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Real Open Source Applications for Education?

kdawson posted more than 7 years ago | from the stacking-the-blocks dept.

Education 185

openeducation writes "I have been researching open source solutions for K-12 education pretty heavily for the past year and have been disappointed to find no real alternatives to the large administrative applications like student information systems, data warehouse, ERP, etc. But recently, I ran across Open Solutions for Education. This group appears to be making a serious effort at creating a stack of open source applications that are alternatives to the large and costly commercial packages. Centre, an open source student information system that has been around for a while, is part of the solution stack. They have a data warehouse and are proposing an open source SIF alternative and an assessment solution. While the proof is in the pudding, these guys have working demos and they look pretty good for a first run. K-12 education is in dire financial straits and solutions like these could help with lower TCO. Plus, education is a collaborative industry already, which makes it a good fit for open source."

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Necessary? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19015493)

Why are computers, student information systems, and open source required for K-12 education?

Re:Necessary? (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19015521)

Why are computers, student information systems, and open source required for K-12 education?

To simplify & reduce costs of managing students.

Re:Necessary? (2, Insightful)

zappepcs (820751) | more than 7 years ago | (#19015527)

Okay, you can go back under the rock you came out from under.

Re:Necessary? (3, Insightful)

DeadChobi (740395) | more than 7 years ago | (#19015531)

Because technology makes certain demonstrations easier, makes it easer to do the math of calculating grades, makes it easier to keep track of information, makes it easier to access information, makes it easier for students to do homework, and because it's a good idea for the curriculum to give some practical skills.

Re:Necessary? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19015551)

Just to gain some economies of scale. When you have hundreds or thousands of students you want to automate the effort of keeping track of them just like any organization would. It doesn't help when the state dumps a couple inches of regulations and requirements on you either. Unfunded of course.

Re:Necessary? (3, Funny)

cheater512 (783349) | more than 7 years ago | (#19015561)

So we can analyze the source code and figure out how to change our marks. :D

Re:Necessary? (1)

Rakishi (759894) | more than 7 years ago | (#19015615)

At my high school the grading system was the only thing that (to the best of my knowledge) wasn't hacked in one way or another. Oddly enough the one incident I do know of that had grades changed involved a student altering the marks on the grad submission piece of paper they were asked to bring to the main office.

Necessary panacea? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19015937)

"Why are computers, student information systems, and open source required for K-12 education?"

If technology can fix healthcare, then it can fix education. []

Re:Necessary? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19016219)

Why are computers, student information systems, and open source required for K-12 education?

Dude, this is Slashdot! Computers with F/OSS is required for everything!

Not only that, but computers and F/OSS can solve all of the World's problems. Why some folks think that by handing out laptops in third world countries to people who are incapable of using condoms (but somehow, they'll know how to use a computer?!?) will solve their problems and get them out of poverty. In a way that's true, because a market will be created where those folks are going sell those laptops for the things they really need! Like, ya know, food!

Re:Necessary? (3, Funny)

man_of_mr_e (217855) | more than 7 years ago | (#19016241)

Why? Skyrocketing costs for compliance with regulations like "no child left behind" combined with growing numbers of students and less and less funding means looking for solutions that allow more money to be spent on educating the children rather than adminstration.

Have you been to a high school recently? They're little more than prisons that let their inmates go home at 3pm.

Re:Necessary? (1)

I'll Provide The War (1045190) | more than 7 years ago | (#19016547)

The US already spends more per student than Canada, UK, France, Germany, Japan and the other G8 nations.

Funding is not the issue. ators/index.asp?SectionNumber=1&SubSectionNumber=3 &IndicatorNumber=67 []

Re:Necessary? (1)

man_of_mr_e (217855) | more than 7 years ago | (#19016935)

Perhaps I could have been a bit more clear. Less and less funding spent on actually educating the children. Countries like Canada, the UK, Franc, Germany and Japan don't have the inane administrative overhead of US schools.

Re:Necessary? (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19016363)

I am a Sys Admin for a midsize K12 school district. It is a legal requisite that we gather this information to get money to pay for staff. We can't arbitrarily ask for money and have no accountability for having or not having students. There are also expectations for performance. There is trending an analysis for growth and development of projects. Mind you, tens of thousands of children have to be kept track of. What if one doesn't show up for a class? During that time period the kid could be sick in the restroom, ditching school, kidnapped, not properly recorded or dead. Quite a panorama of possibilities all of which has happened at my school district. Just an efficient attendance system (which is part of a SIS) can maybe give us time to notify police, family or whomever. Saving kids from peanut butter is a somewhat common use of the SIS. Staff for information collection and management hasen't grown significantly in the last 15 years but the amount of students and data handled is a whole magnitude higher. Now if only we had a DBA or at least someone who understood what normalization was, ah well thats another story.

Re:Necessary? (0, Troll)

LynnwoodRooster (966895) | more than 7 years ago | (#19016695)

The reality is that they are not. At all. What's needed is to get back to the basics; I know I'll get berated for this, but somehow the world's scientists and engineers up through the early 90s were educated enough without computers, IS, and such in their primary education. This here Intarweb came from guys who learned on slide-rules and pencil-and-paper... Boeing designed some pretty fine planes before the first engineers who touched a computer prior to college came into the market. And so on...

But this is /. and the reality is that any tech that is pushed considered a GOOD thing. Unless of course it's shown to be a failure, then everyone jumps to the other side saying yeah, it's not needed. Witness the laptops-for-students issue. 3 years ago, it was "of COURSE we should do it!" Now that the facts were reported about how unsuccessful it's been, it's "of COURSE we shouldn't do it!"

Sometimes people just like to blame technology - or the lack thereof - for social ills. When in fact it's society. It's being afraid to let ANYONE fail, so as a result we hold back everyone so no one succeeds.

I've said this before, but it bears repeating, and is a fundamental, direct-to-the-point issue from a teacher I had in high school (Dr. Elwell at O'Dea HS in Seattle): "I don't care if you learn or not; it's up to you to make that decision. Someone has to flip the burgers at McDonald's"

Technology isn't the cure, or the problem. It's a smokescreen. The problem is fear of any failure. Not everyone will be President, or a CEO, or a basketball star. Some will fail miserably, multiple times. Some will succeed beyond their wildest dreams. It's called the Right to the Pursuit of Happiness for a reason. The fear of failure of students - and the resulting light of incompetence that would shine on a good chunk of the public education racket today - is why we constantly hear about the need to upgrade technology, or need more money.

As a result, much of the education racket tries to push everyone towards college to pad the apparent success, to keep funds coming in by keeping the consumers - the parents - blind to the actual issues. And as a result you get colleges having to teach the basics to freshman students who really shouldn't be there.

If by the age of 16 little Johnny or Sally isn't pulling a GPA of 2.5 or better, then perhaps college isn't for them, and they should consider trade schools - mechanics, truck drivers, contractors, drafters, chefs, etc. can make a living wage. Or think about college 4-5 years after HS.

And for the record, I wend to a high school that had a 70 year old building with exposed knob-and-tube electricity, no computer lab until I was a senior (when we received 3 TRS-80s), 3 years of required math and philosophy/art, 4 years of required science, English, History, 2 years of required foreign language and physical education, and electives consisting of courses like drafting, 3rd or 4th year foreign language, typing, advanced math and the like. Basics, rote-memorization, drills over-and-over. With 10 year old textbooks, taught the same way by the Christian Brothers of Ireland for 40 years. And it worked quite well...

Re:Necessary? (1)

who's got my nicknam (841366) | more than 7 years ago | (#19016755)

How the hell did THAT question get modded Insightful? This IS the 21st Century!

Great (4, Informative)

geek (5680) | more than 7 years ago | (#19015535)

Looking forward to seeing this take off. My Uni. uses WebCT which everyone seems to absolutely hate. We're a "paperless campus" too so we're forced to use that damn thing. In the long run we need open standards in schools across the board. Not one of my professors knows what an .odt document is let alone OpenOffice. So adding to tuition and living costs, in order to get an education I need to pay the Microsoft tax or risk subtle inconsistencies in my .doc files from OpenOffice or other text editor exporting to Word format.

The best place in the world for open source and open formats is in education. They level the playing field, but only when implimented correctly.

Re:Great (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19015611)

I often ask if I can submit as a PDF, then just export it - submitting from open office to ms office is just too risky!

Re:Great (4, Insightful)

CastrTroy (595695) | more than 7 years ago | (#19015841)

Even exporting from MS Office to MS Office is just too risky. With the formatting differences between different versions of MSWord, it's amazing they accept .doc at all. I think that PDF should be the standard for submitting assignments. It's open, and there's no need to worry about formatting errors, or the professor accidentally pressing a key and creating spelling errors.

Re:Great (1)

bcrowell (177657) | more than 7 years ago | (#19016209)

I think that PDF should be the standard for submitting assignments. It's open, and there's no need to worry about formatting errors, or the professor accidentally pressing a key and creating spelling errors.
In fiction publishing, the most commonly used format is rtf. The spec is free and open, and unlike pdf it's designed to be an editable format. In education, I don't understand why students would submit papers electronically. I'm a teacher, and I can't imagine dealing with all my students sending me electronic files. The first thing I'd have to do would be to print them out so I could write on them --- unless they're putting comments on electronically?

Re:Great (2, Interesting)

fucksl4shd0t (630000) | more than 7 years ago | (#19016267)

Google Documents and Spreadsheets

Also, File->Track Changes

I took a distance learning Comp 2 class this semester that I wound up dropping, and the teacher used the track changes feature to write comments in.

All that said, yes, I wholeheartedly agree there needs to be a way to annotate documents. Why are we here in 2007 with a billion years of word processing behind us and we still can't annotate documents in a word processor?

Re:Great (1)

Daengbo (523424) | more than 7 years ago | (#19016959)

I'm sorry? I'm really confused. Two years ago, my editor and I were exchanging MS Wrod documents between her copy of Word and my copy of OO.o Writer, all with comments and edits. Are you talking about something different or do you just not know about this function?

Re:Great (1)

fucksl4shd0t (630000) | more than 7 years ago | (#19016981)

Hmmm, simple directions for using that feature in OO.o and I'll get back to you? :)

Re:Great (1)

Daengbo (523424) | more than 7 years ago | (#19017065)

in OO.o 2.2, Edit -> Change -> Record and Insert -> Comment maybe? Am I missing something?

Re:Great (1)

fucksl4shd0t (630000) | more than 7 years ago | (#19017105)

It's a little different in OO.o 2.0.4 (which is what I have). It's not discoverable! More importantly, I think, it doesn't appear to be terribly useful. I was thinking more like a dual-paned view, similar to what you'd have if you used an annotated Bible. The main text is in one pane, and there's a side pane with comments on the text. That's what I'd consider truly supporting annotating documents.

I'll fool around with it some more some time and see if I can get more out of it, thanks for mentioning it.

Re:Great (1)

Daengbo (523424) | more than 7 years ago | (#19017201)

I understand now, though I'm not familiar with annotating the bible. The comments work pretty well since they appear when you mouse over the note. I think that's a lot more specific than having comments in another pane and unclear about which section they're referring to. This is the same way it works in MS Word, I guess, because my editor didn't know that I was using OO.o. Final copy was submitted as PDF.

Re:Great (1)

JonathanR (852748) | more than 7 years ago | (#19015845)

Didn't MS have a free WordViewer package at some point? Whatever happened to that?

Re:Great (1)

man_of_mr_e (217855) | more than 7 years ago | (#19016273)

You mean this [] ?

Re:Great (1)

JonathanR (852748) | more than 7 years ago | (#19016757)

Yep, That.

Re:Great (1)

pembo13 (770295) | more than 7 years ago | (#19016303)

What is with Universities' apperent inability to choose good software? Mine is switching to some "new" crap which at least feels less functional that the previuos stuff. (purposely not naming names)

Re:Great (2, Interesting)

civilizedINTENSITY (45686) | more than 7 years ago | (#19016391)

Doesn't everybody think WebCT sucks? It is such a pain to use. Sort a field, but then select a student, and when you come back its unsorted again. And whats with viewing 23 students in the grade book as default? Make it say all, but then you go to do something with it, and it reverts back...

Re:Great (2, Insightful)

Roger W Moore (538166) | more than 7 years ago | (#19016401)

Looking forward to seeing this take off. My Uni. uses WebCT which everyone seems to absolutely hate. We're a "paperless campus" too so we're forced to use that damn thing. In the long run we need open standards in schools across the board. Not one of my professors knows what an .odt document is let alone OpenOffice.

That's a shame! I use OpenOffice for all my lecture notes, slides, etc. and very few of my students know what it is or try it out (despite my encouragement at the start of term). I had hoped that my students would jump at the chance for something free! I did find out what I think the reason is though. Apparently the province has done some deal with MS for all schools and universities so that MS office only costs students (and profs apparently) ~$20.

On the course management side the University encouraged me to use the central WebCT server but on my first try several years ago with Firefox on Linux I got the message "Your browser is not supported, please upgrade to Internet Explorer". After I stopped laughing I looked for OpenSource equivalents and found Moodle which was trivial to install on my Linux desktop and which I now use for all my courses because I find it a LOT better than WebCT (as do my students according to several questionnaires).

Collaborative k-12? (2, Insightful)

dj245 (732906) | more than 7 years ago | (#19015545)

Plus, education is a collaborative industry already, which makes it a good fit for open source.

While higher level educations may poke around with the source code and contribute, I would say that in general open source doesn't have any special appeal for K-12. Most teachers are more concerned with getting their students to pass the next state/national test, writing lesson plans, wrangling parents and students, and generally doing education to worry about the software behind it all. They just need the software to work (TM). Open sauce may be cheaper, but in the end the districts will get what they need to educate not what will "stick it to the man" or whatever.

Re:Collaborative k-12? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19015873)

At National Mu Alpha Theta this summer (a math tournament), I had brought my OS X laptop which happened to have Maxima on it. I use Mathematica at home, but I only have the Win32 version. Maxima is difficult to learn (not user-friendly, but it's almost as powerful as Mathematica -- in fact, its predecessor, Macsyma, was one of the first CASes, predating Mathematica. I used Maxima to verify some lengthy integrals after one test when the answer posted differed significantly from my answer.

Oh, and it's GPL, and it works on Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X (via Fink), and Charlie dies in the season finale.

BTW, you probably know this, but if you can afford Mathematica or a Math'ca-based product, or at least a student license, it's going to be a lot better and more powerful than any OSS math product today. Math'ca is really an excellent product. Unfortunately, the price matches its quality.

Re:Collaborative k-12? (1)

CastrTroy (595695) | more than 7 years ago | (#19015875)

By providing cheaper software to the schools, they can use their money for things that seem to be lacking in many education systems, like quality teachers, new textbooks, art supplies, etc.

Re:Collaborative k-12? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19016109)

Check your school district's budget, if you can get one which make sense. Administration has no difficulty absorbing money, so don't expect anything extra to reach the classroom.

Re:Collaborative k-12? (1)

falcon5768 (629591) | more than 7 years ago | (#19016337)

Many states set requirements for certain packages. In NJ we have a choice of a select few Student info software packages that we can use.

All of them are commercial, all of them are not subsidized by NJ, one of them is REQUIRED by your district to keep track of student data which is then uploaded to the state.

While its noble to provide cheaper software, government officials are writing software requirements with their financial backers in mind, not the schools. How else could you explain the major shitstorm that is happening right now in terms of the "Reading First" program, where it was found that the whole program was designed as a advertisement for Scholastic, who reaped millions out of the program requiring software from them that has yet to even be updated for OS X 4 YEARS after they promised support (similar to support they promised recently to Vista which also has issues)

Worse, data showed years before the program was put out, that it wouldnt have even worked to improve test scores like they claimed.

Re:Collaborative k-12? (1)

Whiney Mac Fanboy (963289) | more than 7 years ago | (#19015949)

They just need the software to work (TM). Open sauce may be cheaper, but in the end the districts will get what they need to educate not what will "stick it to the man" or whatever.

Unbelievably stupid. Do you really think Red Hat, IBM, Sun, fortune 500 companies, etc are running FOSS to stick it to the man?

There are many pragmatic reasons to run open source - cost is only one of them.

Re:Collaborative k-12? (1)

hazem (472289) | more than 7 years ago | (#19016289)

I would say that in general open source doesn't have any special appeal for K-12. Most teachers are more concerned with getting their students to pass the next state/national test, writing lesson plans, wrangling parents and students, and generally doing education to worry about the software behind it all.

Even worse, while most teachers wouldn't know the difference between USB and an ERP even if you put them on an IEP for it, they're not the ones making the software buying decisions.

You see, when teachers get tired of teaching, they take classes to become administrators. Unfortunately, there are only so many administrator positions to go around. The ones who don't become administrators leave the school districts to work for consulting companies who sell software and other crap to schools.

They, having large budgets, throw all kinds of nice parties (conferences) getaways at coastal locations to which they invite their former (now administrator) colleagues. This is where they tell them how great their new xyz software will be so great and it only costs twice as much as their current solution, while doing less (and thus requiring less maintenance).

It's these former school-district-personnel-turned-consultant that are the real problem here. And they have no incentive to peddle open source software and in fact will do everything they can to discredit it. And when that doesn't work, they throw bigger parties...

Sakai and Moodle (4, Informative)

sas-dot (873348) | more than 7 years ago | (#19015549)

Did you try this Sakai [] and Moodle [] ? Though Sakai is developed by universities, it should be adoptable to schools. Likewise Moodle is also a maturing project with various features being builtin.

Re:Sakai and Moodle (1)

RickRussellTX (755670) | more than 7 years ago | (#19015793)

I've used Sakai heavily, and it's definitely adaptable to K-12 education. "comp101" could just as easily be "Mrs. Froodle's 2nd Grade".

Re:Sakai and Moodle (1)

kernel_pat (964314) | more than 7 years ago | (#19015955)

I don't know about the rest of them but judging by moodle the paperless campus is a bad idea. There's too much scope creep when it comes to these projects, where-by they are so overcrowded with useless "features" that the real task of setting assignments and submitting them is lost. In fact I would go as far to say that moodle is the worst web-based application I have ever used.

Re:Sakai and Moodle (1)

mackyrae (999347) | more than 7 years ago | (#19016081)

Blackboard. It's so obsessive about the "okay" button that if you send a message to the teacher saying "I'm sick and will be absent" it'll say "message sent" and you think "okay it's done" and exit your web browser. It wasn't really sent though. You had to hit "ok" AFTER it said it was sent. There's also that whole "hook a laptop up to a vending machine, claim you're Bb's Access server, and get free food" thing, but I doubt any student sees that as a downside.

Re:Sakai and Moodle (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19016087)

Oh dear, no, don't recommend Sakai. I don't think I've ever used a less intuitive, less user-friendly, or more downright annoying and in-the-way piece of software before...

Re:Sakai and Moodle (1)

Roger W Moore (538166) | more than 7 years ago | (#19016293)

Likewise Moodle is also a maturing project with various features being builtin.

Actually I would have said that Sakai is still maturing whereas Moodle is mature but still improving. I recently saw a Sakai vs. Moodle and was very disappointed with Sakai's progress. Despite having far more financial support flung at it than Moodle, Sakai is still missing basic functionality (like online quizzes), has a very clunky user interface (in my opinion) and misses out on several VERY nice features of Moodle (like the ability to render LaTeX inline).

On the plus side Sakai is Java based rather than PHP based, but in general I think that Moodle is a very much a better option than Sakai.

Edubuntu? (1)

had3l (814482) | more than 7 years ago | (#19015555) []

Re:Edubuntu? (1)

had3l (814482) | more than 7 years ago | (#19015569)

Never mind, I gotta learn to read beyond the subject title.... *sigh*

Re:Edubuntu? (1)

JonathanR (852748) | more than 7 years ago | (#19015909)

Frist Psot?

It depends on your point of view (3, Informative)

El Cubano (631386) | more than 7 years ago | (#19015583)

There are lots of available applications that are tailored to the individual school level, especially for small and medium size schools. This is an excellent fit for private schools, parochial schools and probably even charter schools. For example, I have been evaluating Open Administration for Schools [] for a local Christian school. It seems like it will be a good fit.

Now, if you are talking about software to help run an entire school district, that is a different story. In such a case, you are talking about thousands or tens of thousands of students, and probably hundreds or thousands of computers and other inventory to track. I would say that you have your work cut out for you. There have been some attempts at developing open source free/Free ERP tools. However, the market for ERP solutions is much smaller (far fewer large organizations than small and medium organizations, be they schools or otherwise). So, in the same way that you will have trouble finding open source manufacturing control software, you will have trouble finding open source software that is targeted at large organizations. It is not impossible. But as it appears you have found, it can be a daunting challenge.

What is needed is open or inexpensive books! (4, Insightful)

zymano (581466) | more than 7 years ago | (#19015617)

I speak for everyone.

The book industry is a huge SCAM.

Writing open english,math,science and more advanced books would help the pocketbook and make education more affordable.

Hell,there are cheaper books at Barnes and Noble & Borders than the bookscams pushed by the schools.

Re:What is needed is open or inexpensive books! (2, Informative)

crumley (12964) | more than 7 years ago | (#19015715)

One place to look for them is the Assayer [] .

Re:What is needed is open or inexpensive books! (3, Informative)

benplaut (993145) | more than 7 years ago | (#19015735) []

Re:What is needed is open or inexpensive books! (1)

dhasenan (758719) | more than 7 years ago | (#19016009)

Issue: quality control.

Re:What is needed is open or inexpensive books! (1)

hazem (472289) | more than 7 years ago | (#19016311)

It's not like the kids actually read the books.

The schools pretend to offer useful books and the kids pretend to use them.

And besides, the best teaching I received from middle and high school was from teachers who made their own materials, foregoing the books.

Re:What is needed is open or inexpensive books! (1)

Blakey Rat (99501) | more than 7 years ago | (#19015769)

I had an accounting book once that was printed in full color and cost a ridiculous amount of money. An ACCOUNTING book in full color. Accounting could easily be printed in black and white or, if you want to get really really fancy, three-color to cut the costs in half.

Re:What is needed is open or inexpensive books! (1)

CastrTroy (595695) | more than 7 years ago | (#19015913)

Colour printing probably doesn't have much to do with the cost of the book. I've had black and white almost newspaper textbooks that cost between $100-$150. I've also had textbooks with colour printing that only cost $70. In the end it doesn't make a difference. It's not the ink and paper that cost a lot of money, it's just that they charge whatever they think people are willing to pay.

counterintuitive (1)

AzureWraith (737437) | more than 7 years ago | (#19016175)

Not saying you're wrong, but I figured there wouldn't be a huge market on say, Lie Algebras and Representation Theory, whereas Harry Potter, a book nearly every literate kid wants sells for a more reasonable price. I have no grasp on the economics of this situation.

Re:counterintuitive (1)

kiracatgirl (791797) | more than 7 years ago | (#19016329)

People buy Harry Potter books because they want them. People buy school textbooks because their school tells them they have to. I'm pretty sure people are more willing to pay a lot of money on something that's necessary for getting a college degree than something that they want to be entertained by for a couple days or whatever.

It doesn't help that college bookstores hideously overprice the textbooks. Before selling used books on the internet became as common as it is now, college bookstores effectively had a monopoly on textbooks. They say you need book X and the bookstore is most likely the only place who have it to sell to you (especially new versions), so they can practically set it at whatever price they want.

Hopefully textbook prices will start dropping once everyone starts buying them online instead of in the college bookstores.

Re:counterintuitive (1)

AzureWraith (737437) | more than 7 years ago | (#19016533)

That's certainly true of probably most undergraduate courses and some graduate courses, but at a certain point, how many people can be taking classes or researching on an extremely focused subject? As a math student, I noticed that prices of textbooks with some exception (e.g. calculus textbooks) remain the same, despite a considerable drop in the number of people who would even understand the subject matter.

Re:What is needed is open or inexpensive books! (2, Informative)

bcrowell (177657) | more than 7 years ago | (#19016179)

The cost depends on a lot of factors, but four-color printing is indeed very expensive. The other big factor in PPB (paper, printing, and binding) costs is the length of the press run. Printing costs are almost entirely setup costs, so the unit price of producing a copy of Harry Potter is extremely low, but the unit price can be very high for a book that isn't going to sell many copies. If a black and white textbook costs $100-150, it's probably because it's specialized and doesn't sell a lot of copies. That's not to say that textbook publishing isn't a scam; it's just that color really is expensive to produce.

Local book exchange (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19016207)

My last uni had a local book exchange site [] for students and I absolutely loved it! I think every school should have one but I'm not going to hold my breath since schools themselves profit from this scam.

Here's a link to the software: []

Re:What is needed is open or inexpensive books! (1)

porkThreeWays (895269) | more than 7 years ago | (#19016767)

While the comment doesn't have much to do with the original story, I agree. The educational book industry as it applies to schools is a giant scam. I think more kids might actually read the material for class if the book was good for something other than practice problems. I've had books that cover material in 800 pages that other books can cover in 100 (much more clearly too). Most of these books are a constant game of revisions and supplemental material, blocking the used book industry. The authors are "experts" on the subject, but almost always have trouble communicating their ideas clearly. They focus on the exceptions rather than the rules and present the information in the most complex but correct way possible.

In college I almost always ended up going on Amazon and finding the highest rated books on a subject to really understand concepts. Most of these books weren't written by the greatest in their field, but people who were just good at explaining things. Also, these books were generally 75% less than the required class materials. It's really sad the state of affairs the educational publishing industry is in right now. It's seems they are more concerned with packing in the most pages per book weight than they are actually teaching something.

Dire straits? (4, Informative)

Paul Fernhout (109597) | more than 7 years ago | (#19015619)

According to the US Department of Education, total money spent on K-12 schooling annually in the USA has risen from US$248.9 billion in 1990 to US$536 billion in 2005. How can an enormous industry (which is what K-12 schooling is) with a huge influential union be in dire straits when often is the main source of jobs in rural areas?

As pointed out in this article (based on a recent bipartisan study):
    "To fix US schools, panel says, start over" l []
for all the money (and technology) increased over that time per student, test scores (for what they are worth) have remained flat.

The problem with most K-12 schooling is not money (or technology); it is that K-12 schooling is actually very good at doing what it was designed to do (see for example John Taylor Gatto's writings).
      "The 7-Lesson Schoolteacher" []
Unfortunately what compulsory schooling was designed to do one hundred years or more ago (make people into compliant assembly line workers) is not really what an information age society needs anymore.

That's why efforts like by the Shuttleworth Foundation []
to make some of the sort of software you are asking about for schools is misguided IMHO. You can't fix a bad process producing undesireable outcomes by automating it or reducing its cost. You need to change it entirely.

Here is one of many groups devoted to rethinking education:
    "The Alternative Education Resource Organization" []
And a related article by the leader of that organization:
    "Sustainable Education " etterid=21&articleid=195 []
He writes: "Nevertheless, there is an education revolution going on, and it is long overdue. It is moving in the diametrically opposite direction of the "testing" push. The latter comes from the bureaucrats from within that dying system, who do know there is something wrong. But since they can't think "out of the box," the only remedy they can come up with is longer hours, more homework, and "teaching to the test," in other words, more of the same. The education revolution is coming from people who have created alternative schools and programs, thousands of them, and from others who have checked "none of the above" and have decided to home educate."

Once you make the leap to a new process for education (primarily learner self-direction) *then* we can talk about what software makes sense to support the learner (like educational simulations, design tools, plain old access to the web, edubuntu, []
and so on).


Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19015795)

There is good info in this post.

Re:Dire straits? (more links) (2, Informative)

Paul Fernhout (109597) | more than 7 years ago | (#19015811)

Link for the above mentioned US DOE statistics on total K-12 spending: .html []
The specific chart: e-chart.html#2 []

And a related essay by someone else also commenting on Shuttleworth Foundation's SchoolTool project:
    "School system needs revolution, not evolution" ool_system_needs_revolution_not_evolu []
From that essay: "The Shuttleworth Foundation has been investing a lot of money in school administration and computer labs. Both of these projects are worthwhile efforts. The former allowing teachers to spend less time administrating and more time teaching, and the latter allowing kids to get involved in computers which are a critical aspect of nearly every high paying job today. But more money needs to be invested in creating engaging learning materials and in creating an environment to help students learn real life skills."

The direct link to SchoolTool itself: []

A related essay by me on this topic:
    "Why Educational Technology Has Failed Schools" nologyHasFailedSchools.html []
From there: "Ultimately, educational technology's greatest value is in supporting "learning on demand" based on interest or need which is at the opposite end of the spectrum compared to "learning just in case" based on someone else's demand. Compulsory schools don't usually traffic in "learning on demand", for the most part leaving that kind of activity to libraries or museums or the home or business or the "real world". In order for compulsory schools to make use of the best of educational technology and what is has to offer, schools themselves must change."

Re:Dire straits? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19015883)

"According to the US Department of Education, total money spent on K-12 schooling annually in the USA has risen from US$248.9 billion in 1990 to US$536 billion in 2005."

In 1990, there were about 13 million K12 public students enrolled, meaning about $19,000 was spent on each student annually. In 2005, there were 17 million, working out to about $31,000 per student per annum. $19,000 in 1990 is worth about $29,000 in 2005, meaning that we have increased spending per student per year a princely 7% in the last fifteen years. That's why the test scores are flat -- the spending is flat. What increases there were likely went to small subsets like special needs children.

The problem, IMO, is simply that we don't pay the teachers enough. After my mum retired from a career in the federal government, she wanted to take another job, one that would allow her to continue in a public service role. Her mother had been a teacher, so she figured that would be great -- but she took one look at the salaries and turned around. She's not greedy, but my family has to eat. The salaries for teachers are ridiculously low, especially starting out. We need to pay teachers realistic wages, or we will continue to get the bottom of the barrel teaching the hope for the future. Teaching shouldn't be for those among us with charity in their hearts, it should be a lucrative position attracting our best and brightest. This is especially devastating to our math and science education.

Re:Dire straits? (increased spending per student) (1)

Paul Fernhout (109597) | more than 7 years ago | (#19016051)

According to the figures in the report mentioned here: l []
with an executive summary here: []
here in 2002 dollars is the cost per student in the USA:

Year Cost Fourth Grade Reading Scores
1984 $5400 211
1988 $6100 212
1992 $6800 211
1996 $6950 213
1999 $7300 212
2002 $8977 217

Again from the DOE: .html []
"Total education funding has increased substantially in recent years at all levels of government, even when accounting for enrollment increases and inflation. By the end of the 2004-05 school year, national K-12 education spending will have increased an estimated 105 percent since 1991-92; 58 percent since 1996-97; and 40 percent since 1998-99. On a per-pupil basis and adjusted for inflation, public school funding increased: 24 percent from 1991-92 through 2001-02 (the last year for which such data are available); 19 percent from 1996-97 through 2001-02; and 10 percent from 1998-99 through 2001-02."

Those figures don't quite agree with the ones you list -- the DOE claims 24% increase adjusted for inflation and enrollment in public schools over that time period. I'm not sure where the difference is (perhaps more money spent in private schools?)

Re:Dire straits? (increased spending per student) (1)

man_of_mr_e (217855) | more than 7 years ago | (#19016431)

Unfortunately, pure numbers don't tell the whole story. Just because there's been an increase in spending per pupil (even adjusted for inflation) doesn't mean much. The cost of "doing business" for schools has increase, largely in the form of regulation and compliance. My understanding (though I have no data) is that compliance costs have far exceeded the increase in funding, which amounts to a decrease in money spent on actually educating the child.

Further, consider the costs involved with building new schools to house the ever increasing ranks of children. The skyrocketing costs of textbooks (far beyond inflation), etc.. Most schools these days are stuffed to over-capacity. I know my local high school has several thousand more students than the school was built to support, but it will be several years before a new school is built to accomodate that (the process has started, but for now they're having to jam more students into the same classrooms). On the bright side, teachers are still largely living below the poverty level (yes, that's sarcasm).

I agree with you about a lot of things. One of the problems is that schools don't know how to teach children that don't fit the mold. So called "advanced" classes are modeled more after harder workers than they are on fast learners. At least US schools don't beat creativity out of their students like other countries, such as Japan.

Re:Dire straits? (problems beyond money) (1)

Paul Fernhout (109597) | more than 7 years ago | (#19016203)

If you want the real story of why math and science teaching in the USA is so bad, see this about the collapse of the exponentially growing PhD pyramid scheme starting in the 1970s:
    "The Big Crunch" []
and also more by the same author (Dr. David Goodstein) here:
    "Scientific Elites and Scientific Illiterates" .132.html []
From that second link: "I would like to propose a different and more illuminating metaphor for science education. It is more like a mining and sorting operation, designed to cast aside most of the mass of common human debris, but at the same time to discover and rescue diamonds in the rough, that are capable of being cleaned and cut and polished into glittering gems, just like us, the existing scientists. It takes only a little reflection to see how much more this model accounts for than the pipeline does. It accounts for exponential growth, since it takes scientists to identify prospective scientists. It accounts for the very real problem that women and minorities are woefully underrepresented among scientists, because it is hard for us, white, male scientists to perceive that once they are cleaned, cut and polished they will look like us. It accounts for the fact that science education is for the most part a dreary business, a burden to student and teacher alike at all levels of American education, until the magic moment when a teacher recognizes a potential peer, at which point it becomes exhilarating and successful. Above all, it resolves the paradox of Scientific Elites and Scientific Illiterates. It explains why we have the best scientists and the most poorly educated students in the world. It is because our entire system of education is designed to produce precisely that result."

What good does it do to make teachers happy with their salaries if the system they work in is fundamentally broken for todays' needs? You can even have both happy teachers and happy students -- but does that mean kids are learning and growing in good ways? An example of this is when teachers become entertainers, essentially feeding students the intellectual equivalent of candy all day, but everyone is happy (at least as long as the party lasts). Now, this is very different from the "hard fun" []
John Holt, Seymour Papert, and others talk about (e.g. learning to play the piano well, or to build a complex robot like encouraged by Dean Kamen's FIRST programs [] ) and which children generally must choose for themselves to pursue if they are to get much out of it beyond misery.

Also, consider this Libertarian-oriented article on schooling:
    "Enterprising Education: Doing Away with the Public School System" []
"All the arguments in favor of a public provision of primary education prove to be unfounded and/or incorrect. The failure of the state to provide a high quality service to all (its explicit goal) has rendered public primary education illegitimate; and the immeasurable waste of resources and rejection of consumer desires has left public education borderline immoral. As well, if an educated citizenry is to be considered necessary for the operation of the republican government, then it is an inexcusable conflict of interest when elected officials are the ones in charge of providing that education. Furthermore, the argument of externalities and nonexcludability fails to buttress the case for socialist education. The only ethical, reasonable system for the provision of primary education is the free market."

Then there is this video on the US education system:
    "20/20: Stupid in America" []
Really brings the poor US statistics into focus from a human perspective. And shows examples of where more money and great facilities have not made a difference.

As this "free school" school demonstrates:
    "The Albany Free School: An Overview" []
you can get better results for less money without conventional teaching. That is not to say kids do not need adults and other people of all ages in the neighborhood around them to help them learn -- they do -- just that the classical role of authoritarian "teacher" in a "classroom" is one best left back in the industrial age oriented 19th and 20th centuries. A 21st century information age education is better supported by approaches like free schooling []
and unschooling. []
And those approaches to education require totally different sorts of software from the classroom administration and test score data mining tools originally asked about.

Please mod the parent up (1)

union76 (1085501) | more than 7 years ago | (#19016055)

Ditto to the recommendation on John Taylor Gatto's writings. The first time I read his stuff, I thought this guy is just blowing hot air. Who can blame him: he was in the NYC schooling system for 30 years. But, the more time I've spent in the system myself, I keep coming back to the realization that he's right. Modern schooling in the States is foundamentally flawed. And he does a pretty good job in his writings explaining how the system has come to be, although admittedly, he doesn't formally document his claims, but I've found they're mostly verifiable. He's done a lot of research solid for his books.

So, if you're a student, a teacher, a parent, or you just have nagging subversive feeling about compulsory schooling, just read Gatto's 7 Lesson School Teacher.

Please mod the teacher up (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19016145)

OK, 30 years in the NYC school system. Now how does that translate to the entire school system? Also how would that translate to a comparison to foreign school systems?

Re:Please mod the teacher up (1)

union76 (1085501) | more than 7 years ago | (#19016299)

As K-12 teacher in a mountain state, you'd think there'd be no relation to what goes on in NYC. But the big players, including NYC, Boston, Texas, California, set the policies, textbooks, standards and overall tone for the rest of the states. Yes, there is some variability from district to district, depending on how involved (read: subversive) the parents are, but in general, the system is meant to separate children and their parents. And the power to do otherwise is dolled out very thinly to different groups (parents, teachers, administrators, federal authorities, textbook companies, unions, etc.).


Re:Dire straits? (1)

grcumb (781340) | more than 7 years ago | (#19016083)

That's why efforts like by the Shuttleworth Foundation [] to make some of the sort of software you are asking about for schools is misguided IMHO. You can't fix a bad process producing undesireable outcomes by automating it or reducing its cost. You need to change it entirely.

The Shuttleworth Foundation operates mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, which suffers from a great many problems, but has virtually nothing in common with the US Education system.

You're right to state that institutional change is required. The move toward universal testing represents a systematic 'dumbing down' of the educational system, and it's had devastating results just about everywhere it's been implemented.

But in order to get out of this trap, you need to tools to do things differently. And Edubuntu (among a great many others) is a remarkable step in the right direction. In the places where the Shuttleworth Foundation does most of its work, the big problem is infrastructure, so having low- or no-cost tools that can be molded to the particular needs of individual schools and districts is an integral element to success.

Your point about change is perfectly valid, but IMO what we're talking about here are the very tools required to effect that change. I'm not from the US, so YMMV, of course. 8^)

Re:Dire straits? (1)

Paul Fernhout (109597) | more than 7 years ago | (#19016297)

I feel Mark Shuttleworth's heart is in the right place, and much good will come out of various initiatives he is involved in, but I'm thinking specifically of this project of his:
    "The SchoolTool Project" []
From there: "SchoolTool is a project to develop a common global school administration infrastructure that is freely available under an Open Source license. SchoolTool encompasses three sub-projects:
        * SchoolTool Calendar and SchoolBell are calendar and resource management tools for schools available as part of the Edubuntu Linux distribution.
        * A SchoolTool student information system is being developed and tested in collaboration with schools in Lithuania and Belgium during the 2006 - 2007 school year
        * CanDo is a SchoolTool-based skills tracking program developed by Virginia students and teachers to track which skills students are acquiring in their classes and at what level of competency."

So that software is definitely intended to be applicable in the USA.

I think the "Hole in the Wall" approach pioneered by Sugata Mitra has a lot to recommend itself as an approach to help kids in poor areas. From: all.htm []
"Sugata Mitra has a PhD in physics and heads research efforts at New Delhi's NIIT, a fast-growing software and education company with sales of more than $200 million and a market cap over $2 billion. But Mitra's passion is computer-based education, specifically for India's poor. He believes that children, even terribly poor kids with little education, can quickly teach themselves the rudiments of computer literacy. The key, he contends, is for teachers and other adults to give them free rein, so their natural curiosity takes over and they teach themselves. He calls the concept "minimally invasive education." ...
To test his ideas, Mitra 13 months ago launched something he calls "the hole in the wall experiment." He took a PC connected to a high-speed data connection and imbedded it in a concrete wall next to NIIT's headquarters in the south end of New Delhi. The wall separates the company's grounds from a garbage-strewn empty lot used by the poor as a public bathroom. Mitra simply left the computer on, connected to the Internet, and allowed any passerby to play with it. He monitored activity on the PC using a remote computer and a video camera mounted in a nearby tree. ...
What he discovered was that the most avid users of the machine were ghetto kids aged 6 to 12, most of whom have only the most rudimentary education and little knowledge of English. Yet within days, the kids had taught themselves to draw on the computer and to browse the Net. Some of the other things they learned, Mitra says, astonished him."

Also of great potential for learning is the "Fab Lab" idea: []
From there: "Fab Labs are the educational outreach component for the Center for Bits and Atoms (CBA) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. ... By making accessible engineering in space (down to microns, through precision machining) and time (down to microseconds, through RISC microcontrollers), these facilities have been uncovering what can be thought of as instrumentation and fabrication divides, and suggesting that they can be addressed by bringing IT development rather than just IT to the masses. ... CBA Fab Labs have been opened in rural India, northern Norway, Ghana, Boston and Costa Rica. Fab Lab outreach projects are being explored with a growing group of institutional partners and countries including Panama, Trinidad, South Africa, the National Academies, the Indian Department of Science and Technology, and the Africa-America Institute."

Re:Dire straits? (1)

Rakishi (759894) | more than 7 years ago | (#19016837)

I have come to the conclusion that this is all bullshit, everyone wants to blame the education system one way or another since thats the easy answer. If it was the education system then you wouldn't have Asians and Eastern Europeans being 4 times as prevalent in magnet schools as they are in the population. On the other hand if in reality US society has devolved to a point where parents simply don't do their fucking "job" then that fits very well. A school cannot be educator, parent and removed of bad parenting even if its hands weren't tied (as they are today, schools can't do jack shit to students or they get sued). Worse society doesn't value education much with some parts being much worse than others (ie: inner city). Even worse parents don't realize there is a problem, their kids can't possibly be spoiled brats who couldn't study for 10 minutes if the universe depended on it because of horrid parenting. It must be the system. So legislators pander to them, either putting in worthless "fixes" to please voters or lowering tests scores (or else 3/4 of the students get held back which is bad for votes).

Reform won't do much, it'll be half assed to please voters then dropped half way through when people stop caring. I think the last time people cared was due to the threat of the evil red soviets but even that didn't last long enough for them to even get half decent solutions into place.

The state of data warehousing (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19015665)

It is not a foregone conclusion that any particular school board will have an up-to-date database. Our local school board can not provide information that would be easy to get if its database worked properly. Of course, then people would be able to check up on them to see if they are doing what they should be doing. In particular, I am thinking about information about special needs students. They get a grant for each special needs student but they can't account for how the grant is spent. Their system seems to be almost entirely paper based. Of course if they are trying to obfuscate the facts then a decent database would be counterproductive.

BTW, I'm guessing that our local board is not a rarity.

Claroline (3, Informative)

Wister285 (185087) | more than 7 years ago | (#19015695)

Claroline is one of the best CMS solutions for schools that I have seen, even when compared to commercial alternatives. It can be accessed at: []

Reconcilliation. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19015711)

"K-12 education is in dire financial straits and solutions like these could help with lower TCO. Plus, education is a collaborative industry already, which makes it a good fit for open source.""

Hmmm. interesting. Contrast the "let's help education" attitude displayed above with the current slashdot "school is just a subversive control by the man", "churn out mass-production consumers".

higher ed software (2, Informative)

hedrick (701605) | more than 7 years ago | (#19015749)

I work in higher ed. I don't know whether the things we use apply to K-12, but I would think they might. In addition to Sakai and Moodle, which have already been mentioned, there is a project for open source administrative systems, called Kuali. See []

TinyERP (1)

Falc0n (618777) | more than 7 years ago | (#19015757)

While our company is not educational, we have talked to a few school districts around Washington about tinyERP. Take a look at it, its based on python, has a very small core, and is easily modular. []

Awesome idea (1)

Tiro (19535) | more than 7 years ago | (#19015853)

I applaud these efforts. US organizations tend to throw a lot of money to companies for software solutions, but licensing/support costs are ridiculous and recurring. I hope that first rate open source solutions appear.

Northwestern University recently upgraded their web email client from the unpopular Emumail to the open source Internet Messaging Program. Unfortunately the servers crashed on the first day of service and NUIT was forced to switch back.

I don't know if it was because of bad server administration or bad software, but I feel bad for the people who stuck their heads out to try an open source solution. They got publicly embarrassed when they messed up, but they did The Right Thing.

Oblig (1)

Renig (1090765) | more than 7 years ago | (#19015857)

This is the worst fucking idea I have ever heard!

maybe an education in man love (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19015929)

cos linux is for faggots. dick sucking faggots. dick sucking filthy faggots.
what the fuck is wrong with these people? fucking homos.

The proof is not in the pudding (0, Troll)

Logic and Reason (952833) | more than 7 years ago | (#19015979)

The saying is "the proof of the pudding is in the eating." The OP's (commonly mistaken) version makes no sense.

And sometimes tools are just tools. (2, Interesting)

Vasco Bardo (931460) | more than 7 years ago | (#19016029)

The TCO benefits of open-source are obvious, but only if wielded by the right hands, TANSTAFL [] !
1) Define better what you want to accomplish. (Objective, benefits, expectations)
2) Define better your resources. (Budget, Team, Time)
3) Define better your school. (Size, budget, number of students, teachers)
4) Draft a one-page document with this information, roll it up and use it to play whack-a-mole with local bean-counters.
5) Come back for more.
The openness of your source should be the least of your worries.

EDU decision makers != sensible (2, Insightful)

throatmonster (147275) | more than 7 years ago | (#19016053)

Once you get to the size of school district that you need a PhD to be a leader or decision maker, all you get are a bunch of incestuous ninnies that have no guts to buck the latest fad. I've been there, I've worked with these boneheads.

Add to that all the No Child Allowed To Get Ahead crap... the NCLB is just the latest trend in class warfare. It backs public schools into a corner with impossible to meet requirements. It's like expecting pole vaulters to keep clearing the bar no matter how high up you move it. But the invevitable "failures" will lead to School Vouchers.

I hope everyone realizes that School Vouchers won't allow anyone to attend better schools, it will just allow the already wealthy enough class to get subsidies for the private schools they already attend. Then the middle and lower classes will see their education system really go to shit. The corporations will come in licking their chops, and pretty soon all the poor people will learn is to drink Coke and eat at McDonalds.

You think education is expensive? Try ignorance...

Re:EDU decision makers != sensible (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19016625)

You have pawns of the union running schools. The purpose of the union is to gain power. This is a bad combination. When the union is fighting management, there is a chance at balance. When the union controls management, there is no balance. NCLB is an attempt at providing balance, by proving that the union is failing miserably.

Oh, and by the way fucktard, vouchers let me get out of a shithole and go to a private school my parents couldn't afford otherwise. They're probably the reason I'm alive. Fuck you and your leftist propoganda.

What a convenient alias you have! (2, Insightful)

NeoNastyNerd (624859) | more than 7 years ago | (#19016061)

So you "ran across" this organization and happened to end up with an alias of "openeducation"? At least you could say that you work for them, are a member of their team, or just wanted to help people know about you. Additionally, I'm surprised at the proposition. Who is going to support the mission-critical student information system when it is open sourced? What happens when the state requires new forms to be utilized? What programmers are guaranteed to create them on schedule? This is like telling k12 institutions that free always = better. There are already enough bad decisions in education because of FOSS being perceived as the magical silver bullet to every woe we (I work for k12 as a technology director), collectively have. I agree with the other posts that education needs to be scrapped and started over now that we are out of the industrial revolution. Books are also a total drain on resources as they keep making the books larger with more and more white space in the margins so they can charge more.

Moodle (1)

Roger W Moore (538166) | more than 7 years ago | (#19016201)

I'm not sure if you are looking for a pure administrative system or an educational one. If the latter then I can thoroughly recommend Moodle. It is one of the few times where I have seen a community OpenSource project wipe the floor with "professional" products (both OpenSource and commercial).

It is dead easy to set up (PHP and MySQL based) and VERY easy to get started with. I use it for all the courses (University level) which I teach and the students seem to greatly prefer it over the central admin's WebCT service.

DrupalEd (1)

christefano (899436) | more than 7 years ago | (#19016215)

DrupalEd [] is a new distribution of the Drupal [] CMS. While I haven't used it in an educational environment, I have at one time or another used all of the contributed modules included in it. Installing DrupalEd -- as opposed to installing the Drupal base and then all of the contributed modules -- saves somewhere between 10-30 hours, depending on the skill of the person installing it.

Drupal can be made to do just about anything you want, so adding more functionality like ERP, PubCookie, LDAP integration, etc. isn't a problem. CiviCRM [] is, in my opinion, a must-have for most organizations and small- to mid-sized businesses.

A discussion about DrupalEd's release and what it's all about can be found in the Drupal forums [] and at the DrupalEd working group [] . More about distributions and install profiles can be found at the Distribution profiles group [] .

informati7e trollTroll (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19016249)

nu8bers continue Goals I personally is the group that not so bad. To the bunch of retarded resulted in the

Wikiversity... (1)

Remi0o (1081389) | more than 7 years ago | (#19016333) [] is a possibility...

Don't overlook the SchoolTool Project (2, Informative)

mdudzik (772902) | more than 7 years ago | (#19016413) [] The project is funded by the Shuttleworth Foundation and consists of administation infrastructure, student information system and skills tracking programs. It's built on Zope3 and is part of the Ubuntu distribution (comes bundled with the Edubuntu variant by default). Very well built and well conceived software. It's getting more attention in Europe right now, but there are plenty of US users. I think the skills assessment part was built for Virginia schools.

As a "costly commercial package" engineer... (2, Insightful)

dircha (893383) | more than 7 years ago | (#19016525)

I've worked as an engineer on a number of the "costly commerical packages" the submitter alludes to. I've followed the open source alternatives over the years. I'd love to see a competitive open source solution and would gladly develop free software instead if it could pay the bills, but if you are a technology decision maker in your district I would encourage you to still go through the bidding process, and yes, solicit a bid from this Open Solutions for Education group as well.

When you sit down and compare the value you are getting, I think you will be surprised how favorably the commercial solutions compare.

The top 3 considerations will probably be support, services, and state reporting.

The largest cost in many of these packages is the services and support component. In this respect, open source or not is largely irrelevant unless you are planning to do support and services in house. But that means supporting a product that you have limited training on, and have very limited familiarity with the codebase of. And unless you plan on doing 1st tier support on up personally, you'll be hiring additional people on staff. Add their salaries into the bid.

If you'll be relying on the vendor, they you have a different set of questions. What kind of response level does the open source provider guarantee? Do they have the staffing and budget to fly technicians and trainers out same day or next day? Can they provide the level of support your district needs? Remember, if the system inexplicably goes down printing report cards the night before parent teacher conferences, the school board isn't going to let you off the hook because you saved a few bucks by going open source.

The other place you are likely to be burned is State Reporting. The reporting requirements in many states are so elaborate that it is only by economies of scale that a vendor can afford to provide and support compliant implementations. The complexity of these requirements are increasing as the state and federal governments want information in more detail, and the requirements change every year. Does this open source provider even have an implementation for state reporting in your state? Does it satisfy the data privacy regulations of your state? Does it support the internal data auditing requirements of your state? Will your auditor agree?

And if it doesn't have a state reporting implementation for your state, how much value does it really provide you, and how will it need to integrate into your existing process in terms of export and import?

If I were starting a student information system from scratch like a lot of these open source solutions are trying to do, I would start in a single state with modest state reporting requirements and target small schools. The customization needs you are going to start seeing even in 5000 student districts will quickly leave you in need of a large services and support organization (or business partners to provide the same), only you won't benefit from the economies of scale the established vendors do. "We'll offer the same product and services as big vendor X, only we'll do it for less!" is generally a non-starter as a business plan. Probably you are going to be looking either to be bought out by one of these established vendors (not a good strategy in the current market), or targeting a niche market, such as sub-5000 student districts, or even sub-1000 student districts.

Open Source != Lower TCO (1)

pr0xie (902743) | more than 7 years ago | (#19016563)

For most IT projects Open Source projects can be more expensive than their equivliant out of the box vendor specific solutions. But.... The benifits are an increased level of compentancy of your IT staff (assuming you actually give them time to roll the software and train on it). And the one thing upper managment never likes to think exit strategy (most open source projects are standards compliant) so you can get your information out when in a few years a better solution comes up that might be from a different vendor. Of course just try and get managment to buy into that.....

Open source is a collaborative industry (0, Offtopic)

Weaselmancer (533834) | more than 7 years ago | (#19016627)

Nothing out there that suits you? Write it.

Then share it.

We rolled our own... (2, Interesting)

who's got my nicknam (841366) | more than 7 years ago | (#19016741)

I work for a small K-12 district in British Colombia, Canada. We use Linux for all of our servers (natch), and we have either created in-house, or modified slightly, pretty much everything we need. We do all of our user account admin through one system that takes care of email accounts, proxy accounts, samba directories, groups management, and so on. We have also made our own systems for proxy control (teachers can create their own groups of students or computers on the fly and allow or deny network privileges as needed); we run a multi-user install of Word press that gives every account holder their own blog(s); and we are in the process of rolling out a Moodle install that will be a large gear in our distance learning machine. There's probably more (oh yeah, I almost forgot to mention Koha, the library software), but I'm not the programmer! As for student information systems, we didn't have to make our own because our province has gone with a "universal" solution (AAL's Electronic Student Information System), which actually sucks quite bad. Really bad. But we didn't have a lot of choice in that matter, really. Hopefully the manufacturer can fix it so it works like a real application should. Feel free to contact me if you're interested in any of that stuff (we give it away, too!), at my throwaway email address:

Wait - there's more! (1)

who's got my nicknam (841366) | more than 7 years ago | (#19016821)

Knew I'd forget something! We also developed our own system for asset tracking, which is part of our static DHCP control (we input every networked device either by scanning its barcode (in the case of our Mac products, at least) or by inputting it manually, and it gets assigned to the appropriate dhcp table for its location (or locations, in the case of roaming equipment). We also have a system for reporting trouble tickets or requesting assistance with a tech-related issue.

Sorely needed (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 7 years ago | (#19016663)

I've had a lot of trouble getting educational-but-fun apps for my kids. They often crash or want you to set the monitor in a very specific way (and set it back when done). The vendors act as if its the only app you will ever want or need. There is only one brand I've found that works reasonably well, but even it does odd things to the monitor settings.

Squeak? OLPC? Hello? (3, Informative)

brasspen (899025) | more than 7 years ago | (#19016691)

Squeak Smalltalk [] and [] are open source educational tools for K-12. eToys is in the One LapTop Per Child. It's in there because it's an open source educational tool.

FRIST STOP (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19016907)

surveyg 3hich
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