Connecting with students over the phone may soon become totally passe. The Department of Education is looking for a technology company — think Google’s Gmail or Microsoft’s Hotmail — to create e-mail accounts for every public school student and parent, at no charge to parents or the city. Google already provides free e-mail services to the Los Angeles public schools, and Microsoft provides e-mail to students in Miami, according to Bruce Lai, the chief of staff for the city DOE’s division of instructional information technology.*
Lai said that e-mail addresses are meant to encourage teachers and principals to engage with parents and students outside of the classroom. He said the program is also an “equity issue.” While some schools pay companies to help them set up e-mail accounts for their students and parents (I know I had one at my relatively affluent public high school, in Maryland), other schools can’t afford the cost. “We wanted to make sure that all schools had the opportunity to engage parents as well as create a stronger home-school connection,” Lai said.
Companies have until March to write proposals pitching themselves as the best possible vendor. Lai said he doesn’t expect that the city would have to pay any fee to the vendors. The guaranteed exposure of students to, say, Gmail’s layout and product is enough of a value on its own to entice a company. Gmail and other free e-mail providers splash advertisements on the screens of regular users, but Lai said that city students and parents will see no advertisements when they use the e-mail servers.
*This sounds like a different title than the DOE’s technology staff had before. (Used to be the Office of Instructional Technology, as the web site still says.) I’m looking into it.