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Education United States

School Internet Program Audit Shows Fraud and Waste 387

uid0mako writes "CNN is reporting on the abuses of E-rate. E-rate is a government-sponsored program that provides discounted Internet access and internal connection gear such as wiring, adaptors and servers to underprivileged schools. One of the incidents includes $24 million spent on 74000 wireless network cards that never left the loading dock."
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School Internet Program Audit Shows Fraud and Waste

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  • by John Jorsett ( 171560 ) on Friday June 18, 2004 @08:57AM (#9461942)
    Shortly after this program started, one of our local schools wired itself, and oh-so-coincidentally did it in a way that required recarpeting and painting the entire place to repair the "construction damage". All paid for out of the fund of course. I'll bet there are ten times more little scams like this that add up to way more than the big noticable ones.
  • by JargonScott ( 258797 ) on Friday June 18, 2004 @08:59AM (#9461956)
    He was talking about a school system in Arizona (I believe) that spent some ridiculous amount on a system from IBM that was so complicated, the school system couldn't maintain it. The best part was how IBM "forsaw" that this would happen, and charged and additional $27M to build a "lavish support center" that the teachers could call for tech support.

    What the hell's wrong with these people!?! (Not IBM, I think that part is hilarious)
  • Dammit! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Mz6 ( 741941 ) * on Friday June 18, 2004 @08:59AM (#9461962) Journal
    Why couldn't they get access points? They could be the Robin Hood's of the Wireless World setting up AP all over the USA!

    Ahh.. i can dream atleast...

  • by bludstone ( 103539 ) on Friday June 18, 2004 @09:01AM (#9461975)
    Is not an entierly bad idea, but its not being done properly.

    First off, not every kid should have an internet connection. Period. The Internet is not sesame street (which every kid SHOULD have.) In fact, I consider it more like the streets of NYC, at night, in the bad part of town.

    Its simply not safe for kids to have un-guided access while at school. Blocking programs are even worse. As such, internet connections should be wide open and subjet to constant teacher review. Perhaps a single lab, with all monitors in view of the proctor would be considered adequate.

    The rest of the money here is simply wasted. The current problems with america's education system is epidemic. Youve got underpaid, unmotivated and uneducated teachers, attempting to simply control a group of apathetic and uncaring students, who have little to no motivation and guidance from their gaurdians. The problem cannot be pinned on any single group. Everyone is messing up here, equally.

    And as Americas education system continues to collapse the nation will be seriously hurt by this. A nation of unmotivated morons cannot compete with.. well.. india. Nor should we be able to. I dont know if youve looked at the job market in minute detail, but a major part of the problem is that people are too incompetant to do the job.

  • by xsupergr0verx ( 758121 ) on Friday June 18, 2004 @09:03AM (#9461991)
    I just finished high school at a public school. This is not at all uncommon. They spent $50k on a lab for the CCNA students and found the two worst teachers I have ever had to teach it. Both were underqualified and took the same 4 semester course over the space of 2 weeks. Obviously, they passed the class instead of learned the material, and it showed. Of the 18 students who started the first year (myself included), only 3 made it to the next year, Semester 3. Cheating was rampant on tests as the teacher thought his time was better spent ticking out emails and doing lesson plans for his biology classes than enforcing anti cheating measures.

    After the 15/18 failure rate, he was replaced the next year. This new teacher was even more awful. He took the course the same way, and used us remaining 3 students to "help him" rebuild the lab. This involved taking old donated computers from the A+ lab and making them seaworthy for the class. Oh, and grabbing some old desks from the woodshop on the other side of the campus and doing chimp work with a drill to make them able to stand. Of the 3 remaining second year students, all of us dropped out. Of his 24 first year students, all of them dropped out as well.

    These wastes of money were apparant, we got these expensive routers and bridges and our teachers were unable to answer simple questions about them. Useless, I think the routers ended up being shipped to another school so they could try their hand at the CCNA program.
    Oh, and other schools in the district have had the CCNA program for a few years, and are turning out graduates due to good (suprise!) teachers.
  • Computers in schools (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jesterzog ( 189797 ) on Friday June 18, 2004 @09:12AM (#9462057) Homepage Journal

    It's a shame that there appears to be so much abuse of this programme. Sometimes I wonder if these types of programmes are really necessary, though. Mostly out of interest, what kinds of advantages do children actually get out of having computers in schools? By themselves the use of computers certainly doesn't cover the primary topics that schools are usually expected to teach, so presumably there's some expectation that having them there will either hugely benefit children in some other way, or will positively enhance the effects existing teaching.

    I guess that in theory children can get used to having them around. To some extent it means that computers would be available for someone who might be able to learn from them extensively if they wouldn't have been able to otherwise. But is anyone out there aware of any actual research that demonstrates that computers in schools results in a verifiable positive return? (Keeping in mind that lots of people who never had computers in school were simply trained in the workplace.)

    I don't mean to criticise, but I ask because I see a lot of people and governments claiming that it's a good thing. On the other hand, I haven't actually seen much evidence or that much that might convince me that we're much better off than we were a few years ago, when significantly fewer schools had access to computers.

    I also don't mean to imply that maybe schools shouldn't have computers at all --- only that pouring vast amounts of money into actively supporting an infrastructure that deprecates so quickly might not be very effective. If the availability of technology means that most of people will already end up having reasonable computers in their homes within the next decade anyway, then pushing them so much in schools could be quite obsolete.

  • by jokach ( 462761 ) on Friday June 18, 2004 @09:14AM (#9462078) Homepage
    I'd be interesting to see what kind of 'impovements' came of the school that received the 74000 wireless cards for 2.4 million ... do the math and I bet this school has the same new carpet, new paint, and a ton of neat-o expensive gadgets that suddently appeared around 1999. Wonder what their excuse was ...
  • by Fenis-Wolf ( 239374 ) <jbudde@@@a2tech...us> on Friday June 18, 2004 @09:16AM (#9462094) Homepage
    That took advantage of this program. Our district received a massive government grant (in excess of 20 million? I think). This was of course split up between 5 seperate smaller districts in small towns. Each one of these districts had an elementary, middle school, and high school. In addition there was a Vocation School. This money from the government lead to a massive revamp of IT services in all those schools which included:
    -Connecting 5 towns to the Vocation School with redundant fiber lines
    -Purchasing top notch routing and server equipment for each of the schools
    -purchasing in excess of 200 brand new computers for each building
    -and the founding of an Internet Service Provider which server the area as a dial up provider and as the central hub that tied the schools together.
    It also led to the vocational school receiving much needed tech upgrades to CS labs and the Photo and Design Mac labs.
    When this government money is well spent, it can be a great force for good. But once a unscrupulous contracter gets his hands on those kind of funs, these massive frauds occur.
  • by Raleel ( 30913 ) on Friday June 18, 2004 @09:18AM (#9462103)
    Despite the fact that there are abuses, and they may be wide spread, I was part of a group of students who wired a dozen or so schools in the town where I went to college. we did the network diagrams, organized the groups, taught people how to do patch panels and the like.

    It was in the top three most rewarding experiences in my life, and one of the most valuable for jobs skills. it was a truly unique experience, and I would hate to see this go away because some people can't freaking be honest.

    I'd be happy with oversight (lots of stuff needs oversight) but don't remove it. I heard that there was a proposal to just turn it into generic school grants or something, and I think that would be a mistake as well :)
  • by Eccles ( 932 ) on Friday June 18, 2004 @09:23AM (#9462149) Journal
    This is by no means limited to schools or computers, of course. (And heck, at least they were upgrading facilities that the county might not otherwise budget for.)

    They're doing road construction near where I work. At one point, they put in part of the new road, connected it to the old, and then tore up the old road. Less than six months later, they put road back where the old road used to be, and closed the new section while they extended it. In other words, they tore up road they knew they were going to need again shortly thereafter, but undoubtedly they get paid more this way.
  • by jrsimmons ( 469818 ) * on Friday June 18, 2004 @09:26AM (#9462170) Homepage Journal
    First off, not every kid should have an internet connection. Period. The Internet is not sesame street (which every kid SHOULD have.) In fact, I consider it more like the streets of NYC, at night, in the bad part of town.
    While I agree that not every kid should have an internet connection, I don't believe it is because of the dangers of the 'net. Cost is truly the prohibiting factor here. Internet connections into the classroom increase classroom efficiency. Labs only improve student efficiency outside of class, and then only when the student has free time during the day to go to the lab (rather than another class). The solution to inappropriate content in the public schools is not the lock down net. As a public provided service, it is well within the school's rights (and the student's best interest), for the sites visited from the public computers to be monitored. Proper supervision of this type can keep inappropriate content in check.

    The rest of the money here is simply wasted. The current problems with america's education system is epidemic. Youve got underpaid, unmotivated and uneducated teachers, attempting to simply control a group of apathetic and uncaring students, who have little to no motivation and guidance from their gaurdians. The problem cannot be pinned on any single group. Everyone is messing up here, equally.
    While I'm sure there are some people who fit this image, it is unfair to cast this sterotype on the entire education system as a whole. Countries like India, China, Japan, etc, do not attempt to educate EVERY child. The consequence of inadequate performance is often horrible. Is this how we should incent our children in the US? I'd rather not. If education standards in the US are so poor, then why do we still have so many international students [iienetwork.org] in our Colleges and Universities? We have problems in our education system partly because our goal of "teach every child, equally and fairly" is so high.
  • by tenaciousdRules ( 518041 ) on Friday June 18, 2004 @09:26AM (#9462173)
    First, Kids need to read books at school. Google is great.... for the LITERATE. Now, I am programmer/analyst and my charge is to write the code that performs analysis on student test data. The results my programs output are factored into deciding wether or not a particular school/district is "making it" according to the Bush endorsed "No Child Left Behind Act". Billions of dollars of federal money are on the line. I am performing these analyses on my state issued Pentium III with 128 megs of RAM and a 15" monitor. I think this computer cost $3.49 at Comp USA. Some ass just allowed a purchase of 27 Meelion dollars worth of new fangled walkie-talkies and I can't get a flat screen or at least a $5 stick of RAM?
  • by BJZQ8 ( 644168 ) on Friday June 18, 2004 @09:34AM (#9462250) Homepage Journal
    What most people don't know is that a huge majority of the money doesn't go to internet access at all; it goes to the huge network of Microsoft Exchange Servers and Cisco 3725 routers that schools heap up for no reason. Additionally, things like voice mail and cell phones are covered under the program. It's really much, much bigger than most people realize...a wonderful form of corporate welfare.
  • Re:Money well spent? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Paulrothrock ( 685079 ) on Friday June 18, 2004 @09:37AM (#9462281) Homepage Journal
    I concur. The reason rural and urban schools are doing poorly is because nobody wants to take jobs there. Where would you want to live, in a suburb within driving distance of everything, or a small rural town two hours from the nearest Wal-Mart, or an inner city where you could be shot?

    Pay teachers more to go to these areas, and more good teachers will go there. That $24 million could pay for a couple thousand teachers instead of going to some stupid wireless initiative. If the teachers aren't there, the kids *will not* benefit from technology.

  • by jamie ( 78724 ) <jamie@slashdot.org> on Friday June 18, 2004 @09:39AM (#9462286) Journal
    I heard that same show. I don't see why this is surprising. The network cost $80 million to put together, and IBM included a $27 milllion support contract with the bid. Why is this news? Of course a very large, complicated network requires support.

    On the same Rush Limbaugh program, minutes later, a caller who claimed to be an anonymous IT expert explained that schools will put together a $500,000 network when they could just purchase a $100 cable modem. This sounds like one of the usual idiots who sees that a T1 is 1.5 Mbits/sec, local cable provider offers 1.5 Mbits/sec, hey they must be the same thing! And what expenses could there possibly be apart from bandwidth?

    The caller and host went on to agree that everyone could save a lot of money if we just got some of the "12- and 13-year old boys" in class to string up the network themselves. Rush isn't the most reliable [mediamatters.org] source for information...

  • by $criptah ( 467422 ) on Friday June 18, 2004 @09:41AM (#9462319) Homepage

    I was a high school student several years ago; most of my family works for public schools and I have heard a lot of great stories about how IT works or does not work for teachers and students. Here is the summary.

    As far as I remember, IT was a total disaster in my school. We were able to get computers and get them setup; however there was no qualified support. There was no single person responsible for providing user assistance and doing system administration! When computers crashed, students were not really allowed to repair them, instead our librarians tried to come to the rescue; it took them hours and hours to fix a simple problem. Go figure.

    When it came to security of networks and school computers, it was even worse. First of all, every damn computer had some sort of "cop" software installed that prevented access to "bad" sites. As a result, students were not research about breast cancer or human sexuality eventhough the pages came from dot GOV. The best part about it was the fact that students usually knew more than teachers and staff; boy, it was fun seeing old ladies trying to remove a picture of a naked chick from the background.

    Then there were students who did not know what to do with computers due to the lack of knowledge. I went to a good school that was required to bus certain number of students from the inner city and other "problematic" areas in order to meet some sort of a standard. Some of these kids knew zero about computers and there was nobody in school who could teach them. At least several computers had to be replaced every year because a frustrated student's actions.

    My girlfriend work for public schools in MA. The state of IT in her schools is simply pitiful. They have the oldest technology, and virtually no help. Two guys who are in charge of the system have no interest in making things work. When the schools receive new computers or software, there is not enough training provided; therefore, nobody can use them efficiently!

    So what's the point? Well, the point is that you can waste government's money in many ways. Direct stealing is just one of them.

  • by BJZQ8 ( 644168 ) on Friday June 18, 2004 @09:51AM (#9462410) Homepage Journal
    Depends on the size of the school. The larger schools, particularly in higher-poverty-rate areas, can make millions off of this, because they get huge hardware discounts...up to 90%. Smaller schools, or ones in more average-poverty-rate areas, get discounts on "leased-line" and telephone service only. In the district that I take care of, it's a definite balancing act...we will get 68% off of hardware, but ONLY if the discounts extend that far (which is a determination made by e-Rate AFTER you have done all of the work.) So if they decide to fund only down to 69%, we're screwed, and all of those trees will have been killed for naught.
  • by CarrionBird ( 589738 ) on Friday June 18, 2004 @09:59AM (#9462469) Journal
    Why does a school even need a T1? Anything more than a decent broadband connection is overkill. They certainly don't need wireless.

    Teachers actually worked for years before Al created the internet. This is just another thing to spend money on to make us feel better about our dieing education system. I'd rather see them have enough rooms and teachers and no broadband at all if need be. It is handy for research and other occasional projets, but is not a necessity for every class hour.

    The money could be put to much better use, but nobody wants to hear that.
  • My girlfriend work for public schools in MA. The state of IT in her schools is simply pitiful. They have the oldest technology, and virtually no help.

    Ok... so why don't you volunteer a few hours a week to help them? It should be more rewarding than watching old ladies try to remove dirty pictures.

    Ten years ago, when both of my children were in public school in a rural, mostly agricultural, school district I was contacted by the teacher who also had little experience with computers and networking. On my recommendation they ran fiber between all the buildings and used Linux (Redhat 4 and then early SuSE) for email, web, and - at least later - web proxy (and filtering). That teacher told the school board that my help had saved them over $50,000 and countless hours of fruitless effort.

    I also became a reading volunteer on a program that helped younger students - especially hispanics - learn to read.

    In addition, I nstalled Linux on several computers inherited by the Schools by the Public Utility District and put them into the library for kids to check out and take home. One student (mind you, the graduating class of the HS was around 40 in any typical year) used Linux as his senior project as a direct result of puzzling out how to make that Linux computer do what he wanted 6 years earlier.

    Now my company does engineering services for this school district under the E-Rate program. But if that were gone I would still volunteer my time as a parent and member of the community. It's an easy way to make a difference.

  • by ElvenMonkey ( 789317 ) on Friday June 18, 2004 @11:29AM (#9463350)
    Part of the problem is the pay that the public sector gives tends to be rather poor, and a reasonable number of those employed in the Network teams aren't that knowledgable about computers. Sure they can use windows and office, and do simple AD maintenance, but when it somes to the nitty gritty stuff they haven't got a clue and just outsource stuff or go with what salesmen say. Shockingly regularly you find that the network admin is a former teacher who's just doing it more as a hobby. I guess it goes hand in hand with the attitude that if you're a teacher you can teach anything. Sometimes they're good, they teach themselves a lot of stuff, but often seem to just learn enough to get by. I'm part of a more unusual (in education) team, with people that know what they're talking about, and can at least tell the difference between a network card and a modem. Pays still bad though. Many places just don't realise, despite how often they are told, that if they spent that little bit extra in salary they'd save a lot more in useless purchases and would probably have a much better and more secure network. The British government keeps pouring money into these different schemes, capturing headlines, but failing to solve the issue that education is overall woefully underfunded. If they'd just pour that money into education generally they'd solve way more problems, rather than earmarking it for a specific purpose.
  • by geminidomino ( 614729 ) * on Friday June 18, 2004 @12:02PM (#9463667) Journal
    I refuse to assist, and will work to actively bring down, any group which claims some sort of right to my earnings.

    That's why I refuse to buy a house. I don't have any kids, and really don't care to pay out to send your kids (not yours, personally) to skool so they can cut class and talk about how teh new hiphob album is teh best(typos intentional).

    Well, that, and the fact that with the slow death of IT, I never know when I'll have to pack up and move to get my next job. =\
  • by walt-sjc ( 145127 ) on Friday June 18, 2004 @01:29PM (#9464611)
    If the federal taxes were not so high then the local governments could afford to raise taxes a little to pay for these local programs. They money is there, but the federal government adds about 90% overhead.

    As an example: Go to DC and look at the main Department of Energy building. It easily holds a few thousand people. Realize that the DOE has HUNDREDS of buildings and sites around the country. Do they create energy? No. Do they manage it? No. Do they help reduce costs of energy? No. Are they doing research? Not much. Then WTF are they doing? Wasting billions. According to the DOE web site, they have 4 goals, two of which are envirnmental related. Then remember that we have "pollution credits" available to keep spewing filth. Another is research, then remember that most of the research is being done by universities with virtually free student labor, and that the government has near zero alternative energy research going on.

    I could go on, department after department. Most of the federal government is waste - probably near 90% of all dollars spent.

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