Surf's Up for School Districts on the Web

Article excerpt

The vast majority of these sites target two main audiences--teachers and the community.

[Editor's Note: URLs mentioned in the text of this article appear in The VOICES of the Web Honor Roll, page 80.]

As I write this column in June of 1997, more than four percent of the some 14,467 U.S. school districts have a reported Web presence. These 646 districts are scattered throughout the country. Nearly every state has an online school district Web site, but in terms of absolute numbers, the states of California, New York, Texas, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and New Jersey have the most reported school districts online.

When you consider that in September 1994, there were only four U.S. school districts with Web sites, this is rapid but not unexpected growth. Based on an analysis of statistics maintained by Gleason Sackman, the growth of school district Web sites increased significantly in 1996. In the same period of time, the number of school Web sites also increased significantly (see Figure 1). National programs such as Net-Day and massive media attention, in large part resulting from the Clinton/Gore emphasis on networking in education, all have factored into a significant increase in the number of schools that are now "wired" and connected to the World Wide Web. Educational leaders are acknowledging via these district Web sites the legitimate role that educational leaders and administrative offices must assume in helping staff, students, and parents keep informed about their educational programs, including their technology components.

School district Web sites share certain general characteristics. Most of these sites are created by the district technology department, although a few were created by students and teachers from the district and some by professional Web design companies. The vast majority of these sites target two main audiences--teachers and the community. They provide teachers with information about online curricular resources, state and local educational standards, and professional development opportunities. They also often provide information to prospective staff by announcing job vacancies and releasing information on employment criteria and needs. School district Web sites usually provide statistical information about school district student populations, including information regarding assessments, and typically they provide links, if not Web space, to individual schools in the district. Many sites also provide news about school board activities or other local political action impacting the operations of the system. In addition, some sites provide information for students to use in their homework as well as curricular resource links for homeschoolers.

Many school districts are turning to external contractors to assist them in their development of Web sites, network designs, and implementation plans. It is extremely important that these design companies work with district personnel in determining the nature and kind of information that is made available online. Not all school districts require external Web consulting and many of the sites highlighted in this article demonstrate outstanding technical and information presentation capabilities of inhouse district personnel.

There are many excellent district Web sites. A genuine treasure trove of information is available about educational organization, standards, politics, curriculum, and principles of management and administration. While the choices I made were difficult, the Web sites highlighted in this column have established a commanding presence on the World Wide Web and demonstrate an extremely effective use of Web technology for education.

School VOICES of the Web

An Evaluation Methodology

VOICES is an evaluation methodology for school-produced Web sites. The key, equally-weighted criteria are:

Vision: How well is the fundamental purpose or purposes of the Web site articulated and implemented? …