вторник, 10 июня 2008 г.

Commission to consider online schools

A new education commission has been formed to look at online kindergarten through 12th-grade education in Colorado in the wake of a recent scathing audit of internet schools.

The Trujillo Commission for Online Education will make recommendations to state officials on how to respond to issues that were raised in the audit.

The commission will be hosted by the Donnell-Kay Foundation.

"The widespread use of online K-12 learning in Colorado is relatively new, but it is growing rapidly," said Nina Lopez, policy director of the Donnell-Kay Foundation.

"The commission's objective will be to create guideposts for thoughtful policy on the issue."

The audit report released Monday charged that online education programs are plagued by poor performing schools. It also noted that the programs are in such disarray that state educators don't know what to do with them.

The commission, to be headed by Lorenzo Trujillo, University of Colorado School of Law assistant dean, will seek to identify best practices in Colorado as well as in other states.

Other members of the commission are Kin Griffith from Colorado Virtual Academy; Tim Snyder, executive director of Colorado online learning; and Jane W. Urschel, associate director of Colorado Association of School Boards.

The commission expects to release its final recommendations to state officials Feb. 15.

In the meantime, the group is soliciting input from the public on the online schools.

Comments can either be emailed to www.dkfoundation.org or submitted by regular mail to Nina Lopez, Donnell-Kay Foundation, 730 17th Street, Suite 950, Denver, CO 80202.

According to a statement from the commission, members expect to have preliminary recommendations by Jan. 22.

On Feb. 1, the commission has scheduled a public forum where individuals can respond to the preliminary recommendations. The time and location of the forum has not yet been set.

Hillsborough Schools Crafting Tougher Cell Phone Rules

Hillsborough County School District officials are shaping new cell phone rules likely to ignite some fiery text messages among students.

Not only would students be required to keep their phones turned off at school -- the current rule -- they would also have to keep them out of sight.

If a student violator is caught, a sequence of punishments from a warning to suspension is proposed.

"If you can't have a cell phone on, there is no reason to have it out," said Lewis Brinson, the district's assistant superintendent for administration.

Brinson is drafting new cell phone procedures for the 2008-09 school year, to be presented at the May 20 school board meeting. The rules are a consensus from a committee of teachers, students, parents and principals, he said, but still must be vetted by the superintendent before they reach the board for a vote.

Cell phone use has exploded among students at all grade levels. They hide phones in purses or pockets and text friends in class, make calls or text from hallways and bathrooms between classes, or openly answer phones in class, especially when parents call. Test pages and answers can be photographed and shared, and video or pictures posted on the Internet.

Schools and individual teachers vary in how and whether they enforce Hillsborough's rule that cell phones "shall not be activated or used in any manner during school hours," including on silent, vibrate or visual-only mode. Some teachers say they just don't have the time to both police cell phone use and teach.

"We're trying to be more consistent," Brinson said.

Progress Village Middle Magnet School Principal Walt Shaffner can attest to the misuse, despite his school's rule: "If it's on, we take it away."

In his school of 850 students, "We have confiscated 80 to 100 so far this year," he said. "We have 30 or more cells alone from last year that were never picked up."

Shaffner was on the committee that came up with the proposed procedures. He said he agrees because of both the increased misuse and increased capability of phones.

"A phone has become a complicated and sophisticated tool that's kind of being used as a toy," he said. At the same time, "cell phones have gone from a privilege to an entitlement," Shaffner said.

Practicalities need to be worked out, Brinson acknowledged.

One is keeping track of violations. They could be recorded like tardies, he said, with teachers noting it in their computer.

"We don't want the cell phone situation to get into an argument," Brinson said. The intent, he said, is to stop disruptions to teaching, "not to patrol the bathrooms," looking for phones.

Many student government leaders were asked in March for suggestions to change cell phone rules. Many proposed allowing cells to be used during lunch.

Jarrod Barefoot, a senior at Newsome High, had suggested requiring students to leave phones out on their desks. He said the district's proposed changes don't sound much different than the way it is now, except for uniform consequences.

Recently, Newsome tightened its phone policy, Barefoot said. Most teachers send students to detention for a first offense, with in-school suspension the second time. Phones are usually confiscated only if used during a test, Barefoot said, because parents are so upset when they must retrieve them at the office.

"I think it's worked a lot better," he said. "I admit I don't talk often after worrying about getting detention or suspension."

Brinson said tougher rules could be enforced, then relaxed, depending on how students respond.

"If we follow through with what we say we're going to do, they'll realize we're serious about it," he said. "Right now we need to get a grip on letting students understand when we say off, we mean off."

Police seek mother in Web video

Fresno police are searching for a woman who allegedly encouraged her daughter to fight another girl -- a battle that was videotaped and ended up on MySpace.com.

The District Attorney's Office has given police a warrant to arrest Syreeta Fuller, 30, the mother of a 14-year-old girl involved in the fight.

Fresno police Capt. Keith Foster said Friday that officers are searching for Fuller.

The fight between the 14-year-old and a 13-year-old girl occurred near Cooper Middle School in northwest Fresno on April 19.

The fight drew national attention after the video appeared on the Internet. School officials reported receiving national media inquiries, including calls from cable news channel CNN.

The girls were not arrested; they were disciplined by school officials.

Once arrested, Fuller will be charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor, child endangerment and battery -- all misdemeanors. The battery count stems from "evidence that she held one of the girls down while the girl was being beaten," Foster said.

In a related matter, police continued to search for two men who allegedly brandished an assault rifle when the parents of the 13-year-old went to the home of the 14-year-old to talk to her parents.

Officers received warrants June 8 to arrest Jayson Sanderson, 22, and Aaron Moore, 20. Moore is wanted on a charge of illegal possession of a firearm and participating in criminal street-gang activity. Once arrested, his bail is expected to be $270,000. Sanderson is wanted on a charge of participating in criminal street-gang activity. His bail is expected to be $50,000.

School officials want standardized tests computerized

Computers were supposed to help us be more efficient and save us money.

The experts said computers would give us more time to focus on what's important because we wouldn't be so tied up with handling stacks of paper.

Schools spent hundreds of millions of dollars in the 1990s to increase and upgrade their computer systems. Janesville School District voters, for example, decided in 1997 to borrow about $10 million to install hundreds of computers at schools and link them to the Internet. Schools continue to spend money each year to keep those computers up to date.

And yet, when it comes to Wisconsin's standardized testing system, students still use No. 2 pencils to fill in the circles on the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam, just as their parents and grandparents did.

The state has an opportunity to get into the 21st century, but it's dragging its feet.

At least, that's the perception of Janesville school officials. They're joining other districts to pressure the state Department of Public Instruction to take the plunge into computer-based testing.

The Janesville School Board is championing a resolution calling for change at the upcoming Wisconsin Association of School Boards delegate assembly.

And Rep. Brett Davis, R-Oregon, the chairman of the Assembly Education Committee, is writing legislation that would force the state to change.

Davis said the DPI could make the change on its own.

"They don't appear to be willing to do it, so I'm working on legislation that would modernize the system," Davis said.

Lynette Russell, director of the Office of Accountability for DPI, says there are no easy answers. She said it takes hundreds of pages of technical documentation to get a test approved by the federal government.

"I don't think it automatically makes it better just because you put it on the computer," Russell said.

Davis and others believe that a computer-based test, along with a different way of reporting the test results, would greatly improve the system, improve education and might even save money in the long run.

The state uses a series of tests known as the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam to report progress--or lack of it--to the federal government under the No Child Left Behind Legislation.

The Janesville district's testing coordinator, Ruth Robinson, finds fault with Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam:

--It doesn't give credit to schools that make substantial progress, even though they have many students performing below the required standards.

--It doesn't hold schools accountable if they have a large number of high-scoring students but fail to challenge those students in the classroom.

--Results are reported months after the tests are taken, making them almost useless for improving teaching or correcting students' weaknesses during the same school year.

Something called a "growth model" testing system would take care of the first two points. Growth model assessment often is linked to a computer-based test, which can give much faster results.

Now, the state test results are available for individual students about four months after they take the tests. Reports of grade-level, school and district results aren't ready for six months, Robinson said.

That means a third-grade teacher, for example, can't tell how well she has taught her class until after the school year is over, Robinson said.

Online testing would give instant results, Robinson said. That same teacher would know right away if her students failed to understand a key idea in math or English. Then, the teacher could adjust her lesson plans to make sure students were up to speed before they moved on to the next grade level.

Some schools are spending their own dollars to give teachers faster results. Janesville and more than 100 other districts buy online tests called Measures of Academic Progress, or MAP.

The MAP tests give teachers almost instantaneous results.

Janesville pays $70,000 a year for the MAP test, Robinson said.

So why not use the MAP test statewide and kill two birds with one stone?

Can't do it, DPI's Russell said.

For one thing, the MAP test isn't aligned to the state academic standards in the same way as the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam, Russell said.

No Child Left Behind requires a test that tests student knowledge of the standards.

The MAP test asks questions that relate to the standards, but that's not the same thing as being thoroughly aligned, Russell said.

The MAP test also is an "adaptive test," and that's a problem, Russell said.

MAP automatically makes its questions easier if a student is marking wrong answers, and it gives above-grade-level questions if the student is getting mostly correct answers.

No Child Left Behind requires that students be tested on the standards for their grade level, Russell said, and MAP doesn't provide that.

That's easily fixed, Robinson responds. Just add enough grade-level questions to satisfy No Child Left Behind.

An adaptive test also has an advantage, Robinson said: It will tell the teacher precisely at what level the student is functioning. The Wisconsin Concepts and Knowledge Exam will tell only how the student is doing in relation to the standards for his grade level.

Russell said a multiple-choice online exam can't test students' thinking abilities--as required in state standards--because students can't write to explain their thinking.

And not all districts would be able to handle online testing because they lack computers, Russell said. Not only that, but children who have extensive computer experience would have an instant advantage over those who don't.

So some way would have to be worked out to make the tests fair, Russell said.

Robinson said these are surmountable problems.

"The frustrating thing from my point of view is that there are a half dozen vendors around the country that have been providing this kind of thing for years," Robinson said. "... It appears to me that (DPI) is not entirely willing to do the work."

Davis said he hopes to have his legislation ready in February or March.

Russell said DPI doesn't have its head in the sand; it is entering into a number of research studies on growth-model testing this year.

The state is paying $8 million this year to CTB McGraw-Hill to supply the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam.

The contract includes development, production, scoring, reporting and research, said Lynette Russell, director of the state Department of Public Instruction's Office of Accountability.

New state voucher program pulled nearly 100 children out of city schools

More than 3,500 of the city's schoolchildren have chosen not to continue their education in the city school system this year.

They've opted to enroll in one of nearly two dozen charter schools, take classes at other public schools through the state's open-enrollment program or secure a state voucher to attend a local private school.

The number represents nearly an 18 percent increase over the number of pupils who chose to go elsewhere last year. The voucher program, which pulled nearly 100 children from the Youngstown schools this year, wasn't available last year.

Current enrollment in the city schools stands at 8,215, down from 8,875 a year ago.

The loss of 3,535 pupils will cost the district around $24 million in lost state subsidies this year.

State subsidies follow the pupils and go to the schools they choose to attend.

The biggest loss for Youngstown is to 23 charter schools, seven of them online Internet schools. The district reports that 2,730 of its pupils are in charter schools this year, up nearly 400 from last year.

The charter schools are also getting the bulk of the subsidy money lost by Youngstown. The district estimates that amount at just over $20 million.

Open enrollment, which allows school districts to accept pupils from neighboring school systems, or from across the state if they choose, took 713 pupils out of Youngstown this year. That's only a slight increase from the 700 who participated in open enrollment last year.

The cost to Youngstown this year is more than $4.3 million.

The voucher program implemented this fall allows pupils in public schools ranked by the state as being academically troubled to enroll in a private school willing to accept them.

The pupils must meet the private school's academic and other requirements, and the state voucher picks up the cost of their tuition.

The state put three of Youngstown's schools -- West Elementary, Hayes Middle and Wilson High -- into the voucher program, and the district reports losing 92 pupils to vouchers at a cost of around $500,000 in subsidies.

The district launched a "We Want You Back" campaign this fall in an effort to get some of those 3,535 children back, putting a lot of emphasis on recent academic improvements, pointing out the district improved from academic emergency to academic watch and nearly reached continuous improvement on the state local report card for 2006.

One of its schools, the Youngstown Early College High, achieved an academic excellence rating this year.

The drive also focuses on academic and artistic achievements made by individual pupils and teams of pupils in various competitions.

The ongoing project to rebuild or replace 14 school buildings is also seen as a draw to get children back as well.

Some parents have pulled their children out of the city schools in disputes over disciplinary matters, said Dr. Wendy Webb, superintendent.

One of her plans is to hold community meetings with parents of those children to look at what the district can do to help children understand what is expected of them and what behavior is acceptable.

Parents and the community have to be a part of the solution, Webb said.

She also intends to hold meetings with teachers and staff seeking feedback and strategies to bring children back.

Buffalo-based online school for dealers could face some steep regulatory hurdles

You don't have to know cards to know Johnny Chan, two-time winner of the World Series of Poker.

That was him with Matt Damon in the 1998 movie "Rounders." The icily confident Chan had a cameo as a star gambler; beating him is Damon's moment of glory.

Now the Chinese-born, Las Vegasbred Chan is teaming up with a casino school in Buffalo to make a score in the global casino business -- if they can get the idea past skeptical regulators.

Chan's company has licensed the Casino Career Training Center in Buffalo to operate an Internet school for dealers called Johnny Chan University. The backers call the idea a first for online education.

"We spent some time at their office in Buffalo (and) looked at the online content," said Nick Koustas, manager of Chan Poker. "We were pretty impressed with their content and ability."

Like U.S. states, nations across Asia are racing to set up legal casinos in order to draw high-rollers and their thick wads of cash. The boom means tens of thousands of dealers will be hired in coming years, the school's backers say. Who will train them?

"This Internet thing is going to explode," said Steven DePutter, head of the Buffalo casino school. "I want to train all of Asia -- the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan . . ." That's in addition to the fast-growing Chinese gambling zone in Macau, plus the expanding casino industry in the U.S.

The casino school will also put Chan's name on its real-world sites in Buffalo and Olean, with plans to open two more offices in Las Vegas and in Macau. But it is the online business that holds out the promise of reaching the most students, De-Putter said.

Chan's reputation and ethnic background, plus some translation help from language students, position the school's curriculum for a global market, he figures. Chan himself will devote one hour a month to the business.

DePutter plans a 100-hour online class, with exams given via Web cams in students' homes. He hasn't worked out the tuition, but figures it will be less than the $1,200 tab for the realworld class; maybe about half.

But getting a required license from the state Education Department could be a problem for the firstof-its-kind school. Distance-learning techniques usually aren't suited for hands-on skills like card dealing, an official said.

"It's an interesting idea," said Thomas Reimer, head of curriculum for the state Eduction Department's trade school division. "But because it involves manual skills and dexterity, I have great reservations." The state agency has hired a former dealer to review the school's proposal. The school is refining the program -- such as how Web cams will be used -- with the state's input before submitting a formal application, Reimer said.

"The crucial aspect is, can the institution really teach the hand-work through the Internet," Reimer said.

With its collection of used card tables in the old Pierce Arrow building in North Buffalo, the Casino Career Training Center seems far removed from the glitz of Vegas -- or even Niagara Falls.

The school, and a competing public-sector one at Niagara County Community College, has trained many of the dealers now working in Niagara Falls, DePutter said, with classes in poker and other games. The sister location in Olean trains dealers primarily for the Seneca Allegany Casino in Salamanca.

On one recent evening, a grad named Dave dropped in at the Pierce Arrow office to practice his card handling. He hasn't been called by the casinos yet, but that doesn't keep him from working.

He was hired for a private gambling cruise recently, he said, dealing the cards each night after the boat left its dock in Myrtle Beach and sailed past the U.S. territorial limit.

Many languages used

In the poker class, instructor Nick Ciavarella, an experienced dealer, fanned the cards expertly over the green felt table. His hands do the same trick on instruction videos that were shot for the online class. But his head is left out of the frame, so that voice instructions in different languages can be easily dubbed in, DePutter explained.

The casino school was founded in 1999 by Amherst resident Louis Giambrone, an entrepreneur with a checkered history. In 1988, federal cocaine distribution charges against him were dropped when a key witness refused to testify, court records show.

DePutter said he bought the Casino Career Training Center from his friend Giambrone in 2003, after the Federal Trade Commission shut down another Giambrone business in the Pierce Arrow building.

The FTC called Giambrone's First Capital Consumer Membership Services a telemarketing scam that sold bogus insurance to credit card holders. He and a partner paid a fine of $387,000.

Giambrone's ties

County records show that Giambrone was removed from the casino school's ownership record in 2003. But his name continues to surface in connection with the business.

Giambrone was among a group from Buffalo who met with Chan's business partners in Las Vegas to launch the idea for Johnny Chan University, Koustas of Chan Poker said.

And in February, the landlord for the casino school's new office near downtown Buffalo said in an interview that Giambrone had paid a deposit for the site. Developer Ralph C. Lorigo identified Giambrone as the owner of the school -- a statement he now says was mistaken.

Buffalo lawyer Brian Melber, who represents Giambrone and the casino school, confirmed that he got in touch with Lorigo to tell him that Giambrone doesn't own the school.

DePutter said that Giambrone is an old friend who sometimes handles a negotiation for the school, but is not an owner or employee.

Johnny Chan University was formed as a Delaware limited liability corporation on March 9, Delaware Department of State records show. DePutter said he and Kevin S. Upton, who handles the technology end of things, own the company.

Upton, whose background is in video messaging, was developing online gambling technology when the U.S. began cracking down more effectively on the industry by outlawing payments via credit card.

Now, online training represents an alternative application for his Web video system, he said. He is finishing a studio at an Internet hosting site in Amherst to conduct the school's online operations.

Like DePutter, Upton sees a big training opportunity in the casino boom that is sweeping the U.S. and Asia.

"Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing is not in my realm of decision making," he said.

Teaching in cyberspace

Once all the instructional videos are shot, most teaching will happen in cyberspace, with students and instructors both working in their Web camequipped homes, Upton explained.

Students can send videos to instructors to illustrate a question about technique, he said, and instructors will issue grades based on video exams. Graduates will have a video resume to submit to employers that showcases their abilities.

In addition to obtaining a state license, the school faces the task of raising money. It will seek about $2.4 million in equity from private investors, De-Putter said.

"In order for us to expand," he said, "it's going to take a great infusion of capital."

Based Retail Firm Melds Traditional Techniques with Internet

In two years, 4imprint has leveraged technology and built relationships with corporations like School Specialty of the Fox Cities and Lands' End of Dodgeville to successfully build its market share. 4imprint's customer list reads like a Who's Who of the world's large and high-profile corporations.

"We have in our customer base every one of the Fortune 100 companies," said Dick Nelson, president and chief executive officer of Oshkosh-based 4imprint.

The company's ability to meld traditional catalogs sales and marketing with Internet and other methods has bolstered recent sales.

JuneBox.com, a wholly owned subsidiary of Grand Chute school supplies wholesaler School Specialty, and 4imprint formed an alliance earlier this year to sell promotional products via the Internet.

Schools and school districts have the option of ordering more than school supplies on the JuneBox.com site. They can place orders for T-shirts, mugs, keychains and other items which can be printed with their school logo. The order for promotional products is sent to 4imprint for packaging and shipping. "We've made a dent in the education market through our traditional direct marketing venues, but this arrangement will help us increase our presence in the arena," said Patrick Hartel, marketing manager for 4imprint. "We hope to use (JuneBox.com's) expertise to get a stronger foothold within schools." JuneBox, launched in March 2000, sells educational supplies to more than 3,000 customers on the Web.

The company's shared backgrounds in direct marketing and the geographic area made the deal "a natural fit," Hartel said.

4imprint has the option to "pick and choose partners," Nelson said. "We have more people wanting to partner with us than we choose to partner with."

Last summer, the company partnered with apparel cataloguer Land's End.

Land's End named 4imprint its official provider of hard goods, like coffee cups, calendars and pens. That corporate sales agreement has led to programs with General Motors' Saturn division and the American International Automobile Dealers Association, among others.

In addition, The Fortune Group named 4imprint and Land's End providers of marketing merchandise for its annual lists such as Fortune 500 and Best Companies to Work For.

"We're leveraging our technology," Nelson said. "A lot of those efforts are still in their infancy."

"Much of our technology is geared toward improved order processing to make it easier to order through the entire transaction, resulting in lower costs and better service," said Greg Iott, vice president of business development.

Whether customers place orders online or simply use 4imprint.com for research -- the site shows more than 3,000 products vs. the catalog's 400 -- the online presence accounts for 17 percent to 20 percent of weekly U.S.

sales.

The company launched a site for international customers last spring.

"All of this technology has made us an operational leader," Nelson said.

"We'd eventually like to see all of our corporate programs worldwide migrate to the Web."

Nelson expects 75 percent of the global corporation's sales will occur online by 2004.

"We are in the midst of developing a version of our software for Adventures in Advertising, the company we bought at the beginning of the year," Nelson said. "When installed by the year's end, all the orders their franchise owners place will be over the Internet."

However, the emphasis on technology has not lessened the importance of print materials, Nelson said.

"Last year we mailed six million catalogs in the United States," Nelson said. 4imprint still prints catalogs four times a year and sends additional versions to about 1 million of its best customers. Catalog sales increased 11 percent from 1999 to 2000.

Nelson said the catalog does more than that, though. It promotes it Web address on almost every page.

"We can use our paper catalog to drive people to our Web site."

Florida Senate Plan Drops Internet Classes

The Florida Legislature's final plan to reduce the number of children in each school classroom probably won't include a large expansion of vouchers or a virtual Internet school for elementary and middle school children.

Hoping to reach a compromise with the House as the legislative session winds down, the Senate on Thursday passed a compromise bill -- minus the most controversial provisions of the House bill.

Not included in the Senate's new bill: a $3,500 voucher for kindergarten parents that could be applied to a private school and one for parents whose children attended a Florida public school the previous year.

The idea behind those vouchers was to encourage parents to leave public schools, thus shrinking classes.

"I think this is important to [the House]. Whether or not they'll take this or not is debatable," said Senate President Jim King, a Jacksonville Republican. "I think the governor's office is down there right now encouraging them to support this bill." The Senate also nixed a proposal for a virtual school for students in grades K-8. Private, for-profit companies that were lobbying legislators would have received $4,800 per student to teach them over the Internet, thus freeing desks in brick-and-mortar schoolhouses. Another idea that didn't make the Senate bill: a minimum salary of $31,000 for all Florida teachers.

Florida school districts are expected to reduce their average class size by two students for the 2003-04 school year, as a first step toward reaching longer-term goals approved by voters in November.

School boards won't know how much money they have to make that happen until the Legislature hammers out a budget during a special session later this month, but the apparent compromise Thursday gives school boards a road map to get started.

"I'm cautiously optimistic," said Rep. David Simmons, a Republican from Longwood who worked closely on the House's first class-size bill.

Simmons said the House could approve the Senate's bill on the last day of the regular session today, though strict House rules could stall the vote.

The Senate did include some other House measures:

-- School districts can apply for a waiver so that a high school credit only requires 120 hours of classroom time instead of 135.

-- The corporate income tax credit would be expanded from $50 million to $88 million for donations to a fund that pays for low-income students to attend a private school.

-- Advanced students can graduate from high school on a "fast track" that requires 18 credits instead of 24.

-- A teacher "career ladder" would establish four levels of teaching -- associate teacher, professional teacher, lead teacher and mentor teacher. At each rung, teachers would receive a raise.

Collinsville parents asked to answer survey about Internet

Are kids being safe on the Internet, and do their parents know?

Collinsville Unit 10 is seeking the answers through a new districtwide survey. Students in grades 5-12 already have taken the survey at school, along with many of their teachers.

Now parents are being asked to answer questions about computer use at home, focusing on safety.

"The way the world is today, you can never be too safe when it comes to kids on computers, both at school and at home," said John Griffith, principal of Dorris Intermediate School. Dorris has been a big participant in the survey, and the age group of grades 5-6 is ground zero for teaching Internet safety, according to technology director Sue Homes.

The district has already begun an Internet safety curriculum called NetSmarts, Griffith said.

"We're making great strides that way," he said. "Kids are more aware now than they were before the program started. ... It's an initiative that has to take place on two ends, though -- it has to be at home, monitoring what kids are doing on the computer."

For example, students are asked questions about social networking sites and how much information they reveal online. Their parents will be asked similar questions.

"It would be nice to compare the parents' perception to the child's perception," Homes said. "It's anonymous, so the kids will tell us the truth rather than putting down the answers that they think are the right answers."

For that, however, more parents will have to take the survey. An automated phone call went out Wednesday night to all families in the district, but only 95 parents have responded so far. The survey is linked on the district's Web site at www.unitten.org.

Parents can also take the survey by phone or request a paper survey, Homes said.

Other questions include Internet safety in the home: What do children use computers for at home, how many hours do they spend online and what features are in place to protect them?

The survey will help the district develop a three-year plan for technology improvement, including training of staff, students and the community in technology advancements. It is required for the district to be eligible for federal grants, including "e-rate" funds. "They want to make sure the monies you apply for with e-rate are not used without good intentions and forethought," Homes said.

Technology goes beyond Internet use, of course -- in recent years Collinsville has added the automated phone-call system and Edline, a service that allows parents to check their children's grades, attendance, schedules and more.

Cyberbullying is another issue schools are facing, Griffith said.

"One case is too many, in my opinion," he said. "It's important to have parental input and perspective. A principal can have a good grasp of what's going on in the building, but we want to know what's going on in the community and the households. It would be great if all parents would take part.

Georgia investigates healer of pro athletes

A man who has a naturopathy degree from a controversial Kentucky Internet-based school and who treats some of the country's most prominent professional athletes -- including Dallas Cowboys receiver Terrell Owens -- is under investigation in Georgia for practicing medicine without a license.

Mack Henry "Hank" Sloan has been credited by athletes such as Owens with speeding their recoveries from injuries. In his book T.O., Owens even thanks Sloan for helping him heal rapidly from a broken leg so Owens could play in the 2005 Super Bowl.

In an interview with the Herald-Leader, Sloan said he has a naturopathy degree from Southern Graduate Institute, a distance-learning Internet school based in Falcon in Magoffin County. The school and its founder, Stephen J. Arnett, were the focus of an October 2006 Herald-Leader investigation, and Arnett is under investigation by the Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure. At least three other students who sought degrees through Arnett have been convicted as a result of treatments they performed on patients. The school was not accredited in the United States and the quality of the education it provided has been at issue in the criminal cases.

Dr. James McNatt, medical director for Georgia's Composite State Board of Medical Examiners, confirmed in an interview with the Herald-Leader Thursday that his agency is investigating Sloan. He said that in Georgia, the practice of naturopathy, or healing with natural substances, is not legal.

Earlier this week, Mike Fish, a reporter for ESPN.com, wrote about the Georgia investigation, saying that some of the country's most prominent pro athletes turn to Sloan when they need to heal fast. Those players include the Buffalo Bills' Takeo Spikes and Washington Redskins running back Clinton Portis.

At his clinic in Cumming, Ga., near Atlanta, Sloan says he has treated as many as 10 to 15 players a week from 22 NFL teams with therapies that include natural non-steroidal injections to help regrow tendons and ligaments.

Kalimba Edwards, a defensive end for the Detroit Lions, told ESPN.com that he flew to Atlanta every other Tuesday for treatment from Sloan so he could play through a groin injury. Ed Hartwell, a linebacker for the Atlanta Falcons, visits Sloan each week, ESPN.com reported.

"Yeah, he's a doctor," Hartwell told ESPN.com. "He's an M.D. ... I know (he is). You see his stuff in his office and stuff. He's got it."

Sloan, 36, does not have a medical license. He told the Herald-Leader that he never presented himself as a medical doctor, only as a naturopath.

In his book, Owens describes in detail some of the treatments he receives from Sloan. They include hot laser treatments, hyperbaric oxygen treatments and injections. One injection, a type of prolotherapy, is a solution of dextrose, sugar water and the anesthetic procaine.

Owens could not be reached for comment yesterday. Officials from the Dallas Cowboys did not return phone calls Thursday from the Herald-Leader. Owens' agent, Drew Rosenhaus, told ESPN.com that "I just know that my dealings with (Sloan) have been positive. And I think he does an excellent job. ... I have a high opinion of him."

Sloan spoke to the Herald-Leader before the ESPN.com story appeared. An employee in Sloan's office said he was out of town yesterday. Sloan's attorney, Montfort Ray, said he was unable to comment because of the medical board investigation, but that he hoped to speak about the allegations within a few weeks.

McNatt, the official from the Georgia Medical Board, said that, if Sloan is injecting chemicals into someone and diagnosing them, "that's considered practicing medicine."

McNatt said that depending on the outcome of the investigation, the board could issue a public cease-and-desist order against Sloan. If that order is violated, the case could be referred to criminal prosecutors. McNatt said Thursday that he could not discuss specifics of his agency's investigation.

Sloan told the Herald-Leader he has a European medical degree. He said that to get a naturopathic doctor degree from Arnett's Southern Graduate Institute in Magoffin County, "I took an equivalency exam."

Arnett founded the now-defunct Southern Graduate Institute in 2002. He also recruited students for the University of Science Art & Technology in Montserrat, West Indies, which is not accredited in the United States. Carla Konyk, director of administration at USAT, said yesterday that the school had not had business dealings with Arnett in three months.

Sloan told ESPN.com that he earned a doctorate in public health from USAT last year and that he's completing a master's degree in nursing from the Montserrat school. A Web site identified as USAT's had listed Sloan as a staff member in 2005. Konyk, however said she had no record of Sloan being a student or a staff member. Konyk said USAT did not have a distance-learning program.

The Herald-Leader investigation "Degrees of Harm" examined Arnett's role in recruiting students to treat patients, study in clinical settings or receive online medical degrees from various institutions. Three men who received their medical education through Arnett have been convicted of practicing medicine without a license -- one in Kentucky, one in Nevada and one in Rhode Island.

Arnett has been investigated by state and federal authorities but has never been charged with a crime as a result of his medical activities. He is not licensed as a medical doctor in Kentucky or any other state. Michael Rodman, assistant executive director of the Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure, said this week that the agency's investigation of Arnett is continuing.

Arnett's attorney, Stephen Owens of Pikeville, had not responded yesterday to written questions from the Herald-Leader.

Sloan told ESPN that he works under the supervision of a licensed physician when he gives patients injections and isn't breaking the law. The Georgia board is investigating the extent of that supervision, McNatt said.

The ESPN.com report also said that Georgia investigators have accessed a series of e-mail messages to a blogger. In the messages, Sloan said he was familiar with human growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor 1. Both substances are thought to speed up muscle repair and are banned by professional sports organizations.

Sloan said in a later e-mail to the blogger that he has never given banned drugs to any player, using "only prolotherapy" and natural healing agents. Sloan told the Herald-Leader he sent the e-mail to explain a research project he had participated in. He said he did e-mail the blogger, but told the Herald-Leader: "I'm denying the accuracy of the remarks attributed to my name."

Meeting on Virtual School Set for Plantation

Former U.S. Education Secretary William Bennett will host a meeting in Plantation tonight for parents interested in a new Internet school his company is starting in Florida this year.

The Florida Legislature this spring created two pilot programs for "virtual schools" -- taxpayer-funded schools that allow students to learn from home, over the Internet. A teacher monitors their progress but a parent or guardian does most of the teaching.

The virtual schools are open to students in grades K-8, though students who will be in grades 2-8 must have been enrolled in a Florida public school during the 2002-03 school year.

Bennett's school is Virginia-based K12. New Connections Academy by Sylvan is running the other virtual school. They will be holding four meetings for Broward parents next week.

The virtual school year starts Sept. 2. Students will be considered public school students and will take the FCAT.

A parent who enrolls a child in the virtual school receives a computer, printer and Internet access. Curriculum is downloaded from K12's website and parents instruct their children with online lessons.

Michigan Internet School Gets Gift from Ameritech

The Michigan Virtual University, a state-supported college on the Internet, is to announce today it has received a $750,000 grant from Ameritech to help train programmers, Web-site developers and computer engineers to fill an estimated 40,000 job openings statewide.

The challenge grant will be used to create Michigan Virtual Information Technology College, which will offer classes to state residents over the Internet by early next year. Ameritech hopes other state corporations will match its grant.

Students who sign up on-line will be able to get assignments, read lectures and get notes for classes at www.mivu.org . The finished work then is sent via e-mail to instructors at the state's colleges and universities who read and grade the work on-line and e-mail it back to the students. Students will even be able to earn degrees on-line from the colleges offering the courses.

"We're looking to provide a zero-to-60-m.p.h. track primarily in entry-level courses to people interested in learning or improving" their information technology skills, said MVU President David Spencer.

"There are at least 10,000 current openings in the state for IT professionals," Spencer said. "But there may also be as many as 30,000 additional technology-oriented job openings in Michigan's overall workforce that need intermediate or advanced skills or knowledge not usually associated with traditional IT jobs."

Those include jobs in which restaurant workers scan bills into electronic cash registers to bank clerks typing mortgage information into personal computers.

Training Michigan's workforce for these 21st-Century technology jobs will boost the state's productivity and its economy. Statistics show the average state IT worker earns $46,000 a year, compared with the national average of $28,000 a year for all jobs.

Despite the efforts of the nation's colleges, not nearly enough students are graduating with technology training, said Bob Cohen, spokesman for the Information Technology Association of America. About 36,000 students graduate each year with computer science degrees nationwide, about a tenth of the current 346,000 IT job openings nationwide.

So it's important that colleges and universities reach out to potential IT students in their homes and workplaces over the Internet, said Ameritech Michigan President Robert Cooper.

"IT is an area where you always have openings," he said. Some 20,000 people are expected to enroll in the Michigan Virtual University by 2002, he said, including many from Ameritech.

"There are a couple things we do within the company that fit well with this," he said. "We have a great education plan here that allows Ameritech employees to go back to school and the company reimburses their tuition. This is a nice easy way for people to work at a job and go to school."

Ameritech also wins because most of the telephone lines delivering these college courses to on-line students are owned by the Chicago-based telecommunications giant, the dominant local phone service provider in Michigan.

"We have 550,000 miles of fiber-optic cable in this state," Cooper said. "You could go to the moon and back on that. I also see distance learning as a way to have equity in education that applies to everyone in the state, not just those among us who haveaccess to the most resources. As a person of color, equity in education is very important to me."

The course catalog and costs have not yet been determined.

Giving everyone in the state a chance to learn high-tech skills is important to Gov. John Engler as well.

"Soon anyone who gets IT training will be able to take classes from their jobs or home," Engler said. "This is a very important initiative for the state. Washtenaw County has 2,500 unfilled IT jobs. And Oakland County needs thousands more people as well.We even need a lot of these skills in state government."

Internet school might open doors to Tacoma students

The Tacoma School District might soon offer its high school students online courses for credit through Federal Way's Internet Academy.

Ninety full-time-equivalent students from Tacoma could begin taking courses online in the fall through an agreement with the Federal Way School District. Tacoma would hire three teachers for Federal Way's program.

Far more than 90 students could enroll for 450 available class slots because students usually only take a portion of their classes online.

The agreement would enable Tacoma to keep state funding for its online students. The money would pay for Tacoma's Internet teachers and to design future courses, said Gil Mendoza, who directs alternative education for Tacoma schools.

Tacoma also would ensure teachers meet with its Internet students on a regular basis, Mendoza said.

Tacoma district leaders are reviewing the proposal from Federal Way, which became the state's first public school district to offer Internet classes in 1996.

School boards for both districts must still approve.

Internet Academy Principal Ron Mayberry said the agreement would mark the first time in Washington two districts have joined to provide Internet classes.

Connie Rickman, president of the Tacoma School Board, said she supports a partnership with Federal Way that would provide another way to learn.

"We don't want to lose kids," Rickman said. "We want our kids to learn and we want our kids to have a skill when they leave school."

Mendoza, who will become superintendent of Sumner schools in July, said Tacoma wants to offer Internet classes tailored to its students.

"It would build options and flexibility in their schedules," he said.

The one-year agreement would allow Tacoma to begin meeting the increasing demand for online classes without creating an entirely new program, Mendoza said.

The courses could draw students who are working or otherwise need flexible course times, Mendoza said. Students could make up credits online. And those who have dropped out of school could be back in classes through the Internet and by attending some high school in person, he said.

State basic education funding for each full-time Tacoma student -- $4,300 a year -- would pay for the three Tacoma teachers who would work out of the Internet Academy's offices in Federal Way, Mendoza said. Of that amount, 22 percent would cover Federal Way's Internet Academy costs, including secretarial help, technology support and software licenses, Mayberry said.

Karen Dickinson, associate superintendent for Tacoma schools, said students could also take courses through the Digital Learning Commons. The Internet Academy is a member of that nonprofit consortium, which offers more than 300 courses from a variety of providers.

About 20 full-time-equivalent students from the Tacoma School District already are enrolled in the Internet Academy, Mendoza said. The state allows students to enroll in schools and programs outside of their district.

Tacoma high school students could take any course from the Internet Academy. The agreement would expand Federal Way's enrollment by nearly one-fourth. By getting larger, more union teachers would be employed and Federal Way's academy would grow and continue to compete with commercially run Internet programs, Mayberry said.

"As a public school, we need to hang on to online public instruction," he said.

Since Federal Way launched its online academy, several other districts have added Internet programs. Most are run by private, for-profit companies.

K12 Inc. operates the Washington Virtual Academy for the Steilacoom Historical School District. The Quillayute Valley School District in Forks offers courses from the Virtual High School and Insight School of Washington.

Through Federal Way's academy, students take text-based courses online with graphics, flash content and short videos. They turn in assignments via e-mail to their teacher.

Mendoza said he likes Federal Way's program because it aligns to the state's expectations for grade-level performance. Tacoma district employees have gone online to check out it and other Internet programs.

"We thought Federal Way's program was the best match," Mendoza said.

Central jazz group wins honors at NSU

School bands performing this afternoon in Bismarck

The Central High School Jazz Bands have started their competitive season.

On Jan. 24, the bands performed at the Northern State University Jazz Festival. The Jazz Central Station jazz band, directed by Dennis McDermott, took first place at the festival. The group also received the Best Rhythm Section and Best Trumpet Section awards.

Today, both jazz bands will travel to the University of Mary Jazz Festival in Bismarck, N.D. In Bismarck, Jazz Express will perform at 1:30 p.m. The group will play "Who Let the Cats In?" by Paul Clark with soloists Reid Turner, Alyssa Weber, Josh Opp, Denham McDermott and Bryce Job; "Rachel is Boss" by Paul Ferguson, featuring soloist Courtney Fischer; "Fudge Said the Judge" by Les Taylor, with soloists Turner, McDermott, Job, Opp and Taylor Johnson, and "Pressure Cooker" by John Tatgenhorst, featuring soloists Johnson and Jeanna Jerde.

Jazz Central Station will perform at 2:30 p.m. That group will play "And Another Thing" by Tom Garling, "Life of the Party" by Bob Mintzer, "In Her Family" by Pat Metheny and "North Shore Morning" by Matt Harris.

On March 4, both jazz bands will compete at the Augustana Jazz Festival in Sioux Falls, and on April 3 they will be part of the University of Minnesota/Morris Jazz Competition.

On Monday, April 14, at 7:30 p.m., the Central Jazz Bands will hosting the first-ever Aberdeen Central All-City Jazz Band concert in the Thomas F. Kelly Theatre.

Members of the 2008 Jazz Central Station Jazz Band, directed by McDermott, are saxophonists Megan Mehlhoff, Matt Hanson, Bret Dahme, Jordan Doerr and Justin Fischer; trumpeters Chrissy Hodney, Ryan Hopfinger, Paul Fellbaum, Jordan Decker and Kyle Stugelmayer, trombonists Robert Klein, Jed Dumire, Ryan Parker and Mariah Stolle, bass player Andrew Grandpre, pianist Ricky Faflak, guitarist Alex Walter and percussionist Mike Wager.

Members of the 2008 Jazz Express Jazz Band, under the direction of Jerome Letcher, are saxophonists Taylor Johnson, Courtney Fischer, Alexis Burckhard, Emily Davis and Alyssa Weber; trumpeters Kirstie Triden, Jeanna Jerde, Caleb Halvorson and Sam Haglund; trombonists Erik Kringen, Yaseen Ikrahmullah, Jordan Gese and Tyler Fischer; bass player Denham McDermott, pianist Reid Turner, guitarist Josh Opp and percussionists Bryce Job and Alec Ness.