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Our cover story this month on commercializing the classroom tells the story of how some K-12 educators are grappling with whether to barter for services. In this case, the swap is free or low-cost high-tech tools and online services in exchange for access to a captive audience of 6- to 17-year-olds.

For many educators and parents, it's yet another wave in the onslaught of commercialization that has been intensifying ever since vending machines were allowed on school property. Others argue that in an age when the average teen-ager is a walking billboard in the sportswear merchandising wars, it's too late to push back.

For some school administrators, it's a tough call. It might be easy for administrators in affluent districts to turn up their noses at such services, but it's a different story in areas where most people can't afford vacations and schools have one outdated computer for every 50 students. What do you do then?

I think one answer is to drive very hard bargains-not only with technology providers but also with state and local politicians-to ensure that education programs and funding projects are a top priority. If you decide to contract for or subscribe to an online education service for your school district, make sure that you are getting the best possible deal you can get from your vendor. But make sure you're getting the most from your elected officials too.

Do you have concerns about the amount of commercial exposure a service carries? Let your concerns be known. If you agree to carry the service, perhaps you can influence the placement, frequency, content or tone of these messages. Do you believe your district warrants special considerations? Say so, defend your beliefs and stand your ground.

Also, explore whether your district is getting its share of publicly funded education programs. "Next State and Local Internets" on Page 36 takes a look at how some state governments are positioning themselves to take advantage of the funds allocated to develop the next generation of Internet backbone technologies. While universities are the testbeds for these projects, the pubic sector as a whole-and particularly the K-12 sphere-should benefit directly.

Now that many schools are finally getting hooked up to the Internet, it is time to start thinking about the quality of service delivered via the network. We hope that these two pieces stimulate your thinking about ways to achieve that quality as the academic year gets under way.

Along those lines, "Pacing Online Customer Service" on Page 28 addresses a quality-of-service challenge for state and local IT professionals. As more citizens rely on the Internet for services ranging from ordering pizza to renewing driver's licenses, your ability to respond to citizen services requests will set the tone for how voters view the performance of local government. Please consider the questions raised in the piece. It may help you think about ways to improve the quality of services in your community.


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