Schools’ streaming video use at risk

The rights of U.S. schools and colleges to use a powerful new tool for enhanced communication and instruction are at risk, because a little-known California company claims it owns the patent on what enables streaming video. The company has already sent demands for royalty payments to several U.S. universities.

Newport Beach-based Acacia Research Corp. seems to have a message for schools: Either stop the transmissions now, or prepare to pay the company as much as 2 percent of the revenue generated from courses that employ such technology.

The threat became real when some colleges and universities–including Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, the University of Virginia, the University of Wyoming (UW), and a number of schools in the Oregon State University System (OSUS)–began receiving “cease-and-desist” letters from the company.

Legal experts from these and other schools say the royalty demands could spell trouble for revenue-generating distance-education programs, which are relied upon to connect students across great distances while appealing to pupils with vastly different learning styles. If the royalty demands exceed the profits generated by such courses, they say, the practice could become cost-prohibitive, adding a debilitating expense to schools’ already waning technology budgets.

Education observers fear demands for a percentage of revenues might be merely a prelude to demands for licensing fees from all schools and universities that use streaming video, regardless of whether the technology generates revenue.

To skirt a potential disaster, legal counsel for universities across the country have begun looking for ways to insulate their institutions from potential lawsuits. But while much is being debated, nothing has been decided, a fact that has college lawyers contacted by eSchool News largely mum on the topic of strategy.

Lawyers have been so tight-lipped, in fact, that officials from the University of Virginia and the Johns Hopkins University declined to go on record with eSchool News about the letters. Those who are willing to talk, however, say they are concerned.

Ben Rawlins, general counsel for the OSUS, said the proposed 2-percent royalty claims would result in a significant amount of money for the state’s universities and could be enough to threaten the existence of video-streaming and distance-learning programs in some institutions, but he declined to comment on the validity of Acacia’s patents or on the university’s defense, stating, “Everything is still under consideration.”

For universities, Rawlins said, the question is whether the technology has been around long enough for it to be considered in the public domain, or whether Acacia has the right to claim collective control over the broader use of the technology itself–mainly, the process by which audio and video are transmitted across the internet–as opposed to a specific hardware device or media player used to make such transmissions possible. OSUS reportedly is consulting with patent lawyers to further investigate the company’s claims.

Meanwhile, Acacia’s crusade is gathering steam. On the heels of more than a dozen settlements reached last year with a swath of online pornography providers–all of which use streaming video to broadcast racy images to customers’ computer desktops–the company has set its sights on academia, claiming it’s entitled to a slice of the revenues schools reap from ballooning enrollments in distance-education classes that use the technology.

Acacia’s general counsel and senior vice president for business development, Robert Berman, did not return repeated telephone calls from an eSchool News reporter before press time. But Berman told the Chronicle of Higher Education for a Nov. 7 story that the patents–which were first granted in 1991 and sat dormant throughout the dot-com bust–were finally ripe to make the company some serious money.

“Money wasn’t being made using streaming media at the time,” Berman told the Chronicle. “If you remember, everything on the internet was free, and people were just figuring out how to use the technology.”

Today that has changed–especially in education, where teachers and professors at all levels of schooling have employed the tool as a means to increase interactivity among a growing contingent of students weaned on the technology.

According to industry research firm Quality Education Data, video streaming is the No. 1 technology being evaluated for use in K-12 schools this year. It also has become increasingly popular among universities, where streaming video is used not only to extend the boundaries of the traditional college campus but also to broadcast sporting events and even conduct online campus tours.

One school that has sought to take full advantage of the technology is the University of Wyoming, which since 1999 has been using streaming video and audio as part of its UW Outreach School, otherwise known as Online UW, to reach students via the internet.

“I think (Acacia’s claim) has some really severe repercussions for universities, whether you’re talking about (classes) on campus or about distance learning,” said Mike McElreath, director of technology for the UW Outreach School. Online UW uses a platform designed by distance-education provider eCollege.

A teacher at the university, McElreath said streaming video has become an integral part of a course he teaches on documentary history. Educators, he said, also rely on the technology for video conferencing and virtual meetings, among other things.

If the patent issue isn’t resolved, McElreath predicted, additional royalty payments–coupled with already tight technology budgets–could “create a huge barrier to delivering courses and professional development across the internet.”

Other distance-learning experts agree. Diana Zilberman, who heads up the Maryland Distance Learning Association, said royalty payments could stunt the growth of new innovations for this type of technology in schools.

“If institutions were forced to pay such royalties, the cost would become a real impediment,” Zilberman wrote in an eMail message to eSchool News. “It’s hard to say if today’s colleges that use distance-learning related technologies can offset currently high technology licensing costs with tuition fees.”

Banding together

To share the legal burden awaiting them, a number of universities that received cease-and-desist letters from Acacia reportedly have banded together to discuss the best possible strategy for beating Acacia’s claims.

University counsel refused to reveal the names of institutions participating in the consortium, but internet lawyer Harvey Jacobs of Washington, D.C.-based Jacobs and Associates said seeking a communal legal defense would be a smart move by the schools.

The idea, he said, would be to share the legal costs and combine strategies in what could be a long and costly litigation. Such an alliance could seek to ensure that no single defendant would bear the full brunt of Acacia’s legal assault.

As to Acacia’s delayed claims on its alleged patent rights, Jacobs said the company’s decision to sit on its patents until the technology matured is not uncommon. “This represents a classic example of a company exploiting its patent portfolio,” he said.

In all, Acacia has entered into 47 different licensing agreements for its video and audio streaming patents. Thirteen others are currently in litigation. Apart from universities and adult-content providers, Acacia also has initiated patent infringement claims against companies that supply video on demand to hotel rooms.

Strangely absent from Acacia’s hit list, however, are the major providers of this technology to schools. Streaming video companies in the education market, such as United Learning and AIMS Multimedia, as well as Microsoft Corp. and streaming audio-video giant RealNetworks, all say they’ve yet to receive any form of legal notification from Acacia asking them to pay royalties for the services each provides to schools and other customers.

Jacobs–who is an attorney specializing in internet and trademark law rather than patents–said that while Acacia probably could send cease-and-desist letters to these companies, it has a better chance of procuring revenue-generating licensing agreements if it trains its efforts on end-users, such as schools, many of which lack the legal clout to match Acacia’s corporate attorneys. Companies such as United Learning–which is owned by Discovery Communications–are more likely to fight the claims in court, he said, a process that could cost Acacia more money than it’s worth.

Whether Acacia eventually chooses to go after these companies with its patent claims likely will depend on how these claims hold up against schools. And that will depend on the strength of the company’s patent, which has to demonstrate definitive ownership over what amounts to a widely used and extremely broad conceptual technology, experts contend.

Jacobs said the debate is analogous to the man who holds the trademark for the term “internet.” While the word is often referenced in its trademarked form with a capital “I,” it would be unlikely that a judge would award the trademark holder royalties for the repeated use of the term across the web, simply because it has passed into the vein of public use and is no longer considered proprietary, he said.

Whether video streaming has crossed into that realm has yet to be decided. But even if schools are forced to pay royalties for using the technology, it doesn’t necessarily mean the end of streaming video in education. Schools still would have the option of reaching licensing agreements with the patent holder. They also could look for ways to cut down on the amount of videos streamed by copying the content onto a CD-ROM and making it available that way, Jacobs suggested. Of course, this practice would raise legal questions of its own.

Legal experts in the public and private sectors alike agree that solutions to patent-infringement claims have been slow to catch up to the evolving nature of the internet.

“It’s like trying to drive a thumbtack in with a sledgehammer,” Jacobs said. “Technology is way ahead of the legislative curve.”

See these related links:

Acacia Research Corp.
http://www.acaciaresearch.com

Maryland Distance Learning Association
http://www.marylanddla.org

University of Wyoming Online
http://ecampus.uwyo.edu

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2004 AASA conference highlights school leadership

Public education’s role in a democratic society–and what it takes to be a successful school leader–were the main themes of the American Association of School Administrators’ 136th Annual Conference and Exposition, held Feb. 19-23 in San Francisco.

Keynote speeches explored the role of the public school in America and the qualities needed for successful school governance in the 21st century. Participants agreed a chief concern was bridging the achievement gap between poor and minority students and their more affluent peers–a challenge many exhibiting companies aimed to address with software intended to identify struggling students and tailor instruction to help them succeed.

AASA also unveiled a new online master’s degree program for aspiring school principals, and several individuals were honored for their outstanding educational achievements–including AASA’s Superintendent of the Year and eSchool News’ Tech-Savvy Superintendent Award winners (see accompanying story, page 29).

The conference began with a keynote speech from John Goodlad, founder and president of the Seattle-based Institute for Educational Inquiry and a celebrated author. Goodlad, who helped found the Center for Educational Renewal at the University of Washington and also served as dean of UCLA’s Graduate School of Education, was blunt in his criticism of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the federal education law that requires annual testing of students in grades three through eight in reading and math.

“Test scores correlate with no social virtue,” said Goodlad. “The mission of education in a democracy is to stress not just the academic, not just the personal, not just the social, but all of those.”

Goodlad’s opening remarks preceded a number of sessions examining NCLB and its provisions. Staffers from the U.S. Department of Education were on hand to discuss key requirements of the law, and they urged superintendents to call the department’s new toll-free hotline (888-NCLBSUP) for answers to their questions.

Meanwhile, in a Feb. 20 luncheon session, two superintendents revealed they are considering challenging the law in federal court.

John J. Mackiel, superintendent of Omaha Public Schools in Nebraska, and Frederick Morton, superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools in Virginia, said they are pursuing possible legal action against the federal government for not providing adequate resources to help schools comply with NCLB. Though no lawsuits have been filed yet, Mackiel reportedly said other districts could join Omaha in a class-action suit if the district moves forward with its plan.

From good to great

The vagaries and difficulties of NCLB aside, schools don’t have to be limited from achieving greatness by their circumstances, according to Jim Collins, author of the book Good to Great, which identifies the common principles shared by companies that have made the leap from “good” to “great.”

In his keynote speech Feb. 20, Collins said these same principles can be applied to schools.

For one thing, he said, the process takes time–it’s never tied to a single momentous decision, but rather the cumulative effect of several smaller decisions over time. Also, the move from good to great starts with great people, then proceeds with great ideas, and only then results in great action.

“It’s not people who are your greatest asset,” Collins said. “It’s the right people.”

Great leaders have a tenacious will and an ambition for the success of the enterprise as a whole, not just themselves, Collins said. They attribute their institution’s successes to the team as a whole but accept full responsibility for its failures. They’re also able to keep faith in their ability to succeed, while not being blinded to the “brutal facts” of the difficulties they face.

It’s safe to say these qualities characterize Bill McNeal, superintendent of the Wake County Public School System in North Carolina, who before Collins’ speech was named AASA’s 2004 National Superintendent of the Year.

McNeal, a “home-grown” leader who worked his way up the ranks from social studies teacher to superintendent during his 30-year career with the Wake County schools, heads a district of 109,000 students that is growing at a clip of nearly 5 percent a year.

Since becoming superintendent, McNeal has focused all of the school system’s energies on meeting the goal of having 95 percent of third and eighth graders achieving at or above grade level. He has helped narrow the district’s achievement gap while continuing to challenge its most advanced students.

“I have the best group of children you will find anywhere, and their parents are not so bad either,” he said. “I have a team that supports me, protects me, and covers up my mistakes. I will do my best not to embarrass them.”

McNeal’s record also proves he understands the role technology can play in raising student achievement.

His district has piloted the use of an internet-based television system to narrow the achievement gap by creating a library of video lessons that students who are struggling to meet certain standards can use to help them get up to speed. Wake County also just announced a partnership with Wayne, Pa.-based firm Kenexa to implement a web-based system for screening potential teachers. The system reportedly can predict the ability of candidates to relate with students and exhibit good judgment.

To help foster more school leaders like McNeal, AASA announced the launch of an online master’s degree program that will prepare would-be principals for the demands of today’s school climate.

The program consists of 10 online courses that can be purchased for delivery by any accredited institution. Courses, which include “Ensuring Quality Education for Students with Diverse Needs,” “Using Data to Strengthen Schools,” and “Collaborating with Families and Communities for Student Success,” were developed by Los-Angeles-based professional development firm Canter & Associates.

Walden University, an online institution based in Minneapolis, Minn., is the first school to offer the degree program, with some 40 students already enrolled.

School accountability solutions

Many of the conference’s nearly 300 exhibitors demonstrated software designed to improve school accountability.

For instance, Renaissance Learning–probably best known for its Accelerated Reader software–demonstrated a new program called Standards Master, a solution intended to help school systems prepare their students for end-of-year exams, ensuring that all students can meet state standards in reading, math, and language arts.

The program consists of four formative assessments given to students throughout the year, each correlated with the state standards that students are expected to meet. Students can take the assessments either online or with a pencil and paper. The tests pinpoint the skills students still need to master, and they offer prescriptions for improvement that are aligned with Renaissance Learning’s instructional software.

Renaissance Learning also previewed a new solution that was formally announced in March. Called Renaissance Place, it’s a web-based information system that integrates state test data with information from Standards Master and the company’s entire line of curriculum products, bringing all of this information together into a single platform that will allow educators at all levels to monitor their students’ progress and improve teaching and learning.

Standards Master and Renaissance Place mark a shift in the company’s focus from classroom and school-based products to enterprise-level solutions, said Art Stellar, Renaissance Learning’s new chief education officer. Stellar joins the company after 17 years as a superintendent for a number of districts, including Oklahoma City, where he helped reduce the number of state-defined “at risk” schools from 32 to three over seven years.
http://www.renlearn.com

Also, Software Technology Inc. (STI), of Mobile, Ala., unveiled a low-cost solution for meeting the highly qualified teacher and paraprofessional reporting requirements of NCLB. STIPD (STI Professional Development) is a web-based program that can identify non-highly qualified teachers and paraprofessionals in a district’s schools; monitor the expiration of credentials for certified staff members and paraprofessionals; create and track parent notification letters; manage all district-approved professional development activities; and allow the immediate application of all professional development activities toward the renewal of teacher certifications and paraprofessional credentials, the company said.
http://www.sti-k12.com

Safety & security technologies

The National Association of State Fire Marshals (NASFM), with funding and encouragement from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, has initiated a project to help schools achieve greater levels of safety, health, and security by reducing and managing risks for a wide range of contingencies, NASFM announced at the conference.

The association’s Safe & Secure Schools project is moving forward on three tracks. One track is engaged in conducting a thorough review of risks and developing methodologies school administrators can use to prioritize the risks faced by their schools. A second track is evaluating, integrating and, where necessary, creating tools to help schools prevent and respond to a range of hazards. These tools include performance standards and requirements for safety and security technologies, model policies and procedures, and best practices. The third track is focused on determining how best to help school districts fund the safety and security enhancements they will need, and in helping schools to build community confidence in the safety and security measures they have taken.

Research began in the fall of 2003. Initial project offerings are expected to be ready for testing with select school districts in the spring of 2004.

“The goal of the Safe & Secure Schools project is to help schools decide for themselves which measures they need to take to become truly safer and more secure, in the most cost-effective way possible,” said James A. Burns, NASFM president and fire administrator for New York state. “Schools that successfully deal with issues of life safety, protection of property, and continuity of operations can then focus their efforts and resources where they belong–on education.”

NASFM is undertaking the initiative along with a number of partners and advisors, including Honeywell International and the National Infrastructure Institute.
http://www.firemarshals.org

Ingersoll-Rand (IR) Education Solutions promoted its Safe Schools Perimeter Security Program, an all-in-one, easy-to-use system for securing the perimeter of a school building. Available in 4, 8, 12, and 16-door packages, the program includes electronic access control, digital video recording, alarm monitoring, camera control, photo ID badging, and a visitor tracking system. IR says its system is completely scalable to fit any school’s needs.
http://www.irsecurityandsafety.com

IC Corporation–a division of International Truck and Engine Corp.–demonstrated new technologies for keeping students safe on the way to and from school. IC’s latest school buses come with kid-friendly escape hatches, rear door alarms, and switches on the steering wheel to activate warning lights and open bus doors. Before drivers can lock the bus for the night, an alarm requires them to walk to the back of the bus, open and close the rear door, and return to the front, thereby ensuring that “no child is left behind.” http://www.ic-corp.com

Other exhibitor news

Preferred Educational Software, of Byron, Ill., demonstrated The Administrative Observer, software that enables school administrators to create high-quality staff evaluations using a Palm or Pocket PC handheld computer. Once an observation or evaluation is complete, you can sync to your desktop computer and print your finished report, enabling you to give immediate feedback after a classroom visit. The desktop version of the software requires a PC running the Windows operating system. http://www.pes-sports.com

Maynard, Mass.-based Virtual High School Inc. (VHS) said it has signed an agreement with the Massachusetts Department of Education to create an Online Advanced Placement Academy for the state’s high school students. The department has awarded $693,000 to VHS this year, with a potential three-year award of $2.1 million, to create a virtual school that will deliver pre-AP and AP courses online to low-income and rural schools.

The courses will target Massachusetts schools where at least 40 percent of students are on free or reduced-price lunch programs. The goal is to increase the participation of low-income students in AP-level courses, and program officials say they expect to serve at least 52 targeted schools.
http://www.govhs.org

See this related link:

American Association of School Administrators
http://www.aasa.org

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2004 ‘Tech-Savvy Supes’ model information-age leadership

At a Feb. 21 luncheon sponsored by computer maker Gateway Inc., eSchool News honored 10 superintendents for their exemplary leadership and vision in using technology to improve education.

Winners of the newspaper’s Fourth Annual Tech-Savvy Superintendent Awards, announced in February, were chosen by their peers in conjunction with eSchool News editors. They were recognized in a ceremony held in conjunction with the American Association of School Administrators’ Annual Conference in San Francisco.

eSchool News launched its annual Tech-Savvy Superintendent Awards program in 2001 to publicize school district CEOs who have demonstrated a remarkable vision for implementing technology to meet their district’s educational goals, and to encourage other school leaders to follow suit.

As K-12 educators come to rely on computers and the internet to help them deliver instruction, track student progress, and aid in decision making, an understanding of how technology works and how it can be used to improve education has become increasingly important for today’s superintendents.

“Used to be, when you talked about what makes an effective information-age school leader, it was someone who understood that today’s students need to be able to collect information, analyze it, and use it to form a higher level of understanding. Computers and internet access were the tools to facilitate this inquiry-based approach to learning, and effective information-age school executives were those who worked to provide equitable access to these tools for all students, trained teachers to integrate them into instruction, and fought for the financial and technical support necessary to ensure that these tools would remain available and reliable so teachers and students could count on their use,” said Dennis Pierce, managing editor of eSchool News, in his address to the winners.

“Today, while these characteristics are all still essential, you can add to that list the ability to use technology yourselves as tools of inquiry and understanding. The mandate that no child be left behind–and no student go untested–has made it vital for you and your staff to use sophisticated technology systems to identify students or groups of students who are failing and target instruction accordingly. The tangle of federal rules and the flow of corresponding funds requires the use of robust software to ensure that rules are met and funds are spent accordingly.”

Pierce concluded: “As Tech-Savvy Superintendent Award winners, you all have led the transition from 20th-century school district executive, who oversaw the teaching of these skills to students, to 21st-century district leader, who practices them in your daily responsibilities. You model the effective use of technology in your day-to-day execution of the superintendency. You exhibit a thorough understanding of the role technology can play in educating students, streamlining school district operations, and ensuring the overall success of your schools. You also demonstrate exceptional vision in recognizing how emerging technology solutions can solve new challenges.”

Following Pierce’s remarks, John Cowie, director of K-12 and higher education for Gateway, presented the awards. This year’s winners are:

  • Milt Dougherty, Unified School District 444, Kansas
  • Ann Hart, Catawba County Schools, North Carolina
  • Michael Jacobsen, Weber School District, Utah
  • Sheldon Karnilow, Half Hollow Hills Central School District, New York
  • Rodney Lafon, St. Charles Parish Public Schools, Louisiana
  • Louis Martinez, Las Cruces Public Schools, New Mexico
  • Cameron M. McCune, Fullerton School District, California
  • Mike Moses, Dallas Independent School District, Texas
  • Jim Ray, Spartanburg School District Three, South Carolina
  • Karen Woodward, Lexington County School District One, South Carolina
Seven key characteristics of tech-savvy superintendents

Vision. Tech-savvy superintendents demonstrate exceptional vision in leading the development and implementation of a district-wide technology plan. They understand how technology can be used to improve student learning and the quality of instruction, as well as how it can be employed to streamline school district business operations. Furthermore, they recognize how technology can be used as a tool to meet the strategic goals of their districts, rather than as an end in itself.

Commitment. Tech-savvy superintendents recognize technology’s importance and commit sufficient resources in their budgets to sustain it. They insist that adequate professional development is a component of every technology initiative. The professional development they provide for their teachers and staff members is ongoing and targets their specific needs, rather than a series of isolated, hit-or-miss workshops. To ensure a learning return on their technology investments, they also budget for and provide adequate support for technology resources.

Foresight. Tech-savvy superintendents think strategically about the long-term challenges and opportunities that technology presents in their districts and in education at large. They build a vision of sustainability into their technology plans by budgeting for the life cycle of computers and taking into account their total cost of ownership. They recognize that new developments and advancements in technology occur rapidly and are ready to adjust their plans accordingly to reflect ongoing change.

Communication. Tech-savvy superintendents not only exhibit a thorough understanding of technology’s role in education; they also can articulate this understanding to all school district stakeholders and raise support for their technology programs. Furthermore, they demonstrate leadership in using technology to enhance communication between their schools and the community at large, as well as internal communication among staff.

Equitability. Tech-savvy superintendents ensure that technology resources are equitably distributed among students and staff members. They also use technology to provide greater equity in the delivery of educational services to students and families in an effort to close the performance gap between students of different backgrounds.

Creativity. Tech-savvy superintendents demonstrate curiosity and open-mindedness in considering emerging technologies and weighing non-traditional solutions to traditional problems. They’re not afraid to try unique approaches to using technology for meeting the specific needs and goals of their districts.

Leadership. Tech-savvy superintendents provide exceptional leadership in supporting the integration of technology into the curriculum. They model the effective use of technology in their day-to-day execution of the superintendency. Their leadership extends beyond the borders of their school districts to include county, state, and national involvement.

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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 Debor21727@aol.com.

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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:
http://www.aalsolutions.com
(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:
http//:www.cdwg.com
(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:
http://business.cisco.com/prod/tree.taf%3Fasset_id=77639&ID=77639&public_view=true&kbns=1.html
(800) 553-6387
See Cisco’s ad on page 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:
http://www.cosn.org
(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:
http://www.FailureFreeOnline.com
(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:
http://www.gateway.com
(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:
http://www.gim.net
(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:
http://www.hp.com/go/k12solutions
(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:
http://www.hostslearning.com
(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:
http://www.infocus.com
(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:
http://www.iste.org/necc
(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:
http://www.laserfiche.com/company/index.html
(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:
http://www.lawson.com
(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:
http://www.macromedia.com
(800) 470-7211
See Macromedia’s ad on the back cover

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

Microsoft Corp., of Redmond, Wash., is a world leader in software for personal, business, and education use. Visit Microsoft’s web site:
http://www.microsoft.com
(425) 882-8080
See the Microsoft ad on page 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:
http://www.netsupport-inc.com
(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:
http://www.plato.com
(800)-44-PLATO
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:
http://www.sagebrushcorp.com
(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:
http://www.seriousmagic.com
(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:
http://www.TechSmith.com
(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:
http://www.tripplite.com
(773) 869-1234
See the ad for Tripp Lite on page 6


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

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:
http//:www.cdwg.com
(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:
http://www.chancery.com
(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:
http://business.cisco.com/prod/tree.taf%3Fasset_id=77639&ID=77639&public_view=true&kbns=1.html
(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:
http://www.dell.com
(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:
http://www.hp.com/go/k12solutions
(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:
http://www.TechSmith.com
(800) 517-3001

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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.

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Test and evaluate your internet connections with these free online utilities

From internet performance management and security solutions provider Visualware comes a new web portal featuring four free online tools that internet users can use to check their online connection speed, trace IP addresses, and identify their system configurations. One of the tools now available on the site, VisualRoute, is being used in schools, colleges, and universities across the nation to illustrate how the World Wide Web works. With VisualRoute, students can view the results of trace-route, ping, and who-is utilities in one easy-to-read table. VisualRoute also has the unique ability to identify the geographical location of routers, servers, and other IP devices, and plot the path on a world map. In addition, the software helps computer users detect problems within their own networks and see how packets of information move along the internet backbone. If a particular web site is slow to load or unavailable, a VisualRoute trace can show the location of a server or router causing the problem. Other tools include MySpeed, a real-time test of your download and upload connection speeds; CPUInfo, which provides quick verification of your system’s key parameters, such as processor speed, model number, and cache settings; and WhoAmI, a tool that lets you quickly verify your computer’s internet connectivity diagnostics, including operating system type and version, local and external IP addresses, internet gateway, and web access.

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Teachers leery of online certification program

Educators are questioning how an online certification program approved by the Idaho Board of Education can adequately prepare teachers to handle the demands of a classroom.

The State Board of Education, with only State Superintendent Marilyn Howard dissenting, approved the federal Passport to Teaching certification process in November, which bypasses requirements of state education colleges.

The test is sponsored by the nonprofit American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence, based in Washington, D.C. The computer-based course, which includes essay requirements, incorporates video and audio interactive scenarios designed to test candidates’ skills and knowledge.

For a $500 fee and one year of study, the board claims its course prepares candidates to meet state teaching guidelines as well as college-trained teachers, who spend an average of five years of study and classroom training with mentors.

“I can’t believe that this is even being entertained,” said Cindy Bechinski, curriculum director for the Moscow, Idaho, School District, who was on the state committee that developed the new assessment and accountability standards for students.

“All the preparation that teachers have to undergo is so intensive you could not possibly get the same depth of understanding from sitting in front of a computer.”

Idaho is only the second state in the country to approve the online certification program since it debuted last year (see “Web program gives fast track to certification,” http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/showStory.cfm?ArticleID=4651).

Pennsylvania also accepted the program, but Brian Christopher, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Education, said his state has since backed away from the idea.

“The idea is that we don’t want them to depend simply on certification alone,” Christopher said. “We believe in a strong internship program as well, and to be in a supervised environment. You really need hands-on training before you take control of a classroom.”

There are eight candidates for the program in Idaho, but so far no candidate in Idaho or Pennsylvania has been certified.

Members of the Idaho Board of Education say the move does not threaten traditional certification; it’s just an alternative to allow small, rural school districts to fill vacancies.

But Greg Bailey, curriculum director for Grangeville-based District 241, said rural districts now have the option of hiring consulting specialists–people who have the knowledge base to teach a course, but lack teacher certification.

Although board members Karen McGee of Pocatello and Paul Agidius of Moscow said the test cannot replace college- and university-certified teachers, they said the board was eager to at least try something to fix the problem in rural areas.

McGee said there are already more than 200 non-certified teachers in the system operating under waivers granted by the board on a per-case basis. Agidius said the system of granting waivers one by one was time-consuming and unreliable, because board members don’t have the expertise in teacher qualifications.

Schools can have a certain number of teachers assigned to teach classes outside their fields of expertise. But educators question the validity of a standardized test designated to give certification.

“No one test should ever be used to judge the effectiveness of knowledge or skill,” says Barb Bussolini, a mentor and principal of McSorley Elementary School in Lewiston, Idaho.

“Teaching is extremely interactive,” she said. “You need to know if someone can apply what they’ve learned by paper and pencil.”

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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.

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Quit your ‘Bush-bashing’

Here’s a tip for you:

I, like a lot of your readers, would appreciate it if you could keep your reporting to the news, and spend less of your time giving us your view of the politics. I know education is one of the last bastions of the liberal elite, but there is more to the news than Bush-bashing in every story (“Bush’s ’05 budget trims tech,” March 2004), every contrived poll (“By the Numbers: Democrats beat Bush in eSN Primary,” March 2004), etc.

I enjoy your wide-ranging coverage. It’s good. I appreciate that.

I don’t enjoy having to put on my filters to read your newsletter. I also don’t enjoy having to rearrange the paragraphs in your story to get the real storyline; you tend to lead with the Bush-bashing paragraphs and then, at the end of the story, mention other details that might accidentally make Bush look good.

–Mark S. Williams , President, Executive Intelligence Inc., Lakewood, Colo.

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