Free access for students and teachers will be available at school and home at any time (Charp, 2002, p. 10).
Schools have also been helped by funding from corporations of various types, many of which see the need for a workforce in the future that is fully adept at using the new information technology, or that has some stake in assuring that a well-trained public is developed. Companies focusing on engineering and mathematics offer computer help to students, and some programs are more far-reaching:
Also, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is donating $40 million to create small high schools across the United States to increase high school graduation and college attendance. Students will be able to earn both a high school diploma, and an associate's degree or two years of college credit. The effort includes the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Ford Foundation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. In addition, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is planning to commit more than $345 million to schools and districts throughout the United States to create small schools and transfer large high schools into smaller learning communities. Technology is to play a key role in administration and instruction in these schools (Charp, 2002, p. 10).
As Wilson and Notar (2003) report, the United States has spent more than $19 billion to develop an information technology infrastructure in local school, districts and classrooms, so that now the number of schools connected to the Internet exceeds 90%, with the ratio of students to computers in most schools dropping to a low of 5:1 compared to a ratio of 26:1 a decade ago. However, the authors also point out that it is more important to measure the type of technology in use, and the problem is that most of the purchases have been at the low end so that the platforms purchased do not allow for the use of high quality software of the latest configurations. An added problem is that the teachers themselves are not as well-trained on this technology as they should be:
Whereas a majority of teachers now incorporate technology to perform administrative functions and classroom 'housekeeping', only 33% of K?12 teachers report that teacher training programs provided them with the training needed and that they feel inadequately prepared to integrate high quality digital content into their instruction (Wilson & Notar, 2003, p. 695).
An additional motivation for implementing new and better technology in education is seen in the passage in 2002 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, a bi-partisan bill to provide additional federal money to schools, particularly those serving the needs of students from low-income families. Part of the law includes a requirement to test all students in grades 3-8 in reading and math. The bill also authorizes a good deal of needed research:
The U.S. Department of Education will conduct research on the conditions and practices under which educational technology is effective in increasing student achievement, and it will create a national education technology plan. As part of their application for funds under this act, states will submit a statewide long-range strategic educational technology plan that must address 15 components, many of which describe the proposed uses of the technology-related money. Among these uses are to raise student achievement, provide courses through distance learning, ensure teachers and administrators are technologically literate, and increase parental involvement (Fletcher, 2002, p. 56).
This technology has been and will continue to be utilized in a wide variety of teaching and administrative activities, including for instruction, for accessing data, for keeping records, for interconnecting schools and districts, for giving educators more control over the learning situation, for expanding the learning situation to reach outside the classroom both to find information elsewhere and to connect the student to the classroom even from home, and so on.
A report from the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory lays out the impact of parental involvement and finds that students with involved parents, no matter what their parents' income or background, are more likely to show the following characteristics:
They earn higher grades and test scores, and enroll in higher-level programs
They are more likely to be promoted, pass their classes, and earn credits
They attend school regularly
They have better social skills, show improved behavior, and adapt well to school
They graduate and go on to post-secondary education (Henderson & Mapp, 2002). Other studies have suggested that the type of parental involvement is an important variable: "The effectiveness of parental involvement depends on type of involvement, ethnicity, family income, and home environment" (Okpala, Okpala, & Smith, 2001, p. 112).. Some studies consider the issue in terms of a specific skill and how it might be improved by parental involvement, such as reading (Hawes & Plourde, 2005, or Anderson, 2000) or writing (Beck, 2002).
The emphasis on parental involvement has been continued with assessments of certain technologies. The use of technology itself has been touted as a way of involving parents, as reported by Bessell, Sinagub, Lee, & Schumm (2003) with reference to a system called Family Tech used in South Florida:
In the FamilyTech program, computers were loaned to students for use at their homes, and computer instruction was provided as part of the students' school day. but, the program did not stop there. The FamilyTech program was also designed with computer training for parents as part of the intervention, which served multiple purposes (p. 7).
A technology similar to Zangle is described by Bird (2006) from a system used at Westside Community Schools, a school district in Omaha. This school is composed of more than 6,000 students attending 10 elementary schools, one middle school, and one high school. The need has been to keep parents in touch with their child's academic performance, but the district faced the familiar obstacles of parents who wanted an update on their child but would have to call the principal's office or the teacher's direct line:
Parent-teacher conferences came too late to reverse a student's lack of progress. Parents of older students were offered few opportunities to stay involved (Bird, 2006, p. 38).
To address this issue, the district implemented Apple's PowerSchool, a Web-based SIS (student information system) that gives parents access to data on their child's attendance, grades, evaluations, and general activities. The students also have the same open access. The district first used the system better to manage reporting and assessment, scheduling, and grading. The school found that when it opened the external interface to the students and parents, the benefits were considerable:
Since the implementation of the SIS, attendance at Westside is better than ever, discipline reports are down, and, instead of declining test scores that are common in schools with similar demographics, test scores are consistently above the national average and among the highest in the state of Nebraska. School administrators attribute this in good part to the SIS (Bird, 2006, p. 39).
One reason cited for doing this is the large amount of research showing that parental involvement improves student achievement. In addition, the rise of the Internet has provided schools with an easier way to reach parents. Research shows that parental participation in schools tends to decrease as children grow older. Research from the U.S. Department of Education shows the schools often offer parents too few opportunities to stay involved in their child's later years. The student information system create an easily available channel of information and can help reduce any drop-off in parental involvement.
Another impetus comes from the requirements of No Child Left Behind law covering the parent's right to information about academic content. In the past, it was often left to the student to provide information to the parents about the details of school life, such as homework assignments. Today, the same parents can get this information directly on the Internet. Also, parents are able to become aware of issues as they develop instead of having to wait until a parent-teacher conference or the end of the semester, when it may be too late to make positive changes:
Regularly scheduled parent-teacher meetings have become more meaningful. Since parents are already caught up on the basic facts about their child's progress, they can talk substantively about furthering the child's learning (Bird, 2006, p. 40).
General reports on the use of Zangle can be found at a number of school districts using the system, such as Cabrillo Middle School in Ventura, California (http://www.ventura.k12.ca.us/cabrillo/id11.htm);the San Diego Unified School District in San Diego, California (www.sandi.net/zangle/);the Oak Park School District in Oak Park, Michigan (http://www.oakparkschools.org:443/zangle.htm);and other sites. Some of these locations report benefits from the use of Zangle, others state that they are examining the question and would solicit views on the effectiveness of the system, and others do not raise the question at all on their websites.
The research design for this study will be exploratory in character, assessing the available data…