Increase Technology Funding, Implementation – Find Money for Education Technology in General Budget

Policymakers throughout all educational levels are wrestling with the cold, hard truth that the original funding of new equipment and software is the tip of the funding iceberg. In the ’80s we called this the “hidden costs.” In the ’90s we were so excited about all the new gadgets that we forgot to worry about anything else. Now, in the new century, we are wondering how we can afford to keep the tools our administrators, teachers, parents and students are finally putting to good use.

As the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) states in their Total Cost of Ownership white paper, “While many government and private programs provide the means of obtaining the much-needed technology for schools, there are few provisions for the necessary ongoing support of these technologies. School districts, having installed much of the technologies needed for classroom, administrative and community communications functions, are fast becoming aware of the support problems and need to budget for the ongoing support costs.” These monies are often the last priority of any school entity.

With the revolving threat of federal funds elimination for E-Rate and EETT (Enhancing Education Through Technology) funds, districts must find their own reliable and ongoing funding sources, and state and federal leadership would do well to help calculate and take into consideration total cost of ownership. Seeing the big picture is a necessity.

General Budget Technology Funding

To compound the funding dilemma, many education leaders have yet to realize that technology is no longer a separate entity. Technology use is an everyday occurrence in every school in every district, at one level or another. Unfortunately, many education policy leaders have not revised their general budgets to support the proven ways technology improves the work and goals of the local education agencies (LEAs). Leaders who consider technology a “black hole” (as one administrator once told me) are burying their heads in the sand and should be made aware or trained.

Those who set the general fund budget should be informed of the successes from districts that have recreated education budgeting and work practices. These districts take advantage of technology to increase business efficiency and advance student learning, thus saving money and truly educating students while helping meet No Child Left Behind mandates:

  1. One of the strongest organizations of high performing school districts west of the Mississippi River is the Western States Benchmarking Consortium. These districts constantly score above the norm on tests, have high graduation rates, and have lower dropout rates when compared with similar and dissimilar demographics. All of these school districts were early adopters of technology and have used it to support teachers, students and their business teams.
  2. Assistant Superintendent John Q. Porter of Montgomery County Public Schools, an outstanding school district on the East Coast, stated in the June issue of District Administration magazine, “Our enemy is time, and technology is the only way [to combat that]. Still, there are people who don’t understand the importance of technology because they fear it. One of the first things you realize in technology is that technology is change; those who fail in developing systems don’t understand the dynamic of change.”
  3. Two years ago, Poway Unified School District was going to hire 32 new teachers. The technology department used their data warehousing tool to show district leaders they needed only 25 teachers. The leadership followed their advice instead of following old trends, and their estimation proved correct. The district saved approximately $350,000 in salaries — more than the cost of the data warehouse installation.
  4. Student assessments have changed. Trish Williams and Michael Kirst, in their article “School Practices that Matter” (Leadership Magazine, March/April 2006), state high performing districts must have assessments that align with state standards and have the ability to quickly inform teachers of results. Online assessments give policymakers a choice of how to properly assess students to support learning, with 24 hours or quicker result reporting. This should be a common practice to support the students and meet NCLB mandates.

RELATED STORY: Find More Money for Budget and Technology []

All budgets, despite project or department, must be completely reviewed to see how technology can support and make the end product more successful. Additionally, policy leaders must continue to research what new innovations will be appearing in the near future and analyze how these new tools will impact education programs in their local education agencies. All must be in a continual learning mode and work together to envision how we can help put students on a path to continual intellectual growth. Following are some steps to start down the path toward properly utilizing general funds for the support of technology.

Funding Where There was None

Step 1: Evaluate and Prioritize

Data-driven decision-making is a fundamental part of this first step. Generally, there are three areas from which data should be gathered: instructional and business demands, the infrastructure to support those demands, and the equipment and software needed to meet those demands.

  • Instructional and business demands: these demands are driven by district objectives, community expectations, state and federal mandates, funding constraints and labor union guidelines. Expectations are increasingly high for districts to produce students who perform well on standardized tests and exhibit good citizenship. The business side of education exists to support the learning activities that will meet these expectations.
  • The infrastructure to support those demands: LEAs’ infrastructure consists of multiple components. Every two to three years, structural components should be reviewed. Telephones, data, alarm, networks and general physical condition of buildings must be assessed to understand what repairs and upgrades are needed. Funding is available in many states under deferred maintenance, or in operational and maintenance restricted funds. If a comprehensive plan is developed and followed, districts can ensure this major building block for support of education will be set in place.
  • Equipment and software to meet those demands: with the first two areas in place, an intelligent decision can be made regarding the purchase of software, computers and other related equipment that will work with the existing infrastructure and meet the district’s instructional and business demands.

Attaining these goals may require more than one year. It is also highly probable that goals will change over time. It is wise, therefore, to create a multi-year plan that is agile and modifiable.

Part of supporting technology is providing a maintenance, replacement or obsolescence fund, typically fed from districts’ general funds. Too often a majority of technology dollars are spent simply maintaining the status quo. The challenge is to meet the continual need for growth in the areas of technology for online assessments, home-to-school communication, 24/7 access to learning resources and virtual or distance learning.

Step 2: Partnerships

LEAs can benefit from partnerships with local and national businesses in two major ways. First, businesses use general funds to support technology, and business leaders can share funding and maintenance best practices with educational policymakers. Second, business partners can donate equipment or money to support technology innovations in education.

True partnerships support all parties involved. Such partnerships can be large or small, because any amount of funding will help. Large corporations often have several different funding sources. IBM, for instance, has the Academic Initiative and an alliance with the Computer Science Teachers Association to provide free software and curriculum planning. Intel offers multiple grant programs, as does Microsoft. Smaller companies, even the mom and pop donut shop, can and will support their neighborhood school.

Step 3: Form Foundations

If a community understands its local districts’ funding constraints, they are often willing to extend financial assistance by creating a foundation. While foundations are helpful overall, they should be avoided for individual school sites, as they generally increase inequities that already exist. Schools in more affluent neighborhoods may have foundations that raise $100,000 or more annually, while schools in less affluent areas may only raise $5,000 or have no foundation, and will obviously be unable to support their student learning projects.

Step 4: New Uses for Old Technologies

Thin client (a network computer without a hard disk drive, which is designed to be especially small so that the bulk of the data processing occurs on the server) is one way to use old equipment to run new software, where old computers can become “dumb terminals” and run new applications from the server. This solution requires a sound network foundation and server structure, but can reduce replacement costs and decrease technology support staff needs.

Step 5: Give Grants a Chance

Where are the grants? Too many education decision-makers and leaders, especially at the high school level, do not realize that state and federal grants are much easier to obtain if their free and reduced lunch count is 40 percent or more. It is important for educators to have accurate data and a high percentage in this area for funding sources such as E-Rate, EETT, or other related sources. In addition, ferreting out grant money can augment general funds to support student learning with technology.

The Road to Affording Ed Tech

General budget funding must be realigned to match the needs of local education agencies. This will help both the learning and business aspects of a school. These funds may initially need supplemental support, but educators must be aware of the benefits of technology. We must intelligently commit funding for the educational growth of all our children.

Leasing Equipment

Last year, the Poway Unified School District had to replace approximately 3,000 Windows 95 computers. These computers would not run the Web browser needed for their data reporting tool or the majority of teacher Web pages. The memory and speed of the computers were insufficient to run most of the enterprise-wide educational software available over their wide area network (WAN) and local area networks (LANs).

The district had less than $1 million per year available for this project. Leasing was discussed. The amount the district had for support was ongoing, so the question was, could a lease agreement that guaranteed a vendor an ongoing fixed dollar amount for several years also guarantee the district a continuing flow of up-to-date technology equipment?

The district obtained a four-year lease with three vendors, with an agreement at the end of four years to rotate the machines out with a new lease agreement. Additional cost savings included the maintenance agreement — vendor responsibility for all repairs during the lease period.

Thin Client

Districts throughout New York and New Jersey have discovered how to use thin client technology to make old computers new again. During the late 1990s, thin client was dismissed as too slow and too expensive to be useful in most school districts. This perception has changed in business, as in education, with greater network speed via WAN and LAN technologies, and tremendous server cost reductions.

In a thin client environment, workstations do not store programs but rather receive everything from a system of servers (one server for about 20 workstations). When servers were $20,000 each, this was cost prohibitive. Today, servers that can support thin client cost about $3,500, allowing quick communication with workstations and a cost-saving solution.

Total Cost of Ownership

How can policy leaders find the true cost of supporting equipment? The Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) and the Gartner Group have an online tool that will assist in the estimation of this cost for various levels of technology.

Published in the Fall 2006 issue of Converge []

Online Continuing Education For Insurance Providers – Economical, Efficient, Effective

Like many other service professionals, registered Insurance agents and adjusters are required to stay up to date with the latest rules, regulations, and best practices of their industry through regular Insurance Continuing Education (CE) training. While each state has its own unique licensing requirements, all states require some level of periodic Insurance CE to maintain a license in that state.

Typically, a minimum number of insurance CE credits must be earned every two years. The providers of continuing education training must themselves be certified to train in the state in which the insurance professionals are licensed.

Insurance CE training has historically been offered in a traditional classroom setting or in hotel conference rooms. The licensee attends lectures which are followed by an exam. Once an exam is passed the results are submitted to the state’s licensing board where the credits are recorded. A minimum number of credits must be passed within a two year period in order to renew their license.

There are certain advantages gained by learning in a classroom environment. Most everyone went through school in a similar learning environment and so it is a familiar venue. Insurance agents and adjusters can meet each other, network, compare notes and discuss the lecture. There are some disadvantages to this learning model however, which include:

  • The costs associated with this kind of training are high due to the need to rent classroom space and hire a professional trainer, as well as the associated travel and lodging costs.
  • Most classes are offered during the week during business hours, causing lost productivity.
  • Completed course credits usually need to be reported by the trainee to the licensing board.

Insurance is a very competitive business. Time away from the office may result in lost opportunities or a backlog of work which needs to be attended to. To address these deficiencies, online insurance continuing education courses provide a number of advantages not found in the classroom, including:

  • The training cost is much lower – often a mere fraction of the classroom version.
  • Online insurance CE training is available at any time (including nights or weekends). It’s accessible whenever the professional has some spare time in his or her schedule.
  • Students can move through course material at their own pace.
  • Insurance professionals who are licensed to work in several states can fulfill their CE requirements at one time and place.
  • Some online insurance CE providers allow unlimited test re-takes, until the candidate passes. 
  • Reminders of individual Insurance Continuing Education deadlines are sent via email to ensure timely completion of course requirements.
  • Reporting of training credits to the licensing board is done automatically by some online insurance CE course providers upon exam completion (where this is allowed by the individual state).
  • Companies that sign up for online CE training in bulk can monitor the training requirements and status of every licensed employee via the Internet.

Online training courses are typically delivered via slide presentation using a computers web browser. Most people know how to use a web browser and therefore require no additional training.

Some online Insurance CE courses now provide multimedia support that augments the presentation slides. Insurance professionals should choose an online Insurance CE provider that includes audio training as a complement to on-screen slides. For example, the audio can be downloaded as a “podcast” and the insurance professional can listen and learn while driving to an appointment.

If you are an insurance professional and are considering using an online provider to complete your insurance CE, you may be able to find special deals that offer unlimited courses for a fixed price. This can save you a lot of time and money, not to mention the convenience of being able to study at the location and time of your choosing.

Best Web Browsers: QupZilla Browser Review

QupZilla is a new and exciting web browser designed for general users. This application is based on Qt Framework and WebKit core. It boasts features comparable to Firefox and Chrome, but uses fewer resources than its competitors. This browser was developed by David Rosca, a Czech Linux user. QupZilla comes with several add-ons and themes for an enjoyable browsing experience.

This open source web browser can run on any operating system that has a Qt port. QupZilla unifies history, bookmarks, and RSS features in one window. It also uses icons from the active desktop icon theme. It has all the standard functions you expect from a reliable browser. Its key features include:

• One well-arranged window
• Opera-like “speed dial” home page
• Private browsing mode
• SSL certificate manager
• Windows 7 API integration
• Chrome and Firefox bookmark importing
• Search engine manager
• Multiple themes
• History and bookmarks sidebar
• Integrated AdBlock support
• Consumes less system resources
• Add RSS feed into external reader
• Support for third party subscriptions in AdBlock
• Users can turn animations off
• Configurable interface
• Built-in add-ons
• Supports Flash and HTML5
• Unified library
• Cookie manager

If you are tired of visiting websites full of advertisements that are eating your bandwidth, then you should check out QupZilla. This easy to use application blocks adverts and promotional material and ensures a safe browsing experience. The browser can be easily customized and has multiple add-ons installed by default. A dialog for notifications is also included.

QupZilla features an integrated RSS reader that allows you to stay up to date with your favorite websites. This web browser has been originally created only for educational purposes. Its main goal is to be a very fast and secure QtWebKit browser available to everyone. Users can import bookmarks from other sites and customize the browser’s interface with a few clicks. The preferences window has some fantastic privacy features to protect your identity online.

Bookmarking your favorite sites is very easy. All you have to do is to hit the star in the search bar and then choose a place to save it to. Configuring this browser is similar to configuring Firefox. The preferences menu has lots of options including a password manager, a download manager, notifications, and network proxy configurations. This advanced program loads pages very fast and has the ability to pass off external programs and parameters as the download manager. QupZilla is relatively new and bugs are being worked out, so make sure you give it a try.

Internet Browser Choices Aplenty

In the world of internet browsers you have lots of choices. There are a lot of opinions about which one is the best and which one you should use. This article will give you the highlights and downsides of each browser so that you can make an educated decision to which browsers are right for you.

What browsers are out there?

Currently there are 4 major browsers that make up over 98% of the North American market. (statcounter, June 2010)

1) Internet Explorer 54% Current version: 8

2) Firefox 30% Current version 3.6

3) Safari 8% Current version: 4

4) Chrome 6 % Current version: 5

If you are not using the most current version of any of these browsers you should upgrade to decrease your security risks and ensure that you have the most current features.

Internet Explorer 8

Internet Explorer has been the most used browser in the world since 1999 when it started to outpace Netscape Navigator as the standard. Since then it has stayed the mainstream leader.

One of the primary benefits with Internet Explorer 8 is its seamless integration into Windows 7. New tabs are automatically shown as separate windows in your taskbar when hovering over the Internet Explorer icon. The other benefit of Internet Explorer 8 is that most web designers have to develop with this browser in mind. This means almost everything supports Internet Explorer 8 and those that do not will probably shortly.

The primary disadvantage of Internet Explorer is that it is considered slower are more resource intensive than other browsers on the market. The other drawback to Internet Explorer is its security. Though it is considered just as secure as other browsers it is more frequently the target of attacks. This means you have to update it more often to keep your version secure.

Firefox 3.6 (4.0 released June 14, 2010)

Firefox is owned and run by the Mozilla Foundation which is a non-profit organization located in California. Firefox has had a host of innovative features which has contributed to its dominance as the “alternative to Internet Explorer” in the market place.

The advantage of Firefox is the speed at which they adapt to the marketplace. They are quick to come out with new features and many of them users are automatically added to your version as soon as they come out. There are also lots of Firefox plug-ins to enhance the internet experience.

The disadvantage to Firefox is that it is still not fully supported by all webware and select websites. Their support is increasing as their market share climbs and most web designers try to accommodate for Firefox.

Safari 4

Safari’s popularity is mostly due to it being standard on all apple computers, though its PC version has gained some popularity.

Safari’s claim to fame is the way it looks, and the way it makes web pages look. The text will look a smoother; the forms will look nice and clear and even the buttons look better. It is also one of the fastest browsers available.

The main disadvantage to Safari is its limited support. Older websites and webware are notorious for having issues with Safari and if you are not web savvy this could be frustrating.

Chrome 5

Chrome is one of Google’s many products. It has been increasing market share steadily since its launch in 2008.

Chrome is the fastest and lightest weight browser out there. What this means for you is that web pages will run faster and it doesn’t take a powerhouse computer to run it. In fact, it uses less memory than its competitors. One thing that unique to Chrome is that if one website crashes it doesn’t crash all of the other websites you have open.

The disadvantage to Chrome is similar to Safari, it just isn’t supported by everything. It also has a very limited number of plug-ins.

Final Thoughts

All four browsers have their place in the market. Some may love the look of Safari, the support of Internet Explorer, the innovation of Firefox, or the speed of Chrome. There is no bad choice. However, there is a choice – so give another one a shot and see what you think!