eSN Exclusive: eRate delays vex educators

Unresolved changes to the eRate program in the middle of the application period have left many applicants frustrated and unsure of how to file their applications for 2004 funding, education leaders have told eSchool News.

With millions of dollars in funding at stake, school district personnel are under enormous pressure to make sure they follow the tangle of rules correctly. This pressure has always existed, but applicants say the problem is worse this year than it’s ever been, thanks to numerous reinterpretations of program rules.

Making matters worse, the agency that administers the program has been slow to issue guidance on these changes–and many issues have yet to be resolved, even as the next application deadline looms.

“The biggest frustration is the filing window being open and this still being the biggest period of transition for the program,” said Gary Rawson, infrastructure planning and eRate coordinator for Mississippi’s Information Technology Services and chairman of the State eRate Coordinator Alliance, which is sponsored by the Council of Chief State School Officers.

It’s not uncommon for school technology leaders whose institutions miss out on millions of dollars in funding because of mistakes in their applications to lose their jobs, according to several state eRate coordinators. But often these mistakes are the result of poor communication on the part of eRate officials, or last-minute rule changes that trip up applicants.

To secure 2004 discounts on telecommunications services, internet access, and internal wiring costs, schools and libraries have until Jan. 7 to file their Form 470 applications and until Feb. 4 to file their Form 471 applications.

Applicants are urged to apply well before the deadline by the Schools and Libraries Division (SLD) of the Universal Service Administrative Co., which administers the $2.25 billion-a-year program.

But as of early December, the following items still needed resolution or further clarification before applicants could safely apply:

  • Dark fiber: This year, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) made dark fiber–unlit fiber-optic cable–ineligible as a telecommunications service, but it is still eligible as an internal connection. At press time, applicants were still waiting for clarification on what do if they’re already locked in a multiyear contract for dark fiber service and what equipment needs to be at the end of the fiber for it to be considered lit or dark.
  • Personal Identification Numbers: The SLD on Nov. 19 deactivated all PINs used to certify forms electronically after it experienced a security problem. The agency has asked applicants to reapply for new PINs, but applicants report that the automated system that issues them has not been working consistently.
  • Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service: The FCC has made VoIP service ineligible until it can decide whether VoIP is a telecommunications service or an application provided over an unregulated information service. At press time, applicants were still waiting for clarification on what do if they’re already locked in a multiyear contract for VoIP service that was signed before this change went into effect.
  • Master contracts: For services provided through a state, the FCC used to require applicants to have their own contracts, but a recent resolution indicates that state master contracts now are sufficient. However, there was still reported confusion on this issue at press time.
  • State procurement laws: eRate procurement laws in some cases conflict with state procurement laws, even though applicants must comply with both. For example, the eRate requires applicants to consider the cheapest purchase price for products and services that are eligible, but some state procurement laws require school officials to consider the total cost of ownership instead. At press time, applicants were still waiting for clarification.
  • Technology plans: The SLD announced in late September that it is placing greater emphasis on its technology planning rules, which are not consistent with the U.S. Department of Education’s technology planning rules as outlined in the No Child Left Behind Act. Applicants have had to duplicate their technology planning efforts on short notice.
  • Eligible buildings: The FCC recently expanded its definition of educational use as it relates to school buildings, so on Nov. 18 the SLD removed the “Administrative Offices and Buildings Fact Sheet” from its web site. A new document, called “Eligible Users and Locations,” was supposed to replace it, but at press time applicants were still waiting for this document.
  • Entity numbers for every building: The FCC had asked for an entity number to be assigned to every building in an application, but that would result in many thousands of numbers, so a final ruling also was expected on this issue.
  • Private branch exchange (PBX) systems: Starting this year, PBXs are no longer eligible as a bundled telecommunications service. Applicants already in multiyear contracts for PBX systems were awaiting guidance on how to proceed.

‘Devastating’ effects

Usually the SLD informs applicants of new changes to the eRate program before a new program year starts through its annual September meeting for state eRate coordinators.

But this year, state eRate coordinators left the meeting with more questions than answers–not to mention short notice for significant changes.

“It’s just devastating. You can’t make a decision. You can’t file a 470,” said Greg Weisiger, state eRate coordinator for the Virginia Department of Education. “Only two months to go, and we have no idea. What do we do? We hope they give us some guidance in the not-too-distant future.”

This year is especially difficult because so many rules have been reinterpreted and now need further clarification, said Win Himsworth, president of the consulting firm eRate Central.

“For people for whom the eRate is their life and who have been applying since the first year, this is the first time they feel they could not file an application that would pass scrutiny,” Himsworth said. “To me, that is an extraordinary statement.”

These policy changes in question come from the FCC, and it’s up to the SLD to implement them.

“It would be nice if the program was static since it started, but it doesn’t work that way,” said SLD spokesman Mel Blackwell.

“There will be interpretations of policies that arise out of appeals or audits, like what happened with dark fiber,” Blackwell explained. “Or the industry–telecommunications is changing so much, like VoIP, and you have to change the rules as the industry changes.”

As for why there have been delays in issuing new rules and guidance, the FCC has a strict set of procedures for review and analysis that it must follow before decisions can be issued. “This is not something that can happen overnight,” FCC spokesman Mike Balmoris said.

But eRate applicants who spoke with eSchool News said this uncertainty adds more strain to an already stressful program.

“I lose sleep a lot. I even dream about the eRate, which is the dumbest thing,” said Della Matthias, Alaska’s state eRate coordinator, who has seen two technology directors in her state lose their jobs over the eRate.

“Both things were minor–like a missed date,” Matthias said. “Minor mistakes have such horrific consequences. It’s a tremendously stressful [environment] to work in.”

Another Alaskan school district recently discovered it will have to fulfill a multiyear contract to lease PBXs without eRate funding because bundled PBXs are now ineligible, she said.

“One of my technology directors who is caught in this [situation] is worried he is going to lose his job,” Matthias said. “He’s not sure his board will understand how he got them in this fix.”

In the dark on dark fiber

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District in Alaska entered into a 10-year contract in 1999 to lease dark fiber from the local phone company. The dark fiber wasn’t being used by the company, and it proved to be an affordable way to provide fast internet connectivity for the district, which simply had to buy and maintain the equipment needed to “light” the fiber. At the time, the equipment was eRate-eligible.

The district, which consists of 43 schools across 26,000 square miles, took advantage of its new high-speed network by buying all new PCs, installing centralized servers, and employing remote PC management.

“This year we got the word [from the FCC] that this is no longer a permissible way to run. School districts are no longer allowed to own their own equipment and light their own fiber. They equate it with the school district starting up their own telecom company,” said Matthias. “But what about the districts caught in long-term contracts?”

The FCC is expected to resolve this issue soon–but until that happens, applicants are stuck waiting to find out what is OK to ask for on their next eRate application.

“I only have [a few] days left before the 470 needs to be done,” said Jim White, technology director for the Kenai Peninsula school district. “Before they have a decision on dark fiber, it will be too late for me to react.”

White has devised a Plan B just in case. The district could sell its equipment at fair market value to the phone company, have the phone company light the fiber, and then lease the lit fiber back from the phone company.

But that turns out to be an “oversimplified solution,” he said. The phone company doesn’t have the expertise to operate or maintain the equipment.

Another option is to downgrade to T1 service, but in Alaska, a T1 line costs about $4,000 a month, plus the cost of installation.

Plus, fiber was the building block of Kenai’s technology plan. “We designed our whole technology program around that fiber,” White said. “We’d have to redesign our whole network.”

At press time, White anxiously awaited the FCC’s decision.

“If we lose that subsidy on that dark fiber, we will have to redo everything–and we don’t have the money to do that,” he said. “To me, it’s pretty catastrophic what will happen.”

Growing complexity a problem

Bob Morrow, compliance manager for e-Rate Consulting Services, agrees that the eRate program can be tense because there is a great deal of money involved, the rules are tight, and technology directors juggle so many other tasks.

“I’ve met very few administrators who like doing the eRate. In fact, I haven’t met one,” Morrow said. “They come to us to help relieve that tension–and let’s face it, there’s a lot of tension.”

Even as a consultant, Morrow gets stressed out about the eRate.

“Every time [SLD officials] contact you, you have that little twist in your stomach and you ask yourself, ‘Oh my god, did I make a mistake?'” Morrow said.

Mistakes are easy to come by–just forget to check a box on a form, reverse some numbers, or miss a deadline.

“There are people who totally screw up and miss a deadline. They lose their job. Look at New Orleans. They keep hiring and firing technology people because their eRate applications keep getting denied,” Mississippi’s Rawson said. “Look at Florida. I’m sure heads are going to roll over that.”

Florida’s request for more than $7 million to help fund its educational computer system was rejected by federal eRate authorities for a second time. Because state funding runs out at the end of January, the state is going to have to scramble to find the money to keep the network running, the New York Times Regional Newspaper Group reported Nov. 26.

Last March, the state transferred operation of its network to Hayes E-Government Resources, which beat out three rivals for the $13 million contract. After studying the Hayes deal, the SLD last summer concluded that Florida had not followed federal rules in awarding the contract to Hayes. Those rules require that the price of the contract be the “primary factor” used in selecting a vendor.

Florida appealed the agency’s decision, but its appeal was denied in mid-November.

Melinda Crowley, chief of technology for the Florida Department of Education, oversaw the state’s application. She referred eSchool News’ request for an interview to her department’s public relations office, which refused permission.

Himsworth said the reason his clients seek the help of a consultant is because they hate applying themselves, they’re unsuccessful at it, or they can’t keep up with changes to the program’s rules and policies.

No doubt the eRate program is complicated. Just to file the Form 470, for example, applicants have 17 pages of instructions to read first. “There are things buried in there that if you don’t pay attention, you automatically get denied,” Himsworth said.

Himsworth said he believes the increasing complexity of the eRate is going to “freeze small applicants out of the program.” Small applicants often can’t handle the burden of the paperwork, keeping up with the rule changes, or the cost of hiring a consultant, he said.

It’s not just losing the opportunity for funding that has applicants concerned. The Norfolk, Va., school system and its vendors, for example, recently were told to give back more than $1.2 million in funding because an audit revealed that the SLD had incorrectly approved the district’s applications.

The funding is “in the schools. It’s used up, and now you are telling me you want it back?” Weisiger said.

Despite the stress the eRate causes those directly involved, everyone agrees the program is tremendously helpful in reducing the costs of providing telephone and internet service for schools and libraries.

The SLD maintains that, of the thousands of applications filed each year, very few are troublesome.

“There are 30 to 35 thousand people who apply for this, and 95 percent get funded without problems. There’s no stress. There’s no strain. They file their application, they get funded, and it goes well,” Blackwell said.

“We’re not saying the program is duck soup, where you ask for the money and we give it to you,” but the majority of eRate applicants are free from such horror stories, he added.

See these related links:

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

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

e-Rate Consulting Services
http://www.erateconsulting.com

eRate Central
http://www.e-ratecentral.com

tags

‘Grants.gov’ makes finding federal dollars a cinch

A new resource on the web should make searching and applying for federal grants much easier. Set aside some time and visit Grants.gov to get a full understanding of and appreciation for this new tool available to grant seekers.

As the home page states, “Grants.gov is a simple, unified ‘storefront’ for all customers of federal grants to electronically find, apply for, and manage” funds. The site includes information about more than 900 grant programs offered by the 26 federal grant-making agencies. It streamlines the process of awarding more than $350 billion annually to state and local governments, education institutions, nonprofits, and other organizations.

A policy directive from the Office of Management and Budget requires that, as of Nov. 9, all federal agencies must post opportunities for discretionary grants and cooperative agreements online at the Grants.gov site. The directive states that potential applicants should be provided with (1) enough information about any funding opportunity to decide whether they are interested in viewing the full announcement; (2) information about one or more ways to obtain the full announcement by providing an internet site, eMail address, or telephone number; and (3) one common site for all federal opportunities that is searchable by keyword, date, Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance (CFDA) number, or specific agency name.

If you want to search for grants, go the site and click on “Find Grant Opportunities,” then click on “Search Grants Synopses.” You can do a full-text search or search by CFDA number, funding activity category (i.e., education, health, housing), funding instrument type (i.e., grants, cooperative agreements), and/or agency (i.e., Corporation for National and Community Service, Department of Education, Department of Justice).

Click on “Receive Grant Notification” and you will have the option of receiving selected notices based on funding opportunity number, grant-making agency, funding category, area of interest, and eligibility (i.e., school districts, county government, higher-education institutions), or you can receive all grant notices. If you select the “all notices” option, beware–this will result in more than 600 eMail messages per month, according to the site.

Applying for federal grants on the site involves a five-step process that must be followed in order. These are:

  1. Download a free copy of PureEdge viewer, which allows applicants to apply electronically and securely.
  2. Request a Data Universal Number System (DUNS) number if you don’t already have one. Call (866) 705-5711 to register for one. (See my October 2003 column for more detailed instructions about how to do this: http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/showStory.cfm?ArticleID=4682.)
  3. Register with the Central Contractor Registry (CCR) online. You must have your DUNS number in order to do this. This process may take up to 30 minutes to complete. You should receive your CCR registration within five business days.
  4. Register with the Credential Provider. This is required to submit your grant application securely, and you will receive a user name and password.
  5. Register with Grants.gov. You must have completed steps 3 and 4 before completing this final step.

If you have any problems while using the Grants.gov site, there is an extensive Customer Support section, as well as a tutorial for new visitors.

See this related link:

Grants.gov
http://www.grants.gov

tags

from the publisher:Leaders or laggards

A New Year is once again upon us. But whether 2004 will be happy or glum still is pretty much an open question. What is not in doubt, however, is that 2004 will be a pivotal year.

Seeing the future isn’t so easy. So for some of us, the start of a new year traditionally is a time for retrospection, although looking backward isn’t risk-free either.

As the late baseball legend Leroy “Satchel” Paige once put it: “Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.”

(Whether the current U.S. Secretary of Education, Rod Paige, is any kin to the Major Leaguer cannot be told, but it might be said that both became famous for their pitching skills.)

Paige–the ball player–had it right. What’s gaining on us, in my view, is sharp, technology-powered competition from around the globe. America’s mounting debt grinds away at our ability to prepare our teachers and students for the global economy. Meanwhile, other nations ramp up their commitment to high-tech education. Such programs are under way in parts of Europe, South America, the Far East, and on the Asian subcontinent–including, most especially, in India.

Most Americans, it seems to me, have the feeling that the United States is far out in front of the rest of the world–especially when it comes to technology. Little that our leaders are doing or saying serves to undercut that debilitating misperception.

Almost weekly, I talk to representatives of organizations with a global perspective. We discuss innovative technology programs under way in nations and education ministries around the world. Increasingly, the news is about programs and technologies one, two, or even three years ahead of where we are here in the United States.

As far as I can tell, this gathering competitive advantage elsewhere is not based on any true, pervasive technological superiority–at least, not yet. (The fact that our current tenuous status depends so heavily on imported scientists and technicians, however, is not a source of comfort.) Rather, the rising challenge from overseas seems to derive from a clearer recognition elsewhere of what technological sophistication means to a nation’s economic and security interests. Contrasting the accelerating programs “over there” with our own stalled or declining ones throws a lengthening shadow over our long-term prospects.

Right now, to be sure, an emerging developmental gap is only just becoming clear, but it isn’t likely to narrow by itself. Worse yet, awareness of this unsettling situation seems all but nonexistent here at home.

In fact, the actions of our leaders–cutting millions intended for technology training for teachers, for instance; retarding the flow of investment in education technology through the eRate, for example–would make you think we can afford complacency.

We can’t. The ill effects of an emerging tech-prep gap, combined with labor issues, already have diverted hundreds of thousands of U.S. jobs to other countries. High productivity levels–currently the single shining star in our economic firmament–are the direct result of investments in education and infrastructure made during the 1990s. Now–as you can read in report after troubling report throughout this issue–those investments are being dialed down, giving way to priorities deemed by some to be more pressing.

Security, health, and levels of taxation are important issues, to be sure. But America–provided it is blessed with wise leaders–is a nation that can serve and protect its citizens in the short term without selling short its need to prepare the next generation to succeed in a high-tech future. It depends on leadership. Beginning on page 34, you can read about the men and the woman who want our votes for president this year.

Deciding who will be president for the next four years is no small responsibility, but Washington is not the only place–and some might say it is the last place–to look for leadership. As always, the future depends most importantly on us.

Now, for better or worse, we have a whole new year to make a difference.

And as we grapple with that daunting task from day to day, we might do well to consider yet another sage saying of Satchel Paige: “You win a few; you loose a few. Some get rained out. But you got to dress for all of them.”

tags

partners index

AAL Solutions Inc., of Ontario, offers a district-wide student information web solution called eSIS for real-time information access from a centralized location. Visit AAL’s web site:
http://www.aalsolutions.com
(800) 668-8486
See the ad for AAL Solutions on page 8

Axonix Corp., of Salt Lake City, provides network storage and video sharing appliances. Visit Axonix’s web site:
http://www.axonix.com
(800) 866-9797
See the ad for Axonix on page 36

Century Consultants Ltd., of Lakewood, N.J., has been helping school districts manage information in innovative ways since 1977. Visit the Century Consultants web site:
http://www.centuryltd.com
(800) 852-2566
See the ad for Century Consultants on page 17

Cisco Systems Inc., of San Jose, Calif., is committed to helping schools take advantage of internet-based learning by providing eLearning initiatives and other programs designed to address the exchange of information and personal security in an increasingly digital world. Visit the Cisco Systems web site:
http://business.cisco.com/prod/tree.taf%3Fasset_id=77639&ID=77639&public_view=true&kbns=1.html
(800) 553-6387
See Cisco’s ad on page 5

The Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), of Washington, D.C., is a national nonprofit organization that promotes the use of information technologies and the internet in K-12 education to improve teaching and learning. Visit CoSN’s web site:
http://www.cosn.org
(888) 604-5209
See CoSN’s ad on page 12

CRI Advantage Inc., of Boise, Idaho, deploys experienced delivery teams and application developers to deliver, manage, and support eMail and instant messaging systems, data warehousing, internet and server platforms and infrastructure, mission-critical applications, and specialized solutions in schools and elsewhere. Visit the CRI Advantage web site:
http://www.criadvantage.com
(208) 343-9192
See the ad for CRI Advantage on page 14

ePALS Classroom Exchange, of Ottawa, is the world’s largest and fastest growing online classroom community, connecting more than 4.5 million users from around the globe. Visit the ePALS web site:
http://www.epals.com
(613) 562-9847
See the ad for ePALS on page 33

Films for the Humanities and Sciences, of Princeton, N.J., is a leading supplier of educational media to schools, colleges, and libraries. Visit the Films for the Humanities and Sciences web site:
http://www.films.com
(800) 257-5126
See the Films for the Humanities and Sciences ad on page 31

Fortres Grand Corp., of Plymouth, Ind., is a software security company dedicated to protecting public-access computers from malicious and inexperienced users and providing customizable options for administrators who need to lock down systems and isolate problems. Visit the Fortres Grand web site:
http://www.fortres.com
(800) 331-0372
See Fortres Grand’s ad on page 13

Gateway Inc., of San Diego, is a Fortune 250 company focusing on building lifelong relationships with businesses, schools, and consumers through complete technology personalization. Visit the Gateway web site:
http://www.gateway.com
(888) 888-0294 or (888) 888-0438
See the Gateway ad on pages 2 and 3

Global Internet Management Inc., of Bala Cynwyd, Penn., is a provider of innovative technical, operational, and management eBusiness solutions. Visit the Global Internet Management’s web site:
http://www.gim.net
(610) 617-4515
See Global Internet Management Inc.’s ad on page 15

Grolier Online, headquartered in Danbury, Conn., and now part of Scholastic Library Publishing, provides schools with a wide array of online reference and research materials, from Encyclopedia Americana to the New Book of Popular Science. Visit the Grolier Online web site:
http://go.grolier.com
(888) 326-6546
See Grolier’s ad on page 16

Hewlett-Packard Co. North America of Palo Alto, Calif., includes the company’s K-12 education division (part of the Enterprise Systems Group), which offers a host of technology products, services, and solutions to help transform schools into 21st-century learning environments.Visit HP’s K-12 Solutions web site:
http://www.hp.com/go/k12solutions
(800) 88-TEACH
See HP North America’s ad on inside back cover.

IBM Corp., headquartered in Armonk,N.Y, provides powerful tools that help enrich educational programs. Visit the IBM web site:
http://www.ibm.com
(866) 426-1740
See IBM’s ad on page 15

Macromedia Inc., of San Francisco, provides industry-leading software that empowers internet developers and designers. Visit the Macromedia web site:
http://www.macromedia.com
(800) 470-7211
See Macromedia’s ad on the back cover

Meridian Creative Group, of Erie, Pa., provides math software for every student. Visit the Meridian Creative Group web site:
http://www.meridiancg.com
(800) 530-2355
See Meridian’s ad on page 20

Microsoft Corp., of Redmond, Wash., is a world leader in software for personal, business, and education use. Visit Microsoft’s web site:
http://www.microsoft.com
(425) 882-8080
See the Microsoft ad on page 11

MiLAN Technology, of Sunnyvale, Calif., is a leading provider of physical-layer networking products and a pioneer in the field of media conversion. Visit MiLAN’s web site:
http://www.milan.com
(800) 466-4526
See the ad for MiLAN Technology on page 9

NetSupport Inc., of Cumming, Ga., is a member of the PCI Group of companies, developers of a range of award-winning remote control and IT training products. Visit NetSupport’s web site:
http://www.netsupport-inc.com
(888) 665-0808
See NetSupport’s ad on page 18

Serious Magic Inc., of Rancho Cordova, Calif., is looking to create the next generation of visual communication tools. The company’s Visual Communicator software enables students to create everything from school broadcasts to multimedia projects in just minutes. Visit the Serious Magic web site:
http://www.seriousmagic.com
(916) 859-0100
See the ad for Serious Magic on page 10

Thinkronize Inc., of Cincinnati, is the producer of NetTrekker, an award-winning and trusted search engine for schools. Visit the NetTrekker web site:
http://www.nettrekker.com
(877) 517-1125
See the ad for NetTrekker on page 19

The Toshiba America Group, with headquarters in New York City, specializes in advanced electronics and is a recognized leader in products that enhance the home, office, industry, and health care environments. Visit the Toshiba America web site:
http://www.toshiba.com/tai-new/index.jsp
(800) GO-TOSHIBA
See the ad for Toshiba on page 7

United Learning, a division of Discovery Communications, is a leading provider of streaming media and video content for supplemental classroom instruction. Visit the United Learning web site:
http://www.unitedlearning.com
(800) 323-9084
See the ads for United Learning on pages 23, 25, and 28

eSchool News Online Partners

Be sure to visit eSchool News Online www.eschoolnews.org and the School Technology Buyer’s Guide www.eschoolnews.org/buyersguide to learn more about these leading companies that believe an informed educator is their best customer:

Chancery Student Management Solutions, of British Columbia, helps K-12 educators and administrators gather, manage, analyze, and apply student data to enhance student achievement. Visit Chancery’s web site:
http://www.chancery.com
(800) 999-9931

eRate Consulting Services LLC, of Woodstock, Ga., provides up-to-date information and services to help applicants and service providers with the eRate process. Visit the eRate Consulting Services web site:
http://www.eschoolnews.com/resources/reports/erate or http://www.erateconsulting.com
(888) 249-1661

MacsDesign Studio, of Fremont, Calif., provides a web-based help desk software solution that easily can manage a school district’s computer problems and repairs.Visit the Web Help Desk web site:
http://www.eschoolnews.com/resources/reports/nrm or http://www.webhelpdesk.prospector.com
(866) 701-0227

TechSmith, of Okemos, Mich., makes software that enables students, faculty, and staff to capture and share text, video, and graphics from software applications and the internet easily.Visit TechSmith’s web site:
http://www.eschoolnews.com/resources/reports/video or http://www.TechSmith.com
(800) 517-3001

tags

“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.

tags

“Magnetic Storm” explores a jolting theory about the Earth’s atmosphere

This latest online feature from the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) poses the question, “Is the magnetic field protecting Earth from deadly radiation about to reverse direction–or even disappear?” Based upon the PBS documentary that shares its name, “Magnetic Storm” explores the wonders of the G5 geomagnetic storm, a weather event strong enough to disrupt power grids from Canada to New York last year. In fact, researchers suggest the most serious power grid failure in American history was caused by a magnetic storm in the Earth’s upper atmosphere, itself triggered by the eruption of a huge flare from the surface of the sun. Unusual as this event might have been, many scientists today are beginning to worry that it could be a harbinger of things to come–and that changes to the planet’s magnetic field could make us ever more vulnerable to deadly radiation from space. The program first aired Nov 18. On its companion web site, students and teachers will find related articles and interactive activities designed to illustrate the significance of this major meteorological event.

tags

“Best WebQuests” ends the search for high-quality online learning activities

The term “WebQuest” has become something of a buzzword in recent years, as educators continue looking for ways to incorporate the internet into daily instruction. Although the word often is used to describe any internet-based research project, true WebQuests–as first defined by Tom March and Bernie Dodge at San Diego State University in 1995–are interactive, problem-solving activities designed to have students answer open-ended questions based on information they find online. With this new web site from Tom March, teachers and students now have access to a matrix of critically reviewed WebQuests designed around a number of core and supplementary disciplines–from basic English, math, and science quests to business, economics, and even art. Every WebQuest is categorized by subject and grade level and is evaluated on a five-star scale that includes such criteria as use of the web, use of roles and expertise, engaging writing, and overall clarity. You’ll also be able to read tips on what makes a great WebQuest and submit your own creation for review.

tags

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.

tags

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.

tags

Tap into this toolkit for plugging digital content into your classroom

Created by the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST), a nonprofit outfit that looks to technology to expand educational opportunities for all individuals, especially those with disabilities, the “Digital Content Toolkit” provides teachers with a resource for working digital content into the classroom. Users can learn how to find digital text, images, sound, and video appropriate to their curricular needs, or create their own digital learning materials using downloadable content and commercially available software. The web site itself is based upon the Universal Design for Learning (UDL), a new approach to the development of curriculum and assessment that draws on current brain research and new media technologies to respond to differences among individual learners. According to CAST, UDL curricula, teaching practices, and policies are inherently flexible and therefore may reduce the demand on educators to develop and implement modifications and accommodations to meet individual differences within general education learning environments. The project is sponsored by the Verizon Foundation.

tags