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.


Ysleta Order


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 (, 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.


  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,
  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:
  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
  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.


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

“Those with Internet Access Continue to Grow but at a Slower Rate” (February 2003)

2003 Online Media Industry Year-in-Review


How to cash in on others’ success

It’s no secret that reviewing copies of successfully funded grant applications can help you write your own winning proposals. If you have access to the internet, there are copies readily available for you to study and evaluate. Here are a few points to keep in mind when looking at other people’s funded proposals:

(1) Be sure to look at the corresponding request for proposals (RFP), too. Although RFPs usually don’t change too much from competition to competition, they can–and you don’t want to follow the format used by someone else and include similar content if the RFP for this year’s competition is not the same.

(2) Read other successful proposals to get ideas about formatting. Check the use of tables and charts, and see how these types of tools can make maximum use of the space allotted in the narrative. Study the kind of data that were included to substantiate the needs section.

(3) With an objective eye, look at the scope of the project. Pay particular attention to how many students or clients the project serves, the expected outcomes, the amount of funding requested in relation to the scope of activities to be carried out, and the collaborative partners if any exist.

Here are some sites on the internet that contain copies of funded proposals:

(1) The SchoolGrants web site ( has a list of more than 20 successful proposals for education grants, including federal programs, mini-proposals, and foundation grants. Topics include technology, school reform, literacy, arts, and reading.

(2) Funded proposals for U.S. Department of Education grants can be found at the Earthwalk web site ( and include proposals for a 21st Century Community Learning Center (21st CCLC) grant and a Community Technology Center grant. (Note that the 21st CCLC grant program has now become a state program, so check your state’s RFP carefully, as it may differ from the federal RFP that was in effect when this proposal was funded.)

Another example of a successfully funded 21st CCLC proposal is located at the Colorado Grants home page ( This proposal offers a good example of how to use data to support your needs and includes some great tables with demographic and student performance data.

(3) Although it doesn’t cover education grants, check out the Dragonfly Communications network web site ( Here, you’ll find several grants that focus on fire safety and emergency services. This site is helpful because it includes such a wide variety of funded proposals, ranging from federal programs and state grants to local foundations. It also provides notes that explain what is particularly unique or strong about each proposal that probably played a role in the funding decision.

(4) There are no sample proposals on the National Science Foundation’s Math and Science Partnership web page (; however, there is a very helpful list of the “most common shortcomings in unsuccessful 2003 proposals.” This list is especially helpful if the Math and Science Partnership program is on your list of grants to apply for in the next 12 months–but when viewed in general terms, the list also could help prevent mistakes in other federal proposals.

(5) The “Guest Share” section of the Charity Channel site ( contains two copies of funded proposals for community-based organizations. Again, although not education-specific, these are good examples to examine.

Deborah Ward, CFRE, is an independent grant writing consultant. She welcomes questions at (717) 295-9437 or


“Veterans History Project” records the stories of America’s war veterans

From the American Folklife Center and the Library of Congress comes a unique online resource designed to preserve the stories and experiences of America’s 19 million living war veterans. The “Veterans History Project,” organized by former President Bill Clinton, seeks to collect and preserve videotaped oral histories–along with documentary materials such as letters, diaries, maps, photographs, and home movies–of America’s war veterans and those who served in support of them. While visiting the project’s web site, students will be able to read actual letters written by soldiers to their loved ones during many of the nation’s most trying times. The site includes the personal accounts of soldiers and civilians from all branches of service in World Wars I and II, as well as the Korean, Vietnam, and Persian Gulf wars. To keep the project going, students, citizens, and organizations are invited to contribute using the Project Kit, which provides all of the necessary information and forms required to interview a veteran about his or her experiences for inclusion in the archive. Librarians, museum directors, school officials, and civic leaders can read about model veterans projects and learn how to start an initiative of their own.


Take a virtual trip into literary history with “The 19th Century in Print”

“The Nineteenth Century in Print: The Making of America in Books and Periodicals” is a great resource for students to explore 19th-century American history through the words and pictures of the authors and illustrators of the period. This fully online collection is a part of the Making America project, a collaboration between Cornell University and the University of Michigan to preserve deteriorating texts, including 23 popular magazines and more than 1,500 books that illuminate themes central to American life in the mid- to late-19th century. Topics include the Civil War, slavery and abolition, religion, education, self-help and self-improvement, travel and westward expansion, and poetry. The materials selected for inclusion illuminate subjects ranging from education, psychology, and American history to sociology, religion, science, and technology. The collection is part of the National Digital Library Program, an effort by the U.S. Library of Congress to offer broad public access to a wide range of historical and cultural documents as a contribution to lifelong learning.


Help students design “Super Science Fair Projects” with advice from this site

For students, the school science fair often sets the stage for the most involved and intellectually challenging projects of the year. From exploding volcanoes to deteriorating ozone layers, a single project sometimes can take months to complete, says Chicago-area educator Madeline Binder, who recently launched a new web site designed to help middle and high school students through the science fair process. Using a cartoon character named Detective ThinkMore, Binder leads learners through the steps of conducting a successful science fair project. For instance, by clicking on the “Secret Files” button, students get a list of potential projects, topics, ideas, and experiments, as well as additional resources for continued research and exploration. Plus, an online timeline helps students stay on task and finish their projects on time. Students also can learn how to map a project timeline, keep a science log, choose a category and topic, research a project, complete all six steps of the scientific method, write a project report and abstract, make a display board, give an oral presentation about their project, and more. For parents, a guide explains how to coach a child during this process while avoiding the temptation of taking over the project themselves. In addition, a teacher’s resource page contains links to several instructional resources and planning guides designed to help facilitate the process.


Call it a sign of the times: New searchable online sign language dictionary debuts

From the Atlanta Area School for the Deaf (AASD), “MySignLink” is a new resource designed to make it easier for educators to communicate with students who are hearing-impaired. The site contains a searchable online sign language dictionary, which the AASD bills as a “powerful new application that promotes deaf literacy, while helping others around the state, and the world, learn American Sign Language.” Currently, the database includes 17,000 English words and phrases, all linked to nearly 2,500 video clips showing signs in action. AASD said it hopes to expand the database to more than 100,000 word entries. Educators who wish to use this free service can do so by going to the web site, highlighting any of the words on their screen, clicking on the link, and watching the a short video of the corresponding sign. A search feature also enables users to look for a specific word within the list. MySignLink was developed by AASD Media and Technology Specialist Dr. Harley Hamilton, with assistance from Kennesaw State University Technology Instructor Jim Wright. “Use it while browsing web pages, reading a book, watching captioned TV, doing homework, studying for a test, communicating with a deaf family member, or even eating a sandwich,” Hamilton said. “It’s a fun and easy way to learn sign language, and it is available on any computer with an internet connection.”


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.


“” arms parents with information to safeguard their children online

Here’s a site for educators to share with parents as they continue looking for new and reliable ways to keep their children safe online. From the National Academy of Science and predicated upon the findings of the National Research Council’s 2002 report “Youth, Pornography, and the Internet,” provides practical information and tips to help parents identify and combat the different types and sources of sexually explicit content online. The site discusses the various ways inappropriate material can reach youngsters, the threat of “cyberstalking,” the pros and cons of filtering and monitoring tools, and other issues involving internet safety. Proponents of the site have called it “an important step on the road to becoming an internet-savvy parent who can make informed decisions and plan effective strategies that promote safe and enjoyable internet experiences for children.”