$5,000 for teaching art to disabled or special-needs students

The P. Buckley Moss Foundation for Children’s Education and the Moss Society will award five $1,000 grants to educators who need money to support a new or evolving program that integrates the arts into educational programming. The purpose is to help and support teachers who wish to establish an effective learning tool using the arts in teaching children with learning disabilities and other special needs. Programs eligible for these grants must be in the planning stages or must have been in existence for less than two years.

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$5,000 and internships for students who plan to pursue technology care

High school seniors who intend to major in mathematics, information technology, computer science, physical and applied sciences, or aerospace or astronomy, have a chance to win $5,000; an all-expenses-paid trip in July to Lucent Labs in New Jersey for the Global Summit; a visit to New York City with other Lucent Global Science Scholars; and an internship at a Lucent Technologies or Bell Labs facility in the United States. Eligible applicants must have high academic standing and be a graduating high school senior planning to enter college to pursue a degree this fall.

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$3,000 to honor America’s favorite teachers

In celebration of National Teacher Appreciation Week, May 3 to 7, 2004, Target Stores is recognizing America’s favorite teachers for the impact they had on students. Current and former students are encouraged to nominate their favorite K-12 or postsecondary teacher and share a story of the teacher’s influence on their life. Three winning guests will appear in a Target advertising campaign featuring their story and will travel to Target headquarters in Minneapolis for a photo shoot. Winners also will receive a $50 Target Gift Card. Teachers will be notified of the honor in April and will receive a $1,000 gift of appreciation. Nominations should be 150 words or less and will be accepted via eMail at teachers@target.com.

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FETC 2004: Big turnout, practical solutions

According to the producers, some 14,000 teachers, school administrators, vendors, and press gathered in Orlando Jan. 22 to 24 to attend hundreds of technology-focused sessions and workshops during this year’s Florida Educational Technology Conference (FETC). Florida’s annual state ed-tech conference enjoyed a large boost in attendance compared with other recent ed-tech trade shows.

In addition to high attendance, this year’s FETC featured its largest exhibit hall ever. Approximately 430 companies showcased their latest products and services at the event, and we’ll give you the highlights in a moment.

The show kicked off with a keynote speech by Linda Ellerbee, a long-time journalist and producer of “Nick News,” a news program for kids on the Nickelodeon cable television network.

Ellerbee emphasized the importance of teaching kids media literacy. “If we are not careful, television will be their most important teacher,” she said. “Media literacy can not be a luxury. It is essential.”

Helen Soule, senior technology adviser for the Office of Postsecondary Education at the U.S. Department of Education (ED), praised FETC attendees for being school technology pioneers.

“FETC is the largest state technology conference,” she said. “Here in Florida, you have a wonderful history of providing technology leadership.”

Later, during a session entitled, “What’s New at the Department of Education,” Soule reminded conference attendees that they have until mid-March to submit comments and suggestions for the new National Education Technology Plan.

So far, ED has received 400 comments and suggestions through the plan’s web site–and more than 210,000 students gave their input on the plan through NetDay’s National Speak-Up Day, Soule said.

Also, ED has set up a web log, or blog, on the National Education Technology Plan web site for people to give their opinions about an analysis the Education Development Center did of technology over the past 20 years.

ED also will be hosting a few No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Technology Leadership Summits in the coming months. The first summit, which will focus on accountability and assessment through the use of technology, will be held in St. Louis, Mo., March 10 to 12. The next summit, on virtual learning, will take place this summer.

Product trends

With a growing number of school districts facing budget cuts or shortfalls, eSchool News editors who attended FETC saw an increasing movement toward products touting a provable return on investment (ROI).

One such product was ENCORE!, a web-based suite of special education management solutions from 4GL School Solutions in Towson, Md.

According to 4GL, ENCORE! helps districts increase the effectiveness of their special education programs by reducing the expensive, non-instructional costs of administration and compliance liabilities. 4GL has demonstrated that its system typically provides a 100-percent or greater financial return to districts over a three-year period, meaning that every dollar a district spends will result in a dollar of savings or increased funding over that three-year period, the company says.

Recently, districts such as the Moreno Valley Unified School District in California and Plano Independent School District in Texas have selected 4GL to provide district-wide special education compliance and program management solutions for their schools.

A few companies showcased new products that help schools make students technology literate by the eighth grade, as required by NCLB.

Connected Tech, from Classroom Connect, is a web-based software program that builds students’ technology skills by eighth grade while teaching curriculum subjects using real computer programs, such as Microsoft Word. “It’s important to build students’ skill level using the real thing,” said Lisa Grantham, director of marketing for Classroom Connect. Connected Tech features more than 450 tutorials, lessons, projects, and assessments.

The Broward County Public Schools in Florida recently selected Atomic Learning of Little Falls, Minn., to teach its students and teachers how to use popular software programs. Atomic Learning offers web-based training that is delivered via short (one- to three-minute), easy-to-understand movies. With more than 5,000 tutorials, Atomic Learning’s library of movies covers more than 50 software programs for PCs, Macs, and handheld computers, including products from Microsoft, Adobe, Macromedia, and Sun Microsystems. Site licensing starts at $1.25 per user.

Many education companies give back to schools in the form of grants and contests, but some companies now employ in-house grant experts to help educators overcome funding challenges by writing winning grant proposals for their customers.

Curriculum Associates’ Funding Connection initiative, for example, includes a corporate grant program, free grant workshops, and an online resource for grant seekers. The initiative was designed by newly hired grants specialist Parisa Tahouri.

“Parisa has a proven history of building successful grant programs within schools and education communities. We feel confident that the combination of her experience and expertise will help educators find pockets of money that will assist them in moving their quality learning programs forward,” said Cathryn Harvey, vice president of sales and marketing at Curriculum Associates.

Links:

Florida Educational Technology Conference
http://www.fetc.org

Secretary’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Technology Leadership Summits
http://www.ed.gov/technology/summits2004

National Education Technology Plan
http://www.nationaledtechplan.org

4GL School Solutions
http://www.4glschools.com

Classroom Connect
http://www.classroomconnect.com

Atomic Learning
http://www.atomiclearning.com

Curriculum Associates
http://www.curricassoc.com

NEWS FROM THE EXHIBIT FLOOR:

New products and services

AEL, a nonprofit research and development organization, announced that it now offers customized professional development for schools, districts, and states through its new Center for Education Services. AEL has key programs and services available in both face-to-face and online formats that will help schools achieve Adequate Yearly Progress goals. In addition to customized professional development programs, AEL offers online resources, webcasts, chat sessions, and an “Ask an Expert” question-and-answer service. http://www.ael.org

America Online launched a new version of its free educational service, AOL@School. Version 3.0 provides schools with eMail virus protection, spam controls, classroom-focused menus and toolbars, a resource bookmarking feature, and easier installation. Through a partnership with AlphaSmart Inc., AOL@School also will be integrated into the internet browser included with AlphaSmart’s Dana wireless device, a laptop alternative for K-12 schools. Students and teachers using Dana will be presented with a “Powered by AOL@School” logo and search box upon accessing the internet browser. The search function will allow them to choose from more than 27,000 web sites that have been reviewed and selected by AOL’s education experts. http://www.aolatschool.com http://www.alphasmart.com

Academic Accelerator, from CRI Advantage, is a new web-based approach to measuring and managing student performance. The software aims to help teachers improve their effectiveness in the classroom and administrators better manage decision-making and reporting, the company says. http://www.academicaccelerator.com

Version 2.0 Science CDs, from Discovery Channel School, offers 42 titles in life, physical, and earth sciences for students in grades 6-12. Well-suited for audio, visual, and kinesthetic learners, each CD-ROM program includes five areas of activity: virtual lab simulations, fact-filled video, reference and research materials from World Book Encyclopedia, interactive activities and assessment, and a multimedia authoring tool to design presentations. Discovery Channel School also now offers digital video discs (DVDs) for most subject areas. Each one features a teacher’s guide, online support, and more than 60 minutes of video content. http://www.discoveryschool.com

Evan-Moor Educational Publishers announced the addition of five new titles to its Look, Listen, and Speak series, which builds vocabulary and language fluency in K-3 students. Each book in this supplemental education series contains an interactive CD-ROM, songs and chants, four-color picture cards for games and activities, and an 80-page resource book. The Look, Listen, and Speak series is ideal for students who arrive at school with limited vocabulary, the company says. The newest titles address words related to the supermarket, the mall, transportation, the farm, and keeping healthy. http://www.evan-moor.com

eZedia Inc. showcased its latest in Quicktime authoring software for the web, eZediaQTI 2.0. This new release, which is cross-platform compatible, takes full advantage of Apple’s new operating system, Panther, and gives students the tools to create web sites and online presentations. With little to no learning curve, eZediaQTI allows students to focus on content and learning rather than mastering technical elements such as computer programming and scripting, the company says. eZediaQTI 2.0 sells for $79, and site licensing also is available. http://www.ezedia.com http://www.ezedia.com/library

Handmark Software announced a new version of its Education Essentials software suite for Palm handhelds, a collection of organization, productivity, learning, and teaching applications for educators and students. Available in mid-February, the Education Essentials CD-ROM features more than 30 applications and sells for $49.99. Popular titles include 4.0 Student, a student organizer; ImagiMath 1.0, a full-featured calculator program; MobileDB, a database application; and Assessa Desktop, a test-creation program. http://www.handmark.com

Holt, Rinehart and Winston released three new Quantum Artificial Intelligence Tutors to complement chemistry and physical science lessons. The new Quantum Tutors–Stoichiometry, Chemical Reactions, and Chemical Bonding–join six web-based Quantum Tutors released in January 2003. The programs are ideal for students who need personal coaching on difficult science concepts. They provide individualized hints, guidance, and advice throughout each solution to a problem. They also use dialog-driven technology to help the student or teacher understand why an answer is correct or incorrect. The six original Quantum Tutors are Elements, Ionic Compound Formulas, Mathematics of Chemical Formulas, Measurement, Equation Balancing, and Oxidation Numbers. http://www.hrw.com

The InFocus LP640, from InFocus Corp., is the company’s newest projector for meeting rooms and classrooms. The LP640, which already won a 2004 CES Innovations Award, features a new breed of user-friendly controls, wireless connectivity, and remote networking capabilities. It also includes most requested features such as automatic keystone adjustment and automatic image synchronization with a source such as a computer, to ensure a quick start and smooth transitions. And with 2200 lumens, it offers outstanding color saturation. The InFocus LP640 costs $2,699. www.infocus.com

StandardsBuilder, the newest product from Jackson Software, allows district-level curriculum coordinators to disseminate state standards and associated skills by grade level and subject area to every teacher electronically. StandardsBuilder integrates with Jackson’s electronic grade book, GradeQuick. “It makes sense that teachers should be able to open their grade books each day and see the exact skills they are required to teach,” said Grey Wood, president and CEO of Jackson Software. http://www.gradequick.com

Macromedia demonstrated the latest version of its multimedia authoring software, Macromedia Director MX 2004. With this software, students and teachers can build rich, interactive content that includes audio, video, pictures, animation, three-dimensional models, and text. The latest version adds support for JavaScript, Flash MX 2004 content, DVD video, and more. Expected to ship in February, Director MX 2004 retails for $1,199 but is priced at $499 for school users. http://www.macromedia.com/go/dirmx2004

MakeMusic! Inc. announced the availability of SmartMusic Studio 8.2, the latest version of the company’s award-winning interactive music practice system. Students using SmartMusic can perform music and then immediately listen to how they sound via a CD-quality digital recording that can be eMailed to parents and teachers or saved to disk as a permanent performance portfolio. SmartMusic Studio 8.2 is now available to students and music educators through school sponsorship and home subscription offers at the newly updated SmartMusic web site. http://www.smartmusic.com

PASCO Scientific announced that it will begin shipping My World GIS–a geographic information system (GIS) program designed for classrooms from middle school to college–in February. My World GIS allows students to query, plot, and analyze geographic data such as climate, geology, biodiversity, population, and more. It was developed by the GEODE Initiative at Northwestern University, with support from the National Science Foundation. A license to the My World GIS student-home edition costs $59, and a classroom license costs $99. http://www.pasco.com/myworld

Instead of using infrared technology, the new ACTIVslate XR from Promethean Inc. is an updated wireless tablet that remotely controls an ACTIVboard interactive whiteboard via radio signals. The new radio technology allows the ACTIVslate XR to receive input from any position and distance within a classroom, so teachers and students don’t have to position themselves directly in line with the ACTIVboard. A maximum of 36 ACTVIslates are recommended per ACTIVboard, but only one slate can operate the board at any one time. Promethean also launched a new version of its group teaching software, ACTIVstudio 2 Professional Edition, at FETC. http://www.activboard.com

LEAPS, from Provenio Group Inc., is a web-based curriculum now used for dropout prevention, behavior remediation, special education, character education, and social development training at school districts in 17 states. Teachers and counselors can use this resource to teach social skills that students may be lacking to help reverse the dysfunction in their lives. LEAPS first identifies skill deficits, then prescribes detailed action steps and lesson plans to remediate troublesome behavior. LEAPS, which stands for Life Excelerator/Assessment of Personal Skills, has been proven to increase attendance, reduce behavioral incidents, lower dropout rates, and more, according to the company. http://www.proveniogroup.com

Riverdeep unveiled Destination Success, a new approach to reading and math instruction that promises to improve student performance in 90 days. Destination Success, which the company says will allow teachers to provide individualized instruction for every child, combines standards-based assessment, learning management, courseware, and professional development. Educators can request a free demonstration copy from the Riverdeep web site or by calling (888) 242-6747. http://www.riverdeep.net/products/success

Rovenet, a maker of data collection software for handhelds, released two new versions of its Portable Forms system. These latest versions take advantage of the wireless connectivity and digital cameras that palmOne Inc. has built into its Zire and Tungsten handheld computers and Treo smart phones. With Portable Forms, educators or students can build a data collection form easily using a word processing application such as Microsoft Word, download the form onto a handheld device, and then start collecting data. The data can be distributed via eMail, fax, and on the web using extensible markup language (XML). Data also can be imported into applications such as Microsoft Excel or Access. http://www.portableforms.com

SMART Technologies, which has shipped more than 160,000 interactive whiteboards to date, announced several new products and initiatives at FETC. The Sympodium ID250–an interactive pen display that sits on top of a podium or desk and displays content to a larger screen through a projector–offers the same functions and annotations as the SMART Board. Priced at $2,499, the ID250 costs 30 percent less than previous Sympodium models. SMART Technologies also announced new version of its SMART Board software for Microsoft Windows and Mac OS X operating systems. In addition to thousands of curriculum-related clip-art images, the software features new functions, such as “screen shade” or “spotlight,” that allow teachers to focus students’ attention. Also, more than 100 new lesson activities created by teachers are available as free downloads from the company’s online community for teachers, EDCompass. In addition, SMART Technologies announced that it is donating approximately 160 SMART Boards, valued at $400,000 total, to the Intel Teach to the Future program. http://www.smarttech.com http://www.edcompass.smarttech.com

Tysak Technologies launched a web-based internet security course that aims to combat internet threats by educating people about online security. The course can be incorporated into the classroom or made available for use by any organization trying to protect its network from internet-related threats. The course consists of three modules and tests and takes less than two hours to complete. Topics include viruses and worms, spam, hoaxes, spyware, cookies, password management, and more. http://www.tysak.com

United Learning, a video-on-demand service provider, announced the release of unitedstreaming Network Manager, new software that allows system administrators to schedule specific video download times and eliminate stress on a school’s bandwidth. Network Manager resides on only one internet-connected computer on a school’s network. When a teacher or student selects a video clip to download, it is placed in a queue to be retrieved at a predetermined, off-peak time. Once the video clip has been saved to a local computer, it can be accessed by any computer on the same network via the unitedstreaming web interface. Network Manager costs $299 per school building, and multi-building purchase discounts are available. http://www.unitedlearning.com

Vision Ventures, publisher of the scheduleUs calendar software suite, now offers a low-cost web calendar hosting service for publishing school calendars and event lists without special hardware. The web hosting offer is designed for schools that do not have an internet presence or that have little more than a placeholder page within a district’s site. Each publisher site can store up to 2 megabytes, large enough to store more than 2,500 events on several calendars. The annual hosting subscription is free for the first year to schools that purchase five or more copies of scheduleUs Publisher. http://www.schedeleUs.com

Grants, contests, and freebies

CDW Government Inc. and Discovery Channel School kicked off their second annual “Win a Wireless Lab” sweepstakes. Teachers have until May 15 to enter to win a wireless computer lab from IBM valued at $40,000. In conjunction with the sweepstakes, Discovery Channel School is offering a free Teacher Resource Kit for educators, called “Keep it Safe: Security and Storage Solutions for Your Schools.” Any school employee may download the kit, which includes classroom activities, lesson plans, and posters, from the contest web site. http://www.discoveryschool.com/cdwg

IntelliTools Inc. is offering a 45-day, fully functioning free trial version of its newest product, IntelliTools Classroom Suite. Designed for students in grades K-8, the suite includes a multimedia presentation tool, a virtual math manipulative tool, and a talking word processor and writing tool. Educators can download the free trial version from the company’s web site or request it on CD-ROM. At the end of the trial period, teachers will still be able to access and use all activities they created or that came with the software. The editing and authoring functions, however, will no longer be accessible. http://www.intellitools.com

The Lexile Framework for Reading has launched a free monthly eMail newsletter, “The Lexile Reader,” in two editions: for educators and families. The Educators’ Edition focuses on topics of interest to teachers, administrators, reading and media specialists, and other education professionals. The Families’ Edition offers parents, students, and other family members tips and strategies for using Lexile measures to improve student reading skills. Each newsletter includes a featured Lexile topic, current news and issues in reading education, a list of new Lexiled titles, and a calendar of events. “The Lexile Reader” replaces an earlier newsletter, “The Lexile Times.” http://www.lexile.com

Through the Macromedia Winter 2004 Back to School promotion, students who purchase Macromedia Studio MX 2004 software by Feb. 29 can enter to win one of eight weekly cash prizes of $500. http://www.macromedia.com/resources/student

My eCoach, a division of Computer Strategies LLC, announced a collection of free educational resources and projects for teachers and students of all ages, called My eCoach Online eLibrary. It houses original artwork, photos, video, handouts, templates, literature activities, inquiry-based projects, thematic units, lesson plans, and more. “We developed our eLibrary so that teachers and students can access and use high-quality resources without worrying about copyright infringement,” said Barbara Bray, president and CEO of Computer Strategies. Resources can be searched by grade level, curriculum area, resource type, or keyword. http://www.my-ecoach.com

Partnerships, new studies, and other company news

AIMS Multimedia has signed a licensing agreement with Encyclopedia Britannica Inc. to add Britannica articles to the videos and images of AIMS’ flagship product, DigitalCurriculum. This program contains more than 50,000 multimedia components that are integrated with teacher guides, lesson plans, and interactive assessments and assignments that are paired with a complete record-keeping and internal messaging system. http://www.digitalcurriculum.com http://www.aimsmultimedia.com

Connections Academy, which operates K-8 virtual schools in partnership with charter schools, school districts, and state education departments, reportedly has increased its student enrollment by 400 percent. The company attributes the growth to strong student performance on state standardized tests. Connections Academy now runs virtual schools in six states: Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. These schools are different from cyber schools in that students and their curriculum are not tied to a computer. Students must work through lessons and activities at home with a parent or guardian, their “learning coach,” as well as their virtual teacher. http://www.connectionsacademy.com

To save teachers time, Curriculum Advantage and Excelsior Software announced that they have partnered to create an interface between Curriculum Advantage’s Classworks and Excelsior’s Pinnacle Plus Assessment Management System. With this new interface in place, teachers who log on to Pinnacle Plus will be able to assign Classworks standards-based curriculum materials directly from their grade book. Educators also will also have more options for generating reports required to demonstrate Adequate Yearly Progress. http://www.curriculumadvantage.com http://www.excelsiorsoftware.com

Gateway showcased a newly built school in Spring Hill, Fla., that uses technology in every facet of the student experience. Powered by Gateway desktops, notebooks, servers, and plasma TVs, Bishop McLaughlin is a model for the convergence of display, PC, and server technologies in an educational environment. Gateway is providing all information technology (IT) services for the first year of implementation, ongoing 24-7 monitoring of the network and students’ computers, and a Gateway representative is on site once a week. http://www.gateway.com

More than 2,500 at-risk Michigan students showed dramatic gains in reading skills after using HOSTS Learning for less than nine months, according to a university study. The Michigan Center for Assessment and Educational Data at Central Michigan University analyzed data from 35 schools using the HOSTSLink Language Arts system. More than 60 percent of the students increased their reading levels by at least one grade level. More than one-fourth increased by two grade levels. http://www.hosts.com

Hotmath Inc. announced that its math homework web site has been named a Codie Award finalist by the Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA) in the category “Home Consumer Education Technology.” Hotmath.com provides step-by-step explanations for the actual math homework problems from leading math textbooks. http://www.hotmath.com

iAssessment also has been named a Codie Award finalist by the SIIA in the category “Best Education Administration Solution” for its GPS smartPortal. GPS smartPortal is a web-based system that delivers resources and information to each user based on their individual status and needs. For example, the system can direct an educator to relevant professional development programs to acquire new skills based on assessment data, regulatory needs, and goals set by the district. http://www.iassessment.com

According to a new study conducted by the Education Development Center’s Center for Children and Technology, students better understand scientific concepts taught through hands-on activities, multimedia tools, and the multidisciplinary approach provided by the JASON Foundation’s science curriculum. “JASON’s hands-on activities provide engagement and motivation,” said Harouna Ba, lead researcher for the multiyear evaluation. “They provide more ways for students to access content than they would were they solely reading from a textbook.” http://www.jason.org

Effective Learning, an online individualized diagnostic assessment and prescriptive instruction program from Learning Today, is now available in all 50 states. Effective Learning provides a detailed assessment of each student’s individual skills and prescribes instruction accordingly, thereby creating a more effective learning environment. Learning Today has aligned Effective Learning’s individualized assessment and instruction to both national standards and the standards of each of the 50 states, the company says. http://www.learningtoday.com

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Fulfilling the promise of ed tech: Laptops spur learning

As schools across America work to lift student achievement, the effect of technology in the classroom remains the subject of heated debate. Our experience in Henrico County, Va., sheds light on the power of technology to improve student learning.

If you want to see how technology expands the bounds of learning, you can look not only in our classrooms, but also at our track meets, school bus stops, and other places around Henrico County where students have their laptops open and their minds engaged. When we witness the effect of providing every student in grades 6-12 and every teacher with a laptop, what is striking is not just where our youngsters are studying but how much they are learning, as their steadily rising scores on rigorous assessments show.

We are now in the third year of this Teaching and Learning Initiative. Whether you take our measure anecdotally or analytically, it is evident that the power of educational technology is fulfilling its promise in Henrico County and creating a community of learners.

Deploying 25,000 wireless-capable laptops has engaged our students, enlivened the learning environment, and moved us toward the kind of equity of opportunity that ought to be at the heart of our democracy.

We believed–and now we can demonstrate–that providing universal access to laptops at the middle and high school level connects students to their school work in powerful new ways. This 24-7 access facilitates the kind of hands-on, creative environment where students learn best.

We wanted to move away from a sedentary learning style to a more constructivist approach. We wanted, that is, fewer lectures and more engaged, active learning using dynamic, current content. We knew from experience that students learn best as active learners.

Today, in many of our classrooms, there is a new sense of discovery and the feel of a research laboratory. Every student has access to a universe of online libraries. A class exploring Italian Renaissance artists, for example, reaches a depth and breadth of study well beyond what they would have been exposed to previously.

As a former biology teacher, I was delighted to observe a lab simulation of a frog dissection that represented a great leap forward over what had been possible before in lab instruction. What had been a once-a-year, two-hour experience was now a learning project that could be taken apart and reassembled in the classroom or at home. It is no surprise that student performance in 10th grade biology has increased dramatically.

Our students benefit from the impressive evolution of online content–from lab simulations to dynamic notation in mathematics to virtual museum tours. At the same time, we continue to see a role for more traditional materials. Technology cannot replace the pleasure of turning the pages of Julius Caesar–or Harry Potter.

Technology can build badly-needed connections between the school and the home. At the middle school level, we have required training for parents before students can get their laptops. Given that parental involvement in education traditionally falls off sharply in the middle and high school years, this training can serve a dual purpose: ensuring proper use of the computer and strengthening the link between family and school.

This initiative is also a force for equal opportunity. Providing every student with a laptop bridges the digital divide. About one-third of our county’s population–and a far higher share of our minority families–lacked home access to the internet before we began this project. Today, the Technology and Learning Initiative provides the opportunity for universal internet access at home for nearly all Henrico County parents.

In the areas where we have used the laptops most extensively, such as English, our students have registered large gains on the Virginia Standards of Learning (SOL) program. On a countywide basis, we have a pass rate of more than 96 percent in English, which at the high school level is a composite of writing, English, and reading. In world history, where our pass rate also exceeds 97 percent, our department chairs and curriculum specialists have developed localized online content.

Every regular school in Henrico County is now fully accredited under the SOL program. Our high school students have improved over the past two years in all 11 of the end-of-year SOL tests. The composite pass rate of these tests now exceeds 90 percent.

While every school district is distinct, our experience suggests that these guiding principles are instrumental to the success of such a program:

Think big.

Even though we had previously expended millions of dollars on technology, we were not having the impact we sought. We concluded that having that impact required a one-to-one ratio between students and computers. We also believed that if we aggressively sought a business partner, we could achieve that ratio.

Find a business partner.

We told potential corporate partners that we could become a living laboratory for the effects of universal student access to high-quality technology. We met with Apple CEO Steve Jobs, who told us he had been waiting for just such an opportunity on a district-wide basis.

Sweat the details.

The most important detail is the state of the infrastructure. In our first year of deployment, our key issue was network capability.

Listen to and train teachers.

At the heart of our laptop program is a firm commitment to teacher training. Embracing the concept of a learning community means giving teachers the skills and tools they need to be effective. Middle school teachers received their laptops a full year before deployment. By the time students got their computers, the teachers had a very high degree of confidence that they could make this program work.

Enlist the broadest possible support.

Before implementing the program, we met with a leadership team–consisting of principals, teachers, and students–from each of our seven high schools. We told them we were thinking of piloting the laptop program in a few schools. Their response, in every case, was that their school could take on this challenge. Instead of a pilot project, we had a pioneering spirit to carry out this program across the board.

We also met with PTA presidents from every school and with business and community leaders. All groups encouraged us to move forward. When we hit a few bumps on the trail early on, our business community rallied to our side. The laptop program has become a point of pride as well as progress for Henrico County.

Reach out to parents.

We work with parents to increase their capabilities and comfort level with the laptops. Our Parent Resource Centers offer training. At the high school level, parents can receive training in using the laptop, conducting research on the internet, and understanding the security features of the machine. One of the lasting advantages of this program is that it provides an educational resource for the entire family.

Our performance on the SOLs shows how technology can reinforce a commitment to rigorous content and high standards. At the same time, I believe our laptop program creates new possibilities for every student that go beyond what even the best test can measure. The one-on-one opportunity this program creates can become a defining feature of 21st-century schools.

Mark A. Edwards, Ed.D., superintendent of Henrico County Public Schools in Virginia, was a recipient of last year’s eSchool News Tech-Savvy Superintendent Awards. He was also a recipient of this year’s distinguised McGraw Prize in Education.

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Who’s online–and why you need to know

With internet use now a fixture of most Americans’ daily life, it’s easy to start treating web users as a mass, one-size-fits-all audience. It’s easy, but it’s also misguided.

As “information pollution” grows on the net, you need to target your content more precisely to ensure your news and information doesn’t get lost in the clutter. If you don’t know who’s online–and why–meeting the needs of stakeholders becomes a hit-or-miss proposition and might result in lost visitors to your site.

According to the most recent Harris Poll, 67 percent of all adults are now online, compared with just 9 percent in 1995. While the growth of online users has slowed substantially since the ’90s, the latest data show that more than 140 million adults now are using the internet regularly, spending an average of seven hours per week online.

As internet access gets more affordable, users are becoming more mainstream, with more low-income and older adults jumping online than ever before. Today, the internet has become what Walter Cronkite and television news was in the 1960s and ’70s–the most trusted source of news and information.

Yet, as I work with school districts across the country, it’s clear that old-style tools such as print newsletters, tri-fold brochures, and videos still garner the most time, attention, and budgets.

When crafting content for the web, keep in mind that the most ardent web users still tend to be younger, more affluent, and better educated than their non-surfing peers. They want news they can use from credible sources that is timely, relevant, and fresh.

For many audiences, that means data, data, data about their child and their school, plus information about teacher credentials, academic rigor, athletic programs, after-school enrichment and, of course, the ever-popular lunch menu.

Breaking down user numbers even further, it’s important to note that 57 percent report using the internet at home, while 27 percent report using it at work and 18 percent from other sources such as libraries, colleges, and cyber cafes.

By way of contrast, according to a study by Online Publishers Association, two-thirds of all working mothers access the internet while at the office, preserving time at home for kids, family, and other pursuits.

Working mothers tune into the web for weather and news, a key consideration for school secretaries and teachers frantically trying to reach working parents by phone on snow days, when a child is sick, or during other mini-emergencies.

Research from a variety of sources also shows that reading on the web is vastly different–and much slower–than reading print, so make sure to adapt accordingly by using journalism’s inverted pyramid technique of putting the most critical information first.

Web readers are notoriously impatient, so break down information into small chunks or paragraphs, allowing the reader to “drill down” through various web layers and pages to access the information in sections. Also, make sure you provide graphic organizers such as headlines, boldface, subheads, color, and other techniques to make scanning easier.

This is why the old technique of loading brochures, newsletters, and multi-page documents into PDFs and posting them on the web is no longer effective. The web is an entirely different communication tool than print. It is multi-dimensional and interactive, and information must be presented accordingly.

Otherwise, you completely miss the power of the web, just as computer “drill and kill” exercises bore students and miss the best learning opportunities afforded by top-notch educational software and hardware.

Keep in mind that the explosion of the internet and new media has helped usher in our current fascination with accountability and transparency. As the Association of School Business Officials pointed out last year, “In God we trust; all others bring data.”

Hiding test scores or the demographic and socioeconomic backgrounds of students frustrates parents, Realtors, and other stakeholders while doing little to improve the image of a school or district. Put the data out there, and provide the context and stories to make the numbers meaningful.

All schools, even the most challenged, have powerful stories to tell. The web provides a perfect vehicle for sharing your successes with the world. Take advantage of it in 2004, or someone else will.

Nora Carr is senior vice president and director of public relations for Luquire George Andrews Inc., a Charlotte, N.C.-based advertising and public relations firm. A former assistant superintendent for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, she is nationally recognized for her work in educational communications and marketing.

See these related links:

Harris Interactive
http://www.HarrisInteractive.com

“Those with Internet Access Continue to Grow but at a Slower Rate” (February 2003)
http://www.HarrisInteractive.com/news/allnewsbydate.asp?NewsID=579

2003 Online Media Industry Year-in-Review
http://www.online-publishers.org/2003_year_in_review.html

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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. 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 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 network 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 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 and help 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.

In deciding to outsource, Connor 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 before and would be allowed to return to their original posts. Some staff members were offered new positions responsible for training teachers 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.

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.”

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.

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.

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.

See these related links:

Titan Corp.
http://www.titan.com

Okaloosa County School District
http://www.okaloosaschools.com

eSN Special Report: Outsourcing IT
http://www.eschoolnews.com/resources/reports/outsourcing

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Ruling allows districts to reapply for 2002 eRate funds

A Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruling issued Dec. 8 will allow eight school districts, including four in Texas, to reapply for millions of dollars they were formerly denied to improve technology in their schools.

The FCC’s ruling directly affects more than $250 million in eRate discounts sought by the eight districts, including El Paso’s two largest. But the decision also has broad implications for all eRate applicants this year and in future program years.

The Schools and Libraries Division (SLD) of the Universal Service Administrative Co., which oversees the eRate program, rejected those requests last year when it ruled the districts contracted with IBM for services without following the eRate’s competitive-bidding policies.

The FCC upheld the SLD’s decision. But in a highly unusual ruling, the commission said the districts could reapply for funding from the 2002 program year because previous funding commitments approved by the SLD might have created a belief that the districts were not doing anything wrong.

“The commission felt the rules were not entirely clear, so it felt these applicants should be allowed to reapply,” FCC spokesman Michael Balmoris told eSchool News.

The districts affected in Texas by this decision are El Paso Independent School District, $44.8 million; Ysleta ISD, $18.3 million; Donna ISD, $28.6 million; and Galena Park ISD, $23.9 million. The ruling also affected the Oklahoma City School District, $44.6 million; Memphis, Tenn., City School District, $25.8 million; Albuquerque, N.M., School District, $37.4 million; and the Navajo Education Technology Consortium, $41.3 million.

“I figured we had messed up so big that the funding year in question was dead,” Ysleta School Board President Wayne Belisle told the El Paso Times. “Mistakes were made, there’s no doubt. But I see this decision as a victory.”

The FCC’s ruling, dubbed the Ysleta Order, found the eight eRate applicants in question followed a similar pattern as Ysleta ISD–a “two-step” bidding process that violated the program’s competitive-bidding requirements.

First, Ysleta filed a Form 470 that requested nearly every eligible product and service available and stated it was seeking a “systems integration” partner. On its Form 470, the district also indicated that it did not have a Request for Proposal (RFP) for these services, but then five days later the district released a separate RFP seeking a systems integration partner.

Five vendors responded to Ysleta’s RFP, including IBM. The 147-page response from IBM was very general and gave no prices except the hourly rates for its systems integration services. Ysleta chose IBM based on this information and then began the process of negotiating the actual prices and scope of work for eRate-eligible products and services.

The SLD denied Ysleta’s application because the district failed to note that it had issued an RFP and because it chose IBM without first establishing it as the most cost-effective provider. Although IBM’s system integration services were competitively priced, the company was free to charge any price for the specific eRate services requested by the district, the SLD said.

The FCC’s Ysleta Order reaffirmed this ruling. “Ysleta engaged in a two-step procurement process, but only the first step, at which it selected the service provider, involved competitive bidding, and only in a limited fashion,” the commission stated. “First, Ysleta sought competitive bids for a systems integrator without regard to costs for specific projects funded by the [eRate]. Second, Ysleta negotiated with the systems integrator it had selected regarding the scope and prices of eRate-eligible services, but it never sought competing bids for those products and services, as required by our rules.”

However, the FCC decided it was only fair to reopen the 2002 funding year to let Ysleta and the other districts rebid for two reasons: because it was in the “public interest,” and because the SLD had approved similar “two-stepped” applications in prior years.

In Funding Year 2001, for example, El Paso ISD’s eRate application used the same two-step process, which reportedly led to an increase in funding for the district from $2 million in 2000 to $70 million in 2001. IBM touted its success with El Paso in its marketing materials, the FCC noted–which is why so many districts adopted the same approach in 2002 (and why the practice finally caught the SLD’s attention).

Also, the FCC said, a number of other successful applicants have submitted Form 470s that were overly broad, requesting every item on the eligible services list.

“The extent to which applicants relied upon the fact that other applicants [who] utilized this approach previously were approved for funding” influenced the FCC’s decision to permit these eight districts to reapply, the agency said.

With its Yselta Order, however, the FCC took the opportunity to clarify and reemphasize its rules. “We are clarifying on a going-forward basis how an applicant’s FCC Form 470 must be based upon its technology plan and must detail specific services sought in a manner that allows bidders to understand the specific technologies that the applicant is seeking,” the agency said.

“A Form 470 should not be a general, open-ended solicitation for all services available on the eligible services list, with the hope that bidders will present more concrete proposals,” the ruling continued. “The research and planning for technology needs should take place when the applicant drafts its technology plan, with the applicant taking the initiative and responsibility for determining its needs. The applicant should not post a broad Form 470 and expect bidders to do the ‘planning’ for its technological needs.”

The eight districts in question have until Feb. 6 to file a new Form 470 application for Funding Year 2002. But the FCC imposed restrictions on the districts’ rebids. For instance, districts cannot ask for a sum higher than their original request; they cannot receive funding for services (such as telephone service and internet access) that already were received and were paid for in full; and they cannot receive funding for “duplicative” services, or services that were funded in the 2003 program year.

“Because many of the contracts at issue … may not have been the most cost-effective offerings for obtaining eligible services, we fully anticipate that applicants will obtain substantial savings over their original applications,” the Ysleta Order said. It also warned that the SLD will treat these rebids with utmost scrutiny.

Lon Levitan, a spokesman for IBM in Austin, said the FCC ruling was favorable for his company and the districts it served. The FCC, he said, has admitted there was some inconsistency in past rulings.

Links:

Ysleta Order
http://hraunfoss.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/FCC-03-313A1.doc

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Technology training for teachers: A better way

Everyone believes teachers have to understand technology before they use it in their classrooms, and professional development is the preferred method to grow that understanding. The U.S. invested $40 billion in educational technology1 in the ten years between 1993 and 2003.2 But teacher use counts more than hardware installation. The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) reserves 25 percent of all technology expenditures for “high-quality professional development to integrate technology into instruction.”3

How, typically, does professional development happen? Instead of using technology to teach about technology, every school jurisdiction deploys the same in-service workshops, demonstration lessons, and peer modeling that have been the supposed levers of innovation for the last 50 years. The stolid reliance on face-to-face methods is reminiscent of bank managers in the 1960s who could not imagine that customers would be better served by ATMs than by standing in line to speak to a teller. When the National Staff Development Council convened a working group about the digital delivery of professional development, “participants made a running joke of whether certain individuals were ‘face-to-face bigots,’ educators who simply didn’t believe that online learning could ever equal learning in a traditional classroom.”4

To take an ironic example, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s “State Challenge Grants for Leadership Development” are remarkable for their de facto endorsement of the status quo ante (Microsoft) in adult learning. Yes, PowerPoint has replaced overhead transparencies, but the foundation’s technology leadership development activities still rely on convening educators face to face–school people as passive spectators in a delivery mode older than DOS.

A national analysis in 2000 documented that: (1) 99 percent of all teachers are exposed to “professional development”; but (2) only a third report that professional development is connected to classroom applications and (3) more than a third of all teachers (35 percent) never get any peer-to-peer professional development help.5

That inattention to practical support persists despite the 1988 research of Bruce Joyce and Beverly Showers. They documented that if teachers were presented with “concepts and theories,” there was a 10-percent chance they would follow through with anything different in their classrooms. But if the help was packaged as “coaching in a work setting,” the likelihood of classroom application went up to 80 percent.6 For technology integration in classrooms, we have self-reports and scattered, inconsistent, and intermittent observations of classrooms 7 –but we lack evidence that professional development results in professional improvement.

The Education Commission of the States measured compliance with NCLB’s “high-quality professional development” requirement: two states are OK (Connecticut and Indiana); eight are semi-OK; and 40 states are “off-track” (in red; see map at right), the worst record, by the states, in connection with any of the NCLB mandates.

Conventional professional development is expensive and widely derided by teachers as irrelevant, ineffective, too late, or too far removed from the reality of classrooms. But, without an alternative, people who care about adding technology to teaching are left to reconcile themselves to a melancholy reality: Conventional practice may not work very well, but what else is there?

A better mousetrap:
TeachNet in New York City

The national Teachers Network (“TeachNet”) was designed to add digital networking to face-to-face (f2f) networking. New York City is a legendarily tough place to teach. In addition to all the other pressures, the city’s schools seem to be moving toward testing every child in every subject every day. State standards and the city’s newly instituted “consistent” curriculum compete with anything different or new, including technology. For example, “&[O]ne-third of the teachers in ‘high-stakes’ tests [schools] reported that their school did not use or prohibited the use of computers in teaching writing, since the state writing test requires handwritten responses.”8 That is why the experience of these teachers is so important. What they develop must meet the toughest test–urban school practicality.

In a test of this mixed-model approach to professional development, 15 TeachNet participants were compared with a control group of 24 teachers who were enrolled in graduate-level instruction in educational technology.9 The TeachNet group created a number of online projects for students, from “Rebuilding the World Trade Center Site: a 9/11 Tribute” to “Elvis Lives.”

The TeachNet participants were emphatic that they design web-based curriculum units intended to maximize active student participation; the control group teachers were much less likely to do that. In a direct measure of the quality of its preparation, the TeachNet group assigned higher ratings to their professional development than did the university-connected control group.

We asked teachers to estimate their mastery of 34 productivity functions involving computers, such as creating web pages, using search engines, and inserting pictures and graphics in documents. The TeachNet participants were more confident in their rating of their mastery than the control group teachers in 28 of the 34 areas.

And when compared with the student-related outcomes from other teachers in advanced training, the TeachNet group encouraged students to:

  • use word processors in writing assignments;
  • add graphics and images to their written assignments;
  • use spreadsheets for data management and analysis (a skill not many of the teachers themselves had); and
  • use eMail to communicate with each other and with expert sources of information.

The empirical evidence indicates that TeachNet is doing what it is designed to do–recruit and retain teachers in a network of professionals committed to adding learning technology to the classroom curriculum.

Summary and conclusions

In contrast to the “90-10” rule (that 90 percent of users access only 10 percent of an application’s functions), TeachNet’s f2f-plus-digital networking procedures grows a long list of expert functions in its participants–and they apply those new skills to classroom instruction and student learning.

The TeachNet mixed model suggests that there is an alternative. In the conventional mode, it takes 32 or more hours of professional development on the use of computers in classrooms to get teachers to conclude that they are “well prepared”–yet only 12 percent of teachers have had that support.10 Among teachers new to the profession, only 42 percent feel “very” or “well” prepared to use computers in instruction.11

TeachNet offers a more efficient choice. If ten members of a school faculty each choose one project from the hundreds now cataloged on the TeachNet web site (www.TeachersNetwork.org), then face-to-face sessions–six hours at the beginning of the school year and six hours at the end–can be supplemented with (1) online, on-demand help; (2) a CD-ROM; and (3) print resources, all in support of technology integration into classroom instruction.

Thirty percent of private-sector training was online as early as 2000. Some districts are moving to harness the strengths of f2f and online experiences. Clark County, Nevada, offers mixed-model, 15-hour courses that convene school-centered teams of teachers around collaborative lesson planning.12 By adding online interaction to f2f experiences, TeachNet increases technology integration into classroom instruction; encourages new, standards-based lesson preparation; and connects good teachers with each other as sources of practical, classroom improvement.

Footnotes:

  1. Benton Foundation and Education Development Center Inc., Center for Children and Technology, The Sustainability Challenge: Taking Ed-tech to the Next Level, Washington, DC., Benton Foundation 2003, p. 10.
  2. $7 billion in federal expenditures over the life of the eRate program is half of what families spend on their children’s back-to-school wardrobe in a single season. See Tracie Rozhon and Ruth La Ferla, “Trying on the Familiar and Liking It”, New York Times, August 15, 2003, p. C2.
  3. Despite the federal injunction, districts allocate between 1% and 5% of their budgets to staff development. (National Staff Development Council, 2001 Member Survey Results, 13 August 2003, www.nsdc.org/surveyresults.pdf.)
  4. Joan Richardson, “Online Professional Development,” The School Administrator, v. 58, n. 9, October 2001, p. 39. “E-Learning for Educators: Implementing the Standards for Staff Development” is available from the National Staff Development Council: www.nsdc.org/standards_tech.html.
  5. U.S. Department of Education, NCES. Fast Response Survey System, “Survey of Professional Development and Training in U.S. Public Schools,” FRSS 74, 19992000.
  6. Bruce Joyce and Beverly Showers, Student Achievement Through Staff Development, New York: Longman, 1988.
  7. Elizabeth Bryom, “Tips for Writing an Evaluation Plan for a Technology Grant,” SEIR-TEC News Wire, v. 5, n. 3, 2002, p. 2.
  8. James Bosco, “Toward a Balanced Appraisal of Educational Technology in U.S. Schools and a Recognition of Seven Leadership Challenges,” Washington, D.C., Consortium for School Networking, February 2003, p. 11.
  9. Data were collected by a self-report web survey at the end of the TeachNet year and at the end of the university course. Teachers were asked about the extent of their agreement that they were, for example, expert in a certain computer function. Responses were coded on Likert scales and are reported as average or mean scores for each group. In addition to tests of statistical significance, we used eta2 as a measure of practical significance. The technical report–Dale Mann, “Teacher Technology Training: A New Delivery Method from Teachers Network,” Interactive Inc., September 2003–is available from TeachNet.org.
  10. U.S. Department of Education, NCES, Fast Response Survey System, “Public School Teachers’ Use of Computers and the Internet,” FRSS 70, 1999.
  11. S.E. Ansell and J. Park, “Tracking Tech Trends,” Education Week’s “Technology Counts,” May 2003, v. 22, n. 35, pp. 58-59.
  12. Richardson, “Online Professional Development,” ibid., p. 42.

Dale Mann, Ph.D., is a professor at Teachers College of Columbia University and managing director of Interactive Inc., a group of researchers and public policy advocates committed to advancing learning and educational equity for all students.

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Chart the progress of the charter school movement with this new online database

State and local educators and policy makers now have a resource that promises to help them stay on top of the charter school laws and policies already enacted in 40 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. Courtesy of the Education Commission of the States, this new database enables users to generate profiles of the different charter school policies in individual states; compare various rules and regulations across several states; and view reports on student and school performance, sponsors, funding, per-pupil expenditures, teacher certification, waivers, facilities, and more. In compiling the information for this site, the commission reportedly reviewed each state’s statutes and administrative codes concerning charter schools, consulted the Center of Education Reform’s report “Charter School Laws, State by State,” and sent each state’s profile to a state department of education or charter school association official for review and comment.

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