black mark against him if he didn’t agree to do it.”

Weaver’s attorney, Gerald Lord, confirmed that his client has agreed to plead guilty and is cooperating with investigators, but declined to comment on the allegations against Weaver.


EMO Communications Inc.

Harrisburg School District


Claim: Vending operators clip schools for millions

Sales from vending machines generate millions of dollars each year for schools from coast to coast. But until now, school officials had no good way to verify they were receiving all the vending-machine revenue they were rightfully owed. Most school officials simply had to rely on the vending-machine companies to tell them how many drinks or snacks were dispensed.

All that could change with a new monitoring and auditing service from Miami-based Vend Audit Controls. The company claims its service has the potential to save a school thousands of dollars in underreported sales.

Vending-machine operators typically pay from 20 to 30 percent of each sale to the school, making vending-machine contracts a popular and lucrative fundraiser for schools.

“Right now, there is no accountability procedure in place,” said Thomas E. Akin, principal of Cypress Creek High School in Orange County, Fla. “The extent of accountability we have comes from the vendors. We have to trust them.”

Vend Audit Controls’ VendCheck solution requires vending machine operators to plug a handheld reader into the vending machine for a few seconds during service visits to download stored sales data, which come in an industry-standard format known as DEX.

Vendors upload this raw data via the internet to Vend Audit Controls’ server for analysis. The company then produces a precise sales report for the school district and the vending machine operator.

Vend Audit Controls supplies the handheld readers to machine operators at no cost, and there’s no up-front charge for schools to participate. School administrators simply sign a contract agreeing to give the company 40 percent of any recovered funds–making the program seem like a no-risk proposition.

But for some school leaders, it’s not that simple.

After noticing a large discrepancy between the payments received from two vending machine operators selling similar products in the same number of machines, Cypress Creek High School began piloting the VendCheck service.

From first analysis, the company estimated that Orange County might be owed nearly $500,000 from underreported sales. However, Vend Audit Controls had to cut the pilot short because the school board would not mandate the use of the handheld reader in its contract with a vending machine operator who refused to cooperate, Akins said.

Jeff Stubins, chief executive officer of Vend Audit Controls, said his company in general has received a poor reception from school leaders. He said either they have bigger things to worry about, or they don’t want to risk damaging their relationship with their vending-machine operator.

“They’re terrified they’re going to anger the operator. They’re scared the operator will just not do business with them,” Stubins said.

Yet the problem of vending-machine operators cheating customers is real, Stubins says.

Even the National Automatic Merchandising Association (NAMA), which represents the vending-machine industry, recognized that some operators engaged in a practice called “R-Factoring,” where “sales are underreported, sometimes as much as 25 to 30 percent, to the client.”

In a 2002 document distributed to its members on how to detect this practice, the group said vending-machine operators are motivated to R-Factor sales because of high competition, low profit margins, and the desire to pay fewer taxes to the government.

NAMA insists this practice is now history. Since January 2003, all NAMA members have had to sign a business and ethical statement promising, among other things, that they will conduct themselves “fairly, ethically, and honestly in all situations.”

“Anyone concerned about [vending-machine fraud] should make sure they are doing business with a NAMA company,” said NAMA spokeswoman Jackie Clark.

Despite this measure, Vend Audit Controls recommends that if an accountability measure exists, schools should try it.

“The better vending-machine operators do a really good job at making their school customers happy and give back to the school community, but there still needs to be accountability–and we are providing that,” Stubins said.

He claims, “In one of the pilots we’re doing, when the operator was notified he needed to use a handheld, [reported] sales went up 20 percent.” He would not divulge the name of the client.

But Stubins did say he estimates the Chicago Public Schools could recover nearly $3 million. Chicago, which has 1,400 vending machines in 602 schools, agreed to pilot VendCheck in 18 machines at one high school.

“We want to make sure everything is fine, including the revenues,” said Netza Roldan, manager of vending-product services for the Chicago Public Schools, which has an exclusive contract with Coca-Cola to receive $21 million over five years.

“We don’t even know if it’s going to work or if it’s not going to work,” said Roldan, who is leery of Vend Audit Controls’ claim. “We don’t think we’re that stupid to let someone like Coca-Cola steal $3 million from us.”

The Philadelphia Public School District also agreed to test VendCheck in one of its administrative buildings. “Anytime we can operate better and more efficiently on both sides of the cash register appeals to us,” said Cameron Kline, a spokesman for the district.

It’s too early to gauge the results of the program, because no school districts have completed pilots yet.

In addition to monitoring sales, Vend Audit Controls also looks for past accounting errors so schools can recover that income. Most recently, the company launched workshops to educate school district personnel about how to manage vending-machine programs.

Stubins said his company has several ways to evaluate a school district’s need for its services–including receipts that are off by a penny because they have been rounded or payments made in penny increments.

“That’s an easy one for us, because vending machines don’t take pennies,” he said.

School leaders who want to participate in a VendCheck audit can contact the company at info@vendauditcontrols.com or (877) 238-3065.

See these related links:

Vend Audit Controls

National Automatic Merchandising Association


The Top 10 ed-tech stories of 2003 you’ll still be dealing with in 2004

Enormous challenges for school technology leaders marked the year just ended–from shrinking state budgets to more stringent requirements for hiring teachers, educating students, and collecting and reporting school data under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

Viruses, worms, and unsolicited commercial eMail (or spam) throttled school computer systems to an unprecedented extent. Digital copyright dilemmas cropped up on several fronts. And the largest single program for funding school technology–the eRate–was beset with problems of its own, culminating in a congressional probe into alleged instances of waste, fraud, and abuse.

The news wasn’t all bad. One-to-one computing initiatives continued to gain momentum in states such as Maine, Michigan, and New Hampshire. But not even this development was free from the impact of state budget cuts, as Michigan’s ambitious plan to provide laptop computers to all sixth-graders now appears headed for a 56-percent cutback.

In this special feature, the editors of eSchool New reveal their choices for the 10 most important school technology stories of 2003. How these stories continue to play out in this new year will have significant repercussions for school leaders nationwide.

10. Laptop learning gains momentum

It was a good year for proponents of one-to-one computing initiatives in schools. In March, a mid-year progress report on Maine’s groundbreaking program to give all seventh graders in the state a laptop computer said the machines already were benefiting students. Inspired by Maine’s success, leaders in Michigan and New Hampshire announced similar programs in those states. And, though Gov. Jennifer Granholm later announced her intent to cut $22 million in state funding from Michigan’s program, the initiative still appears to be moving forward, as eSchool News reported last month.

Maine laptop program gets high marks in mid-year survey

Gov. backs one-to-one computing in spite of looming budget deficit

N.H. follows Maine’s lead with school laptop plan

HP to provide laptops to Michigan schools

9. Digital copyright law challenges policy makers

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, which prohibits the production and distribution of any product that circumvents the security features of digital media, was intended to prevent the illegal copying and distribution of electronic content. But civil libertarians and some education groups say this controversial law stifles academic research and gives publishers too tight a grip over online content. The past year brought several key legal challenges and interpretations of the law, with broad implications for both students and educators.

Jury’s verdict puts digital copyright law to the test

Judge tosses lawsuit seeking probe of filtering software

Judge keeps student mum on computer system flaws

Hollywood turns thumbs down on DVD copying software

ALA: New exemptions to digital copyright law don’t go far enough

8. Feds, firms take steps to can spam

If it seems like your school computers have become overrun by spam, you’re not alone. As of last March, 45 percent of all eMail sent across the United States was spam, according to Brightmail, a San Francisco-based anti-spam company. That figure is up from 16 percent in January 2002–and it’s likely to be even higher today. For schools that provide students with eMail accounts, the problem is especially serious, because much of spam is offensive or pornographic in nature. In fact, a recent survey by internet security firm Symantec Corp. found that more than 80 percent of school-age children receive lewd, inappropriate, or potentially dangerous spam on a daily basis.

Lawmakers and industry leaders took a number of steps in the past year to stem the problem, culminating with the passage of a federal anti-spam law that took effect Jan. 1, 2004. But the new federal law overrides tougher state laws in California and elsewhere, and its critics say it doesn’t go far enough in protecting eMail users.

Feds, firms look to can ‘spam’ from computer networks

FTC: Open servers make schools unwary accomplices to spam

Survey: Four out of five kids receive inappropriate spam

eSN Analysis: State laws unlikely to stop spam

Congress OKs national anti-spam bill, overriding tougher state laws

7. Linux lawsuit looms over open-source movement

In March, SCO Group–which owns the Unix operating system–filed suit against IBM Corp. for allegedly embedding strands of Unix code into its open-source Linux platform. Although the lawsuit named only IBM, intellectual property lawyers say other organizations that distribute versions of Linux–including schools–could be forced to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines and lost profits if the suit is found to have merit.

IBM denied the allegations and has filed a countersuit against SCO, but the multibillion-dollar legal battle threatens to derail the open-source movement just as it has begun to catch on among schools. Fortunately for educators, at least one hardware provider–Hewlett-Packard Co.–said it would protect its customers from SCO’s intellectual property claims if the software is running on HP equipment.

Lawsuit could threaten open-source movement in schools

SCO throws a legal scare at Linux users

Follow up: Novell challenges SCO in Linux fight

IBM countersues in Linux battle

Hewlett-Packard to protect customers from Linux claims

6. States still struggle with virtual school rules

Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin were among the many states where debates continued this past year over how to regulate–and fund–so-called virtual schools, which deliver instruction to students entirely online.

Though the number of students taking virtual K-12 courses continued to rise in 2003, questions still linger over how much to fund these projects, who should provide the instruction–and who should foot the bill. These controversies have reached their hottest levels when they involve charter schools operated by for-profit companies. Fortunately, a new organization, called the North American Council for Online Learning (NACOL), now exists to help policy makers resolve these types of questions.

Old-school rules challenge cyber education in N.Y., Colo.

Ohio tightens enrollment rules for online charters

States grapple with virtual school legislation

Forum addresses virtual schooling myths

Ohio proposes new rules for online education

Funding fights hammer virtual schools

NACOL will champion online learning

5. Music industry targets illegal file swappers

In April, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) stepped up its fight against the illegal swapping and distribution of music files over the internet by suing four college students for allegedly offering more than 1 million copies of popular music online. Those lawsuits, which were settled for thousands of dollars each, marked the beginning of an aggressive campaign by the RIAA to eradicate illegal MP3 file sharing altogether by targeting the most frequent culprits.

The RIAA began filing copyright subpoenas with universities and internet service providers last spring, asking for the identities of students and other internet users suspected of illegally downloading and sharing music files online. The subpoenas have led to nearly 400 civil lawsuits against alleged file-swappers so far–but in a blow to the recording industry’s anti-piracy campaign, a federal appeals court ruled in December that the RIAA can’t force school systems, universities, or internet service providers to hand over the names of music downloaders if they don’t want to.

At colleges and universities, where the use of peer-to-peer file-sharing networks is a growing problem, the practice of swapping copyright-protected files online has put administrators in the difficult position of trying to balance students’ privacy rights with the need to enforce the law.

At least one school, Penn State University, has hit upon a creative solution. In an apparent campus first, Penn State will offer students free digital music from the newly relaunched Napster service, university officials said Nov. 6. The service provides music for listening and limited downloading. However, if students want to keep a song or burn it to a CD, they will need to pay 99 cents per song.

The new Napster service is modeled after the popular iTunes Music Store launched by Apple Computer last spring. But Penn State’s use of the service has rankled some students who are unhappy about having to pay for music they add to their personal collections. It remains to be seen whether other schools will follow Penn State’s lead–or whether the university’s students will adapt to a more limited approach to enjoying music online.

Students sued for alleged digital copyright violations

New online music store could tone down digital piracy

Music labels threaten to sue illegal file-swappers

Schools resist RIAA subpoenas

Schools use software, warnings to stop illegal file-swapping

Penn State launches ‘free’ digital music service for students

Court: RIAA can’t subpoena schools, internet providers

4. Cyber security takes on greater urgency

At least two particularly nasty internet attacks exploited vulnerabilities in Microsoft software last year, crippling tens of thousands of computers worldwide. The so-called “SQL Slammer” and “Blaster” worms and their resulting fallout–coupled with a report from the Bush administration’s national security team, which urged schools and other organizations to do their part to help secure the nation’s critical computer infrastructure from cyber terrorism–drew unprecedented attention to the need for better network security.

At a national ed-tech conference in October, the Consortium for School Networking announced a multiyear initiative, called “Cyber Security for the Digital District,” that will provide educators with strategies and tools to ensure the privacy of data and the safe operation of their networks. Microsoft also floated a number of possible solutions to the problem, from automatic software updates to cash rewards for people who turn in virus writers. Though reaction to these various ideas was mixed, most school technology leaders agree on at least one thing: that the current approach to network security–applying piecemeal patches as they are announced–isn’t enough.

‘SQL Slammer’ hammers home network security challenge

Feds recruit schools in cyber security effort

‘eMail spoofing’ threatens school computer networks

Computer worm exploits Windows flaw, snarls networks

Microsoft, schools mull security improvements in wake of latest worm

Security, assessment highlight Technology + Learning conference

Microsoft offers huge cash rewards for catching virus writers

3. NCLB requirements fuel–and steer–school tech use

In its second full year, the federal education law had a profound impact on which technologies schools purchased and how these systems were deployed.

Market research firm Quality Education Data (QED), for example, reported that school technology spending rose slightly in 2003, despite the fiscal crisis that plagued many states. QED attributed the rise largely to schools’ need to invest in new technologies to help them meet the data tracking and reporting requirements of NCLB.

In September, the federal Education Department (ED) announced a $50.9 million public-private initiative to post disaggregated test results and other school data from each state on a single web site, so stakeholders throughout the country could monitor the progress of individual schools and compare them with other schools in their state. Acceptance of this new tool remains in doubt, however, because most states already have begun creating their own tracking and reporting systems to comply with the law’s demands.

Besides helping school leaders make more informed decisions about students’ curricular needs, technology also played a significant role in helping schools meet the law’s new requirements for improving teacher quality. Solutions ranged from “virtual” job fairs aimed at helping schools recruit highly qualified teachers, to web-based systems that enable school administrators to gauge the proficiency of teachers in any subject area compared with state and national standards, so they can pinpoint specific areas for improvement and target their professional development accordingly.

One notable solution–a new internet-based program that allows underqualified teachers, career changers, and other professionals to bypass teacher colleges to become “highly qualified” certified teachers–made its debut Aug. 22 amid some controversy.

This alternative to traditional teacher-education programs, called Passport to Teaching, was funded in part by a $5 million grant from ED to create a cheaper, faster way for schools to meet the teacher-quality requirements of NCLB. But critics of the initiative–including professional teacher-education associations–say it’s a poor substitute for the rigors of traditional teacher-preparation programs, which often require practice teaching and mentoring before certification.

ED: Cyber schools key for NCLB remedies

Personalized learning services stand out at FETC 2003

Schools use technology to recruit teachers from abroad

Schools get help in meeting tech requirements of NCLB

Technology is one of few tools left to ease a worsening teacher crunch

Rural Alaska schools look to online courses for NCLB success

NCLB fuels growth in school tech spending

Web program gives fast track to certification

ED: Tech is key to rural school success

ED launches $50M new data-management tool

MDR: Schools that fail AYP are below average in tech use

2. Budget ax falls on ed-tech programs

Educational technology programs and initiatives were hammered by budget cuts in many states as lawmakers grappled with near-record deficits. A survey of budget data from 31 states by the State Educational Technology Directors Association revealed that state budgets for educational technology decreased an average of 25 percent in 2003, with more cuts expected in 2004.

In one of the most striking examples yet of how constricting state budgets have come to bear on school technology, the Texas Education Agency on Sept. 4 announced a major reorganization that includes the elimination of at least 200 jobs and the liquidation of its educational technology division, long considered a national bellwether for school technology planning and programs. California, Indiana, Maryland, Nevada, Oregon, and West Virginia are among other states where lawmakers and school officials have been forced to cut back or eliminate programs that supply new computers, internet access, or instructional resources to K-12 students.

Even worse, federal government spending isn’t likely to make up the gap as Congress struggles to pass a 2004 education budget. As eSchool News reported last month, the omnibus appropriations bill still awaiting Senate approval would cut some $92 million in federal ed-tech funds.

The bill includes level funding ($695.5 million) for the Ed Tech Block Grant program, which is given to states to distribute to local school systems, half by formula and half competitively. But it would provide only $20.5 million for the federal Star Schools program, nearly $7 million less than 2003, and only $10 million for the Community Technology Centers program, or $22 million less than last year’s budget. What’s more, the $62.5 million Preparing Tomorrow’s Teachers to Use Technology (PT3) program does not appear in the bill at all.

The fallout from these actions has forced school leaders to do more with fewer resources at their disposal. Among the more creative approaches educators have taken to raising additional funds: auctioning off surplus equipment using the world’s largest auction house, eBay.

Bush’s 2004 budget calls for $145M in ed-tech cuts

Bush administration: Study justifies cutting after-school programs by $400 million

Bush administration pushes $200M cut for voc ed

2003 AASA meeting focuses on how to do more with less

Budget ax falls on school tech programs

Schools turn to eBay to unload surplus items

State budget cuts shut students out of Minnesota Virtual Academy

eSN Exclusive: Texas cuts its ed-tech division

Ed tech in trouble in Congress

State ed-tech budgets are shrinking, survey says

1. eRate faces renewed scrutiny

The first sign of trouble came in September 2002, when the Federal Communications Commission’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) released its semiannual report highlighting its investigations for members of Congress. The report said OIG was tracking 26 investigations of suspected eRate abuse at the time, 16 of which were initiated in 2002. The September 2002 OIG report led to another by the Center for Public Integrity in January 2003 calling the eRate “honeycombed with fraud and financial shenanigans”–which uncoiled a chain of events that would shake the foundation of the $2.25 billion-a-year program.

Reps. Billy Tauzin, R-La., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and James Greenwood, R-Pa., launched an investigation into the operation and oversight of the eRate, which provides discounts on telecommunications services to eligible schools and libraries. Hearings on the lawmakers’ findings are expected this spring. The program’s supporters worry that enemies of the eRate in Congress will use the investigation and its results to mount a renewed effort to kill the program, which is paid for by fees collected from telecommunications companies.

Responding to concerns about lax program oversight, the agency that administers the eRate took several steps to safeguard the program from further waste, fraud, and abuse. It tightened its scrutiny of applications, resulting in more than a billion dollars in funding denials last year, and formed a task force to recommend additional changes to the rules. Some changes already have been implemented for Funding Year 2004–but because they were made on the fly, as schools were in the process of applying (or preparing to apply), these rulings have merely frustrated and confused many applicants.

eSN Exclusive: SLD warns of eRate abuses

eRate bust signals crackdown

eRate faces renewed scrutiny after reports of widespread fraud

SLD denies $590 million in 2002 eRate requests

Lawmakers query FCC about ‘troubling’ eRate abuse

FCC moves to ban eRate ‘bad actors,’ approves wireless

Schools lobby to save eRate

Forum: Simplifying eRate rules will prevent abuse

Task force seeks comment on proposed eRate changes

Congress steps up eRate probe

eSN Exclusive:Big Blue claims eRate rejections are arbitrary and unfounded

eRate probe nets guilty plea

eRate agency could knock 3,700 schools off line

Feds reject Florida’s $7.4 million eRate appeal

Take prinicpals back to school with these strategies from “e-Lead”

The Institute for Educational Leadership and the Laboratory for Student Success have created a web site called e-Lead, a free online resource intended to provide states and school districts with information about how to provide better professional development for school principals. The web site suggests that professional development works best when it is focused on sound learning strategies, driven by a clear definition of leadership, conducted within the context of an overall plan, anchored by leadership standards, designed and implemented according to proven practices, and evaluated through processes that seek meaningful results. To help stakeholders select effective program options, e-Lead contains a searchable database of professional development courses complete with a comprehensive summary about each initiative’s design, implementation, and desired impact or effectiveness. Also, a unique Leadership Library feature offers annotated information about a number of leadership development issues and links to the latest information and resources.


Take a virtual tour of four model middle schools with “Schools to Watch”

In celebration of the Month of the Young Adolescent in November, the National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform welcomed visitors to take a series of online tours highlighting teaching and learning excellence in the middle grades. “For those interested in seeing innovative successful schools in action but who do not have the time or travel budget for a national tour, this cyber tour is the way to go,” said Deborah Kasak, executive director of the forum. The virtual tours–a feature of the Schools to Watch program, launched in 1999 as a national initiative to identify middle schools that are not only academically excellent, developmentally responsive, and socially equitable, but also have the organizational supports to sustain their success–invite education stakeholders to peek into the classrooms and hallways of four successful middle schools, located across the nation, to observe the practices and procedures that make them stand out from the pack. Members of the National Forum selected the schools based on the extent to which they met a number of criteria, including the promotion of academic excellence, developmental responsiveness, and social equity. The National Forum co-sponsors the Schools to Watch program with the National Association of Elementary School Principals, National Association of Secondary School Principals, National Middle School Association, and National Staff Development Council.


Test-score argument fails to resonate

As a long-time reading instruction specialist, I must take exception to your rejection of the validity of standardized reading test scores (SRTS) in your editorial in the November/December issue (“Beware the beguiling idea”). Please let me explain why.

It is well-established empirically that SRTS correlate highly with judgments by teachers as to how well their students can read.

It is equally well-settled that SRTS are a more reliable form of reading performance measurement than are teachers’ opinions of the reading ability of students. That is to say, SRTS are more “objective” assessments of students’ progress in learning to read than are the views of this matter by teachers at large.

The cost-effectiveness of various kinds of reading instruction is best evaluated through the collection of SRTS.

No reputable reading instruction specialist I know of contends that SRTS are “infallible” evidence of students’ reading proficiency, your views to the contrary notwithstanding. However, SRTS are not a “murky gauge” of how well students can comprehend written material.

Patrick Groff, Professor of Education Emeritus, San Diego State University


Linux providers aim to lure schools with discounts

Aiming to make further inroads into the education market, two leading providers of Linux-based software have announced major discount programs targeted at United States schools. The promotions mark an attempt to shift education customers from proprietary operating systems such as Windows to less expensive, open-source alternatives–an increasingly alluring option for school technology leaders in light of waning budgets.

In November SUSE, a German provider of open-source software, launched the SUSE Linux Education Program, which provides students, educators, school districts, universities, and nonprofit organizations with 40-percent discounts on a variety of SUSE solutions, including the company’s Linux Desktop system as well as its Standard Server and Enterprise Server products.

“The SUSE Linux Education Program provides the education sector with the fastest growing high-end computing technology at an affordable price,” said Holger Dyroff, general manager of the company’s Americas division, in a statement. “We think this will help drive the penetration of Linux even further by exposing the next generation of programmers and computer users to the benefits and versatility of open-source software.”

The discounts are available through SUSE’s United States resellers, CCVSoftware and RICIS Inc.

On Dec. 3, North Carolina-based Linux provider Red Hat Inc. responded to rival SUSE’s announcement with a similar promotion of its own, intended to make its open-source software more appealing to schools. According to the company, students and staff members of qualified institutions now can purchase Red Hat Academic solutions at a “fraction of the cost” of proprietary systems.

For students, Red Hat offers its Enterprise Linux WS Academic Edition, which provides a desktop environment–including the operating system platform as well as personal productivity applications–for a subscription price of $25 a year.

Schools now can purchase Red Hat’s server software for just $50 a year. The Enterprise Linux AS Academic Edition includes applications for network infrastructure, web hosting, and High Performance Computing (HPC) server farms.

If a school or school system is considering a large-scale deployment of Linux, Red Hat recommends its Site Subscription. Priced at $2,500 per year, a basic package includes unlimited service subscriptions to Red Hat Enterprise Linux WS Academic Edition for all systems personally owned or operated by students and staff members. It also includes a Red Hat Network Proxy Server and network management entitlements, enabling institutions to simplify their support of all systems.

“This is a welcome move by Red Hat to enable universities to use premium Red Hat Enterprise Linux at a very low cost,” said Frank Starmer, associate provost for information technology at the Medical University of South Carolina. “We see this as a very rational pricing structure and are eager to deploy the [software].”

What makes Linux different is that unlike most proprietary operating systems on the market today, the source code for Linux is shared freely among users, who are allowed to add to or change it at will. This communal approach, proponents contend, can save schools thousands, if not millions, of dollars in total cost of ownership.

But while the operating system is free to users, skeptics of the open-source movement caution that integrating a Linux-based platform does cost money. Unlike a Microsoft OS, for example, the Linux platform does not come readily equipped with applications for word processing, eMail, and web browsing. Instead, companies such as SUSE and Red Hat sell these and other tools as bundled distributions to schools and businesses. The companies also offer service and support options to customers–all of which add to the solution’s total cost.

Emily Trask, an analyst with Boston-based Eduventures Inc., doesn’t think the discounts alone will be enough to lure most schools away from Windows or Macintosh systems.

“There are some interesting things happening [with Linux] that could offer potential benefits for schools, but we’re not really seeing widespread adoption as of yet,” she said, noting that K-12 institutions exist in a culture where reliability and support are far more important than flexibility.

See these related links:

Red Hat


Eduventures Inc.