Keeping careful documentation of grant expenditures will keep you out of trouble

A few weeks ago, I participated in a webinar that discussed A-133 audits. For those of you who are not familiar with this term, Circular A-133 is the document that provides information about audits for state and local governments and nonprofit organizations. If you are already receiving federal grant funds, your business office is probably familiar with this document. If it isn’t, you should bring this document to the attention of your business office to prepare for any audit of the federal funds you receive.

In 1981, the President’s Council on Integrity and Efficiency (PCIE) was created. According to the council’s web site, "the mission of the PCIE is to continually identify, review, and discuss areas of weakness and vulnerability in federal programs and operations to fraud, waste, and abuse and to develop plans for coordinated, government-wide activities that address those problems and promote efficiency and economy in the programs and operations." The membership of the PCIE is made up of Inspectors General appointed by the president and federal agency heads. A list of these individuals can be found at

Although the webinar went way over my head about halfway through the slides (I am not an accounting expert by any means), the results of a 2007 report mentioned by the speaker caught my interest, because it contained wise advice for any grantee regardless of the size of its grant award. This report, the Single Audit Sampling Project (SASP), looked at audits that had been conducted and identified specific areas of weakness that were common to federally funded programs. There were two areas reported by the speaker that contain helpful information, I think, for districts that receive federal funds subject to A-133 audits.

The first area of weakness identified in the SASP was a lack of documentation for the expenditure of federal funds. Grantees must take special care to create a "paper trail" that shows what grant funds were spent on—and when. Unless the grantee has received special permission from the funder, these allowable expenses typically will be outlined in the notice of grant award. Consequently, if asked, a grantee should be able to show paid invoices and/or receipts for those items that were purchased with grant funds and were part of the approved budget for the grant project. Lacking this documentation raises a red flag during an audit, as there is no proof that federal funds were spent on items they were supposed to be used for in a grant-funded project. This could have serious consequences for a grantee.

The second area identified in the report was a lack of documentation for staff time that was paid for using federal funds. Again, although it might be cumbersome to document this, grantees must keep detailed records of a staff member’s time if federal dollars are used to pay for his or her salary and benefits. In some cases, grantees might find that separate time sheets must be created and/or completed based on the requirements of the funder. I think it’s critical that you identify the documentation requirements at the beginning of a grant-funded project that helps pay for staff salary and/or benefits, before getting too far along with the project. Having to backtrack and create time sheets will likely lead to problems remembering the specific tasks that were completed during specific weeks of a project.

Although these weaknesses were noted in regard to federally funded projects, they are important to understand for all grantees that undergo an audit of grantfunded projects. I don’t know of any funder who sends a check to a grantee and says: "Have fun spending this money on whatever." Keeping careful documentation of your expenditures is a critical part of the grantsmanship process, whether you are tracking the expenditure of $500 or $5 million in grant funds.


New Jersey schools won’t require online classes … at least, not yet

New Jersey education officials are working on an ambitious redesign of the state’s public high schools that is intended to better prepare students for college and the work force in the 21st century, reports the New York Times. The redesign had called for every student to study algebra II, lab sciences, and foreign languages; pass more state tests; and complete at least one online course to graduate. But education officials recently backed away from the online requirement because of concerns over the cost and whether such courses would meet state standards. In 2006, Michigan began requiring high school students to take an online course or have an online educational experience to graduate; Alabama adopted an online course requirement in 2008. Four other states, including New Jersey, have considered making online courses mandatory. In New Jersey, officials decided not to pursue the online course requirement–instead, the state will give districts the option to offer them–after studying the proposal more closely in recent weeks, said Beth Auerswald, a spokeswoman for the state education department. "The department had concerns about the cost of mandating an online course during these difficult fiscal times," she said. "And likewise, the department wants to ensure that online courses based in other states align with our curriculum standards."

Click here for the full story


News groups seek webcast in file-sharing case

Fourteen news organizations, including the Associated Press and the New York Times Co., are urging a federal appeals court to allow online streaming of a hearing in a music downloading lawsuit the recording industry filed against a Boston University graduate student.

The brief filed Jan. 29 in the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals argues that allowing webcasting of the Feb. 24 hearing is in the public interest, and is in keeping with camera access already granted in the courts.

The Recording Industry Association of America is appealing a Boston judge’s decision to allow the webcast, which it says goes against federal court guidelines on cameras and threatens its ability to get a fair trial.

"It is hard to imagine a hearing more deserving of public scrutiny through the same technological medium that is at the heart of this litigation," the news organizations said in their brief to the appeals court.

The copyright infringement lawsuit is part an effort by the RIAA to stop online music sharing. Since 2003, it has filed civil lawsuits against about 35,000 people who allegedly swapped songs online.

Charles Nesson, a Harvard Law School professor representing Boston University graduate student Joel Tenenbaum, is challenging the constitutionality of the lawsuits.

U.S. District Judge Nancy Gertner approved Nesson’s request to allow a courtroom video service to transmit the hearing to Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, which would stream the video unedited on its web site with free access. Gertner has said the RIAA also can subscribe to the video feed and stream it on a web site of its choosing under the same conditions.

New organizations argued in their brief there was "nothing inherently harmful" in camera access to oral arguments, and they countered the RIAA’s claim that online streaming could be manipulated, saying the potential to edit video is no different from the potential to edit transcripts or a reporter’s own notes. The news groups said the webcast would allow for more accurate reporting.

The news groups filing the brief also included Courtroom Television Network, Dow Jones & Co., Gannett Co. Inc., the Hearst Corp., Incisive Media, National Public Radio, NBC Universal Inc., Radio-Television News Directors Association, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the E.W. Scripps Co., Tribune Co., and Washington Post Digital.


1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals

Recording Industry Association of America

Berkman Center for Internet and Society


Technology empowers differentiated instruction

Although many educators realize technology’s enormous potential to help them differentiate their instruction so that all students can learn, regardless of students’ needs, abilities, or learning styles, it might be hard for them to find concrete applications of this approach to emulate in their classrooms. But in a Jan. 28 webinar from the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), experts provided several examples of classroom projects that can help all students learn while keeping them engaged.

The webinar, titled “Differentiated Instruction + Tech = Powerful Learning,” was presented by Grace Smith and Stephanie Throne–authors of the book Differentiating Instruction with Technology in K-5 Classrooms and the soon-to-be-published Differentiating Instruction with Technology in Middle School Classrooms. Both authors are former educators.

Smith and Throne described differentiated instruction (DI) as a strategy that is centered on the belief that students learn in many different ways. They also said DI is a collection of best practices from gifted, traditional, and special education. “Some educators think it’s a new model, but it isn’t,” said Throne.

Both presenters agreed that DI is student-centered, offers multiple paths to learning, and is grounded in assessment practices. They also cited research that shows students are more successful in school and find it more satisfying when they are taught in ways that are responsive to their readiness levels, interests, and learning profiles.

According to the presenters, teachers can differentiate four elements of instruction: content, process, product, and learning environment. They also can differentiate instruction based on student traits, such as readiness, learning profile, interest, and affect.

Finally, educators can differentiate instruction through a range of instructional and management strategies, including software, video streaming, and the web.

“Above all, DI should be used to promote 21st-century skills,” said Smith. “This includes digital-age literacy, inventive thinking, effective communication, and high productivity. A mastery of these skills will lead to student achievement.”

Both authors said technology is a great choice to consider for DI, because it helps to personalize instruction, enhances learning with multimedia components, can help students construct new knowledge, and motivates students with their work.

“We also like to give students choices in their learning, because offering choices gives students a way to make decisions about what they will do in order to meet class requirements,” said Smith.

One way to do this is to create and present what the authors called a “tic-tac-toe board,” or three-by-three grid, of suggested activities from which students can choose to demonstrate their understanding of a topic. This helps students make their own choices and also gives the teacher an idea of his or her students’ interests.

For example, students in grade two might be asked to choose from the board three different activities they’d like to complete about dinosaurs. Activities might include composing a song or poem about a dinosaur, using Kidspiration to make a dinosaur web of facts, or drawing a dinosaur skeleton using KidPix and then labeling as many parts as they can. (You can find more information about tic-tac-toe boards at

The authors believe that differentiating instruction by students’ interest helps spark their curiosity during activities, makes learning more appealing to all students–even to reluctant learners–and encourages students to become more actively involved in their own learning.

First steps

“Teachers first need to pre-assess student interest through inventories and surveys, observation, or interviews,” said Smith. She listed Survey Monkey, Free Online Surveys, and Zoomerang as online survey tools that can help teachers do this.

The student inventory might include a form with statements that students must complete. For example, the form might say: “My favorite subject is [blank], I like to read books about [blank], my friends are [blank],” and so on. (For more examples of inventories:

Next, the authors recommend that teachers choose different strategies to build on students’ interests in ways that are appropriate for their abilities or age levels. For example, elementary students might use a strategy called “I-Search,” in which students do research online, to learn about earth explorers, while middle-schoolers might use I-Search to learn about the Civil War.

Other strategies include WebQuests, interest centers, flexible groups, literature circles, Role Audience Format Topic Tech (R.A.F.T.T.), Jigsaw, or computer software.


With I-Search, students individually, or in pairs, use the internet and other research tools to investigate a topic of interest. Students then can use a word processor, drawing and painting tools, or other software to create and present information to their peers, explained the authors. (See The I-Search Unit and the I-Search Curriculum Unit)

For example, Smith created a bookmark template in Microsoft Publisher and showed students how to enter text about the explorers they had chosen to research and write about. She also showed students how to use Microsoft Paint to produce their explorer pictures.

After students printed their bookmarks, another teacher laminated them and showed students how to create bookmark loops and tassels.

Another way to conduct an I-Search is to have students create a Webbe, or a printed book of web images and text related to a subject. (See Webbe Template and Storyboard, Webbe Printing Tips, Webbe civil war example, RealeBooks)

“Creating a Webbe can be very empowering for students,” explained Smith. “By creating their book, then printing it, or ‘publishing’ it, students have a sense of accomplishment. We even had a book signing party and invited parents. It was a great time.”


“Working collaboratively, students use web research tools to investigate a teacher-designed topic of interest. They can also work collaboratively and use technology to create, write, publish, and present their information to their peers,” said Throne in explaining WebQuests.

WebQuests challenge students to solve a problem or answer a complex question with several possible answers. In the process, students typically learn about several different subject areas. (Links to examples: Build the Code WebQuest, Multiplication Flashcards, Break the Code at the CIA. Tools: PuzzleMaker Cryptogram, The WebQuest Page)

For example, in the “Build the Code” WebQuest, students must combine math with cryptography. The introduction tells students: “The government is looking for a few good code writers to help send classified information to their agents,” and students must “successfully develop a code to send their message and join the secret circle of cryptographers.”

Student must then choose a role as part of the cryptography team: multiplication expert, researcher, cryptographer, or organization specialist. In choosing different roles, students can take on responsibilities that play to their strengths or interests.

Each role is then defined, and students are told that all group members are responsible for evaluating and solving their cryptogram, answering a data worksheet, helping their teammates with their roles as needed, and filling out an evaluation.

The WebQuest also provides tasks, resources, a teacher resource guide, a conclusion, and credits.

Tools to help teachers create their own WebQuests include Pre-Writing your WebQuest and WebQuest Maker.


R.A.F.T.T., which stands for “Role Audience Format Topic Technology,” is a strategy that, according to the authors, integrates reading and writing in a non-traditional way–students create a product that illustrates their understanding.

R.A.F.T.T. is defined as:

– Role: The role or character the writers take on
– Audience: The audience for the product
– Format: The format or vehicle for showing students’ understanding
– Topic: The focus of the final product–the who, when, what…
– Tech: The software application to be used

(See R.A.F.T.T. strategy, What is R.A.F.T.T.?, Example of subject)

For example, the authors said, fifth graders used R.A.F.T.T. to make products based on the book Sign of the Beaver, by Elizabeth George Speare.

Students could choose a character from the book (role), and their classmates were the audience. They chose formats ranging from posters to board games based on the book’s events and plot; they focused on a specific topic, such as “survival,” and they used various software to make their project formats.


In “home” groups, Thorne said, each student is assigned a subtopic of a particular topic of study. Students from different groups who have the same subtopic then “jigsaw” to their appropriate subtopic expert groups, where they use electronic tools and resources to investigate their portion of the task. They use technology tools to produce information for their peers. Then, they return to their “home” groups to share their knowledge.

For example, in grades four and five, students can use the jigsaw approach to learn about volcanoes. Students can go to a volcano web site to gather information, with each student in a group gathering information on a specific subtopic, such as basalt, or lava flow. Each group will have the same subtopics.

After students gather information on their subtopic, they break off from their main group to join their “expert groups”–groups that consist of students from every home group that have researched the same subtopic.

In the expert group, each member will present her or his research on the subtopic, taking notes on any new information. Then these expert groups will splinter and rejoin their main group to present their information on basalt, or lava flow, to the entire group.

Students in these groups can then build a wiki with all of their information on various parts of a volcano. (Example:

Educators who want more information on DI or any of the strategies presented are encouraged to go to or eMail the authors at


International Society for Technology in Education

Note to readers:

Don’t forget to visit the Math Intervention resource center. U.S. students are lagging behind their peers in other countries in math achievement, fortunately education companies are responding with solutions. Go to: Math Intervention


K-State admits data security lapse

Kansas State University is notifying 45 students who were enrolled in an agricultural economics class in spring 2001 that some of their personal information was inadvertently exposed on the internet through a K-State departmental web site–underscoring the danger of using Social Security numbers as student identifiers.

The students whose information was affected were enrolled in AGEC 490, "Computer Applications in Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness," during the spring semester of 2001. Names, Social Security numbers, and grades of those students have been inadvertently exposed online since 2001, the university said.

University information security staff were made aware of the problem last week.

All data have been removed from the web site, and steps are being taken to prevent a repeat of the situation, officials said. Although there is no evidence that identity thieves have misused anyone’s personal information, the university is notifying the affected individuals of the situation and the steps they can take to protect themselves.

Besides supporting the affected persons, the university says it is implementing even more stringent network and server access controls and is taking steps to increase faculty and staff awareness of personal information security issues.

"Most importantly, we want to increase awareness among faculty and staff of the need to be vigilant protecting personal information, including Social Security numbers, in accordance with K-State policy," said Harvard Townsend, chief information security officer.

"We deeply regret this incident," Townsend said. "K-State takes the protection of the personal information of our students very seriously."

Like many universities, K-State has been phasing out the use of Social Security numbers as student identifiers, beginning with the elimination of these numbers from university ID cards in 2006. With the implementation of a new student information system last fall, the university eliminated Social Security numbers as student IDs.

Fred Cholick, dean of Agriculture, said personnel in the department of agricultural economics have contacted students involved and will help with any questions. K-State had posted information on preventing identity theft at