Linux support

While I am glad to see the generally positive coverage of Linux in your January 2004 issue (“Linux providers aim to lure schools with discounts”), I must take strong objection to one paragraph in the article.

Near the end you state, “Unlike a Microsoft OS, for example, the Linux platform does not come readily equipped with applications for word processing, eMail, and web browsing.” I don’t know where you buy your Microsoft OS, but it does not come with a word processor, unless you count Word Pad. Every version of Linux I know of–and certainly the two you highlight in the article–do come with full-featured office packages, not just a word processor, in Open Office, and I think may even include the commercial office suite from Sun, Star Office.

As for other applications, Linux distributions all come with not one or two but several apps for eMail and web browsing, along with many others. In fact, SUSE includes Main Actor, a video editing application on par with any entry-level video editing application made for Windows.

In the last paragraph you imply that Windows is more reliable. No one that has experience with both Linux and Windows would ever make such a statement. Linux does not crash, no Blue Screen of Death, no illegal operations. No countless reboots, Linux just works.

While Linux is not for everyone or appropriate in every situation, it does offer education many things Microsoft doesn’t and may never offer.

–Mark Carrara, Technology Coordinator, School District of Gilman, Gilman, Wis.


State questions school deals for fitness gear

A national organization that equips schools with computerized fitness gear and data-collection software to promote better student health is drawing fire for how it does business.

The fitness-equipment contracts that schools have signed with the National School Fitness Foundation are financially risky, needlessly expensive, and run afoul of bidding laws, the Minnesota attorney general’s office and state auditor say.

At issue are contracts 13 Minnesota school districts have signed with the Utah nonprofit to purchase or lease-to-buy equipment–including weight machines and computers that measure body fat and heart rates–through a for-profit company, School Fitness Systems, also based in American Fork, Utah.

The 13 districts have signed contracts totaling nearly $5 million, State Auditor Patricia Anderson said March 1 in a letter to State Attorney General Mike Hatch. The contracts also include data collection, curricula, and training to promote fitness and fight obesity.

The idea behind the program is that the foundation uses private contributions and federal and state grants–which are not guaranteed–to reimburse the schools for their monthly payments, so the schools end up paying practically nothing.

The foundation “is not providing a ‘grant’ to the school district; instead, it appears to be promising that the school district might receive a return of its money,” Anderson said in her letter to Hatch.

However, the foundation says it has never missed a payment in four years.

Minneapolis, which signed $1.4 million in contracts for fitness equipment in six schools before the contracts were approved by the school board, could have bought the equipment for less through competitive bidding, the auditor said.

In Delano, Minn., the district made a questionable application for a federal grant it apparently did not need and used improper procedures to pay for equipment, Anderson said in the letter.

In February, Hatch warned that there could be “a serious financial risk to school districts…. Districts need to adhere to the old adage that ‘if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.'”

Several districts said they had relied on their own attorneys’ opinions that bidding laws don’t apply to the contracts, partly because the foundation contracts include educational programs as well as equipment.

“We’ve had a great deal so far,” said Susan Brott, spokeswoman for White Bear Lake Area Schools. “It’s a great benefit for our kids.”

The National School Fitness Foundation said its program is aimed at getting $180,000 to $300,000 worth of equipment and training per school, without cost to participants, and it has contracted with more than 550 schools nationwide.

The foundation is in line to get a multimillion-dollar federal fitness grant, a spokesman said.

The Robbinsdale, Minn., school district opted against the plan last year.

“The cost of it was pretty high compared to the value of the actual equipment in the gym,” said Tom Walerius, executive director of administrative services.

In Brainerd, Minn., the district rejected an equipment-only bid of $53,376 and opted for a $218,901 contract with the foundation. That suggests an “inflated cost,” Anderson said.

But Stephen Dickinson, Brainerd’s director of business services, said the district felt the program was worth it, especially because it promised to come at no cost because of the grant reimbursements.

The foundation’s references checked out and it has been making its grant payments to the district, Dickinson said: “From a curriculum side, it’s absolutely an amazing program.”

At Fergus Falls, Minn., Mark Masten, the district’s business manager, said: “We went into this knowing we needed to have an updated health center, and if [the foundation] was going to help pay for it, so be it. We’re getting a discount if they don’t come through [with payments] or free equipment if they do.”

The foundation has not missed a lease reimbursement payment in four years, said Cris Rees, a spokesman for the foundation. Nevertheless, he acknowledged, “there is some risk involved for schools” that the foundation won’t be able to raise the money.

“This is something that we tell schools before they sign up,” he said.

Rees said there is no connection between the nonprofit foundation and the for-profit equipment company, although they have shared the same address in the past.

Hatch urged school districts to “exercise extreme caution,” because the foundation already needs more than $100 million to pay off existing contracts and because the program has grown rapidly.

See these related links:

National School Fitness Foundation

Office of the Minnesota Attorney General


Michigan signs $68M deal with HP for school laptops

Michigan’s state budget office announced Feb. 20 it has signed a four-year, $68 million contract with Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) to provide thousands of laptop computers and other services to sixth graders across Michigan using federal funds.

The state Department of Management and Budget has been working on the contract since the Palo Alto, Calif.-based computer giant agreed in December to charge no more than $275 per student per year for the state’s “Freedom to Learn” program. HP also will provide technical support, insurance, and training under the program.

House Speaker Rick Johnson, a Republican from LeRoy, Mich., who first created the laptop grant program under the name “Learning Without Limits” as a pilot project in 2002, said he’s happy the effort is moving forward.

“We are ready to take the next step, together with HP, to offer even more students the opportunities that come through Freedom to Learn and our ability to reach kids through a one-to-one relationship with their teachers,” Johnson said in a news release.

Up to 44,000 students could receive laptops or other handheld devices in the program’s first year, according to the Michigan Virtual University, which is running the program with the state education department. Laptops and other technology could eventually go to all of Michigan’s 132,000 sixth graders under the program, it said.

Schools that have their applications approved will receive $250 per student in the first year of the four-year program, the Michigan Virtual University said.

The budget for the current fiscal year set aside $17 million in federal funding for the “Freedom to Learn” program. The $68 million HP contract is based on a projected $17 million in federal funding for each of its four years.

Federal funding for the program is limited to districts with a high poverty rate (greater than 13 percent) and at least one school that is failing to make adequate yearly progress under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, said Bruce Montgomery, vice president of the Michigan Virtual University and director of the Freedom to Learn initiative.

While state officials originally wanted to match federal funding with some $22 million of their own, Montgomery said the state’s fiscal crisis made that goal impossible this year.

George Warren, director of HP’s K-12 division, said the company’s package includes 450 lessons and projects in line with state curriculum standards, teacher professional development, and a centralized, statewide portal to give teachers, parents, and students the ability to work together on improving education.

At the end of the four-year lease, districts reportedly can purchase the equipment for $1 per laptop.

Though Warren acknowledges that $275 per student represents a remarkably low cost, he said HP was able to arrive at the figure thanks, in part, to participation from strategic partners such as Microsoft, Intel, and Classroom Connect. These companies, he said, agreed to contribute software, learning materials, and professional development services to the laptop program, which allowed HP to share some of the initial financial burden.

Warren said HP would be open to considering similar wide-scale deployments across other states, but the terms and price of each agreement would vary based on client need.

Despite the opportunity, a number of eligible districts said they would not apply for the program. Districts that qualify for funding still must pay $25 per student to participate, and some educators said they worried about hidden costs as well.

“Frankly, I can’t afford it, and I thought there were too many strings attached,” New Haven Superintendent James Avery told the Detroit Free Press for a March 6 story.

See this related link:

Freedom to Learn


Simulation-style video game targets education field

A software start-up company relying on MIT-derived know-how is developing a historically accurate, high-tech video game that it hopes will engage high school and college students in World War II (WWII) history lessons. The game will use state-of-the-art technique while meeting the standards and accommodating the limitations of today’s classrooms, its developers say.

The idea appeals to some educators, who believe video-game technology can be a powerful teaching tool if tailored to the classroom environment.

Although a handful of mainstream simulation games, such as Civilization III or Age of Empires, are useful tools for teaching social studies, they are not a perfect match for the classroom, said Kurt Squire, an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison who is interested in piloting the new WWII game.

“In cases like Age of Empires, you have kids playing the game and … developing a lifelong love of history,” Squire said. But “one of the problems with a game like that is it’s designed to be used at home. It requires 200 to 300 hours of game play.”

Muzzy Lane Software, of Newburyport, Mass., intends to address this and other limitations of mainstream, simulation-style programs with the launch of Making History, an educational video game expected to debut this fall.

“We’re taking the best of the state-of-the-art the gaming industry has to offer … and applying it to our product. But because it is an education product, there are additional things we need to address,” said Nick deKanter, the company’s vice president.

Making History will have shorter play segments, ranging from 45 to 90 minutes long, that are more suitable for school schedules. It also will have reporting and feedback features built in.

“If this is to be a strong tool in the classroom, it has to be able to collect and report what students have done,” deKanter said.

Unlike typical consumer-oriented video games, Making History will feature a recording engine that will keep track of the decisions students make and their outcomes. Besides using this information for assigning grades, teachers can start classroom debates with it. For example, if 32 percent of the class decided to go one way and the rest decided to go another way, the teacher could ask: Who had the better result, and why?

Historical accuracy is another problem with using mainstream games in the classroom. Although no simulation is entirely precise, entertainment-based games have more freedom to fudge the facts.

To combat this, Muzzy Lane’s designers have based the game on the best-known history as reported by respected universities. But, because history is a product of different perspectives, teachers reportedly will be able to modify certain assumptions–such as the belief that Winston Churchill was hawkish, for example.

Making History’s technology, graphics, and interfaces will be familiar to students. But what’s different is that students will be able to learn, and even experience, hard-to-explain concepts surrounding WWII, the game’s creators say.

History involves a fairly complex set of events and trends, notes deKanter. Making a decision to form a treaty with another country, for example, involves economic and political repercussions.

Making History intends to immerse students in the period and give them an opportunity to think and make decisions like actual historical figures. Students will be asked to make critical, strategic decisions as they handle challenges such as reuniting a series of regions in Germany, peaceably rebuilding the country and its economy, and keeping Europe’s borders defined by the Treaty of Versailles without going to war.

Though Making History is one of the first commercial simulation games of its kind to come to market, more will follow, predicts Squire, who works with the Education Arcade (formerly MIT’s Games-to-Teach project) and has a long history of developing and researching computer games for the classroom.

Educational simulations are already widely used in military, adult, and corporate training. “I think immersive worlds in education will become the norm,” Squire said. “I don’t think we’re going to throw out classrooms and textbooks, but you will see (the technology incorporated) in a wide variety of areas.”

See these related links:

Muzzy Lane Software Inc.

The Education Arcade


New trend in membership web sites could help schools

As they search for new revenue sources for cash-strapped schools, education technology leaders might want to investigate a growing trend from the consumer web arena–membership web sites. A recent conference in Orlando, Fla., sponsored by the Subscription Website Publishers Association (SWEPA) suggested that the benefits of setting up a membership web site could apply to schools.

“People like to belong to a private and secure web site. It improves collaboration, and peers are more likely to share innovative ideas,” said Peter A. Schaible, SWEPA director. “Schools should consider a membership web site to improve stakeholder relations and communications and perhaps even investigate using a subscription web site membership model to raise funds for their school.”

Among consumers at large, the security of a password-protected venue adds a level of confidentiality and value to a web site that seems to attract site members. Even the old internet taboo of charging monthly access fees for valuable content is changing, according to conference organizers.

Asking school stakeholders to pay for content they might consider public information might not be the way to go, but providing for-fee access to certain school district software, for instance, or creating specialty sites centering on in-depth sports coverage or school-related hobbies like chess might find willing subscribers. Such sites might attract local sponsors, too.

The conference covered the popularity of niche membership web sites that charge monthly access fees. Operators of these new sites, speakers said, can easily set up the needed secure functionality with off-the-shelf software–some of which is free.

During the conference, more than 20 vendors pitched their software and explained how to set up and improve the presentation of content for commercial use. Speakers included membership web site software developers; audio, multimedia, and eMail management software firms; and marketing and public relation professionals. Speakers also discussed free open-source software for online stores and forums. (See the insert for vendor information.)

Given the recent developments in open-source applications and new, affordable, fee-based software for membership sites, it was apparent that you didn’t need to be an IT guru to develop a successful and valuable membership web site.

Fred Gleeck, owner of Fred Gleeck Productions, emceed the seminar and told how his limited technology experience hasn’t held him back from presenting and selling valuable content on the web.

With the recent advances in software, schools might want to research establishing secure, membership-based community web sites to improve stakeholder communications or even attract corporate sponsorships.

See these related links:

Subscription Website Publishers Association

Fred Gleeck Productions



The No Child Left Behind Act has put even greater pressure on the nation’s schools to perform. Automated messages have helped thousands of school systems across the country meet the law’s strict parental notification requirements by providing a unique way to communicate in a timely and efficient manner.

Automated communications have solved communication challenges for schools and districts by distributing an almost unlimited pipeline of school and student information to parents. Communication with parents has been shown to improve attendance, and studies show that increased attendance improves student performance. Many schools have learned how to use automated messages to increase attendance, achievement, student safety and overall parent satisfaction dramatically.

From absent student alert calls, to emergency notification, to grade and lunch balance information, schools and districts are generating and passing information electronically and efficiently to parents. “Two-way communication between the home and the school is the critical component to increasing parental involvement,” said Jeff Warhol, marketing director for U.S. Netcom Corp.–developer of PhoneMaster, an easy-to-use, automated communication solution.

U.S. Netcom delivers messages to parents via telephone and eMail with information generated directly from a school’s student management software. Parents have access to grades, test scores, lunch balances, bus schedules, library fees, classroom information, and almost any student data, available to them whenever they need it and no matter what their schedule is. In school systems using the product, parents can call and access information 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

More communication equals improved attendance

One school using automated communications to improve attendance is Largo High School in Pinellas County, Fla. The school has cut its absences almost in half since it began using PhoneMaster’s EasyCaller application during the 2001-2002 school year to contact parents on a daily basis about student absences.

Nearly 400 students were absent from class either all day or part of the day out of a school population of 2,000 students. A staff person recorded a message, downloaded a student call list, and PhoneMaster’s EasyCaller systematically called each parent to deliver the message about his or her student’s absence. Today, the number of absences is down to 250 (nearly half).

The school decided to upgrade this year to PhoneMaster for Windows, which on a daily basis automatically downloads the student call list from SASI, the school’s student information system (SIS). “The system virtually runs itself,” said Kent Vermeer, assistant principal for curriculum, who spends only three to five minutes each day printing the call report. PhoneMaster is also used to communicate regularly with parents about PTA meetings, standardized tests, and other events. “Every school should have this system,” said Vermeer. “The more information you give parents, the better it is for the students.”

PhoneMaster not only delivers absence and tardy notifications, but can also deliver emergency notifications and instructions, progress reports, invitations to school events, voice newsletters, weekly class curriculum and activities, missing child neighborhood alerts, report card announcements, physical and shots reminders, and almost any information schools and districts need to communicate to parents.

Diverse communication equals more parental involvement

Falls Church High School in Falls Church, Va., began using PhoneMaster for Windows to help school officials increase and improve communication with the parents of a very diverse student population. Of the school’s 1,500 students, about 70 percent are Hispanic, 10 percent are Caucasian, and the rest are Asian and African-American.

“PhoneMaster is one of the best technology tools I’ve seen in my 20 years in public schools,” said Conrad Hollingsworth, ninth-grade administrator at Falls Church High School. “Not only do many of these parents speak their native language, but they work two to three jobs, which increases the communication challenges.” Using PhoneMaster for Windows, the school is able to reach every parent with a personal message in one of the three dominant languages represented at the school–English, Spanish, and Vietnamese.

One way Hollingsworth has used PhoneMaster was to notify parents of a spring parent-teacher conference. “Eight hundred parents showed up, double what we had in the fall when we didn’t use PhoneMaster for these reminders,” he said. “A person without any technical experience can use PhoneMaster because it’s a Windows product. It provides so many prompts that it easily walks you through the steps.”

PhoneMaster helps create a comprehensive school-to-home communication plan

The Washington Elementary School District (WESD) in Phoenix has received national, state, and local recognition for its commitment to enhancing the school-family relationship. WESD has continued to fine-tune a comprehensive plan of school-to-home communication by using PhoneMaster as an integral tool.

On a daily basis, WESD faces the challenge of keeping busy parents aware of what’s happening in their children’s lives at school. It makes sense to make the most of the telephone, because “97 percent of homes have a telephone,” said Nedda Shafir, director of community services for the 32-school district. “Automated voice messaging and 24-7 access to school information through voice mail is a very convenient and effective way to keep parents informed.”

Equipped with a phone in each classroom, WESD teachers can conveniently record messages and retrieve messages from parents through the PhoneMaster technology. “Parents will be your partners if you let them,” said Pat Farmer, math teacher at Mountain Sky Elementary. “I can’t call 150 sets of parents every day, and even if five parents call in, it’s worth it.”

At the end of each school day, Shannon Bonnette, fifth-grade teacher at John Jacobs Elementary, records a message on her individual voice mail stating the day’s activities, homework, and a review question that can bring the student bonus points the next day. Parents or students can call Bonnette’s voice mail any time of the day or night to listen to her message. “It works pretty well,” Bonnette said. “The review question provides an incentive for students or their parents to call into the voice mail.”

WESD has also found that PhoneMaster is one of the quickest ways to get information out to parents in a crisis. When one school received a bomb threat, Shafir turned to the Service Bureau at U.S. Netcom headquarters to notify every parent in the school within just 20 minutes. In another incident, Shafir notified parents of a school lock-down while police searched the area near the school for an armed suspect. The police apprehended the suspect, and the children were kept safe.

How the technology works

U.S. Netcom offers central-office solutions that use from two to an unlimited number of phone lines, depending on the size of the school district and the issues it’s looking to solve, Warhol said.

Suppose a school attendance clerk wants to conduct a calling session to parents of absent students alerting them their children were not at school. The clerk would identify absent students from the school’s existing SIS package. A data file that includes the students’ name, student ID, parent phone number, and parent eMail address is extracted from the database and placed in a PhoneMaster folder located on the hard drive. Depending on the SIS package, this process can be automated, requiring no intervention from the school’s office staff.

PhoneMaster then continually polls the folder to see if new phone numbers or addresses have been added. When it sees a data file, PhoneMaster calls down the list of phone numbers to deliver a prerecorded absence notification message. It follows a similar method to deliver text messages to eMail addresses.

Completion of the calls depends on the number of calls made. A four-line system will deliver about 200 30-second messages per hour, which generally fills the calling requirements of schools with 2,500 or fewer students, Warhol said.


U.S. Netcom Corp.



Florida’s Osceola County School District is using software from Portland, Ore.-based to accomplish two important goals: teaching students–and teachers–meaningful technology skills. The program, called EasyTech, teaches these skills in the context of standards-based, core curricular lessons, making it an ideal technology training and integration tool for K-8 educators, district officials say.

“EasyTech is now our main vehicle to teach students technology skills,” said Rosalind Riser, the district’s director of media and instructional technology. “And it’s also the way we track their mastery, to be able to say, ‘This child passed these lessons and learned these skills.'”

Recently, EasyTech has begun to play a pivotal role in staff training as well, allowing teachers and administrators to improve their own technology skills, in private, by using the web-based software’s interactive lessons.

EasyTech’s lessons begin with the basics–such as the parts of a computer, keyboarding, or mouse skills–and then steadily progress up to using word processors, spreadsheets, presentation software, and more. The software explains what you’re going to learn and why it’s useful, then guides you every step of the way.

Best of all, though, students learn these skills in the context of standard classroom lessons in the key areas of language arts, math, science, and social studies. Students don’t just learn how to use software, they learn how to apply it to solve problems in the classroom and in real life. In a lesson on spreadsheets, for instance, students learn how to create pie charts, at the same time strengthening math, analysis, and communication skills.

“Students get totally absorbed by EasyTech’s lessons, which they do in the schools’ labs. They go back to class and tell the other kids what they’ve learned,” said Judy Edge. An instructional technology trainer for Osceola, Edge added that teachers also have been spreading the word. “Teachers are prompting each other to use it,” she said, noting that they really appreciate how it takes them step-by-step through applications.

“We do a lot of training here, but much of that is in a classroom setting, which doesn’t suit some teachers,” Edge said. Perhaps it’s the travel time, she elaborated, or perhaps they just don’t want to look foolish in front of their peers. But because EasyTech’s lessons can be done online, at home and at their convenience, “EasyTech is perfect for them.”

One faculty member who teaches trainable mentally handicapped (TMH) students wanted to move to electronic grading, but was unsure of how to go about it. “After going through EasyTech’s lessons on spreadsheets,” said Edge, “the teacher put together a customized spreadsheet to track her TMH students’ skills.” She was able to create charts out of the data to better track each student’s discrete skills level. “She told me she never would have tried that if it weren’t for her experience with the EasyTech lessons,” Edge recalled.

Osceola’s teachers and administrators can earn up to 24 hours of professional development credit in technology skills by completing EasyTech lessons. This helps them meet Florida’s recertification requirements of 120 hours per area.

“Most of Osceola’s teachers are flexible about how they use EasyTech” with students, said Edge, who has delivered much of the training on the web-based program to district staff. Some pick lessons according to what curriculum areas they are teaching at the time. Others use it during their lab block and have students complete a series of lessons based on their grade level.

Michael Cohen, the computer lab teacher at Boggy Creek Elementary School in Kissimmee, sees all of the school’s 900 K-5 students in the course of six weeks in his computer lab, and he says almost all of them go home and do more of EasyTech’s lessons or repeat ones they’ve done in the lab. Many even come to his lab to do their lessons when they’re excused from physical education for the day.

Cohen is just starting to explore EasyTech’s library of integration activities but says he plans to use a lot more of them next year because they supply “some really great ideas.” He agrees with Riser that EasyTech’s built-in tracking of students’ skills is a major highlight. “It gives me immediate feedback on the kids and automatically grades them, too,” he explained. “It’s the icing on the cake.”



Get information about character education from this new federal web site

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools has unveiled a new web site for the Character Education and Civic Engagement Technical Assistance Center (CETAC), called CETAC Online. The site provides state program administrators, local educators, and the public with information about character education and civic engagement programs, as well as strategies that support academic goals and other reform efforts. It also will provide support and information for and about schools involved in character education and civic engagement across the country, officials said. The site contains publicly accessible information about legislative changes and news and events, as well as publications on character education and links to resources of interest to the field. “This new web site is an excellent tool for educators, parents, and the community across the nation because it provides significant information and resources on character education and civic engagement–two key components in the historic No Child Left Behind education reform law,” U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige said in a statement announcing the online resource.


April’s eSN partners index

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

CDW-G, of Chicago, provides direct computing solutions with a vast product offering tailored to fit the unique needs of education and government customers.Visit CDW-G’s web site:
(800) 328-4239
See CDW-G’s ad on pages 24 and 25

Cisco Systems Inc., of San Jose, Calif., is committed to helping schools take advantage of internet-based learning by providing eLearning initiatives and other programs designed to address the exchange of information and personal security in an increasingly digital world. Visit the Cisco Systems web site:
(800) 553-6387
See Cisco’s ad on page 7

The Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), of Washington, D.C., is a national nonprofit organization that promotes the use of information technologies and the internet in K-12 education to improve teaching and learning. Visit CoSN’s web site:
(888) 604-5209
See CoSN’s ad on page 16

Failure Free Reading, of Concord, N.C., offers a research-proven language development and reading comprehension program specializing in accelerating the learning curve of the lowest-literacy students. Visit the Failure Free Reading web site:
(800) 542-2170
See Failure Free Reading’s ad on page 22

Gateway Inc., of San Diego, is a Fortune 250 company focusing on building lifelong relationships with businesses, schools, and consumers through complete technology personalization. Visit the Gateway web site:
(888) 888-0294 or (888) 888-0438
See the Gateway ad on page 17

Global Internet Management, of Bala Cynwyd, Pa., offers InfoServeCM, a suite of smart content and knowledge collaboration tools that enables schools to empower their existing web sites into dynamic, content-managed sites. Visit Global Internet Management’s web site:
(800) 538-3539
See the Global Internet Management ad on page 12

Hewlett-Packard Co. North America includes the company’s K-12 education division (part of the Enterprise Systems Group), which offers a host of technology products, services, and solutions to help transform schools into 21st-century learning environments. Visit HP’s K-12 Solutions web site:
(800) 88-TEACH
See HP North America’s ad on page 9

HOSTS Learning, of Vancouver, Wash., provides high-quality, research-based learning systems for the education market. Visit the HOSTS Learning web site:
(800) 833-4678
See the HOSTS Learning ad on page 19

InFocus Corp., of Wilsonville, Ore., is a worldwide leader in digital projection technology and solutions. Visit the InFocus web site:
(800) 294-6400
See the InFocus ad on page 5

The International Society for Technology in Education, of Eugene, Ore., is the sponsor of the National Educational Computing Conference (NECC), the industry’s largest trade show. Visit the NECC web site:
(800) 280-6218
See the ad for this year’s NECC on page 38

LaserFiche Document Imaging, headquartered in Long Beach, Calif., strives to deliver smart, flexible, and easily integrated document management solutions for a broad range of business and government needs. Visit the LaserFiche web site:
(562) 988-1688
See the LaserFiche ad on page 26

Lawson Software, of St. Paul, Minn., provides business-process software solutions designed to serve the specialized needs of service industries, such as health care and education. Visit the Lawson Software web site:
(800) 477-1357
See the ad for Lawson Software on page 11

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

Meridian Creative Group, of Erie, Pa., provides math software for every student. Visit the Meridian Creative Group web site:
(800) 530-2355
See Meridian’s ad on page 34

Microsoft Corp., of Redmond, Wash., is a world leader in software for personal, business, and education use. Visit Microsoft’s web site:
(425) 882-8080
See the Microsoft ad on page 2

NetSupport Inc., of Cumming, Ga., is a member of the PCI Group of companies, developers of a range of award-winning remote control and IT training products. Visit NetSupport’s web site:
(888) 665-0808
See NetSupport’s ad on page 15

PLATO Learning Inc., of Bloomington, Minn., has created and delivered educational software solutions for curriculum and assessment since 1963. Visit the PLATO Learning web site:
See the ad for PLATO Learning on page 21

Sagebrush Corp., of Minneapolis, is a fast-growing leader in serving K-12 library media specialists in their efforts to provide access to information, stimulate interest in reading, and improve student performance. Visit the Sagebrush web site:
(800) 533-5430
See the Sagebrush ad on page 10

Serious Magic Inc., of Rancho Cordova, Calif., is looking to create the next generation of visual communication tools. The company’s Visual Communicator software enables students to create everything from school broadcasts to multimedia projects in just minutes. Visit the Serious Magic web site:
(916) 859-0100
See the ad for Serious Magic on page 14

TechSmith, of Okemos, Mich., makes software that enables students, faculty, and staff to capture and share text, video, and graphics from software applications and the internet easily. Visit TechSmith’s web site:
(800) 517-3001
See the ad for TechSmith on page 13

Tripp Lite, of Chicago, offers the most reliable, cost-efficient power protection, power supply, and connectivity solutions available. Visit the Tripp Lite web site:
(773) 869-1234
See the ad for Tripp Lite on page 6

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

CDW-G, of Chicago, provides direct computing solutions with a vast product offering tailored to fit the unique needs of education and government ustomers.Visit CDW-G’s web site:
(800) 328-4239

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

Cisco Systems Inc., of San Jose, Calif., is committed to helping schools take advantage of internet-based learning by providing eLearning initiatives and other programs. Visit the Cisco Systems web site:
(800) 553-6387

Dell Inc., of Round Rock, Texas, designs, builds, and customizes a broad range of computer products and services for consumer and professional use. Visit the Dell web site:
(800) WWW-DELL

Hewlett-Packard Co. North America includes the company’s K-12 education division, which offers a host of technology products, services, and solutions to help transform schools into 21st-century learning environments. Visit HP’s K-12 Solutions web site:
(800) 88-TEACH

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


Why grants don’t cover operating expenses

Here in my home town of Lancaster, Pa., the School District of Lancaster is dealing with a crisis. The superintendent of the district is alleged to have used grant funds for consultants who had dubious backgrounds and might not have provided any service, yet were paid. The superintendent has resigned, and the district is being investigated by the state and the FBI. Past grants also are being reviewed and scrutinized closely for mismanagement.

This situation has raised a variety of issues within the community, one of which concerns the purpose of a grant. Like many school systems nationwide (and particularly large, urban districts), the School District of Lancaster struggles with finding the funds necessary to pay for its day-to-day operating costs. However, the district has been extremely successful at securing grants–some rather large in terms of dollars–for special projects. Now some members of the community are asking why the district does not have basic necessities in the classrooms, such as textbooks–and why the grant funds haven’t been used to buy them. (If it’s any consolation, in my experience many nonprofit organizations experience the same struggle in covering their daily operating expenses.)

Understanding the purpose of grants is essential for proposal writers, teachers, administrators, school board members, and parents. For the most part, grants are meant to provide seed money for new projects. Grants provide grantees with the financial resources to implement a new project and to see if the proposed outcomes for student achievement really will come to fruition. Or, grant funds might enable a grantee to discover a new model of teaching that significantly increases student achievement and impacts professional development. Or they might enable a district to use technology to carry out administrative responsibilities in a more efficient and cost-effective manner.

Those who have written several grant proposals realize that funding generally is allotted for a specific amount of time. Usually grants cover a 12-month time period, or in the case of multi-year grants, funding covers a three or five-year time period. For multi-year requests, it is common that the amount of money supplied by the funder shrinks in the latter years while the amount of support from the grantee grows. Funders are working under the assumption that if a project is successful and merits continuation, the grantee will find other ways to maintain the project after the grantor’s funding comes to an end. Budgets typically will not allow the inclusion of daily operating costs of the school or district. Only those costs associated with the project are allowable, and in some cases there are several restrictions as far as what can and cannot be included in the budget request.

I have seen directories in the past that list sources of funding for operating expenses. However, these directories are often very small–and for some states, there are no foundations listed that will accept proposals requesting operating funds.

I would suggest that if you haven’t done so already, explain the purpose of grants to your staff and school board members so they have a clear understanding and can educate community members should the question arise. Also, contact local funders and get their perspective on why they do not fund daily operating expenses, and then share this information at a board meeting or perhaps in your district newsletter. A clear understanding should make the grants process more comprehensible and will allow others to see how grants fit into your district’s overall funding plan.

As for the larger issue of accountability that Lancaster’s situation raises, see my column in next month’s issue for some lessons in grants management.

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