Columnist: ‘Test-as-God formula’ a sham

In a column for the San Antonio Express-News, Roddy Stinson discusses a recent study that found no link between achievement and the pressure associated with high-stakes testing. Stinson also points out evidence that “the standardized-test-as-God formula” has actually increased dropout rates, and he notes that this “remarkable” study isn’t getting much attention because it goes against conventional wisdom and an agenda embraced by many politicians.

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Romney has major laptop vision for Mass.

Following Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney’s recent call for the nation’s largest one-to-one computing program in his state, The Boston Globe examines Maine’s laptop program and the effect it has had on achievement. Inspired by Maine, Romney is calling for $54 million in spending to give as-yet unavailable $100 laptop computers to every Massachusetts student in grades 6-12.

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Broward earmarks $68M for computers

When students in Florida’s Broward County Public Schools returned to class earlier this year, chances are they hardly noticed the hard work school information technology (IT) and instructional staff logged over the summer to get the system’s 262 school buildings ready for their return.

But even amid catching up with friends, decorating lockers, and finding their way from class to class, there was one element students couldn’t possibly have overlooked: the school system’s supply of shiny new laptop computers–all 40,000 of them.

The computers are the centerpiece of an ambitious four-year, $68 million technology refresh program designed to provide students and teachers with the tools they need to be successful in the 21st century.

The transition–or refresh process, as it’s commonly called–was the culmination of months of planning, intense technology pilots, and bridge-building between IT and instructional staff.

Broward’s experience, though complex, provides a host of lessons as educators across the country confront the daunting task of upgrading their IT infrastructure to achieve technology’s promise.

“The district has to have a vision and it has to work toward that vision,” said Jeanine Gendron, Broward’s director of instructional technology. “Unless you have a plan in place, it’s difficult to get where you are going.”

For Broward, the nation’s sixth-largest school district with more than 270,000 students, the problem was akin to convincing four football stadiums full of screaming fans to cheer for the same team.

From drawing up a sound technology plan, to reaching out to parents, to helping teachers and students adapt to changing learning environments, a lot went on behind the scenes to prepare Broward schools for the upgrade. District officials say it was this effort that will lead to a full return on their investment.

Out with the old…

Before the county could even begin to think about replacing its old technology, administrators first had to devise a plan for the future–or what Gendron called a “roadmap” for success.

Given Broward’s long history of technological and instructional innovation (see “eSN Special Report: Reinventing School IT Infrastructure,” http://www.eschoolnews.com/resources/reports/reinventingschoolit/index.cfm), school officials wanted to find new technology solutions that would allow instructors to carry that tradition into the 21st century.

That thinking paved the way for the Digital Learning Environment Study. Now in its second year, the program was designed to help school administrators evaluate new instructional technologies and teaching methods before rolling them out to the entire district.

Gendron says the four-school pilot, which included such innovations as wireless laptops, digital textbooks, and other one-to-one digital learning devices, was launched to help administrators establish synergy between the district’s technology plan and “instructional practices that transform teaching and learning in Broward County.”

Translation: Officials wanted to create a test-bed where they could experiment with different approaches, to harness solutions that best matched the district’s and its students’ needs–or, as Gendron put it, to “remodel the classroom experience.”

Though administrators were still waiting for an analysis of the program’s first year at press time, Gendron said the initial results–which included such benefits as increased student attendance, greater parent involvement, and a general enthusiasm for learning–were enough to convince board members, parents, instructors, and other stakeholders to move forward with the refresh effort.

Once the project was approved, district officials began the difficult process of devising a strategy to swap out 40,000 outdated computers for their more versatile laptop replacements.

Broward officials first had to get a handle on how many computers were already in play throughout the system, room by room–and just how many of them needed to be replaced.

In a smaller school district, the job might be as easy as dispatching a team of auditors to count each machine by hand. But in Broward–a district with more than 100,000 computers–officials needed something a little more practical, said Angela Coluzzi, the district’s director of network integration.

To help automate what otherwise would have been an daunting process, Broward joined up with Utah-based LANDesk Software, a producer of security and management solutions for large enterprise systems, including school districts. With the aid of LANDesk’s software, district officials were able to conduct the massive audit from a remote location, deploying the software to every machine on the network–and zeroing in on outdated computers.

Because Broward is a dual-platform district, meaning it supports both Macintosh and Window machines, Coluzzi said the goal was to find a tool that would let officials flip-flop between both operating systems, without the hassle of room-by-room installations.

“In some cases, we showed them how to do things they didn’t even know they could do,” said Dave Taylor, LANDesk’s vice president of worldwide marketing. Aside from creating reports assessing the various machines connected to the network, the software also enabled Broward IT staff to update security measures across the district remotely. Whether technicians need to apply patches, protect computers against viruses, or lock down certain machines to keep curious students from hacking into sensitive files, he said, all of this and more now can take place from a single location.

Plus, the district has access to around-the-clock and on-site support, in case any problems should arise with the software, he said.

A seamless transition

While the district’s relationship with LANDesk has proven important, school system officials say the key to any large technology refresh lies in the ability to carry out the plan seamlessly, without disrupting the flow of classroom instruction.

To ensure that things continued to run as smoothly as possible in Broward, administrators ordered the machines–30,000 Apple iBooks and 10,000 Dell Latitudes–in the form of pre-packaged mobile, wireless carts.

Rather than send technicians into the classrooms to install software and ready the infrastructure, Broward had the machines imaged with all the necessary applications prior to their arrival in the school system. That way, Coluzzi said, students and teachers had only to turn them on and get to work.

As for internet access, each cart came equipped with a wireless access point, enabling students and teachers using the machines to hop online without making any permanent changes to the school’s existing infrastructure.

As part of the contract, service providers also agreed to dispatch technicians to dispose of the old machines, freeing school IT staff to focus their energies on the transition, Gendron said.

Officials originally considered buying laptops for every student, rolling the project out as a full-fledged one-to-one computing initiative.

But in June, administrators shelved the massive $275 million proposal in favor of the less ambitious refresh project, citing unconvincing test scores in the four pilot schools where students had received their own laptops.

“It’s expensive,” Broward’s chief information officer, Vijay Sonty, told a reporter for the Sun-Sentinel about the proposal in June, “and we haven’t seen any demonstrable results on the FCAT yet.” The FCAT is the state’s standardized achievement test.

Rather than move ahead with a one-to-one program that would cost taxpayers three times what the refresh project was likely to cost, Coluzzi said, Broward opted to scale back its plans, targeting its use of the technology in hopes of producing more favorable results before pushing ahead with a larger, potentially more controversial project.

With the laptop carts in place, the district now boasts a 6.8-to-1 ratio of students to classroom computers, according to Coluzzi. While it’s not a one-to-one ratio, she said, it puts Broward in a position to move in that direction in the future–when the time is right.

In the meantime, she said, teachers and students still can expect easy access to the benefits inherent in the technology–from wireless web browsing and eMail communications to the integration of digital textbooks and online learning portfolios, among other instructional innovations now being adopted throughout the district.

Teachers and students have praised the upgrade. In an interview posted to the district’s web site, students in Chip Shealy’s Western Civilization course at Broward’s Northeast High School said that, to them, using technology in the classroom is second nature.

“Instead of having to flip through the pages of a textbook all day long, you can actually just look up information fast and easy, and it actually saves a lot of time,” explained Kevin, a student in Shealy’s class.

As an instructor, Shealy said the technology not only makes his job easier, it also opens up a host of alternative teaching methods to explore.

“It provides us with a lot of different avenues to approach in terms of learning,” he said of the computer refresh.

That’s exactly the reaction Gendron said officials were hoping for when they approved the program.

At the end of the day, it’s up to the teachers, she said, to take “the vision and put it to action.” Without strong buy-in and support from the people in the classrooms, the program ultimately would fail.

“The biggest challenge,” Gendron added, “is changing the culture … If teaching does not change, technology will not have the impact you want it to have.”

A team effort

To prepare the district’s 30,000 employees for the arrival of the computers, administrators organized training sessions and other informational talks to help employees understand what role the laptops would play.

Too often, Gendron said, schools have a tendency to look at refresh programs and other technology upgrades as the sole responsibility of the IT department. But in Broward, educators took a more holistic approach, combining the efforts of IT and instructional staff to reach a common goal: improved student achievement.

To that end, instructional directors, including Gendron, attend weekly IT meetings and make suggestions for what the district’s next steps should be. “It’s a very cohesive group that makes sure we don’t buy things just to buy things,” she said, “but that we do things right … and share the accountability.”

Of course, with increased accountability also comes greater responsibility.

To help educators make better use of the technology, Broward County officials established what has become known as the Digital Education Teacher Academy, a standards-based professional development program designed in partnership with Florida Atlantic University.

Now in its third year, Gendron said, the academy emphasizes the importance of integrating technology effectively into the classroom and explores ways to help teachers close the digital divide. Through the program, teachers take courses and complete other interactive projects designed to ease the transition to a “digital learning environment,” she said.

Other efforts to prepare both students and teachers for the technology refresh program include the launch of the Broward Education Enterprise Portal, or BEEP, a new online learning portal that provides information on student achievement, academic performance, and instructional best practices, as well as additional information for parents and administrators.

For teachers, a new online university permits enrollment in more than 100 different professional development courses. Topics of emphasis include everything from meeting the demands of the No Child Left Behind Act to integrating technology effectively into standards-based lesson plans, Gendron said.

Other resources at educators’ disposal include a web conferencing and digital meeting service from Elluminate and a series of online instructional teaching videos from Atomic Learning.

The idea, according to Gendron, is that once a teacher sees the technology used effectively, he or she will be more comfortable emulating that approach in the classroom.

On the student side, the district also has opened several student-run help desks, where kids can turn to their peers for technology advice and guidance.

But even with all of these tools, Gendron said, there is one thing no technology project can survive without: parental support.

No matter how far in advance you plan, no matter what technologies you purchase, she said, if you don’t have the support of the community at large, your project isn’t going anywhere.

In Broward’s case, district officials prepared for the refresh project by holding a mandatory parent meeting, where teachers reviewed the school system’s acceptable-use policy and technology plan. Only after the parents had an opportunity to ask questions and allay their concerns were officials permitted to begin rolling the laptops into schools.

When deciding “what’s right for the student,” said Gendron, “you need to have total involvement.”

See these related links:

Broward County Public Schools
http://www.browardschools.com

Northeast High School
http://www.landesk.com

LANDesk Software
http://www.landesk.com

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Our print edition is only half the story

I spend a large portion of my work day looking at a web browser, and I probably read more on a computer monitor in one week than I read on paper in a month. So you might think it’s out of character that I almost never visit the web site of one of my favorite print publications. It’s a sports magazine, and when it arrives in my mailbox each week, I drop everything else to read it. But when I surf over to its web site, my stay is short-lived at best.

Some media experts might say this is just an example of how consumers choose to receive content. They would say consumers are aware of their choice between print and online media, but remain within their comfort zones and stay loyal to what they’re used to.

In the case of my favorite sports magazine, the experts would be right. But that’s only because, despite all the technology available to them, the publishers of this magazine clearly choose to make their web site a second-class citizen to their print publication; they don’t put a single piece of unique or original content on the web. So, despite spending so much of my day online, I spend almost no time on their site.

If you think this is also the case with eSchool News and eSchool News Online, you’re terribly mistaken. I only wish my favorite sports magazine was imaginative enough to approach content the way we do at eSN Online–because while you can find much of our eSchool News print content online, you can also find a great deal of content online that you could never find in print. We not only offer more content, we offer it every day–fresh, updated, and in real time.

eSN Online content includes video clips of student-produced videos; a new audio feature that lets educators ask questions of ed-tech experts; an online Career Center for listing and searching available jobs; the Educator’s Resource Center, which links educators to dozens of articles on specific topics of interest; and the Ed-Tech Insider blog, where a group of experts gives advice and responds to questions. Try watching this video, listening to this audio, or interacting with an ed-tech expert in real time with nothing more than paper in your hands, and you’ll see why our print readers miss eSN Online at their own risk.

The advantage of making eSN Online a unique product really hit home in early September when, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, many educators were looking for ways to help the victims. At eSN Online, we published a list of resources within hours of the devastation, giving readers a means to reach out to their fellow citizens and giving educators some help in explaining the tragedy in their classrooms. On our Ed-Tech Insider blog, we published a daily journal by University of Southern Mississippi Professor Eric F. Luce, a local educator coping with the worst disaster the nation had ever seen.

By the time any of this content could have reached eSchool News print readers, it would have been too late to have the dramatic impact it had online. It’s not all that different from educators missing out on a teachable moment because they fail to take advantage of online resources.

But it shouldn’t take a hurricane to spark your interest in eSN Online–so here’s where you can find some of the online-only content that I’ve already mentioned:

Video Resource Center
http://www.eschoolnews.com/vrc/

Interview the Experts
http://www.eschoolnews.com/newsmakers/

Career/Professional Development Center
http://www.eschoolnews.com/erc/professionaldevelopment/

Educator’s Resource Center
http://www.eschoolnews.com/erc/Challenges/

Ed-Tech Insider
http://www.eschoolnews.com/eti/

New content this month

Speaking of the Educator’s Resource Center (ERC), we added three topics at the start of this school year, and they’re all still available online. These ERC additions would not be possible without generous support from our sponsors, and we thank them for helping us provide this information to educators in such a convenient, one-stop location. The new ERC topics are:

Emerging Technologies in Education (sponsored by CDW-G)
http://www.eschoolnews.com/resources/reports/emergingtech2005/index.cfm

Network Administration (sponsored by ProCurve Networking by HP)
http://www.eschoolnews.com/resources/reports/networkadmin/index.cfm

Whole-Class Learning (sponsored by SMART Technologies)
http://www.eschoolnews.com/resources/reports/wholeclasslearning/index.cfm

Come to think of it, wouldn’t it be silly if a publication about how technology can transform learning made no effort to transform itself with available technology? If we don’t encourage hard-core print readers to use the internet, who will?

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best of the blogs

Visitors to eSchool News Online are privy to a very special society. The Ed-Tech Insider at http://www.eschoolnews.com/eti/index.php is an educator blog community dedicated to putting the promise of technology into practice. The site features 12 ed-tech professionals so passionate about enhancing learning through technology that they’ve agreed to share their expertise in a dialogue with eSN Online readers.

Here’s a taste of some of the best Ed-Tech Insider posts in recent weeks. All of these posts are still active, so if you want to comment on any of them, simply visit the site to do so.

From “Questions and Implications for Datacasting”
“… I’ve been doing some research and thinking about the uses of datacasting (that’s podcasting of audio or even vodcasting of video) … I firmly believe that datacasting will continue to explode in its growth and use. The issue is we (as educators) need to start thinking about these issues and creating the means and processes to answer questions (about its role in education) before others do. For instance, I often encounter a considerable amount of pushback from administrators who are resistant to allow their teachers to post content to a school site that the public can see. I’ve always found this rather shocking–that a district would trust teachers with students in a classroom, but not with the ability to publish to the web. That said, I’m quite concerned that reactionary school boards and administrators will err on the side of locking down sites long before teachers (and students!) have access to the tools necessary for this kind of content distribution. …”

From “Using Google Maps to Create a School Boundary Map”
“I have recently been playing around a bit with the Google Maps API. The API (application programming interface) allows you to include Google Maps content on your own web pages. For example, I have wanted to create a boundary map for my school. With a little bit of work, I was able to create a rough outline of our boundary and include it with the map that displays on our school web site. I found the process to be pretty straightforward. If you are comfortable playing around with HTML code, then utilizing Google Maps on your own site should not be hard to do. … For my boundary map, I had to find the latitude and longitude information for specific addresses in order to create the boundary line. The site Portlandmaps.com contained all the information I needed to find specific locations and also the latitude and longitude coordinates for those locations. The Google Maps API documentation page provides instructions for including this information to form the outline of your boundary…”

From “Tiger Server’s Built-in Blog Service”
“… The Apple Blog has a nice review of the version of the open-source Blojsom web log server integrated into Mac OS X Tiger Server. … Apple’s blog server is a good example of the differing approaches to usability taken by Apple and most open-source projects. Open-source products tend to be highly configurable, giving administrators and users lots of options. Just the fact that you have a million options often creates a usability problem, and often many of those options are just bad ideas. Apple banks on being able to make the right choices for you, to protect users from too much complexity. However, I think it is fair to say that they were too conservative in limiting the range of options open to admins in their first crack at a built-in blog server, and it is pretty likely that serious users of this … product will need to crack open the underlying Blojsom admin screens.”

From “Tablet PC Update”
“I recently had one of those days that made me yearn for the classroom again. It was the second of two Tablet PC pilot trainings for about 20 teachers, where we really started getting into the pedagogy of how we’re going to use these things in the classroom. … For me, the coolest thing was not so much being able to walk around the classroom and have everything I did on the tablet project wirelessly to the screen as I taught. No, the coolest thing was the ability to give up control of the projector to other teachers who wanted to show what they were doing … I can only imagine what it might be like to have a classroom of students with this technology, being able to seamlessly bring their work up on screen to talk us through it or annotate it. …”

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Real-time access to student data leads to real school reform

School leaders are faced with the continuing challenge of effectively meeting the needs of every learner. At Western Heights Independent School District in Oklahoma, a district of six schools and 3,100 students, we’ve developed a model to harness emerging technologies to deliver real-time, relevant information on student performance to every teacher in every classroom.

By integrating advanced instructional and administrative software and instituting new policies, we’re now able to facilitate data-driven decision making at all levels: district, site, classroom, and student. We’ve leveraged this integration to achieve positive changes in reporting, instructional intervention, and finance.

Here’s our story…

At Western Heights, managing data became overwhelming for counselors, teachers, principals, and administration. Several IT systems existed to perform administrative functions, and consolidated reporting was performed manually. The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) brought with it additional analysis and reporting requirements. Everyone was exasperated, trying to manually manage and report on the data, without an effective, integrated information system. Furthermore, the real-time data needed for instructional intervention was unavailable. These challenges prevented teachers from making effective, data-driven decisions, limited student instructional management to improve performance, caused inadequate and time-consuming reporting, and–we believed–cost us lost funding.

We saw in NCLB the opportunity to drive significant positive changes district-wide, which could increase our efficiencies and simultaneously improve student achievement. We embraced the task of aligning our Instructional Management System (IMS) and Student Information System (SIS) to create a foundation for multiple improvements. Our goals were to:

  • Bring the best possible instruction to students;
  • Identify at-risk students early, to enable corrective actions;
  • Deliver to teachers critical student performance data and instructional support in real time;
  • Meet and exceed the mandates of NCLB;
  • Improve operational efficiencies; and
  • Increase funding.

We believed that by integrating instructional and administrative applications, and by reporting on connections across these systems, we would be able to improve student performance.

A robust technological infrastructure was needed, and because the integration of data was imperative, we chose to leverage the Schools Interoperability Framework (SIF) model. Using a "best of breed" approach, we chose Microsoft’s Class Server as our IMS, Chancery Student Management System (SMS) and Win School as our SIS, and Intel’s Zone Integration Server (ZIS) to tie these and other systems together. The integration of our IMS (Class Server) and our SIS (Chancery) with other data-intensive systems–transportation, food service, health, and library–gave us the foundation to accomplish our goals.

Achieving integration

To achieve the integration, we upgraded to the latest versions of Chancery SMS and Microsoft Class Server. These applications are each run by two servers: a front-end application and web server, and a second, back-end database server. These SIF-compliant solutions, together with a Mizuni ZIS, allow the district to populate all relevant systems with student information automatically as soon as it is entered for the first time in our SIS. Student registration information, longitudinal student records, and student assessment data then can be matched up and delivered to the correct teacher and class quickly and easily.

Using our SIS as a single point of data entry has greatly improved the accuracy of our student information. The resulting integration and sharing of information has streamlined our processes and reduced costs. One centralized department is responsible for data entry. We also have the freedom and flexibility to add many users to the system, with assigned rights based on their roles.

Implementation and professional development were accomplished over a two-month period during our summer vacation. Four teachers were designated as district trainers and were taken out of the classroom for training on all technology programs, including Class Server and Chancery SMS. Thirty-two other teachers functioned as site trainers, providing the first level of support.

Seeing results

We are achieving the gains we’d planned in reporting, instruction, and funding. Here’s a brief example for each.

 

  • Reporting and NCLB compliance

    Real-time data and analysis enables powerful change. Our staff can look at data from Microsoft Class Server, Chancery SMS, and other applications simultaneously: grade levels, courses, student demographic information, state standards, lesson plans, assignments, test scores, and grades. This enables better data analysis and reporting. In addition, staff can audit the information, comparing the data across applications to verify data consistency.

    We can predict Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) midway through the year and take positive measures to intercede. Imagine being able to determine, at any point in the school year, how every individual student is doing in any subject according to NCLB metrics. Before our systems integration, our only alternate solution was to hire more people to create reports. We’ve not only automated much of the reporting, we have leveraged the data to drive ongoing student improvement.

    Oklahoma’s State Board of Education designed an Academic Performance Index (API) to measure the performance and progress of all schools and students. Indicators include attendance, graduation and dropout rates, test scores, and more. Each school’s API scores are used by the state to determine AYP. Our goal is to calculate API at intervals during the school year in a self-audit–before the state does the calculations for us. The resulting reports enable us to obtain and analyze the data in time to take constructive steps to improve student performance and meet AYP.

  • Individualized instruction

    Real-time data and reporting allows us to modify the scope and sequence of instruction offered to each student, so that all students can stay on track. We use the interaction between Class Server and Chancery SMS to combine student and teacher performance data, analyze student learning styles, and more. Such analysis helps us determine instructional needs at the district, site, grade, teacher, and student levels.

    We identify not only students who are under-performing, but also students "on the bubble"–a couple of points above or below the margin. We can determine what programs and approaches will help them move forward and match the appropriate teaching style to the student’s learning style. Such informed intervention enables us to devote finite resources optimally to achieve the greatest benefits to student learning.

  • Finance and funding

    Integrating multiple applications has already helped us save money. In human-resource terms, staff used to spend weeks on a single report that is now completed in an hour or two. This represents tremendous time savings during the course of a year. We’ve also been able to reduce costs and improve the accuracy of the data using SIF to integrate all applications. With additional reporting requirements spawned by NCLB, we thought we had to hire more administrative help. Instead, using SIF-compliant applications for integrated reporting, we were able to contain costs and–owing to labor savings alone–the project will pay for itself in less than three years.

    There are other real financial gains. The design of this system and its reporting capabilities have helped the district secure additional funding. By integrating our lunch program and our SIS, we were able to recover $500,000 in funds that we had been missing. Before the integration, it wasn’t apparent that some children were identified as eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, while their siblings were not. Leveraging the family management features of Chancery SMS, the validation of all students’ data enabled us to secure this additional funding.

    All told, we believe that our school improvement model is viable for many other districts–small, medium, and large. We encourage other districts to devise a similar plan, leveraging the power of integration and continuous improvement.

    Joe Kitchens is superintendent of the Western Heights Independent School District in Oklahoma City, Okla.

     

     

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    School Video Use:

    Founded in 1865, George Washington University (GWU) Law School is the oldest law school in the District of Columbia. Today, it’s one of the largest in the country–and a leader in integrating audiovisual technologies to enhance the classroom learning experience.

    During the past six years, GWU Law School has equipped all 30 of its classrooms with Canon Pan/Tilt/Zoom (PTZ) Network Video Cameras, which–although small and inconspicuous–capture high-quality, full-motion video that can be transmitted through the internet or over an Internet Protocol (IP) network connection. GWU Law School uses Canon’s PTZ cameras for everything from recording classroom lectures for students to play back later or for viewing in overflow classes, to documenting the practice trials of mock court.

    GWU Law School currently uses 40 Canon PTZ cameras, which are remotely controlled from the school’s media center. The center archives the video and makes it available for retrieval and sharing on student computers via a password-protected web site.

    “We were remodeling, and when you do that you want to upgrade to the state of the art, which is what we’ve done,” said Thomas A. Morrison, senior associate dean for administrative affairs. “We realized very quickly that there’s always going to be a reason in any particular room to have a camera present. Your typical scenario is a law-class situation, where a student has a valid excuse for missing the lecture. We record that class digitally using a Canon PTZ camera, and we then upload that video onto a private link through a GWU Law School web page to the student so that he or she can view that class at a later time.”

    Password protection ensures that the video is seen only by those it was intended for, and the school’s video recording, archiving, and delivery system renders make-up lectures unnecessary. Another use of the school’s PTZ cameras is to telecast lectures to satellite classrooms when audiences are too large for one room to hold.

    The most important of all uses for the cameras, Morrison said, is for videotaping student practice trials in mock court. Afterward, students can review their performances, see mistakes, and become better prepared to avoid them in the future.

    “Our intention is to be able to record the educational activities in a particular classroom or courtroom any time we want to,” Morrison explained. “This includes not only what goes on in the front of the room, but also audience reactions and questions from different parts of the room. Even though it can be painful to watch yourself making mistakes, it’s also one of the best learning devices you can have.”

    Installing high-performance video cameras in classrooms where intensive legal training is an everyday occurrence demands technology that is not only reliable, but also invisible. A large, obtrusive camera has the potential to distract students from their studies. Canon’s PTZ cameras, however, are compact, remote-controllable, silent, and mountable on walls or ceilings in an optional reverse-mount configuration.

    “I didn’t want unsightly cameras,” Morrison noted. “I didn’t want a big old camera hanging down from a pipe in the middle of the room. I needed cameras that blend into the classroom environment. And I want them to work. They do that–and we get good, clear pictures.” Canon’s VB-C50i/R PTZ Network Camera with Built-In Server, for example, features a 26X optical zoom lens and 12X digital zoom that can capture fine detail from long distances.

    Unseen by students, meanwhile, is GWU Law School’s media center coordinator, Andrew Laurence, who controls the Canon PTZ cameras remotely via their RS-232 connectors. “I use a joystick for focus and for movement, and it has a couple of buttons to preset shots,” he explained. “I can preset shots and store them; I can do the auto focus and manual focus, and I can do backlight and adjust the iris remotely.” The cameras mount quite easily and move a good 180 degrees up and down, Morrison added.

    Laurence said the cameras cost about $1,000 each, but he couldn’t estimate the total cost of the project. “The classrooms have computers, VCR/DVD players, reinforced sound systems, et cetera, so it is hard to determine the cost of the installation of the cameras separately,” he explained.

    Concluded Morrison: “We wanted a hang-them-on-a-wall-and-forget-about-them solution. That’s what we got with the Canon PTZs. They’re very durable, and we’re very happy with them.”

    Links:

    GWU Law School
    http://www.law.gwu.edu/default.htm

    Canon USA Inc.
    http://www.canonusa.com

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    ‘Kutztown 13’ hackers quietly offered deal

    The case against the “Kutztown 13”–a group of Pennsylvania high school students charged with felonies for tinkering with their school-issued laptop computers–seems to be ending mostly with a whimper.

    In meetings with students in late August, the Berks County, Pa., juvenile probation office has quietly offered the students a deal in which all charges would be dropped in exchange for 15 hours of community service, a letter of apology, a class on personal responsibility, and a few months of probation, the Associated Press reported.

    “The probation department realizes this is small potatoes,” said William Bispels, an attorney representing nearly half the accused students.

    The 13 initially were charged with computer trespass and computer theft, both felonies, and could have faced a wide range of sanctions, including juvenile detention.

    The Kutztown Area School District said it reported the students to police only after detentions, suspensions, and other punishments failed to deter them from breaking school rules governing computer usage. (See story: http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/showStory.cfm?ArticleID=5820.)

    But the students, their families, and outraged supporters around the nation said that authorities overreacted, punishing the kids not for any horrible behavior but because they outsmarted the district’s technology workers.

    The trouble began last fall after the school district issued some 600 laptops to every student at the high school, about 50 miles northwest of Philadelphia.

    Students easily breached security and began downloading forbidden internet programs, such as the popular iChat instant-messaging tool. Some students also turned off a remote monitoring function that let administrators see what students were viewing on their screens–or used the monitoring function to view administrators’ own computer screens.

    School district officials and prosecutors did not return telephone messages left Aug. 25 and had not been heard from by press time.

    In legal terms, the students have been offered an “informal adjustment”–the least severe form of punishment.

    Mike Boland, who represents one student, said his client would accept the offer. “It doesn’t require my client to acknowledge he is guilty of anything,” he said.

    One student who has had prior dealings with the juvenile probation office was not offered a deal. That case is expected to proceed.

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    Chicago to get relaxed tutoring rule

    The U.S. Department of Education (ED) will allow Chicago Public Schools to tutor struggling students even though the district itself has not met academic standards–a waiver of federal rules that could have national implications.

    Education Secretary Margaret Spellings announced the change Sept. 1 in Chicago, marking the second time in a week she has shown flexibility in how she enforces President Bush’s No Child Left Behind law.

    In the other case, four Virginia school districts have been allowed to offer tutoring before they are required to offer transfers to students in struggling schools, the first time the department has allowed that sequence to be reversed.

    Depending on how Spellings defines these pilot projects, other districts might get the chance to apply for the same flexibility–or they might have to wait and see.

    For months, state education officials have been looking for signs on how Spellings would deliver on her promise to be more reasonable in enforcing the law if states show rising achievement.

    Under federal rules, school districts that fail to show enough yearly progress in reading and math for two straight years cannot provide tutoring. That restriction is designed to protect poor students from having to rely on the same schools that might not be serving them well when tapping into the law’s promise of free tutoring.

    But urban districts such as Chicago say the rule is unfair because their test scores in two subjects might have little to do with their ability to provide extra help. What’s more, the large districts argue, the rule could keep children from getting help if other tutors aren’t available.

    Chicago, one of the largest school systems in the nation, also has had one of the most expansive tutoring programs. Federal officials previously had ordered Chicago to stop providing tutoring under the law or risk losing federal money. (See story: http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/showStory.cfm?ArticleID=5476.)

    Michael Petrilli, a former senior aide at ED who is now vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, an education think tank, said the Bush administration had avoided issuing waivers to the law at all costs. Not anymore.

    “The secretary is showing her willingness to use waivers to provide flexibility,” Petrilli said. He added: “I can’t imagine that other districts would not be eligible for this. I don’t think they could justify keeping it to these few places.”

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    Georgia launches statewide online SAT prep program

    With the Oct. 8 administration of the SAT looming, Georgia has become the first state to offer its students the online SAT test prep program from the College Board, the nonprofit company that makes of the college-entrance test, at no charge. The new state program was unveiled in August by Gov. Sonny Perdue and state schools Superintendent Kathy Cox.

    “Every student across Georgia can use this free online SAT class at their own convenience,” said Perdue. “Students will be able to take … practice tests and then review the results to determine their strengths, as well as areas where they need more work. Thanks to this resource, our students will be better prepared to take the SAT.”

    The program was financed through a $1 million state appropriation.

    “Over 70 percent of our seniors take the SAT,” said Charlotte Robinson, program manager for AP, PSAT, and SAT exams in Georgia. Robinson said that, before implementation of this program, SAT prep was the responsibility of individual schools or districts.

    The state has purchased an access code for each of Georgia’s 400,000 high school students in grades 9-12. High school students can use the code to log onto a web site operated by the College Board at any time and take 18 SAT lessons. The lessons feature interactive activities and multimedia content. The site also offers three full-length, official SAT practice tests.

    Students and educators also can access more than 600 practice questions with explanations of answers. The practice questions give students personalized score reports. The site also features automated essay scoring for practice on the new essay section of the SAT.

    Registration cards will be given to students by their schools. The College Board also has distributed registration information to the state’s public high schools and districts.

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