Google introduces software starter kit

The Associated Press reports that Google Inc. is distributing a free software startup kit designed to make computing safer and easier. The suite of programs is designed to make it easier to install and maintain basic applications that have helped turn the PC into a hub of information, entertainment and communications….


Education reform shows modest results reports that a new study shows that state efforts over the past decade to improve public education through stricter standards and testing have increased student scores on national math tests but have failed to boost reading scores…


2006 Tech-Savvy Superintendent Award winners

The growing importance of technology in the nation’s schools has changed our expectations of the superintendency. As school leaders come to rely on computers and the internet to engage students’ interest, track their progress, individualize instruction, and aid in decision making, an understanding of how technology works and how it can be used to transform teaching and learning is an increasingly essential characteristic for the 21st-century school executive.

In our sixth annual Tech-Savvy Superintendent Awards, co-sponsored by TrueNorthLogic, eSchool News recognizes 10 of the nation’s top K-12 executives for their outstanding leadership and vision in the area of educational technology. Chosen by the editors of eSchool News with help from last year’s winners, these 10 exemplary leaders will be honored in a private ceremony held in conjunction with the American Association of School Administrators’ annual conference in San Diego Feb. 24.

Calvin Baker

Calvin Baker is the superintendent of the Vail School District in Vail, Ariz. His district has received national and international acclaim for its work with laptop computers, becoming one of the first school systems to substitute laptops for textbooks.

Arizona’s Vail School District is widely known, both nationally and internationally, for being the first to substitute laptops for textbooks. This bold initiative did not happen in isolation. Rather, it was the natural outgrowth of the district’s strong history of using technology to make education more relevant and efficient, according to Superintendent Calvin Baker.

Fundamentally, the district has used technology to develop and frequently monitor a strong standards-based instructional model. Technology also is used to design, deliver, and analyze measurements of student progress. To that end, it was only natural to use technology (laptops and the internet) to efficiently provide instructional materials and delivery directed at specific instructional standards, explained Baker.

Technology also has been used throughout the district to make this model transparent to parents, who, for more than five years, have been able to use the internet to monitor their children’s grades, test scores, and attendance as soon as they are entered. And technology is the primary vehicle for both individual and group communications by staff within the district. In Vail, everything from IEPs, to purchase orders, to maintenance work orders now are handled digitally. Aggressive use of technology is simply expected, said Baker.

The district’s governing board recently modeled this expectation by moving to paperless board packets and meetings. Teachers in the district are motivated to engage the use of technology through a program that enables them to earn a personal computer by demonstrating specific competencies related to technology use. Technology use has been further enhanced and enabled with the assignment of a professional-level technology staff person at every school.

“Our students will be living and working in a world where technology will be integral to most everything they do,” said Baker, who notes, “It should be equally integral in the schools preparing our students for that world.”

Mark DiRocco

Mark DiRocco is superintendent of the Lewisburg Area School District in central Pennsylvania. He has held several teaching and administrative positions during his 27-year career in public education and earned a Ph.D. in the Instructional Systems Program at Penn State University.

Under the leadership of Superintendent Mark DiRocco, the Lewisburg Area School District in Pennsylvania has boldly moved forward with the infusion of technology into every facet of the school system. With the goal of ensuring that technology is available to students to enhance the learning process and improve achievement in the classroom, administrators in this small district of 1,800 students have worked to place at least one stationary computer lab and mobile computer lab in each of its four main school buildings.


State laptop plan prompts mixed reaction

Some South Dakota educators, reacting to a three-year, $39 million proposal to provide laptop computers to all high school students in the state, say they’d rather make their own decisions about technology spending. In other states where similar initiatives have been implemented in the past, educators generally have become supporters of the laptop programs.

South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds, a Republican, unveiled the proposal in his budget address to the Legislature last month as part of his 2010 Education initiative. He proposed using $13 million in state funds to help school districts buy or lease laptop computers for students in grades 9-12.

Rounds has said he expects to pay less than $1,000 apiece for computers with three-year leases, software, and warranties. He said schools could continue the program later as the price decreases.

Providing funding for laptops would erase any disparity among districts in terms of technology in education, said Rick Melmer, state education secretary.

“Unless you give students the technology access beyond the school day, then you’re really not penetrating into an area where all kids can use the technology,” he said.

But some schools would like the money spent in other ways.

If schools have to pay two-thirds of the cost, it might be better just to give the state money to the schools for technology so they could spend it as they see fit, Brandon Valley Superintendent George Gulson said.

He said that if his district leased laptops for its 820 high school students, the school’s share would be more than $500,000. Brandon Valley spends about $300,000 a year upgrading its existing technology, the superintendent said.

Gulson said many school districts can’t afford big expenses and he’d rather see the money put into the state aid formula.

Lennox Superintendent Roger DeGroot said local school boards should decide how to spend the money. DeGroot said Rounds’ plan would make schools come up with a big amount of money–not only for computers but also for teacher training, software, and maintenance.

“We’d feel like we’d like to see that money put in the base,” he said. “We feel that it’s a local control issue. Give us the money. We can decide how to spend it.”

Garretson Superintendent Bob Arend said his school would not be ready to jump at the governor’s offer.

“We just bought some [laptops] last year. We just upgraded a lab last year. The timing is not good for us,” Arend said, adding that he would prefer it if the state paid more of the cost.

“I’d say ‘no’ this first year,” he said.

Sioux Falls school officials have not decided their level of interest in the governor’s plan, according to Ann Smith, library and technology coordinator.

“One of the things we believe in strongly is that instruction should drive what we want,” Smith said.

In the Hanson School District, state money for laptops might be good timing. This year, the high school gave laptops to about 50 juniors and seniors and is considering adding freshmen and sophomores, said Superintendent Jeff Danielsen.

“We have already kind of made that leap,” he said. Getting a dollar for every two the school spends would help stretch Hanson’s technology budget, he added.

Hanson modeled its program after Watertown’s, which is in the third year of handing out laptops to all 1,270 of its high school students. State education secretary Melmer was Watertown’s superintendent when the laptop program began.

Laptops are a good tool if correctly used, said Jared Langendorfer, a Watertown High School junior.

“They’re also a great benefit as far as the teaching is concerned,” he said. “It really makes the time go by much faster and makes it more exciting for everyone involved.”

The mixed reaction in South Dakota mirrors that in Michigan when former state House Speaker Rick Johnson first proposed that state’s “Freedom to Learn” initiative, which aimed to give all Michigan sixth-graders a laptop computer (see story: Now, more than two years later, many Michigan educators say they can’t imagine classes without the machines–and they’re worried a new round of budget cuts could severely curtail the program.

As of last fall, the program–which received nearly $40 million in state and federal funding in its first two years–provided laptop computers and technical assistance to nearly 21,000 students and 1,200 teachers in 95 Michigan school districts, according to the state education department’s web site.

But the elimination of all but a few million dollars in federal funding for 2006 will prevent the program from expanding to other districts in the state, said Bruce Montgomery, executive director of the Freedom to Learn program.

Officials in Maine are moving in the opposite direction with their pioneering, statewide laptop computer program: There, the Maine Department of Education is making plans to continue its program in middle schools beyond the original four-year contract.

This month, the department will put the program out to bid for another four-year proposal. If there is no winning bid, then the state would simply extend the current lease agreement for another year, said Maine Education Commissioner Susan Gendron.

“We think it’s a wiser investment to do the replacement,” Gendron said. “Some of the laptops are now five years old.”

It would cost the state about $8 million to continue its current contract with Apple Computer. It would cost about $10 million to sign a similar agreement for a year but replace all 34,000 laptops with new machines.

Gendron included the latter figure for laptops in her $1.8 billion education budget presented last month to the state Board of Education.

The budget requires legislative approval, but Gendron is optimistic enough that she detailed her plans in late December in a letter to superintendents. When a new contract is awarded, she told them, they’ll be able to buy their old laptops for $48 each.

Maine’s first-in-the-nation laptop program, which put Apple iBooks in the hands seventh- and eighth-graders and teachers, has been lauded as a success. The $37 million contract with Apple ends in June.

“It struck a cord globally,” said Jeff Mao, education technology coordinator for the state education department. “We’re doing exactly the work we need to be doing.”

Despite some problems, such as dropped and broken computers and dead batteries, the state is looking for ways to ensure that the program is expanded into the state’s public high schools, officials say.


South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds

Michigan Department of Education

Maine Learning Technology Initiative


Internet project met with skepticism

The Daily American reports that a lot of problems are envisioned with a project designed to link more than 65 schools in central Pennsylvania with high-speed internet service. The project is being met with less enthusiam now that the contract has been awarded…


Microsoft releases security patch reports that Microsoft has released a security patch for security flaws in some windows graphics files. Microsoft became aware of the problem on Dec. 27, and since that time, some hackers have been exploiting this flaw…


Florida Supreme Court blocks school vouchers

The New York Times reports that in a 5-2 ruling, the Florida Supreme Court has struck down a voucher program for students from failing schools. The court ruled that the State Constitution bars Florida from using taxpayer money to finance a private alternative to the public system… (Note: This site requires free registration.)


Top 10 ed-tech stories of 2005, Part 2

In yesterday’s feature, we began counting down what we believe are the 10 most significant educational technology stories of 2005–many of which will continue to make headlines in the coming year. Here’s the rest of our list.

5. Amid controversy, Google shelves its ambitious book-scanning project

Internet search giant Google Inc. had a busy year, announcing new features that included robust map-making abilities and extensive question-answering services. But it was Google’s Print Library Project, announced in December 2004, that made the loudest noise.

The idea, though ambitious, seemed simple enough: Google would scan millions of books from major public and academic libraries into its powerful internet search engine. To prevent the file sharing that has plagued the entertainment industry, the company set limits: Users wouldn’t be able to print materials easily or read more than small portions of copyright-protected works online. Google also said it would send readers hungry for more directly to booksellers and libraries, and publishers could opt out of the program if they still had concerns.

But that wasn’t enough to appease either publishers or authors, both of whom filed separate lawsuits to halt Google’s practice.

These lawsuits have broad implications for the future of copyright laws that have long preceded the internet. Their outcomes could determine how easy it will be for students, scholars, and other people with internet access to benefit from knowledge that is now mostly locked up in books sitting on dusty library shelves, many of them out of print.

Meanwhile, internet powerhouse Yahoo Inc. has set out to build a vast online library of copyrighted books of its own–one that actually pleases publishers. In October, Yahoo announced the Open Content Alliance, which plans to provide digital versions of books, academic papers, video, and audio. Much of the material will consist of copyrighted material voluntarily submitted by publishers and authors, said David Mandelbrot, Yahoo’s vice president of search content.

See these related links:

Google to scan books from school libraries

Publishers protest online library project

Google Maps inspire creativity

Authors: Google infringing on copyrights

‘Intelligent’ tools lead to smarter web searches

Yahoo to upstage Google’s library plans

4. Globalization drives U.S. school reform efforts

The reports were heard over and over again in 2005: The United States now ranks 16th among developed nations in high school graduation rates and 14th in the percentage of students who go on to earn a college diploma; the U.S. faces increasing competition from rapidly developing nations such as China and India; if the current pace holds, within five years as many as 90 percent of all students studying engineering and science will reside in Asia.

The incessant drumbeat warning of America’s perilous hold as a world leader in science and technology served as a clarion call for reforming U.S. schools–and for using technology to prepare today’s students to succeed in an increasingly global society.

At the annual meeting of the National Governor’s Association in Washington, D.C., last February, policy makers and captains of industry–including Microsoft chairman Bill Gates–called on educators to redesign America’s high schools for success in the 21st century.

Governors in attendance said they plan to work with educators in their states to raise expectations for student achievement, identify ways their states can transform high schools to create more options for struggling learners, and increase the quality of teaching and leadership in the nation’s secondary schools–all goals that technology is likely to have a significant impact on.

From building complex data-tracking systems to monitor student progress, to providing advanced online coursework for students or virtual professional development programs for teachers, technology’s implications for high-school reform abound, said Virginia Gov. Mark Warner.

“This summit is a major step forward in what I hope will be sustained momentum toward comprehensive reform in dozens of states across the country,” Warner said. “It’s time to turn rhetoric into reality.”

In Congress, lawmakers addressed the need to prepare today’s students for a more global society by introducing legislation that would encourage U.S. students to get to know their Chinese counterparts through online and face-to-face exchanges. And House Democrats in November unveiled an extensive plan to reclaim America’s position as a leader in innovation. The plan, which calls for affordable access to broadband technology for all citizens and incentives for students to pursue careers in science and technology, makes improved education a centerpiece of the effort to step up America’s global competitiveness.

Ironically, amid renewed calls for better science and technology instruction, Bush administration officials led a successful effort to cut federal educational technology funding significantly for 2006. The new federal budget cuts overall discretionary funding for education by some $59 million and reduces funding for Enhancing Education Through Technology grants–the primary source of ed-tech funding for many states–by nearly half.

See these related links:

Gates, governors: Upgrade high school

Opinion: What’s wrong with U.S. high schools–and how we can make them better

Ed ‘visionaries’: Schools must change

Ed-tech helps spur U.S.-China exchange

Democrats: Education is the key to reclaiming innovation

Education takes $59M hit in new federal budget

3. $100 laptop, if successful, could revolutionize school computing

Three researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) made quite a splash when they announced an ambitious plan to close the global digital divide: They’ve recruited corporate partners to join MIT in designing and mass-producing basic, durable laptops costing $100 or less that hundreds of millions of children worldwide–perhaps even U.S. students–could use at school and home.

The “one laptop per child” plan could give children internet- and multimedia-capable computers that would make laptops as ubiquitous as cell phones. If successful, the project has the potential to revolutionize school computing worldwide.

Nicholas Negroponte, founder of MIT’s Media Lab, and his colleagues Joe Jacobson and Seymour Papert unveiled a prototype of the device in November. The Wi-Fi enabled laptops will run on an open-source operating system, such as Linux, and will be lime green in color, with a yellow hand crank for providing electricity, to make them appealing to children and to fend off potential thieves. They are expected to start shipping in February or March, and Negroponte said he hopes to sell 1 million of them to Brazil, Thailand, Egypt, and Nigeria.

The $100 laptop project still faces many hurdles. Some worry that customer support in poor, rural areas could prove a big obstacle. Others are concerned about the disposal of millions of laptops in undeveloped nations. But here in the U.S., the idea of a machine as robust as a laptop at a price so low has some state government officials excited about the possibilities: Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney reportedly is exploring whether his state might take advantage of the product to supply laptops to all 500,000 middle- and high-school students in Massachusetts when the machines become available.

Educational technology expert Tom Hoffman, who contributes to the Ed-Tech Insider blogs at eSchool News Online, believes the impact of MIT’s project will be profound.

“Does anybody really think that, once the $100 laptop genie is out of the bottle, there will be any way to keep it from taking over educational computing in the U.S.?” Hoffman wrote in a Nov. 20 blog post, titled “Releasing the Genie.”

“I don’t necessarily mean the exact MIT-anointed version,” Hoffman wrote. “We may end up using something slightly more capable and more expensive, but really, can you imagine standing in front of a school board meeting in four years and trying to justify spending six or eight hundred dollars apiece for bottom-of-the-line business laptops when others are getting rugged tablet/eBook/laptops at a quarter the price or less? & What percentage of presentations at [the 2011 National Educational Computing Conference] will be in some way based on or implemented with $100 laptops and their clones? I’d bet 25 percent.”

See these related links:

MIT team creating $100 laptops

“Releasing the Genie,” Nov. 20 blog post by Ed-Tech Insider Tom Hoffman

Rebounding state budgets boost laptop plans

2. Eighty years after Scopes, science instruction again goes on trial

No less than the definition of science instruction itself was at stake as communities from Pennsylvania to Georgia to Kansas debated whether, and how, to integrate the theory of “intelligent design” (ID) into the curriculum. The debate raged on even as the nation’s high-tech sector urged U.S. schools to improve science education or risk forfeiting America’s position as a global leader in science and technology.

In a landmark ruling last month, a federal judge barred a Pennsylvania public school district from teaching about ID in biology class, saying the concept is simply creationism in disguise. U.S. District Judge John E. Jones–a Republican appointed to the bench by President Bush–delivered a stinging rebuke to the Dover Area School Board, saying its first-in-the-nation decision in October 2004 to insert ID into the science curriculum violated the constitutional separation of church and state.

How Jones’ ruling will affect the debate in other parts of the country remains to be seen. Legal scholars note that Jones’ ruling applies only to schools in part of Pennsylvania–but the scope and forcefulness of his decision could give it a much broader impact nationwide.

“This is such a thorough, well-researched opinion that covers all possible bases in terms of the legal arguments that intelligent design advocates present, that I think any school board or state board of education thinking about adopting an intelligent design policy should think twice,” Kristi L. Bowman, a law professor at Iowa’s Drake University, told the New York Times for a Dec. 22 story.

Intelligent design holds that living organisms are so complex, they must have been created by some kind of higher being. Its proponents promote it as an alternative to Darwin’s theory of evolution, which they say contains inexplicable gaps. Even President Bush has weighed in on the subject, saying that schools should “teach the controversy.”

But for the vast majority of the scientific community, there is no “controversy” about whether evolution is a valid scientific theory. In contrast, ID–which cannot be tested through scientific methods–does not fit the basic definition of science, most scientists and educators agree.

Regardless of where you stand in the debate over ID’s place in schools, one thing seems clear: Its forcefulness notwithstanding, Jones’ ruling surely won’t be the final word on the topic.

See these related links:

Evolution hearings put science on trial

‘Intelligent design’ court battle begins

Opinion: How should schools handle evolution? Debate it

Opinion: One side can be wrong

Voters oust anti-evolution school board

Judge: ‘Intelligent design’ has no place in class

Text of Jones’ ruling (conclusion only)

1. Hurricanes ravage Gulf Coast schools

The biggest news story of 2005 was also the most significant story in educational technology. Of course, health and sheer survival–not academics–were the foremost concerns of families affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. But as residents evacuated those areas hardest hit by the storms and found temporary shelter elsewhere, complex schooling issues awaited them.

Finding schools for students whose families were displaced or whose schools were destroyed, communicating plans with local school leaders and stakeholders, accounting for the whereabouts of all students in their jurisdictions, transferring academic records to students’ new or temporary schools, rebuilding schools that were damaged or leveled by the storm–these were just some of the challenges facing education officials on the Gulf Coast, neighboring states, and in states thousands of miles away. And technology would be called on to play a key role in nearly every facet of the response.

The National Association for College Admission Counseling started an online message board for updates on college conditions and options for displaced students. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings announced a new web site, Hurricane Help for Schools, aimed at funneling school supplies to schools that had taken in students displaced by Katrina. The Software and Information Industry Association banded together with other organizations to form a consortium, called vSKOOL, to provide online classes, tutoring, and other ed-tech solutions to displaced hurricane victims. And numerous other technology companies also announced donations.

The storms leveled many school buildings, but they also left others without adequate technology infrastructures. To help rebuild Gulf Coast schools with 21st-century technologies, Intel Corp. invited several educational technology companies and nonprofit organizations to join in a massive disaster recovery effort. Cisco Systems and BellSouth Corp. are among the other technology providers with major school-restoration programs under way.

The Gulf Coast recovery efforts will continue for some time. To follow the progress of these efforts and other new developments in the storm-ravaged areas, eSchool News will be launching a special section of its web site soon. This section also will contain information intended to help school leaders prepare for future emergencies. Keep watching eSchool News Online for more details.

See these related links:

Educators rally in Katrina’s wake

Schools, firms helping displaced students

Hurricane Katrina shows power of eCommunications during crisis

Storms highlight need for data backup

eRate rules relaxed for schools hit by Katrina

Ten sources of funding for hurricane-affected schools

Crisis management and communications in a post-Katrina world

Tech companies lead Gulf Coast school restoration

One district’s Katrina experience

Senior Editor Corey Murray, Assitant Editor Robert Brumfield, Assistant Editor Laura Ascione, and material from the Associated Press contributed to this report.


Failure for IBM schools network?

The News and Observer reports that North Carolina state officials are considering cancelling a multimillion-dollar contract with IBM because of glitches in a sophisiticated computer network…


Gates demonstrates new version of Windows

During the keynote speech at the Consumer Electronics Show, Bill Gates highlighted new photo-editing tools and a revamped media player designed to improve the way that Windows tackles the most commonly used media files…